Category Archives: health

Swim, cycle, run, sulk

As I write this I’m laid sulking on the sofa battling the after effects of a hill focused training ride. Whether it was the potholes, the hills or the overall training load of this week catching up with me my abdomen is screaming at me to rest. This is not how I imagined I’d be feeling 5 days out from my first triathlon. As frustrating as this feeling is I have to remember I’m still recovering, I’m little over 3 months post op and even a sprint distance tri is a big ask at this stage. 


My focus needs to change, it should be on finishing the challenge and a personal journey not on racing others. I’d love to take the credit for this change but in reality it came from a vomit infested pool that led to a chance meeting with an Ironman competitor while waiting for pool tests to give the green light to enter the pool. He had just got back from completing Challenge Roth despite falling ill early on the bike section. Our conversation didn’t focus on him but rather a chance encounter he had had with an older lady at an event in South America.  Long story short this lady had told him that it was all about focusing on yourself and that anything really was possible. As he recited the story I could feel the goosebumps on my arms, I felt on top of the world ready to take on any challenge. As inspiring as this was, it was also a reality check. I’ve spent too much time comparing myself to others (namely my wife and mother in-law) rather than focusing on my own journey. Thank you Mark for the lesson (pretty sure my wife has been trying to say this for a while but who listens to their wife?). I’m pretty sure the 5 minutes I spent on pool side listening to tales of triumph has had a huge impact on me and my journey.


Training wise I actually enjoyed an open water swim, the day had started with tears and tantrums as my fear of water raised its ugly head but ended with a steady 1.3km solo swim. On dry land I’ve broken my race-distance (4km) PB by 3 minutes and seen a marked improvement in my cycle times. The training is paying off, I can’t believe how far I’ve come in such a short space of time. Days like today are a stark reminder of what my body has been through. Am I fit? Am o good to go? Not at all, I’m still early in this journey but it’s exciting to see where this path leads.

A step too far?

With two weeks to go until “T-day” we (i.e. the wife) thought it would be a good idea to recce the area surrounding Castle Howard for the bike and run legs. You could feel the nervous anticipation rise in the car, and this was only a training ride/run. With the bikes unpacked and helmets on we made it just over 200m before we hit a roundabout. Right? Left? Straight? who knew? I had taken the time to write directions on my hand however a pre-ride trip to the bathroom resulted in me washing them off. We discussed and agreed it must be right and off we went (again). The undulating road suddenly got steeper, the quads burned, the eyes focused on the summit like a lioness stalking its prey. The view as we summited was almost as breath-taking as the climb itself, a taster of things to come. The sweeping rolling hills provided opportunities to practice the technicalities of road biking (like I know what I’m doing!). Playing with gears and riding positions I managed to avoid the pot holes and gravel patches, I was actually enjoying myself.

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The ride continued and amongst my happy thoughts were the words of my mother in-law “sharp left”, “big hill” no other words mattered. The turn arrived, it was time to get the pedals grinding. Suddenly I was overtaken, not once but twice. Here I was out of my seat, driving the pedals with all of my might, happy to just be moving and staying on the bike and they overtake me. I keep plodding along, checking back on Becky. the hill continues. I keep reminding myself everything ends, including this hill. The decent starts and finishes way to quickly for my liking. Becky shouts at me to stop, a quick pit-stop to adjust her seat and we were caught off guard by a sign saying Castle Howard left. Distance wise this was too early but with the directions washed away who were we to argue.

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We were into the final few kilometres and the last of the climbs, all that was going through my head was the dreaded thought that we had agreed to run after this. Arriving back at the car my watch confirmed we’d missed a couple of kilometres from the planned distance (must have been that left turn), at least we had gotten some good climbs into the legs. The bike was always going to be my best section, barring a few twinges along my scar line and into my groin I’d felt ok. With no time to celebrate my new farthest bike ride we gulped down some fluids and a couple of bites of flapjack and we were off on the run.

