Friday, 9 December 2011

What next?!?!

To be totally honest, it's taken a good couple of weeks to fully recover from Brighton 10km.. another small twang in my calf (the other leg this time), lots of stiff bits and very little desire to train. I actually felt like I'd run a marathon not just a 10km and physically and mentally was a bit wiped out. Fitness is as much about 'recovery' as it is about 'performance' and I guess my delayed recovery shows just how much of a toll the illness and surgery has taken on my body. I can't take anything for granted anymore nor take any short cuts. But this week has seen a turning point and I'm really enjoying my running again.. in fact last night I coached some 'hill reps' thinking I would just stand and shout at everyone, but I managed to join in.. and successfully coped with the session. I seriously surprised myself. 

I'm still focusing on core work (yawn), lots of stretching and spending a fortune on massage and physical therapy treatments.. and without wanting to put a jinx on things, it seems to be working. I saw my good friend Elle at StrideUK last week and she was thrilled with the improvement in my core strength, especially my TVA which she said has improved by about 80% since she first saw me. Big GOLD STAR for me.. Yay.

On Wednesday night I ran with my club and actually ran with the main group rather than right at the back plodding along and it was fantastic.. chatting away with the girls and feeling like I was 'part' of the club again. Loved it!

Brighton 10km was great, but what I'm going to do next? I have absolutely no clue.

Not having a goal is a new situation for me and one I'm not entirely comfortable with. I honestly don't know what I'm capable of anymore and the rules are all re-written. That said, I'm keenly aware that I've been through the mill and don't need any undue pressure.. but I do need something to aim at... but how do I work out what the right goal is going to be?

The Virgin London Marathon is now only 19 weeks away and as much as I'd love to be there, I suspect it will just be too much too soon. Just the thought of it makes me feel under pressure - so I guess it's not the right goal just now.

A half marathon or spring triathlon might be just the thing instead and may provide a better balance of sports to keep me injury free.. anyway.. your suggestions are gratefully received! either way, I need something to inspire me, provide the right level of motivation but not finish me off completely. Something I can be proud of doing but not demoralised because of my lack of fitness or end position or time. Answers on a postcard please!

On another note altogether I've been reading a blog about an article in US Cosmopolitan that has caused a bit of a kerfuffle in the 'ostomy world'.

The woman in the article referred to her 'poop bag' and implied she was pleased when it was gone.. and this has seemingly offended some people. It got me thinking about how I felt about my bag and was I also offended by the terminology? Jess (the blogger who criticised the article) has an ileostomy (like me) and happens to be a fantastic advocate, raises awareness and shows that it isn't something to be ashamed of. But unlike Jess, I'm not entirely sure I'm offended by the terminology... after all it is a bag and it has poop in it.. hence it's a 'poop bag'. It's just a fact. 

There are of course days when I wish I didn't have it either and I look at it and find it repulsive. When I had a reversal last October I was thrilled to get rid of it.. and actually wrote 'good riddance' on the bag before being wheeled down to theatre. Little did I know that I'd be begging the surgeon to put it back only 8 months later. I now have a significantly better quality of life because of it, and I'm lucky there was a solution for my illness.. many are not so fortunate. I guess I do have my own way of dealing with it.. and blogging and writing about it is one of those ways. I'm not going to hide it and I'm not ashamed of it .. but it doesn't define me. I don't consider myself to be disabled nor do I see it as a reason not to do things.. in some ways I consider it a challenge to overcome. But that doesn't mean that I think everyone should feel the same way. Many people struggle and many people never come to terms with it - perhaps like the woman in the Cosmo article.

I wouldn't say that I love my bag, but it has given me my health (and running!) back and for that I'll be forever grateful. It was a fascinating debate though and shows the depth and diversity of feelings that people have about their illnesses, experiences and life with a bag. Just shows how different we all are and we're all just coping in the only way we know how.

All the more reason for a blog like this I suppose. What I hope to do here is simply raise awareness and share my feelings, experiences and emotions (good and bad) about living life with an ileostomy.. or should I say 'adventures with an ileostomy' :-) 

Monday, 21 November 2011

A bend in the road is not the end of the road... unless you fail to make the turn. Unknown

Today I'm feeling pretty tired, emotional and very proud... Yesterday I took my beginner running group 'Sarah's Runners' down to Brighton 10km - all 35 of them! For some it was their first ever race, for others the furthest they'd ever actually run..... and for me it was my first proper race in 18 months and my first race with my ileostomy.. 

I'd moaned on all week about not being ready, being too slow, about having sore legs, about how it might set me back and I had swung back on forth on the decision about whether or not to take part. I've lost a lot of confidence over the last 18 months and I was really nervous about putting myself back 'on the line'. It would have been much easier just to support the others and use that as an excuse not to run.. especially knowing that most of them would actually go faster than me and I would probably be about 20 minutes slower than my best. No-one makes me feel like that though.. the group are amazingly supportive. I'm the one who beats myself up.. 

But on Saturday I decided to stop with the moaning and just toughen up and get on with it ... no excuses. Saturday night was spent getting my kit together, hunting for safety pins and deciding what to wear and feeling nervous.. just like times of old.  So on Sunday, we all loaded onto the coach and headed off down to Brighton, everyone very nervous and excited! Before the race we all got warmed up and it was a brilliant sight seeing everyone in their club t-shirts.. I was so proud of them all.. they all looked fab! 

Before the start I had to visit the loo a few times to empty the bag which caused a bit of a panic. I'd forgotten how my body would react to pre-race adrenaline and hadn't appreciated how it would speed up my output into the bag. When I get running though, there is a shift of blood flow away from the intestines and the bag doesn't fill up at all, but I didn't want to start the race with a full bag as a) it's really uncomfortable and b) it makes a rather large bulge in my lyrca.. not a good look.  With hindsight I should have taken some immodium to slow things down - something to remember next time.

Anyway... onto the start line and I was standing with my friend Anita.. who is rather ironically my surgeon's secretary. She totally understands everything I've been through and knows more about my bowels than I do! It was quite a poignant way to start the race with her and she gave me a big hug before we started which was lovely and made me feel very emotional. I set off very conservatively not knowing how I'd feel or even really having any idea how to pace it. The feeling of 'racing' came back pretty quickly though and I found myself wanting to push on and not let people pass me.. I realised my pace was going to bring me in under the hour and possibly even 55 minutes.. that was a surprise! After about 7km I was feeling quite strong and managed to push on a bit more. I ran with a couple of my group - Sema and Raquel - for a while and that really spurred me on. I managed to find a finishing kick from somewhere and crossed the line in 53:48. I saw loads of friends around the course.. people I know from all different aspects of running as well as my lovely hubby and the boys who had come to watch - and they all gave me a lovely cheer! it was just brilliant. 

But what surprised me the most though was how much I loved it! I just loved being part of a race again and even though I was 13 minutes slower than the last time I ran Brighton 10km 3 years ago.. I couldn't have worked any harder and I loved the adrenaline kick of racing hard! My max heart rate was 186 and average 168. Must have been a bit of a shock for my body as I haven't seen a heartrate like that for a VERY long time.  Running down the finish chute with everyone cheering was just amazing and I had a giant smile on my face. I felt like a proper runner again and well.. just like ME! 

