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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.

The magic 6 week mark!

Today marks the 6 week point, the end of the official “take it easy” period. The reality, I am learning, is not as simple as that and there is still plenty of recovery and learning to be had. Prior to surgery my main concern was not related to the surgery itself but rather my patience to endure the recovery period without doing anything stupid. The answer, so far, has been yes, just about and the recovery has been much easier than the build up to surgery.  


Thinking about the surgery I had some concerns that I was making the right decision to have a hysterectomy rather than myomectomy. Having initially had the hysterectomy dismissed in favour of the myomectomy, the u-turn following my second cancelled operation left some questions. I researched and read forums about the recovery and implications of the decision. Hystersisters became my go-to website for real life stories, hints and tips. The reality now the dust has begun to settle is that even I hadn’t realised how much of an impact the fibroid was having. Now that it has gone I am not in a constant battle with fatigue, pain, agitation, mood swings and frequent urination. Even at this relatively early stage of recovery (never thought I’d think of the 6 week mark as relatively early) the pain is nowhere near what it was, if I’m sensible and plan short activities with plenty of rest fatigue isn’t an issue, and I get a full nights sleep without getting up to the toilet every hour. The reassurance of knowing there’s no chance of the fibroid coming back is a huge weight lifted. 

Physically I haven’t felt this good in months. The scar seems to be healing well, and even though I still get the odd twinge and pain/achiness at times it’s been fine, and nothing like some of the horror stories you read. Mentally it’s been a real challenge to go against my instincts, hold back and not push myself too far. The results when you do just aren’t worth it. What I hadn’t factored was the psychological inpact of the restriction recovery brings. Besides family the two areas of my life that brings me most happiness are work and fitness training, to be restricted from both of these for such an extended period has been really tough. As I start reintroducing activities I am really appreciating the whole environment again.

The next steps for me are simple, continue as I am, introduce activities as and when they feel good, if something doesn’t pull or hurt keep trying it, listen to my body and try and focus on the positives. 

Life is better upside down!

Handstands, handbalancing, call it what you will, those that are good at them make them look easy, those that are learning them look about as graceful as Bambi on ice. I had set myself a target of a 5 second handstand hold, that might not seem like a long time but unsupported upside down time seems to stop.


When I first started I could barely hold a handstand against a wall for 10 seconds. There have been days where it felt like I was going backwards, days were standing on two feet let alone hands was a challenge. I’ve been almost religious in practicing, core, strength, technique and holds. I’ve landed on my head, my face, my back and rolled straight over. But I have held a handstand for over 5 seconds – goal achieved- I’m now working on consistency.


So many people have asked why I would want to learn how to handstand. After all I’m 32 with a background in karate, judo and rugby, if I’ve been upside down in the past something had gone wrong. The truth is I enjoy challenges, learning new skills and seeing how far I can push myself, a handstand ticked the boxes. What I hadn’t expected was that practice became more than just physical. As time progressed learning about mind muscle connection, listening to my body and clearing my mind of all other thoughts gave me the outlet to breakaway from all other pressures and stresses. 


So for now I’m still working away slowly moving towards yet another op date in the hope it’s third time lucky. It’s a strange feeling building techniques and fitness knowing post op most of the progress will be lost. Psychologically though I feel so much better, training let’s me feel involved in the waiting process rather than being an interested by-stander. For now though I’m staying focused on the knowledge “life is better upside down”. 

Spare bed anyone?

As I write this I can’t help feel a sense of deja vu.

Its just over a month since my original surgery date and the phone call cancelling it due to a “lack of beds”. The new date I was given was 31st January, my dads 50th birthday and the last day of our first planned trip since all this began. Fast forward to the 3oth January, the whole day my partner and I were on edge everytime the phone rang, the perfect way to prepare for surgery, but the dreaded call never came.