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The run began along the car park, the brick sessions must be paying off as the jelly legs were hardly noticeable. We ran, and ran, I became convinced that the GPS on my watch wasn’t working as the time ticked by so much quicker that the distance. A left turn down the hill and I got my first look at the lake, a deep breath put the thoughts of the dreaded swim to the back of my mind. Back up the hill we trotted, I was giving my all to keep on Becky’s heels, she was looking fresh. The gates gave me hope as they offered brief rest opportunities. As my legs and lungs burned the twinges in my abs became stronger and more frequent, the arguments between my heart and head continued. On mre than one occasion equal amounts of energy were given to moving forward and stopping myself from breaking down in tears. This was tough, I hadn’t pushed myself like this in a long time, I knew I’d come so far in only a few months, I hoped I wasn’t pushing myself too far, but I had to finish.

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The gardens were beautiful, but the sight I longed for was that of the car. Never has a Ford Fiesta looked so good. We ran passed it. I looked at my watch, we were 400m short of the planned 4 km. Yes we were those people running laps of the car park until technology dictated we could stop. As the GPS ticked over to 4km there was a patch of grass surrounded by a wooden fence. My body took over as I leant onto the fence to compose myself, I felt like I’d been to hell and back, the muscles around my scar cramped, I longed for fuel. The focus now is recovery, manage the pain in my lower abdomen and plan next weeks training, the final week of pushing it before race week. The journey continues, it’s nerve racking, it’s exciting, most of all it’s fun, well most of the time.

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This session had come after a tough week at work and in training. The triathlon feels almost achievable, I feel reassured that despite the relatively short preparation time I’m doing the correct things in training. Most importantly I know that if I hit rock bottom in the triathlon I should have the mental strength to push through. I’m only doing a sprint triathlon, people out there achieve much greater physical and psychological feats than this. This is my challenge though, my journey, my battles. I hope that in the future I can look back on this experience and smile knowing this is only the start of an adventure. We all start somewhere.

 

The vanishing training.

So last week I wrote about needing to reign my training in a little. What I didn’t need though was to reign it in quite so much. By the end of the week my training resembled a largely blank piece of paper with days of the week written on it. With only 3 training sessions it wasn’t ideal and having worked diligently to build my activity level from near extinction I was desperately disappointed by this turn of events.


The week began positively with a 5km run, the time of 36 minutes wasn’t exactly headline worthy but a new post op distance PB. The distance was a huge boost, during the run it felt great, almost pleasurable, a return to this time last year when I developed a genuine enjoyment of running. Post run was another story, my legs felt great, but my stomach ached, twinges and pulled. The post run euphoria didn’t last long but the positive was there, the foundations are getting stronger.


Tuesday was a complete write off, I was exhausted all day, it was all I could do to sleep, eat and sleep again. A better night under my belt I woke up feeling more human. Gymnastics was already ruled out, Abs weren’t feeling great so all paths led to the watt bike. Nobody said the road to the tri would be pretty and 23km going nowhere staring at a Watt bike screen certainly isn’t that. It felt good to go the distance, good to sit and stare at that screen and demonstrate the mental strength to keep going when things get tough. Yes I would have rather been upside down at gymnastics, but needs must and every session is progress no matter how small.

swimming forwards but stepping back.

When I was thinking about this weeks blog I thought I would write something profound about lessons learned, or self improvements (who knows these blogs may still come). Mark the 12 week mark with a bang. What has actually appeared on paper is reality, a story of celebration, frustration and stepping back to move forward.

 

I have written before about my relationship with water and battles with open water swimming. This week I took my first tentative steps away from the safety of the pool and into a lake. Walking in with Beck by myside, the cold murky water  filled my wetsuit, my heart rate rose and the arguments bounced around my head. Four hundred metres later and I dared to go solo, each stroke became slightly less nerve racking. Suddenly the realisation hit, I was swimming in a lake, ALONE. Holy S**t I was alone in a lake (ok there was other people around but not actually with me), I could sink and nobody would realise. Stroke, stroke, breath, stroke, stroke, PANIC, stroke, stroke, breath.  400 metres further and I am out of there, wet suit off and I sit down watching the real swimmers continue. Realisation set in, I’d just swam by myself in a lake, an actual lake, and I’d survived. In my world that is grounds for celebration.