Everyone in the group did so well and really enjoyed themselves. I know I wouldn't have done the race without their support either, so we are all helping each other and it's just brilliant. I was very proud of them all and if I'm honest... I'm proud of myself just a bit too. 

This has been a huge turning point and I've proven to myself that I can be back in the game. Whilst I will always need to take care of myself a bit more than most and stay on top of injuries, recovery and nutrition.. I also need to be a bit more confident in my body and push it to see what it can do.

It can only get better from here and this has been the confidence boost I so badly needed.  It would have been easier to watch from the sidelines, but I launched myself out of my comfort zone and into the unknown.. and it turned out just fine.  

I might have been taken 'off track' for a while but I'm slowly finding my way back to the road. It might be a slightly different road to the one I was on before, but maybe it's actually heading in a better direction.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Seems I spoke too soon!

If I was 5 years old, I'd be stamping my foot and declaring it all to be 'so unfair'. That's exactly how I feel right now as I'm sitting here with an ice pack on my calf. But as I'm a grown up, instead of stamping my foot and having a tantrum, I'll just have a moan in my blog instead ;-)

I guess now I look back with hindsight, I realise I'd started to do a bit too much over the last week or so.  A 7 mile run last Saturday was really demoralising and I ran too fast and with too many hills. I had gone with a (faster) friend and I just couldn't keep up with her, so I ended up having to push it too hard and was completely wrecked when I got home.. bursting into tears as soon as I got through the door. I know that sounds childish, but it just feels like I take one step forwards then get knocked back again.. and I'm having to dig really deep.

I'm pretty sure that long run then contributed to some tightness in my lower back and  hamstrings which has resulted in my calf going 'twang' when I was coaching yesterday.  It's a relatively minor tear in my soleus, but it's just annoying when things were starting to go well and it just means taking a few days off, icing it, getting some treatment and seeing how it responds.  It's hardly surprising given the state of my core stability and despite doing my exercises, it seems it's just not enough. 

It's SO frustrating and so hard to know how much I can (or can't!) do. The rules have all changed now and I'm having to relearn how my body responds, recovers and progresses. And as much as I love my beginner group and my coaching work, it's really tough watching everyone get faster, fitter and feel so good about themselves, while I'm slowly struggling on. People say that I'm an inspiration, but I don't feel like it. I just feel unfit, overweight and mentally knackered from it all. 

Having the ileostomy in itself isn't really a problem any more. Now I'm using convex bags I haven't had a leak in a month (yippee!!), I'm figuring out the sorts of food that work best (nuts and porridge are still off the menu!), my blood sugar levels are better and I'm feeling recovered pretty much from the surgery itself. 

The PROBLEM is that my body is wrecked from having 4 abdominal operations in a year and the posture and body composition changes that have gone with that. I've pretty much had 16 months off training, have lost a lot of muscle (and gained plenty of lard!) and my immune system has taken a bashing too. Some issues at home with my 12 year old and having to find a specialist school for him, are also causing my stress levels to rocket and I have an almost permanent headache. Stress, recovery from surgery and running don't really go very well together!

People ask me if I'll be able to get back to 'racing' again.. and the answer to that is I have no idea.  Last week I thought I might be able to run the marathon in April.. this week, I'm not so sure. All I do know is that I'm going to have to ramp up the rehab, stretching and strength/conditioning stuff if I've got a hope of running more than 5 miles ever again! So it's time for yet another rethink. Pilates, swimming, gym work, foam rolling and massage need to be a higher priority - I can't afford to be complacent for one second. 

In the words of Dick Wolf 'As soon as you get complacent your show gets cancelled'. 

Monday, 24 October 2011

Finally a Breakthrough!

So, I've been following this heart-rate training method for the last 4 weeks. Basically keeping my heart-rate as close to/under 70% of my max (140bpm). It has meant walking up hills and plodding at about 11 min mile pace. To be honest it's been really frustrating and fairly depressing.

But deep down I know it works, so have persevered.. and I'm really glad I have. On Saturday I did a regular 5 mile run from my house and again stuck to the heart-rate thing. Glancing at my watch I realised that my pace was much quicker at the same heart-rate and I didn't need to walk up any hills.. and by the end of the run I was a whole 7 minutes faster than 2 weeks ago for the same average heart-rate. A MASSIVE breakthrough and proof the the heart-rate training method really works!

Ok, so still not exactly fast, but certainly a huge improvement.  It made me feel that maybe, just maybe, the London Marathon might not be that insane an idea after all.

Talking about the London Marathon, I have just agreed to be the official training consultant/coach for the Cardiomyopathy Association Team. So I'll be helping their team with their training and preparation for the Virgin London Marathon in April. I'm really honoured and excited to be helping them and they're a great charity. I think it will also help me focus on my own training and it'll be an interesting journey to see how we all get on over the next 6 months.

I've also been getting out on my bike and really enjoying this lovely autumnal weather. On Sunday (after my breakthrough run on Saturday) I had a fantastic bike ride with my friend Steve. 33 miles and 2500ft of climbing (we happen to live in a very hilly area) and it was brilliant! My longest ride since June 2010 (and that was 56 miles in Weymouth Half Ironman)!  I was completely knackered afterwards, but in that lovely 'post exercise tired' sort of way.. rather than in an 'ill' sort of way.  I'm always nervous after pushing it like that (I have to confess that my heart-rate didn't exactly stay under 140) and wonder how I'll recover, but so far, my immune system seems stronger and my tolerance to exercise seems to be improving. FINALLY !!!

I'm going to show this stupid bag who's boss here! I was robbed of my Ironman last year from being ill, but having an ileostomy isn't going to stop me getting back there now. In the words of Michael Jordan...
'Obstacles don't have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don't turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it'

Monday, 10 October 2011

Exactly 3 months on..

How quickly time flies! It is exactly 3 months ago today that I had surgery to create a permanent ileostomy. Having had perforation of my colon last year and peritonitis, my colon was so damaged that it basically stopped working - so now it's bypassed and the end of my bowel is a hole in my abdomen. Nice trick!

That means I've had my little stoma (the technical name) for 12 whole weeks. Sometimes it feels like forever and sometimes just like yesterday. Sometimes it just doesn't seem real at all.

I'm usually a really positive person, but I have to admit that recently a few negative thoughts have been sneaking into my head. Up until now I've been so ecstatic about feeling better, about being able to eat, sleep and exercise again that I didn't care about the bag... in fact I was grateful for it.  But now the euphoria of feeling better is starting to wear off a bit.. and I catch myself thinking 'how am I going to live with this thing for the rest of my life?' I'm sometimes repulsed by it and if I'm honest just sometimes REALLY wish it wasn't there at all.  This whole journey has been crazy.  18 months ago I was training for an Ironman thinking I was invincible and superwoman .. Here I am now (never having made the Ironman) with a permanent colostomy bag, having survived a life threatening perforation of my colon and now faced with re-building every aspect of not only my fitness, but my life and my career.  Sometimes it just sucks!

