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 !