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Celebrating achievements is great, as is looking back through my training diary from the last 12 weeks. The frustrations of recovery are still present though. At this stage I feel stuck in a kind of no-mans land. I’m not ill or injured but then I’m not fully fit either. I’m making progress but it seems the progress is coming in every area but my core, and this is holding me back. For the second week running gymnastics seems to have aggravated my abs, this made Pilates tough as every other movement brought uncomfortable twinges or pain. The continued battle between pushing through and listening to my body was ever present as I participated in a class yet felt like an outsider, watching others I had been at a similar level as make it look easy. I have so much to be grateful for, recovery could have been much more complicated and the improvements I’m seeing in my swim, bike and run are reassuring and evidence I’m moving in the right direction. The problem is I know the true mark of recovery from this surgery lies in the core. A lack of core strength/endurance can lead to so many problems and injuries. This knowledge is another reminder that I need to take more time to get this right.

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This week I came to the realisation that I’d miscalculated the number of weeks until the triathlon, oops. Its now just five weeks until the big day. Realising this, I’ve made the conscious decision to take a step back in training. anything that doesn’t directly benefit either my core or the triathlon is taking a backseat. That means gymnastics, zuu and body pump are on hold, at least for the next few weeks. A frustrating call to make and one that feels like a huge step backwards, but a step back may just be necessary to move me forwards.

I may be slow but I’m Tri-ing

Another week down and we’re now 7 weeks from my first ever triathlon (that wasn’t scary until I wrote it down). Having been down for much of last week I was determined to try and have a more positive week. Being back at work proved to be a challenge that I wasn’t 100% ready for, and balancing that with training was a challenge I hadn’t fully prepared myself for, resulting in a shorter than planned working week (3 days rather than 5) and a couple of missed training sessions. Physically I am still getting tired much quicker than I used to, my body seems to need more rest than normal and energy levels fluctuate. The signs of overdoing things have reared their ugly heads on more than one occasion offering a reminder that overdoing it is still a very real risk.

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I would love to be back to “normal”, back to 100% physical and mental fitness, from what I’ve read it can take up to six months or more to be fully recovered. For now though I’m proud of my journey. I’m learning to listen to my body, developing the mental strength to take a step back or day off training (ok I may still sulk at this), these are huge steps forward from my previous Gung Ho stubborn mentality.

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Mentally I’ve been in a better place. I still feel like I’ve got work to do on the mental side of recovery, and I’m aware that I’m not as strong or mentally resilient as I was, but just recognising these is progress. Now is the time to continue working on strategies and push forward with actions. The first action is taking the time to relax and think, that sounds stupid, I’ve just had 2 months of relaxing and opportunities to think, if only I’d realised the importance of this earlier.

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Physically progress has really slowed, I knew this was coming having made good progress initially. My scar is finally healing having spent the last couple of weeks kicking out the internal stitches. Movement patterns are coming back and everything is starting to feel more natural albeit slower. I’m enjoying being back training and having to do less regressions. I’m almost at the end of my “endurance” (read “get back to doing stuff”) phase. I’m comfortably back swimming, I’m regularly cycling and am seeing progress in both disciplines. Run wise my 4Km time is currently slower than my previous 5km time was and my run training seems to be stuck in a rut. Progress is hard work and slow, it’s mentally draining seeing the data come back and show little to no progress. I’m really having to concentrate and remind myself I’ve not been able to run properly for well over six months and have only reintroduced it in the last month. Any progress is good progress!

The triathlon seems to be creeping up quickly, 7 weeks isn’t a lot of time. I know that just finishing it will be a huge achievement but more and more it’s an achievement that actually feels possible.

It’s not all physical.

I wasn’t going to write this week, I’m not sure where to start, but I want this blog to reflect my experiences so here goes.