For some reason however, these are the cards I've been dealt and it is what it is.  I have to remind myself that things could be a lot worse. If I had MS or Parkinsons disease or cancer for example... something that really prevented me from living my life the way I want to. The reality is that the bag is nothing more than an inconvenience and it needs to be put in it's place. It is not going to stop me from doing anything! so there. 

On that note.. my actual training has been going pretty well, although painfully slowly. My heartrate is feeling more stable and I can actually jog up a hill now without it shooting through the roof.  This last week I've clocked up 15 miles of running and 35 miles on the bike as well as my core stability work.  As ever its all very steady and slow, but already I'm starting to see some tiny improvements in pace for the same heartrate and recovery is becoming more predictable. Hooray! about time. Don't get me wrong, I'm still running at snails pace.. but it's starting to get a little easier and I'm really enjoying it. If nothing else the 'lay off' has given me a renewed sense of enthusiasm for training... and that in itself feels amazing!

I still have a bad case of 'skinny fit runner' envy though and watched the recent Ironman World Championships in Hawaii with a mixture of awe and jealously! I'd always dreamed that one day I just might qualify... now of course it'll be harder than ever and I have hurdles which I'll probably never be able to overcome. So I think it's one goal that I'll have to put in the 'dream on!' box for now and focus on a more realistic target - the local 10km to start with.

To put things in perspective though. My lovely dog Willow has just qualified as a PAT (pets as therapy) dog and we just had our first 'date' at a local nursing home which specialises in dementia care. She was an absolute star and everyone loved her - feeding her treats, patting her and she wagged her tail a lot! It was a really lovely thing to do and all the residents were so grateful and really enjoyed spending time with her. It was lovely to help put a smile on their faces and just give a little something, no matter how small. It did make me think though... what have I really got to complain about??? life is just too short and even though I have this stupid bag to deal with... it's nothing really. Certainly not compared to those poor old folk in the nursing home suffering dementia and unable to live in their own homes. One day, probably not that far from now, that could be me sat in my nursing home, patting the 'therapy' dog brought in by a local volunteer.. I just need to grasp my life in whatever shape or form it might be in and live it to the full. So it's time to push those negative thoughts from my head and be grateful for my little bag which has given me my health back. Positive 'head' is firmly back on.. and sorry for the moan!
I don't know who Merle Miller is.. but I do love this quote. 

"Everyone has his burden. What counts is how you carry it."
 --Merle Miller 

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

London Marathon.. I'm in!

So I'm officially in the London Marathon for 2012.  It's on 22nd April.. which is basically 28 weeks away and I have a 'Good for Age' place! Ha! A lot has happened in the 2 years since I gained the qualifying time at Paris Marathon.. and I'm about as far from being 'good for age' as I could be. I think I'll be better off running with the fairies and rhinos off the red start. Do I think I can do it??? Honestly I have no idea. It's not for the lack of desire.. I desperately want to be there and am motivated to train, but it might just be too much too soon.  On the basis I can currently run for 5 miles (walking up hills I might add!) it seems like a pretty big task ahead.  I think I'll just build the miles and see how things go..  

Looming closer though, is Brighton 10km which is 7 weeks away on 20th November. I'm taking a big group from my beginner running group (over 30 of us!) which is fantastic, but I have a feeling most of them will actually run faster than me! They all know about my surgery and what I've been through and everyone is very supportive and lovely, but it's going to be a tough one to watch them all disappear into the distance..

My training is going ok though and I'm beginning to build the miles, but I'm really nervous of doing too much and pushing myself.  I'm religiously sticking with my sub 140 bpm heartrate training and hoping I'll start to see an improvement in pace soon. But I'll admit it's getting boring! However I've got some great friends (and an amazing hubby) who are happy to run or cycle slowly with me and I feel really lucky to have such great support :-)

On the nutrition front, since I've started doing more exercise, my blood sugar levels are all over the place and I find myself scoffing bags of the kids sweets in desperation! Not great I know.  Because of the ileostomy, things I eat can whizz through my system and be out and in the bag in less than an hour, and consequently my energy levels are really inconsistent. It's almost like being diabetic at times (I'm not) and I found myself in Marks and Spencer the other day shaking with low blood sugar and having to buy (and eat) an entire bag of Percy Pigs!  A healthy low GI diet (with lots of fibre, seeds and nuts etc) which helps to stabilise blood sugar just isn't working for me at the moment and last night I was close to having a blockage after overdoing the salad, nuts and jacket potato skin.  It's all a massive learning curve and I'll admit I'm finding it tough to get it right.

I have to be honest, there are times when I look at the bag and wonder how on earth it got there! the last 18 months has been such a weird journey and here I am now with a permanent 'colostomy' bag and the challenges it entails. Without wanting to complain, sometimes it just doesn't seem fair. 

I also still haven't quite gotten on top of the leaks and haven't felt 100% confident with the security of the bag. There are times when I can feel it starting to itch and feel sore.. and the inevitable leak begins. Then I know it's time to rush home for an emergency shower and change.  It shouldn't have to be like that and we shouldn't have to suffer embarrassing leaks. So I finally gave in and tried what is called a convex bag. This has a hard ring which goes around the stoma and pushes it out.. even though it's more uncomfortable and obvious under clothes, I've tried it over the last few days and it seems more secure and trustworthy! so for the moment I'm feeling pretty happy with it and more confident. Phew.. 

On another note altogether, my 12 year old did a local aquathlon on Sunday. He had to swim 200m and then run 1500m. He's not hugely competitive and his training has left plenty to be desired, but it was all about having fun and being proud of himself. He was very nervous to begin with, but had a great time and did really well! But for me, just being part of the 'triathlon' scene again was amazing and I loved being poolside watching the swimmers and mixing with the other obvious 'triathlete' parents (their Ironman T-shirts gave them away). Setting up transition and helping him get ready was really inspiring and exciting and just made me want to be part of it all again.... So whether I do the London Marathon in April or not, I know that whatever happens I'll be signing up for a triathlon next season. I wonder if they'll let me compete as a 'novice' again?!

Friday, 23 September 2011

And I'm feeling goooood!

I've had a really good week, finally thrown off my cold and am actually feeling really really well!   When people ask me how I'm doing now, I love being able to answer 'REALLY good thanks!' it's a far cry from where I was only 6 months ago when the answer was more like 'ugghhh... bloody awful'.  I'm pretty sure most of my friends got fed up of asking me... and for that I apologise!

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I don't think I had any idea just how poorly I was and how hard things had become. I'd gotten used to living a weird sort of normal and was just trying to  make the most of it, struggling with a brave face, with occasional moan. Now I'm in a totally different place and can feel my energy levels and fitness starting to come back and I'm feeling so much better being able to eat more healthily again. My body is slowly starting to feel slightly more toned and stronger again and I'm enjoying the 'ache' from doing my core work! I must be doing it right. It still far from where I want it to be, but it's progress and at least I feel like there are some muscles coming out of hibernation!

I feel like I'm glowing and have my sparkle back! wow! how great is that?