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Having spent the weekend in Dorset we cut our break short and made the long drive back to Leeds, set the alarm for an early breakfast (I was to fast from 6am) and I started to believe this surgery might actually happen. I was woken at 8 am by a phone call. I recognised the number straight away. My heart sank. It was the ward sister telling me not to eat but not to go in either, they were trying to find me a bed but it didn’t look hopeful. So there I was stuck between preparing mentally for a surgery that may then be cancelled, or, preparing for it not to happen and then not being ready if it did. For 4 hours I was left in limbo not knowing what was happening. When the phone did ring I was told the surgery was cancelled, not by an administrator but by a ward sister. A lady who had no doubt spent much time, effort and money training to look after patients not chase beds. Anger, frustration and disappointment all needing to be released, but you could hear all of these in the sisters voice.  I was then told that because they had cancelled the surgery I would be made a priority, funny, they said that last time!

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The surgery I was due to have was an open myomectomy, similar to a C-section but rather than deliver a beautiful baby they take the fibroid(s). The surgery requires a short stay in hospital, a recovery of 6-8 weeks (as a supply UQT I am only paid for the days I work and therefore loose 6-8 weeks pay to have surgery) and is termed an elective surgery. Elective surgery, the very term suggests it’s a choice. Yes I opted for surgery over an extended period of taking a synthetic hormone with mixed research that has only recently been licensed for extended use (A treatment I did try for 3 months and with side effects including pain and extreme exhaustion that made it difficult to function effectively). What I did not choose was to have fibroids, a condition I and many other women live with daily, a condition which has had a huge impact on my ability to work and maintain the hobbies I enjoy. As a result of this condition pain and fatigue are daily battles, my teacher training has been put on hold, holidays affected and family events missed and/or postponed. So to use a term that implies “choice” seems insensitive. I am not writing this for sympathy, I am aware there are people worse off than me, but more to raise awareness of the issues caused by fibroids and that whilst news reports are no longer covering the “crisis” it is still there. How long can a situation be termed a crisis before it become normality? If it becomes normality at what point does accountability raise it’s head and solutions begin to be found – a question for the administrators out there.

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So for now I am concentrating on my resolution to not waste energy on things I can’t change, admittedly with mixed success. I’m continuing to prepare for surgery whenever that might happen. The first time around I was ready mentally but not physically, this time round I was more ready physically but less mentally, maybe next time I’ll be good to go fro both perspectives. All we need is a new date and a bed, if not I may have to take an airbed with me.

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For those interested here is  my journey with St James hospital Leeds, since I entered the system of “care” at St James I have never seen a consultant, took Esmya for 3 months and have not seen a single member of staff from the department since 29th September.

July-September – Outpatient appointments all with different registrars.

September 29th – Consent for surgery signed – Esmya treatment began.

Early December – Pre-op (at Leeds General infirmary)

December 31st – Initial surgery date with Dr Tay (Cancelled on 30th December)

January 2017 – informed by Dr Tays secretary she is away and the next date available is late February.

January 24th – Given a cancellation with a new consultant for 31st January

January 31st – Surgery cancelled for the second time.

What does the future hold?

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!

Taking it easy Vs Being sensible

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This blog was supposed to be a review of, what would likely have been, a great afternoon of fun at The Suffering, 6 months and 7 days before the big one, Rat race Dirty Weekend . However rather than a tale of excitement and fun, feats of endurance and strength as I dragged myself and family through what looked like an adults playground, this blog is about road blogs, sulking and geeking out!

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With my final Obstacle run of 2016 just days away and excitement building my body gave me a sharp reminder that not all is well, Body 1 – Fun 0! It may have been a shift at work involving lots of lifting, stubbornness at pilates (Note to self – that look and “is that ok” question actually means “try the lower option”) or it may have been the culmination of a busy training week. Whatever the reason the result was the same, a missed weekend with the family and an unused race entry. To say I am disappointed would be an understatement, and even by my relatively unsociable standards, I have been in serious need of an “approach with caution” sign above my head as I pulled off a rather impressive angry elf impression.

