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!

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