It’s been half term which means a week away from work and my first solid week of training. This should make for a positive week, but instead I’ve just felt lost and tired. I can’t think of any good reason why I’m feeling this way, in fact having received a letter confirming the all-clear from histology and discharging me from the hospital I should be happy. Things could’ve been a lot worse, and I’m both relieved and grateful for this. I guess this could be my mind trying to process everything that had happened in the last ten months. Before now I have been either too tired as a result of the fibroid or focusing on the physical side of recovery. I hadn’t really given much time or thought to the mental side. Mayne now is the time.


Whilst this year hasn’t been easy, I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. I have no idea what that reason is, however I promise myself that I will be a better person for having gone through it. No matter how I feel right now, I will come out stronger. 


I have a permanent reminder of this period, scars are reminders of the journeys taken. For now I’m going to keep looking forward, keep moving and accept that this journey still has some distance to go!

Defeating the demons

This week has been massive for me, not necessarily in terms of physical improvements but more in ticking off mental milestones. 


The first milestone of the week came last Saturday in the form of a Spin class. This had been a goal of mine since last August. Now let me put this into context, having just been diagnosed and told cycling would be the best cardio for me I had a nightmare of a spin class. Within the warm up I discovered that every time I pedalled I effectively forced the fibroid up into my abdomen with my knees. The class had lasted 45 minutes during which I never got out of first gear, I was having to sit up tall to minimise the chance of catching my abdomen, I was frustrated, fed up and in a world of pain. The pain didn’t even stop there, for 3 days I had a constant reminder of what I had just failed to finish. It was this point I realised the impact this uninvited guest would have on me, it went from a slow puncture to a full blow out. Disappointed, lost and fed up I vowed to return. Achieving this was 100% more mentally beneficial than physical.


The second milestone came in pilates, from the earliest possible point I  began my cautious rehab, a carefully constructed routine consisting of 5 pilates style exercises. Pilates classes were reintroduced after week 4, every exercise and progression was slow and steady always erring on the side of caution and often performing much lower options than the rest of the class. As frustrating as this has been I’ve felt confident it would lead to me being stronger. This week I performed a V-sit, this means I was performing the same exercise as the rest of the class – when the rest of the class are 2+ times your age this is a big deal. 


Last but not least I got upside down! I’d put so much work into the handstand pre-op I was nervous I would be back at square one. I was by myself on the wall was just calling out to me. I kicked up expecting to hit the wall and hold for a second or two before falling, but no! I kicked up, felt my legs float up, my abs kicked in, with no contact with the wall I held myself for a couple of seconds then came down. Once again I was reassured that life is better upside down, I was surprised by how the handstand felt and as happy as a kid in a sweet shop. 

As the milestones keep coming and everything seems within touching distance the mind games are back. At times the need to stay sensible and hold back probably means I don’t push as hard as I might be able to. Yet other times the desire to push and reach those goals leaves me doing too much and regretting it. So far the sensible side is winning but I can feel the activities and exercises pulling me in. What is stronger, the heart or the head? 

NHS courtesy calls and what’s next?

Eight weeks ago I had a six inch vertical cut made in my lower abdomen and the vast majority of my reproductive system removed along with a large fibroid. This week I had my first post-op contact with the gynae team at St James. No there was no anxious waiting in a busy waiting room, no examination of the incision site, no shaking hands with the surgical team, in fact there was no face to face contact.  What I received was a “courtesy call” (their actual words), now in my experience a courtesy call is what you receive after making a purchase or hired a car, never have I associated “courtesy calls” with major surgery (Surgery serious enough to have strict protocols including lifting nothing heavier than a kettle for 6 weeks). What made the “courtesy call” even more unbelievable was that the sister making the call had no idea whether I’d had key hole, bikini line or vertical incision. I was left trying to describe the blister like area of my incision (perhaps if the courtesy call is the way to go they could introduce the use of WhatsApp for such an occasion), a challenge the sister could only respond to by instructing me to go and see my GP. I feel lucky that, blood clot aside, I’ve had a relatively straight forward recovery which I attribute to preparing myself physically and mentally both for the surgery and the recovery.

