Category Archives: Running

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.

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. 

The end of Rat race 2017…..

It started with a moment of madness, signing me and my dad up to a challenge beyond anything we had done before – 20 miles and 200 obstacle. This blog was supposed to track my journey to the Rat Race Dirty weekend Full Mucker, well that was Plan A and things don’t always go to plan.

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If you’ve read my blogs from the beginning you would have seen that after a good start my journey hit a few speed bumps, namely a large fibroid (an unwanted growth in my uterus). This has had a huge impact on my life and training. I was relieved to be given a surgery date that would (If I was careful) give me just enough time to be ready for the Full Mucker. What had begun as a simple physical challenge had just grown to epic proportions.

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Working towards the surgery had given me a new focus, I was reaping the benefits of pilates and was back enjoying training (within limits). Fast forward to the 29th December, the day before surgery. I had just finished my last pre-surgery pilates class and was spending the day with my (incredibly supportive) wife getting our new house ready for when I was discharged. Then the phone call, two words “bed crisis”, that was it surgery was postponed (until when? answers on a postcard please). The initial frustration was soon joined by disappointment as I realised my journey to full mucker was all but over, for 2017 at least.

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So where to now? Well aside from the waiting game that I continue to be an unwilling participant of, I’ve decided that frustration and anger won’t get me anywhere; instead I will be working hard to make sure I am physically and mentally in the best shape possible for surgery. New short term goals have been set and a few more challenges are in the pipeline. As for the Rat Race we will be transferring our entries to the 2018 race. The journey continues albeit on a slightly altered route.

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Am I getting more mature?

For those that know me the notion that I am getting more mature is probably being met with barrels of laughter. In truth, in everyday life I’m not any more mature but in training things are different. Gone is the mind-set of just beast myself as hard as I can for the whole time I’m training every-time I’m training. Now it’s more of a measured approach, yes some days you will find me pushing myself, others you will find a more measured approach. If I’ve trained at a high intensity one day the next will be at a lower intensity, I’m experimenting with heart rate zones and actually enjoying just playing around with methods and styles of training. It’s difficult to see if it’s working, progress has certainly been made over the last couple of months but is it more or less than what my old style of training would have brought? Who knows! In reality the physical benefits to training is only a small part of what training has given me.

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Having returned to exercise having been advised to considerably modify my training I honestly believe I am in a better physical shape to tackle the trials and tribulations of surgery and recovery than I would have been if I’d remained at such a minimal level of training. Psychologically this is hugely important, and this is where the true maturity is developing. I know that what I’ve been doing the last month or so and what I do in the coming weeks won’t get me to the finish line of rat race dirty weekend but it will help determine if I get to the start line. And if I get to the start line the chances of me completing my challenge is pretty high.

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So there you have it, just a few days before surgery and I’m feeling surprisingly good. I’ve accepted there’s nothing I can do about what will happen on the day (and let’s face it with the NHS there’s always the chance it will be cancelled – Everything crossed this is not the case!), but I can change how I react to the challenges I face, to the frustrations of the recovery process, and the embarrassment of the hospital paper pants!

Happy new year!

Where I’m at and good friends/family.

I haven’t blogged for a couple of weeks for a couple of reasons. Firstly the quality and quantity of training hasn’t been anything to write home about, and secondly I have been sulking. If truth be told I have managed only a handful of quality cardio sessions, even fewer weights sessions however I have stuck to Pilates and even introduced Body Pump. It’s fair to say the last couple of weeks have been a roller-coaster period but the point of this blog was to map my journey to the Rat Race Dirty Weekend, any journey worth taking is never going to be easy. So here goes an honest overview of where I’m at in my training.

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Cardio, up until a couple of months ago I had strangely fallen in love, not quite a cardio “bunny” but not a hater either. 60 minute runs were common place, providing time to clear my mind and reflect. Currently 30 minute runs are more common place, often at a much steadier pace. Cycling is almost impossible and even swimming can prove uncomfortable for more than 30 lengths.

Resistance training; Can someone just remind me what this is again please! Yes it is that bad! Previously I would weight train at least three times a week, Kettlebells, Bulgarian bags, dumbbells and Olympic lifting were common place now these tools are having a vacation from my workouts, and being replaced by bodyweight only exercises and body pump with “light weights”.

So that’s the crux of it, training has not been going well and yet my countdown app tells me there is only 167 days until we take on Rat Race.

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One thing I have noticed is how quickly “medical” people will tell you what you can’t do, lets just all take it easy (see previous blog for my opinion on taking it easy.)  while life passes us by. No thank you, I can’t help but wonder where I’d be fitness wise if I had trusted my instincts and simply adapted my activities rather than stopped them. Training and fitness has long been a part of my life and I am determined to get through the challenges that lay ahead and make it to, not only the start line, but also the finish line of the Full-Mucker.I have already experienced so many highs and lows on this journey and know there are many more to come, but the knowing that this journey will make the accomplishment of completing the challenge so much more pleasing and that two great charities will benefit from my end goal keeps that drive inside strong.

I am lucky to know some amazingly supportive and knowledgeable friends, family and colleagues that not only understand my need and desire to be active but also my stubbornness. So to those who have put up with my “angry elf” side sorry, thank you and please bear with me as although I can’t guarantee the anger, frustration and stubbornness may still raise it’s ugly head I am working on it and I appreciate the support! To anyone reading this that is facing a challenge, whatever it may, be find positive people and stick with them, they will make all the difference.

 

A lesson in leaving the ego at the door

I am not the fittest, nor the strongest, never have been, but I am competitive, and stubborn and boy do I lack patience with myself, especially when it comes to training, fitness and sport! That’s not to say I am egotistical, not by a long way but I am someone that uses those around me to push my training. Leaving this competitive stubborn streak at the door when training is a challenge, a mental challenge that rivals the physical ones I enjoy so much, only this challenge is less enjoyable. 


Exhibit A: I was out early one morning this week “enjoying” a steady run, when this older lady complete with curly grey hair, Lycra shorts and a Tshirt from an event dated well before I was born jogged passed wishing me a good morning without so much as a break in her breathing. Now every ounce of my being wanted to speed up, overtake her and win the “race”, but no I smiled, politely nodded and took the next turning so I didn’t have to stare at the constant reminder of my inferior running ability. This event ate away at me (I know what you are thinking, no it’s not my proudest moment) I was annoyed at myself for letting her overtake me, I was angry at myself for being annoyed. 


Exhibit B: Pilates, now forget the stereotypical elderly ladies quietly working their way through well rehearsed routines. This is not the case with this class every class is different, different focuses, different challenges. I’ve done the class at various times on and off for a couple of years, never the top of the class but rarely the one struggling at the lowest level. This is where current frustration lies; learning to accept that whilst an exercise was well within my capabilities not that long ago it’s now well in advance of what I can even attempt. Whilst others in the group male/female older/younger are moving their bodies through slow coordinated exercises my body is crying out for me to take a step back and re-evaluate what is realistic. Sometimes regressing techniques other times stopping completely, starring wistfully at the ceiling waiting, hoping the next exercise is something my body will let me do.


These are just two examples of how my approach to training and motivation has had to change. No longer is it about using those around me as a yardstick to measure myself or push my training, no matter how much I miss that side of training. Motivation now is about putting myself in the best place for the challenges that lie ahead. In someways I suppose I am having to be more patient with myself, more mature in my approach. Some days the slightest improvement can make me feel on top of the world, other days the simplest task leaves a level of frustration far beyond what is proportionate. Yet everyday is a fight to be better prepared, stronger mentally and more motivated to look forward to what lies ahead.