I'm struggling with my diet a bit though and feel quite confused about what to eat. Some experts recommend that people with an ileostomy like mine shouldn't eat nuts, stringy foods, sweetcorn, fruit or veg with skins etc - basically things that could cause a blockage. I have to say, I'm not especially cautious and give most things a go, but some things work better than others and it's a case of trial and error. Foods like nuts, grapes, oats and sweetcorn aren't great and I'm confused about fibre, electrolytes and healthy oils.  It would be easy to use the stoma as an excuse and just eat highly processed cr@p as it's easier to digest, but I want to give my body the best chance of recovery and to be as healthy as possible.

So what I need now is some expert advice to get to grips with my new digestive system! What's the point eating a nut when it comes out in pretty much the same state? I can't possibly be absorbing any nutrients from it. So I was really excited to meet a Nutritional Therapist this morning at a friend's health shop opening, who I've booked an appointment with.  She didn't balk when I mentioned the ileostomy and felt confident she'd be able to help me. I'm really looking forward to seeing her and seeing how she can advise me. I must have been inspired because I'm sitting here drinking jasmine tea of all things!! not like me at all. And it's actually quite nice.

As far as training goes, I've also been out on my bike twice this week, done my core stability work AND been running 4 times.  The sub 140bpm heartrate thing is really working and even though I'm going incredibly slowly (running 11 min mile pace! good grief!), I can feel my fitness creeping back slowly. Monitoring my heartrate like this makes me feel confident that I'm absorbing the training and recovering now instead of pushing too hard, and I feel in control.

I made it back to my running club on Wednesday night for my first club night in months and was pretty nervous beforehand. I'm the slowest runner in the club by far now which is frustrating, especially considering where I once was, and the club is pretty fast and competitive. But lovely hubby and another friend Dave ran with me and a lady who'd just had a baby, so I even though we were right at the back, only did half the route and walked up all the hills - it was still nice and I really enjoyed the feeling of doing something 'normal'. 

I feel like I've turned a corner this last week and I'm feeling really positive and happy! I had a glorious run this morning at Bedgebury forest this morning. 40 minutes of uninterrupted bliss - and I ran the whole thing without having to walk any hills. It's really beautiful there and at this time of year when the sun shines, its' just heaven. How could you not enjoy running in a place like this??  It makes you glad to be alive and lucky to being able to run. I know what it feels like to have it all taken away and I don't think I'll ever take running or my health for granted again. 

Beautiful Bedgebury

Saturday, 17 September 2011

9 weeks post surgery .. and life goes on

I've been trying to find time to write a blog for the last 2 weeks and have been so busy I haven't had a minute to sit down at the computer.  Life is certainly 'back to normal' now and I'm rushing about, back on the hamster wheel of the school run, after school activities, work, coaching, housework and just, well, life. 

On one hand that's fantastic and I'm so grateful I feel better enough just to cope with it all (I couldn't before the operation), but on the other hand I have to remember I'm only 9 weeks post surgery and still recovering from a pretty long ordeal.  Another close friend recently had surgery to remove a fibroid and we were comparing experiences and levels of exhaustion! one of the problems of laprascopic surgery is that recovery - in the sense of the abdominal wound - is so much quicker, and it lulls you into a false sense of security. We forget about the effects of the general anaesthetic and general trauma on your body and that takes much longer to recover from even when the wounds have effectively healed.

Talking of begin run down.. I'm also still struggling on with this cold/sinus infection which I've now had for nearly 3 weeks. A sure sign my immune system is fairly low and my body is struggling to recover and cope. I've always been prone to sinus infections and always need antibiotics to shift it - there's also a strong correlation between my training level and the number of infections I get. I've had so many antibiotics for my stomach over the last year though, I think I'm must be a bit resistant as it's taking it's time to shift. Hopefully it'll start to improve soon, as at the moment that's the only thing that's stopping me from getting back into training!  It's ironic that only 9 weeks after getting a stoma/ileostomy bag I'm more frustrated by a cold!

One of the problems with an ileostomy is that because I don't have a colon, I don't absorb things in the same way. So certain medications and tablets - such as painkillers, vitamins and the contraceptive pill - don't get fully absorbed properly.  I try to choose chewable, soluable or liquid formats when possible and it's tricky trying to figure out what works best. It's a huge learning curve and a case of trial and error (I wont' be taking that approach to my contraceptive pill though ;-)).  I'm experimenting with various vitamin supplements too as I'm trying to boost my immunity.

On the subject of 'THE BAG', things are much improved and the stoma is completely healed now. I rarely have leaks anymore and I've got a great changing routine going in the morning which allows me 5 minutes of bag freedom in the shower. I have been experimenting with different products and styles and having tried out about 6 different brands, have gone back to the original one I started with. I've started getting a bit complacent lately though and dashing out of the house without my changing kit.. it's a good sign as it means I've pretty much forgotten the bag is even there. But it's a huge risk as the possibility of a leak is always present.. and if that happened and I didn't have my kit... well the consequences aren't worth thinking about. I just need to remember to pop it in my bag and get into a routine.. otherwise things could get messy. 

Anyway.. you may remember that I had entered Tunbridge Wells 10km a few weeks ago in the hope I'd be fit enough to at least jog round. Well it's tomorrow and there is no way I'm in any shape to even complete the distance! It was probably a bit optimistic anyway so I'm not hugely disappointed, but what's interesting is that I ran the very same race last year when I had a temporary bag. It was only 8 weeks after I'd had surgery at that time (and a more serious operation too) and I got fit enough to not only complete the distance but in a half decent time of 53 minutes.  But this time I'm coming from a much lower base level prior to surgery. I'm now recovering from the accumulative effect of 14 months of surgeries and illness and that's going to be harder to come back from.  So Brighton 10km in November is now my goal and I'll just have to see how things go.. NO pressure!

I really haven't been doing much training to be honest, but what I have done has all been at a very low intensity and I'm monitoring my heartrate to keep it under 140bpm at all times.  This means running really slowly and walking up hills - I feel like wearing a disguise so no-one recognises me. I really am starting from scratch all over again.

What has been fantastic though, is getting back to coaching my beginner running group in the last week. I started Sarah's Runners nearly 8 years ago now and we focus on coaching beginner and intermediate runners. The group has grown over the years and we now see close to 80 runners each week. I had 2 months off after the operation, and various fantastic friends and helpers have kept the group going in my absence. Last week was my first week back and I was met with a lovely reception, lots of new faces and a great atmosphere! I always tend to run at the back with new beginners and jog/walkers so it's great for me at the moment and I can really empathise with where they're at too. It's such a positive environment and even though I'm at rock bottom personally, it's great to help other people progress and develop a love of running. It's definitely the best bit of my job!

Last Sunday we were helping out at a race that our club organise. The Eridge Park 10 is a ten mile cross county race in a local park and attracts around 500 runners.  I was helping out with timing on the finish line and even though I had fun and really enjoyed it, I developed a serious case of 'skinny fit runner' envy. That used to be me! Now I'm seriously unfit, have to carry a bag of poop attached to my stomach, am 10lbs heavier than I'd like and I have a cold.  To make matters worse, my friend (and ex cycling partner) Richard was doing his first Ironman on Sunday too. We had planned to do our first Ironman together in Copenhagen, and last year when I was supposedly getting back to normal, we both entered. Things didn't work out at all and by Xmas it was clear there was no way I could do it, so we pulled out. Richard however, continued training and entered Ironman Wales instead. He has trained so hard and done just brilliantly. He completely the tough hilly course in 13 hours 32 minutes and I was so proud of him! It was a gutsy performance and a fantastic achievement. I found myself wishing I'd been able to do it too. On Sunday night, I was feeling ever so slightly grumpy and for the first time since all of this began, felt a little bit sorry for myself.