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Two days of sulking and being fed up is over, it’s time to return to being grateful for the progress I’ve made and look forward to the remaining journey to the Full Mucker. Six months, six days and 12 hours to prepare for a challenge that will test endurance, strength and guts. Plenty of time in normal circumstances however, in just over a months time I am expecting to undergo abdominal surgery with a 6-8 week recovery period. Yes that is cutting it fine, but I like a challenge.

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I’ve written before about controlling my competitive/stubborn streak and although I still need to work on that I am making progress. More and more I’m able to ignore others and focus on myself, my form and my movements. Despite this shift in attitude friends and family still insist on telling me to “take it easy” something I find difficult to understand when it comes to training.

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How much progress can actually be made by “taking it easy”? My thinking is not much! So here lies the problem, how can I make progress towards my goals of being in the best shape possible for surgery, facilitating my recovery and preparation for the rat race weekend whilst not aggravating my current circumstances. As a geek knowledge and understanding are my tools of choice, my thinking being, that if you understand how and why things work it’s easier to make informed decisions, make the most of training time and avoid anything that might aggrevate or detract from training. So this weekend my kindle has taken a hammering, a reading list containing texts on calisthenics, Heart rate training, Yoga and pilates  has been created as I look to plan my training for the next month in the most “sensible” way I know. Stay tuned to find out if it works or if the angry elf returns.

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Why I’m doing what I’m doing

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Time to Suffer. 

This weekend I will be returning to Rockingham, this time to the speedway, although speed is the last thing I will be aiming for. It’s time for the suffering race part 2. Initially I had planned to do the 10mile event although current circumstances and an attempt to be “sensible” (well as sensible as you can be entering an event named the Suffering) means the 5km will be the challenge of choice. The Suffering is the event I’ve enjoyed the most this year and  seems the fitting way to end my OCR season. I will undoubtedly be paying for membership to “team suffering” next year. Who knowsI may  even  attempt to become a Legend. 


This event is likely to be the final preparation event before the Big one – Rat Race Dirty Weekend. The journey to this point has been full of peaks and troughs and the coming months are likely to bring more physical and mental challenges.  Throughout this journey I never forget the reason for the journey, yes the personal challenge is a factor but raising funds and aware Awarenessfor the Royal British Legion and Scottys little soldiers is always the priority. 

Training started so well, PBS on an almost weekly basis, running became my new best friend. More recently running has been joined by swimming and pilates. Less PBs have been coming my way but I feel more well rounded and I’ve had my eyes opened to a whole new world of potential challenges – did anyone say Great North Swim?  triathlon?, Suffering Legend? Spartan Trifecta? The possibilities are endless! 

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. 

I only went and did it! 

A week after what was one of my toughest physical and psychological challenges this year and I am actually still smiling at what I achieved. If you have read my previous blogs you will know my relationship with water and open water in particular is a rocky one. From waking that morning to finding myself treading water waiting for the signal to go I was continually questioning my sanity and will to even attempt this challenge. This was not helped by a rather pessimistic looking sign at the start forbidding swimming. 


As the start signal sounded we were off, it took me ages to get into my stroke, breathing every other stroke just to keep the panic away. This was working I was starting to settle and dare I say enjoy the swim. Suddenly there was a hand on my head and down I went, as I resurfaced the safety kayak was asking if I was ok, before I had chance to answer Becky announced I was fine whilst pulling me back into a swimming position. The rest of the first lap went without incident, sighting was an issue but boy did the sight of the water exit give a huge boost! Getting out I felt like I’d just done my hardest work out ever, Becky announced we were to run the 100 m and we were soon back in the water. 


The second lap was actually enjoyable, as I relaxed and realised all the work in the pool was paying off, I was still alive and all I needed to do was finish this lap to have finished. With around 300m left my arms were dead, my shoulders burned and my head dreamt of getting out and into dry land. Aiming for the pylon and then the water exit, the stroke felt good, breathing relaxed and I began to feel a sense of pride. Here I was about to finish my first open water swim event. 