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It’s fair to say that between the cancelled surgeries cancelled surgeries and minimalistic follow up care (I was also left waiting on the line while she fought with the system to find my histology results.) I’ve been less than impressed with the NHS. I really feel for the clinical staff who quite clearly are frustrated at having to deliver a first class level of care on a third string budget and support system. NHS aside I’m now 8 weeks post-op and getting back to more and more “normal activities” everyday, the countdown to my first post-op fitness challenge is on.

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It’s now just 9 weeks until I take on my first ever triathlon. It may only be a Super sprint (Castle triathlon series, Castle Howard), 400 m swim, 20(ish) km bike and 4 km run (or something along those lines) but it’s a bloody triathlon. At this point My max bike ride has been 6.5kms and I’m on run 1 of week 2 on C25K, not running more than 90 seconds at a time. The most worrying think is that these two disciplines only come into play if I survive the 400m open water swim. Having had to cancel two challenges that just came to soon post-op I really can’t wait for this. This triathlon has really been a motivation on the days when I was sore and didn’t want to go for that walk, or do the same rehab exercises for the umpteenth time.  It also helps to know that my wife and mother in law are doing the tri too, everyone knows you can’t let your mother in-law beat you. I wonder if Castle Triathlon Series know what they’ve let themselves in for.

Week 7 – feeling almost normal(ish)

A holiday in Greece sounds lovely doesn’t it, and I’m not ungrateful for a fantastic week however this was no ordinary relax in the sun holiday. It was a Neilson holiday, jam packed with fun physical activities from cycling to waterskiing and everything in between. Booked last November there was no thought given to surgery recovery and rehab since we assumed it would all be a distant memory at this point. As it turned out our holiday clashed with a period of conflict between my heart and head, between pushing hard and taking it steady. Holding back and in many cases watching others do these activities was going to be a challenge, and not the kind I like.


As we arrived in Greece my farthest swim post op was 60m and that nearly killed me. I was keen to increase this as it’s the main cardio I’ve been able to do, that and the swim in the triathlon is already making me nervous. Mid week I made a push and reset myself the target of 400m (I’d already failed earlier in the week), 250m down my lungs and shoulders were crying, 300m I’m seriously pleased I had Becky my personal lifeguard with me, 350m, almost there, just one more length and I’ve done it. High fives all round then out of the pool to relax. 400m done, target one ticked off! 


With Becky in love with open water swimming it didn’t take long before she was clambering into her wetsuit and making her way to the sea. I supported from a kayak, apparently looking out for Whales (highly unlikely for a multitude of reasons). With the sea calm and wind low in the morning this would become a regular part of the morning routine. The girl is half fish I swear, her longest swim was 3.5 kms. Not to be outdone I dared to enter the sea, obviously the day I chose was the one day the sea decided to dance. To say I was nervous would be an understatement, thankfully there were no kids around because the air around me was turned blue! Plenty of stops, a touch of seasickness, a number of panic attacks as the waves picked me up and dropped me down and 900m was complete. 

To say I’ve been looking forward to getting on a bike would be an understatement. It’s been almost 9 months since I last rode a bike pain free (my fibroid was large enough so that whenever I pedalled I would force the fibroid into my stomach). One of the bike instructors, Jess, helped make sure I was on a suitable bike (no I wasn’t using stabilisers), reassured me they would pick up the bike if I needed to abandon it, and I was off. My first venture took me on a flat 2.5km, relatively easy pedalling it was nice to be back on a road bike picking up some speed. I waited a couple of days to make sure I had no negative reaction but really I couldn’t wait to get back out. Feeling more adventurous I set out to attempt a 6.5 km circuit to the local “town”, still a relatively short ride but measurable improvements. A couple of steady climbs and my quads were waking up after way too long without a challenge. Now the best bit, where there’s a climb there’s a decent. Yep that was me coasting down the hills shouting “wahoo”, wind in my hair and a smile on my face, yes I am a child at heart! 