By Monday however, I'd pulled myself together and was in a more positive frame of mind. I was having a 'rehab' session with Elle and Mitch from StrideUK in Brighton and was really excited to get assessed and focus on some key exercises to improve my core stability and posture. Elle and Mitch are both amazingly knowledgeable about core stability, injury prevention and running gait and I wanted their advice to help me figure out what the priorities are for me now and to give me some structure to my programme.  

To cut a long story short, things are pretty bad (hardly surprising really) and my TVA (transverse abdominals) are at about 20% of where they should be.  Trying to run too much now with a weakness like that is a sure fire way to injury, so I'm determined to follow Elle's suggestions and get my strength back first. I have a series of exercises to do to which take around 30 minutes in total and I have to do them 3 times per week. But this isn't about getting a toned stomach or a six-pack (my bikini days are long gone!) but more about strengthening the stabilising muscles around my stomach, lower back, glutes and shoulder girdle to prevent injury. 

Most running injuries are caused by having a weak core, by the pelvis moving too much during running or by some sort of muscle imbalance or weakness. So a sore knee is acutally the product of weak glutes. Most runners would benefit from following a programme like this and to be honest I'm looking forward to the challenge and it gives me something to focus on. 

I'm determined to do everything I can to keep myself as strong, fit and healthy. I know what it feels like to have your health taken away and my priorities are totally different now. 

That said, I've got a mad plan. If all goes well and I somehow manage to shift this cold and get running again, I'll first aim for Brighton 10km in November and then I'd love to be able to take part in the London Marathon again next April. It'll be a huge ask and I'm sure the path will be littered with sinus infections, colds and niggles... BUT if I can do it, it will mean I'm normal again.  My benchmark is this - I'll know I've recovered when I can run a marathon... is that insane??

Then... if I manage to do that, I have an even more crazy plan with my great friend Nicola (wife of Ironman Richard).  Next June I'll turn 40 and there is an amazing looking race on 23/24th June called The Wall which would be a perfect way to celebrate. It runs the entire length of Hadrian's Wall, from Carlisle to Newcastle and it's got me excited just thinking about it. It's 65 miles in total and you run half of it on day one, camp overnight and then run the remaining 30 miles the second day. It would be a fitting tribute to my recovery and a brilliant way to celebrate turning 40, running with a good friend and just being part of something so amazing.  Very crazy I know.. but lets see how things go. It would be an amazing challenge and a fantastic achievement. 

Although based on the fact I can't currently run 10km.. it might just be a step too far. We shall see!

Monday, 5 September 2011

I really should know better!

So that little burst of 'activity' a couple of weeks ago sort of backfired! It turns out it may have been a little bit 'too much too soon' and I've spent the last week fighting a nasty sore throat and a cold. I feel like I've taken 2 steps backwards which is hugely frustrating.

At the time I was so thrilled at feeling better, being able to get out running and cycling and if I'm honest, escape from the house for some peace, my enthusiasm got the better of me and I just pushed things a bit too much. I should know better.. but the excitement of feeling so good took advantage of my better judgement. 

I've always been prone to 'overtraining syndrome' and can get run down very easily if I do too much. I'm usually very cautious about recovery, nutrition and rest. But the rules have all changed now and I need to carefully reconsider what I'm capable of and allow more recovery time than I ever thought I'd need. What I thought was relatively gentle training, turned out to be too much for where I'm at right now. I think it was that last 40 minute run that pushed things over the edge. For a 40 minute run to be too much!!!! for goodness sake.. I really am at a very low point.

But it's no wonder though really.. my body has been through a lot and my immune system must be rock bottom. My diet was pretty limited for nearly a year and my intake of fruit and vegetables wasn't great, I've had 5 general anaesthetics and the trauma of the illness and surgeries have really taken it out of me. I don't think I'm going to bounce back as quickly as I might like!

This has taught me a valuable lesson though and once I'm recovered from this virus it's back to the drawing board.

So when I'm feeling a bit better I'm going to approach my training in a completely different way. I've followed a heart rate training method in the past which has worked a treat. Its' really hard and hugely frustrating but it works! It involves keeping my heartrate under 75% of my maximum HR all of the time.. which works out at 140 bpm. That is a tough call!! It means walking up hills and running VERY slowly. If my heartrate rises above 140bpm, I have to walk or slow down until it comes back down. But the system does work and when I've done it in the past it has helped me recover from a spell of overtraining. It will help control my enthusiasm and prevent me from pushing things too much.

I also need to make a concerted effort with my nutrition and to make sure I get enough sleep. I guess I have to remember I'm only 8 weeks out of surgery and whilst I'm much improved and feeling better, I'm still in the recovery phase and need to take it slowly and not push myself. That, as I'm sure you know by now, isn't easy!

Whilst frustrating though, this little cold didn't prevent us from getting out and about on holiday last week and we had a great time walking and biking in the Lake District. To celebrate the 7 week anniversary of my operation we climbed the Old Man of Coniston which is 800m and a really challenging walk. I had major jelly legs on the way back down. We also did some gentle mountain biking, walking, fishing and a tour of all the best cake shops and tea rooms in the Lake District! It was a lovely break and meant more because it's something I couldn't have contemplated before I had this surgery. 
Top of the Old Man of Coniston 800m

Mountain biking in Grizedale Forest
So, the summer holidays are over, the boys are back to school this week and my thoughts are turning to work, writing and coaching again. I've had a long break from proper work and my mind is buzzing with exciting ideas and opportunities. I've got a new website in the offing, a couple of coaching courses planned and plenty of ideas for articles and a new book! As always though, I have to curb my natural drive and enthusiasm and be careful I don't take on too much and push too hard too soon. As ever, the biggest challenge for me is to be patient!

I start back coaching my beginner running group tomorrow after a 2 month break, and I can't wait to see everyone and get back to normal. I just hope they're gentle with me as I'm not sure I'll be able to keep up !

Thursday, 25 August 2011

6 weeks on and signed off from surgeon!

I saw my surgeon yesterday for my 6 week check, and am officially signed off! He doesn't need to see me ever again. So as long as I don't have any complications with the stoma, develop a hernia or diversion colitis (which is a slight possibility and would require another surgery - sigh) I don't need any further appointments, tests or treatment! So that's it.. I have a 'bag for life' and will live with my stoma forever. But that's fine by me.. most of the time now I barely even notice it's there. I do of course always have the support of my stoma nurse Lesley who is an angel and always there at the end of the phone or email. 