I crossed the finish line, got my medal, watched Becky go back in for her third lap and smiled. I had done it! Yes it was the shortest distance of the day, yes I stayed with Becky the whole way but I had swam the whole way, nobody can take that away. I have completed a few OCR events this year but nothing rivalled that sense of achievement! 


This event was well organised, had a great atmosphere and the location was great. If you like open water swimming check out Amphibian events. Dare I say I am even considering signing up for their short course next year. 

Spartan Sprint – you’ll know it at the finish, or will you?

With the Manchester Spartan Race cancelled my wait for my first Spartan experience was extended. By the time I was on my way to the venue I was excited and anxious to get going after all a race with the tag line “you’ll know at the finish” leaves you with high expectations. The start line set the tone for the race, yes you had to clamber over a small (4 foot-ish) wall just to get into the starting pen. As Spartan newbies we didn’t really know what to expect baring a fire jump and spear throw, thankfully the duty Spartan quickly discovered our wave was indeed a wave full of Spartan Virgins. It wasn’t long before “I am a Spartan” was ringing in the ears of everyone within a mile radius and we were off. Months of anticipation and excitement were about to unfold.

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One thing I have noticed in the events I’ve done is how amazing the marshals are and baring a few that looked like someone had stole their last jelly bean they were smiling positive and full of advise (does “30 burpees” count as advise?). The guy dishing out the burpees at the monkey bars had some good banter and inventive burpee variations to keep everyone smiling following a good old British downpour. The lady at the barbed wire crawl dishing out advise and hugs. The ladies at the penultimate double wall were amazing, all day the supported, lifted pushed and encouraged participants over the wall yet their enthusiasm never dwindled, they were still going as we left the event village. The only real criticism  was the extended wooded section where not one marshal was to be seen and very little tape marked the route.

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If I’m honest I was a little disappointed by the variety of obstacles, there was walls, rope climb, walls, spear throw, object carries, walls and drags, did I mention walls? Yes there were lots of walls, initially this was fine but having to clamber over wall after wall when fences also had to be climbed just got us wishing for a little more inventiveness. Admittedly they were varying heights etc but walls are walls. The main obstacle was terrain, rough, uneven and full of stingy plants, at the end of the day it’s there so use it and it did add to the course.

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Overall I enjoyed the race, it wasn’t a massive challenge but it was only the sprint. It showed me that my training is working as walls were much less challenging than in previous events, I was even successful at the two overhanging walls. The rope climb was one obstacle I had been looking forward to and dreading in equal measures. It was made slightly trickier by the downpour that left the rope wet, muddy and slippery yet surprisingly I made it to the top and rang the bell (if you know my dad feel free to ask him how he got on). The remainder of the obstacle were challenging but realistic, and lets face it anything that finishes with a fire jump is going to make you smile.

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They say “you’ll know at the finish” but what did I know? I was left still questioning it. Other events I’ve done have been better organised, offered more variety of obstacle and a more welcoming atmosphere. Spartan is a brand known to the general population, its reputation is one of toughness and challenge, not for the faint hearted. Spartan race, for me, was similar to some big brand shoes, they do the same job as a cheaper version and from time to time you’re left wondering if what you’ve really paid for is the name. Having said that I’ve still got that nagging feeling that I’m missing something, there is still a part of me  that wonders if I am/could be tough enough to complete the trifecta? I can see where the “cult” label comes from, once you’re in you are left wanting to delve further into the community, see what the longer, harder races have to offer, see if you are strong and fit enough to take on their challenge or if you are just destined to a life of lesser known challenges.

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So where to now? Away from OCR I have a mammoth 2km “swim” in 10 days time. OCR wise I am returning to the Suffering Race at the end of October and am looking for another race before then. I am already compiling a wish list for 2017. I started this blog to track my progress to Rat Race Dirty Weekend 2017 and help raise awareness and funds for two charities, the Royal British Legion and Scotty’s little soldiers. What I am finding is that this journey is one that will continue beyond next May.

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If you would like to donate to our two worthy causes please use the link below.

http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/team/WilkosRatrace2017