Now I’m well aware that a triathlon involves three disciplines. Swim achieved, cycling getting there, run wise who stole my running legs? 8 lots of 60 seconds run and 90 seconds rest and it felt like I’d done a marathon. It was nowhere near as enjoyable as I remember but each step was a step closer to fitness. 

It’s crazy how much introducing these activities boosted my mood. It’s almost like being given part of my identity back. Worryingly a small opening has appeared on my incision site, no more than a couple of millimetres in diameter and very superficial, it is still a reminder that I’m still in the “be cautious” phase of recovery. However there’s so much more I want to be doing, so much more within reach, the only question now is do I have the discipline for this phase of recovery? 


As for our Neilson experience, once again it was fantastic. We are already looking at when we can go back. Neilson Messini is definitely staying on our “visit again” list. 

Week 5 – The return of actual exercise.

It’s finally here, the last “take it easy week”. That’s the advice you get given, “take it easy for six weeks”, yeah and then what? Are you magically healed? Able to go back to doing everything you want the way you were before? Not quite! I’ve been looking forward to the six week mark like it was some kind of enchanted door leading to recovery and normality. In reality the 6 week anniversary is just another day and this journey will be continuous. I see that now. If truth be told I’ve been introducing new activities as I’ve seen fit, if it doesn’t pull or hurt or cause an adverse reaction I’ve done it. I’ve tried to listen to my body, be gentle with anything new and always err on the side of caution.

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The last week has seen me progress from nothing but walking, to walking, swimming, and cycling. Actual Physical activities! Walking regularly is still a staple. I’m a geek, I like data, primarily I like that it shows progress. Each week I’ve set an average daily steps target, this allows for bad and good days This weeks target has been 7500 and that’s been easily achieved. I’ve even gone above 10000 steps three times, how do fit and healthy adults fall below this recommended amount? Swimming a single length for the first time post-op was HUGE, not only because I’m not a big fan of water but because Swimming is actual exercise! I introduced it first using a noodle (the swimming not egg kind), then moved onto a pool buoy before going unaided, first for 5 metres then slightly further until I’d done the whole length.  Cycling wise I gingerly climbed on a stationary bike, being mindful of good maintaining good posture whilst also being aware that I have extraordinarily short legs that only just reach the pedals at the bottom despite the seat being at it’s lowest setting. I’ve worked up to a massive 2kms on the bike, ok it’s no Tour de Yorkshire but again it’s actual exercise and I actually feel like I’m on the road to the triathlon.

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This week also marked the point at which I was to reintroduce Pilates. For months prior to surgery I had been a regular at Pilates, building from very basic to more advanced movements and really feeling the difference. In the build up to the class I was anxious about the psychological side of going back. Don’t get me wrong I fully trust the instructor, Emma, who is also a good friend but this would be a real indication of how far back the surgery had knocked me. Walking into the hall and getting started was great, and even though being given alternatives  and being directed to the lowest level was frustrating and a reminder to leave the ego at the door I came out buzzing and looking forward to the next class.

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Whilst it’s been a good week physically, mentally it’s been tough. This week should have been “Peak week” for me in the Rat Race preparations so whilst introducing new activities is great, a 2km ride on a stationary bike is hardly as momentous as a 20 mile obstacle run. The Dirty Weekend was going to be a huge challenge, and the highlight of this year, it had rocketed both my own and my dads training to new levels, but it’s not to be. Not this year anyway. Unfortunately the numerous cancellations I’ve endured resulted in my surgery being just six weeks before this event. It’s hard to see the build up to this event, knowing that you should be preparing for whatever it holds when the reality is you are marking a 3 km walk as a new personal best. Keeping a training diary is helping, as is the events I have booked in for this year, although a further event is at risk of being slightly too early for me. One thing is for certain though, I will be running the dirty weekend next year, it will be epic, and I will be stronger, mentally and physically, than ever before!