Saying goodbye to my surgeon did make me reflect over the last 16 months though and thought I'd make a list of all the things that I've gone through:

4 surgeries - emergency surgery to treat peritonitis, sigmoid colectomy/stoma formation, stoma reversal, laparascopy/stoma formation
5 CT scans (with contrast)
1 MRI Scan (with contrast)
1 Colonoscopy
3 Gastrograffin enemas
1 small bowel follow through
2 transit tests with Xray
14 consultations with 3 different consultants (inc a world leading professor)
1 incorrect diagnosis of SIBO
8 courses of antibiotics
4 IV courses of antibiotics
22 days in hospital

I guess that puts things in perspective... Sometimes I get awful flashbacks to the times in hospital, especially the first admission when I was in so much pain with peritonitis and no-one knew what was wrong. But those flashbacks are getting less with time and I'm finding myself excited about the future instead and feeling physically and emotionally stronger every day.

I have even bought a proper pair of jeans - not leggings, jeggings or jogging pants - proper demin jeans with a zip and everything. Small things like that are quite exciting really and all signs of recovery and just being 'normal' again. I haven't worn jeans for so long and living in leggings and smocks gets pretty depressing after a while. Simple things I used to take for granted before like eating, sleeping, exercise and even wearing jeans, I'm so grateful for now. It's certainly been a life changing experience.

So, we are on holiday this weekend and are off to climb mountains, ride bikes and have fun in the Lake District. I cannot wait.. the next blog will be a photo of me at the top of a mountain!

Monday, 22 August 2011

No-one said it would be easy!

I woke up this morning feeling like I'd run a marathon. I hadn't of course.. but over the last few days I've done a short run every day, culminating in my longest run yesterday of 40 minutes and all in all I'm feeling pretty tired. So tired in fact that I nearly cancelled a bike ride that I had planned this afternoon - but in the end I was really glad I didn't. I went out with Hatty and Sue (who is also recovering from illness) and we took on some serious hills and rose to the challenge! I felt stronger and fitter than last week and although we didn't ride quite as far, it was lovely to be out and I can feel my confidence returning in terms of handling skills on the bike and pushing the pace up hills. Another fab ride with great company!

To be honest I've probably done a little too much over the last few days, but have been taking advantage of hubby being at home to keep an eye on the boys and have just been grateful for a bit of peace and 'me' time. I love the freedom that running brings and being able to just escape for half an hour is utter bliss! Makes me realise just how much I've missed it over the last year.

I'm also loving that feeling of being 'tired' from exercise and being so active is helping my sleep and also my digestion which is still sluggish. But I'm also very aware of the need for rest - especially now while I'm still recovering - so I'm going to take a few days off, have a few early nights now and listen to what my tired body is telling me!

Running is feeling much harder in general though and so far it's not getting any easier. I feel like I'm lumbering - not running - and it's just SO tough. My form has gone to pieces and everything hurts and wobbles and I'm really not enjoying it much! You know that amazing feeling when you're running and everything is flowing, your body is floating along effortlessly almost in a meditative state??... well it's NOTHING like that. I can only hope it gets easier.

My race number came through for the Tunbridge Wells 10km - in exactly 3 weeks time - and I'm beginning to question my sanity in entering it so soon. It's a tough, hilly course and I know it's going to be really hard. It's a lovely race though and in aid of Hospice in the Weald where my dad died, so a great cause and therefore always emotional. I'll just have to plug away at the running before race day and hope for the best! The goal is just to be there, get round and enjoy the atmosphere... or something like that. I know I'll feel frustrated not being able to run as fast as I want to... but I think some perspective might be in order. It's not just the 'only 9 weeks post surgery' bit.. but the '16 months of illness/no training and 3 other operations' bit that I need to remember.

One of the toughest things I'm finding in coping with the ileostomy, is the volume of fluid I have to drink. I have an increased risk of dehydration as I lose so much fluid and salts through my stoma. Consequently I have to keep on top of my fluid intake 24/7 which gets pretty annoying as I have to carry a waterbottle EVERYWHERE. I use nuun tablets in my water bottles every single day, which helps to replace the electrolytes but without the calories from sticky sports drinks and I drink a pint before I even get out of bed in the morning. I can feel ill pretty quickly if my salt or fluid levels go down though, so it's going to be the biggest challenge as I increase the distances that I'm running and riding. It's a great excuse to have a 'guilt free' packet of salty crisps though!

Alcohol is another major challenge and contributes to the dehydration problems even if I just have one glass of wine. I can have a hangover after 2 glasses and find myself hunting out the lowest alcohol percentage on bottles and mixing it with water! so I'm finding it's best to keep it to the minimum. Not necessarily a bad thing.. just another step on the learning curve. One of my online 'bag buddies' commented on a forum that he had 3 glasses of wine and ended up in hospital on an IV drip. So I guess I'll just have to be cautious - I never want to see another hospital again, especially for a hangover!

So here I am... 6 weeks post surgery today and I've just done 4 consecutive days of exercise. A total of 2.5 hours of training over 4 days. No it wasn't easy at all, there were bits I didn't really enjoy, but I did it and I'm well on the way to recovery. I'm seeing my surgeon on Wednesday for 'sign off' (I hope) and can't wait to tell him how well I'm doing.

None of what I'm trying to do is easy, but I'm not complaining - I'm just trying to create an accurate and honest record of my feelings and challenges. I'm lucky there was a solution to my illness and I can begin to do the things I love again - even if it's a bit hard right now. I'm also blessed with an amazing support network of friends and family with my fantastic hubby right at the top. He has no qualms about the bag or the implications and I'm incredibly lucky to have him.

So, I'm going to finish by stealing a quote that my friend Tony posted on his blog today and it made me smile... 'The secret of happiness is to count your blessings while others are adding up their troubles'. How true.

Right I'm off for a rest now! Promise...

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

'I may not be there yet, but I'm closer than I was yesterday'. Unknown

And so I am... 

Today I've got that lovely tired feeling you get after hard physical exertion - something I haven't felt for a long time.  Yesterday, along with my friend Hatty, I cycled 23 miles - my longest ride since June 2010 (14 months ago).  To begin with I was pretty nervous, especially about the hills, and took it very easy not wanting to push myself. The feeling of being out of breath is a bit alien! But as the ride went on I could feel my confidence grow and towards the end I was starting to push the pace a little and felt stronger - although the hills were still tough. It was a great ride, we had a lovely chat and it was fantastic to be out in the beautiful countryside. To be truthful we'd only planned to ride 15-20 miles depending on how we felt, but we did take a little unintentional 'detour'.. so it was perhaps a bit more than I should have done at this stage.  I was tired afterwards, and yes I'm pretty weary today. But it's a different sort of tired - a 'post exercise tired' not an 'ill tired'.. and there's a huge and wonderful difference!  

It's not just my lack of fitness that's a problem though. The loss of confidence in my body, fitness and ability is profound and has taken me by surprise. I've been out of the game so long I've lost the ability know what my body can do (or not) and it's going to take a while to not only regain fitness, but rebuild that lost confidence and ability. That will go hand in hand with my recovery though, and I as know from coaching beginner runners and personal training with cardiac rehab clients, confidence comes with improved fitness and seeing results - however small. 

Over the last few days I've noticed that I've started to forget the bag is even there. There is no discomfort now the stitches are out, I don't feel it at all when I'm running or riding and I've not had a leak for over a week! result! this all helps build my confidence in what I can do, clothes I can wear and places we can go.  Eating is just a joy now too and I'm loving the fact I can eat fruit, meat and salad and my body is feeling healthier as a result already.  We are having a family weekend away soon and staying in a boutique hotel/gastro pub which has a reputation for amazing food.  Now I can eat again properly and not worry about the consequences of every mouthful, I'm so excited about going away and being able to enjoy a delicious meal and good wine. It makes me realise just how miserable my life was before I had this surgery and how grateful I am that there was a solution. 

Every day I feel like I'm progressing and every time I go out - whether it's for a run or a ride - I do a little bit more, feel stronger and more positive. I've got a couple of 10km events already in the pipeline, but find my mind racing ahead and wondering what I might be capable of doing in the long term. Could I EVER contemplate that Ironman I never got to do? It would be a huge challenge given  everything, but it's not impossible. There is an athlete in America who has an ileostomy and has completed Hawaii Ironman - an incredible achievement for any triathlete, let alone someone dealing with the challenges of an ileostomy. His story is here John Dermengian - I keep reading it and wondering... could I do that too??  but I mustn't get ahead of myself. This is all about small steps - but it's certainly a carrot that is dangling and just thinking about it gives me goosebumps.  One line in his article really stands out 'Opportunity comes from adversity'.. what a great attitude. I love that.. it's so true.

I have an entry for the London Marathon next April which was transferred from this year when I wasn't well. Could I really do it this time?? I've done it 3 times before and can easily imagine the amazing atmosphere, cheering crowds and emotions I'd feel.. not to mention the pain and hard work involved.  The London Marathon is emotional at the best of times, but to be able to get fit enough to do it given what I've been through, would be an amazing achievement.  Is 8 months really enough time to recover properly from 14 months of illness and 4 operations, and train for a marathon? Well lets give it a try... 

My lovely dad
When I was a little girl, my lovely old dad used to tell me I could do anything. He instilled a confidence in me to try anything and not be afraid of failure. I'll never forget taking my driving test. We couldn't get a slot for the test in our home town and so he said 'ask if there is anywhere else you can do it'.. 'yes there's a slot in Wrexham next week' was the reply. Wrexham was 45 miles away, I'd never been there and it meant the test would be only 10 days after my 17th birthday. 'Ok' he said 'lets do it'. He taught me to drive in 10 days and I passed first time. My dad died 6 years ago, and I really miss him, his encouragement and his confidence in me. He believed I could do anything and let me try even though I might fail. I'll be forever grateful to him for that gift. 

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Running.. again!

So I'm just back from my second run since surgery and I'm feeling pretty wonderful... and I christened a pair of brand new trainers that have been sitting in my cupboard since January. I bought them in a hopeful moment, but never got to wear them.  They've been waiting for me to feel well enough to do them justice.. and today, 8 months later, I felt just like that. Anyway here they are.. and they've been used! they were lovely too. They are K-Swiss Keahou, lightweight and just the best running shoes.

Anyway... today's run was a whole 7 minutes longer than the one I did on Tuesday. 27 lovely minutes of running (shuffling). I'm not measuring distance yet, it would be too demoralising. But it's a short route around my house, with a few hills and I only had to walk up one of them.  To be honest my legs (and arms too!) were pretty sore after Tuesday's 20 minute jaunt, so I've been cautious about making sure I was feeling recovered before I tried anything else.  I've also got quite a few aches and pains. My right ITB and knee aren't great, both calves are really tight, my right piriformus is niggling and something is going on in my left hamstring.

It's hardly surprising.. I've had 4 abdominal surgeries over the last year and have done next to no training for the last 14 months.  All that lying about on hospital beds and sofas has affected my posture and core strength and that's not to mention the numerous incisions through my stomach which have caused immeasurable damage. I need to work really hard on re-building that, get plenty of sports massages and just be really careful. The last thing I need right now is a running injury!

I am also going to start a training diary again. I've always done this and found it really useful to not only track progress but look back over sessions and figure out what went well or not so well. It's also handy for tracking the cause of injury and illness. I'm hoping in 6 months time I can look back and be proud of how far I've come.. or perhaps just laugh!  I've entered Tunbridge Wells 10km which is in exactly 4 weeks time.  It's ironic that I did this race last year and it was my first race after surgery then too and I did it with the temporary bag I had at the time.  My PB for 10km is 39.56 (some, ahem, years ago) and I ran Tunbridge Wells 10km last year in 54 minutes. It's hilly and it was only 8 weeks after surgery but I was quite proud of that given where I was at the time. I'm not putting ANY pressure on myself at all and don't really care about the time, but it'll just be interesting to see how it goes this year. 

I'm not complaining because I'm feeling SO much better.. but this is all REALLY hard. I feel like a complete beginner again and I've never been so unfit in my entire life.  Everyone keeps saying it'll come back really quickly, but I know how much work I've got to do. Not only to get my fitness back but avoid injury and manage the potential complications of dehydration, fuelling for longer runs and also the bag itself.  I also estimate I've got about 10lb to lose as well.. quite how I managed to put on weight when I was ill for so long and not able to eat I'm not sure, but I did. I'd gone from training around 10 hours per week to lying about on the couch and eating mostly 'white' food as it was all I could tolerate. Everything is WAY more wobbly than it used to be too and (shock) I've got cellulite! How unfair is that!?

But I'm not going to beat myself up, I know I'm making great progress and I'm feeling really positive, energetic and just well, better! I just have to look back a few months when I was feeling so poorly, awake all night sobbing in pain, unable to eat, exercise or sleep, I can appreciate just how far I've already come.  I don't feel depressed, nor am I grieving for my 'old' body, I don't resent the bag, nor do I wish things were any different. I am honestly grateful for my little stoma and glad I was able to have this surgery. 

And do you know what the best part of today's run was? (aside from my lovely new shoes). As I was running along, I realised that I had completely forgotten that I even had an ileostomy - I didn't even notice it was there. Just how brilliant is that?!

Friday, 12 August 2011

I enjoy convalescence. It is the part that makes the illness worth while. George Bernard Shaw

Oh I wish!

The school holiday is double edged sword. I'm utterly exhausted from dealing with daily (no make that hourly) sibling arguments and keeping on top of their schedules, but I'm loving spending this precious time with my gorgeous boys and feeling SO much better in myself.

I have to admit though, I'm finding it pretty challenging keeping two very lively boys busy and active. They're rather like puppies and need 'exercising' daily otherwise things get out of hand. My boys don't do things like sitting still, reading, colouring and jigsaws. They are proper muddy and tree climbing boys, which I love and wouldn't have any other way - but it just means keeping them busy and entertained. And that is tiring when I'm on top form, let alone just 4 weeks out of surgery. To make matters worse my eldest son has ADHD and to say he's 'lively' would be a bigger understatement than when Noah said 'it looks like rain'.

If they were at school, I'd probably allow myself an afternoon nap or at least 30 minutes on the sofa watching unspeakably bad daytime TV. But that can't happen.. the moment I sit down the wail of 'muuuuuummm' from another room raises my blood pressure to boiling point and requires some sort of intervention.

So I have developed a new found routine however and I don't feel guilty one bit - I am convalescing after all! It involves having a lie-in until about 8am with a cup of tea and my novel while the boys watch some cartoons on TV! it's blissful and just what I need to start my day - a tiny window of peace. If they were at school of course, I couldn't do it, so I'll enjoy it while it lasts. Every cloud has a silver lining..


So..on Tuesday, hubby got home early from work, so I grasped the opportunity pulled on my trainers and said 'I'm going for a run (shuffle), if I'm not back in 30 minutes send out the search parties'. My first run since surgery and my first proper run in about 2 months. And set off thinking I might manage 10 minutes, then need to walk.  I surprised myself by not only being able to run for 20 whole minutes without stopping but felt pretty fantastic too. I bounced along the road feeling full of energy and positivity!  I'm now wondering if I could take part in Tunbridge Wells 10km which is only 4 weeks away. Rather bizzarely I did this same race last year with my temporary ileostomy which I had at the time. And have done nothing since.. yes I think I might give it a go.

I've also recently bought an ID bracelet for when I'm out running or riding. 

It's a sport band you wear around your wrist and has details of your name, GP and emergency contacts, medical info etc inside. I worry that if something was to happen to me when I'm out and medics don't know about my ileostomy, I may not receive the right treatment. One complication of having an ileostomy is that I can get very dehydrated and suffer from low electrolyte levels. If I was to get into this state when out on my own and become unconscious, I'd possibly just need IV fluids so this information is stored in my band.  I think it's probably a good investment of £14 that everyone should make. Be safe out there!

Leaks - SORTED!

You'll also remember I've been struggling with leaks from the bag. Utterly demoralising and depressing to be honest. Not being able to work out what was going on or why was frustrating and making me feel quite miserable.  However, my amazing stoma nurse Lesley, came round on Tuesday morning and between us we figured out what I've been doing wrong. Without going into too much detail, I had some plastic spiky stitches around the stoma which was preventing me from getting a good seal with the wafer (the bit that sticks onto my stomach). In addition I had been cutting the hole too small which was pinching the stoma and forcing the 'output' under the wafer and causing a leak.  So she removed the stitches and we cut a bigger hole for the stoma - and BINGO! so far so good. No leaks since. My fingers are firmly crossed. 

So it's the weekend now and I'm looking forward to being able to go for another run and maybe a bike ride too. On Sunday we are going to our Annual BBQ with our running club and I'm really looking forward to catching up with all our friends. We couldn't go last year as I was still too sick.. but this year I'll be enjoying a burger, sausage and glass of wine with the rest of them! Can't wait.

Monday, 8 August 2011

4 weeks post surgery... cycling!

If I'm honest, I enjoy cycling more than running sometimes. I love the feeling of speed and freedom, and being able to ride miles and miles from home is so liberating.  I'm also lucky to have a gorgeous bike which I've really missed riding. So on Saturday morning I got up early and decided I'd take it out for a little spin - my first ride since surgery and my first in about 7 weeks. In some ways at this stage of my recovery riding is a better choice than running as it's low impact and slightly less challenging.

I rode only 8 miles and it was pretty flat.. but it was glorious! The sun was shining, the scenery was lovely and I felt exhilarated. 

To put this in context however, before I got ill I'd think nothing of riding 70 miles and then going for a run afterwards.. so 8 miles felt pretty lame. But I'm trying really hard to be patient and realistic.. but anyone who knows me, knows that's not easy.

Anyway, I felt stronger and more energetic than I have for about 9 months. I felt like I wanted to push the pace a bit, feel my heart rate rising and felt well, just like the old 'me'.. it gave me a glimmer of hope that some day I might be able to race again. I came home with a HUGE smile on my face!  

In terms of my new 'friend'.. Check out the photo - I was thrilled to be able to wear my normal cycling kit and you can't even see the bag (you might need a second mortgage for Assos shorts, but they're great if you have an ileostomy because of the wide flat waistband). I also tried out something called 'sure seals' which have been recommended by anyone active who has an ileostomy. Sure Seals are like large shaped plasters to make the bag more secure especially useful for people who go running, cycling or swimming. They worked like a charm and I felt more confident knowing that even if I did have a leak, it would stay in place.

I have to confess though, I was pretty exhausted later in the day and my quads and glutes are still sore! and all from an 8 mile ride for goodness sake...

Today is exactly 4 weeks since I had surgery and each day brings more energy and normality. Yesterday we enjoyed a fantastic family day out at Port Lympne Wild Animal Park and it was just brilliant to feel well enough to go out and enjoy something like that which I haven't been able to do for the last 10 months.  

Yes today I'm exhausted, but it's a good 'tired'. I'm beginning to realise that recovery from things - whether that be an 8 mile bike ride, or a family day out - is going to take longer and I need to account for that and allow time to rest. But I'm starting to feel a bit more like 'me' and I can't begin to tell you how grateful I am for that. 

Friday, 5 August 2011

Where are my running shoes???

I know, I know.. two blogs in one day is a bit self indulgent, but this one is very different to the other one and slightly more educational.

Firstly I wanted to show you a photo of my 'kit'.  The bag in the centre of the photograph is what I have to wear attached to my stomach, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The whole in the centre is cut a little larger to fit over my stoma, then the whole thing sticks like glue to my belly (aside from when it leaks). The output from my stoma drains into the bag and I empty it 8-10 times per day from the little flap at the bottom.

The other things around it are the powders, adhesive removers, wipes, scissors etc that I have to use every time I change it. It's important to use the right products to avoid skin irritation or break down which would then mean huge problems. 

I have to carry all this stuff around with me all the time just in case of a leak. No more small and pretty handbags for me. It reminds me of when the boys were babies and we went everywhere with a giant nappy bag!  I have my very own nappy bag now.. not sure how I'd carry it in an Ironman? anyway..

There are also challenges with clothing to hide it but also be comfortable - mostly I'm at the 'leggings and smock stage' and testing out all sorts of combinations of underwear and swimwear -  but all in all it's pretty discreet and most people would never even notice it. In fact I bet you know someone with a bag, you just don't know it.  

I read somewhere that there are around 100,000 people in the UK with an ileostomy. That means around 1 in every 600 people.  People have them for all sorts of reasons, mainly crohns disease, ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis, colonic inertia and cancer.. all diseases affecting the colon and all very debilitating. The main UK charity is called The Ileostomy Association and they provide not only fantastic advice online, forums and even funding to the disadvantaged, but when I was considering this surgery had a lovely phonecall with a lady called Anne who had time to listen and provide support. Charities like this are some of the smallest in the UK and need all the support they can get. It's probably something I'd like to try and get involved in the future and do some fundraising for them too.

I've also come across a couple of other women in the US who I can really relate to.. one called Heidi who blogs about her outdoor adventures and Run4Pancakes who is a runner.  They are the same age as me but much further down the line in terms of their recovery.. they provide fantastic inspiration and are proof that having an ileostomy doesn't have to stop you living your life.

Talking of inspiration.. here is the amazing story of Rob Hill who has an permanent ileostomy and actually conquered Everest.  

Right.. where are my running shoes????