Tuesday, 30 January 2018

But My Back Feels Fine!

At the beginning of the year when my coach was setting my training plan up for the month, she got in touch to see how I doing generally and what my thoughts were about training. It was around the time I was under the weather, again, and as well as recommending I got checked out by a doctor she also strongly urged me to go and see an osteopath she visits herself, to see if she could shed any light on why I was being struck down so often.

I'd never have thought to have gone to an osteopath. They deal with backs right? My back feels fine! What's she on about? Anyway I gave Lower Earley Osteopaths a call, full of cynicism and phrases like "I'm not sure if this falls under your remit", "don't want to waste your time" and "my back feels fine". However the lovely Emma patiently and kindly explained that she takes more of a holistic approach to women's health, using a combination of lifestyle and exercise advice to complement more traditional osteopathic treatment and that an appointment would certainly be worthwhile. So that was that.

My first appointment was a bit of a wake up call. We started with a chat and a run through of my work. activity and medical history, my stem cell and white blood cell donations, an overview of my diet/supplements, sleep patterns and quality, hormonal and energy fluctuations. Laying it all out on the line like that in itself made me realise things hadn't been quite as stress-free as I'd made myself believe so it was no surprise when I was told that I had put my body under a lot of strain and it is running on reserves. Although not anxious stress, my adrenaline levels have been high for a sustained period of time and unable to fully recover.

Next she looked my my posture. The verdict? My spine is out of kilter towards the bottom and my right shoulder blade rolls forwards pushing some ribs out of alignment and compressing kidneys. My knees roll inwards and some prodding of my legs revealed that my ITB is fraying and a quarter of the size it ought to be! My poor posture is from years of working at a laptop (which I still do) and causing compression of some vital organs isn't allowing them to get as much blood as they need to work effectively which if  left totally unchecked could ultimately lead to autoimmune disease. Just to top it off, if not remedied my ITB could snap leaving me unable to race again. Gulp.

Emma then proceeded to do some work on my spine, cracking and releasing it. She stuck needles in my ITB near the knee and manipulated my kidneys and liver (!) to allow more blood flow. this left me with a feeling somewhere between ache and tingle. Finally she manipulated the base of my head and neck which gave me a snotty nose as things opened up. I also got a big list of "homework":

  • Get my running gait assessed to check for hip hitching
  • Roll my ITB twice daily until cursing her name
  • Try to set up a desk area with USB keyboard and mouse
  • But a peanut for lower back and neck release
  • Stretch my hip flexors daily
  • Pay attention to my posture and concentrate on sitting correctly with shoulder rolling back

The peanut
The appointment had put the fear of God into me and I did get quiet emotional over the next few days. But I'm doing my stretches, rolling (OMFG) and am typing this on a proper keyboard at the dining table as an interim measure. I've also got an appointment to get my gait assessed. On my second visit, things were much less scary. Emma could see some improvements in my posture already which was reassuring. I'm interested to see how quickly improvements with my ITB will happy and what difference all of this will make to my health and energy levels. To say I'm a convert isn't quite true yet but I can certainly see the logic behind what we've discussed. Watch this space to see what happens next!

Have you ever seen an osteopath? Was it for something you didn't think they could help with? Or has there been another "specialist" that helped you for something you wouldn't have originally thought to have approached them for?

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

A Message, Motivations and Making Time For Myself

A couple of weeks ago I was checking my email between classes and saw one from Anthony Nolan. It was entitled "Message from your recipient". After donating white blood cells, my second donation for my match, I sent a short message to my recipient via the charity. I had no way of knowing if my recipient was in the UK or if she would want or be able to return my message, but needing white cells led me to believe she was doing ok and I felt compelled to get in touch, even if my message was rather clumsy. I had no idea what she's going through and even less what to say. Nervously I clicked on it and the content left me feeling very emotional. All communication is anonymous and I'm not able to share it with you but suffice to say it was a beautiful message and it seems she's doing really well. It was a good reminder of why I need to look after myself, and why I'm putting the effort into training this year.
It's been with some trepidation that I returned to training on the 5th of January under the watchful eye of my coach but I seem to be doing ok. I've been giving plenty of feedback on how different sessions have felt and although I've substituted rest day Thursdays with yoga for the past two weeks (thereby only having one day clear of any activity since the 5th) I've found it a useful part of my routine, something I really enjoy that I also consider part of my self-care routine. For the first week or so, training felt like a novelty again but it quickly becomes another thing to fit into the diary so keeping the driving factors in mind helps. My motivators are that I've signed up to big events this year that I don't want to fail at but perhaps more importantly because I am hoping to raise £1,500 for Anthony Nolan by completing these events. I also use bribery to get me through training sessions! Promising myself a chocolate bar after swimming for instance (see above), or spending the last 15 minutes of an uncomfortable turbo session discussing the relative merits of gin versus wine as a post training beverage with Dean... I went with gin.
I was less smily at the end of the session.
This leads me neatly into an update on my self-care resolution for 2018. In addition to treating myself now and again (I must stress that I don't give myself a reward after every training session) I've already managed to cook from two new recipe books this year, even getting Dean to accept that tofu isn't all that bad.
Vietnamese Pho from the Mindful Chef cookbook
I've met up with friends once a week or so (something that got rather neglected at the end of 2017) and allowed myself a guilt-free hour or two each day to watch something on TV. Sometimes that's been while I'm training on the bike... I can catch up on my Nordic programmes despite the noise from the turbo trainer thanks to subtitles! I've also been reading more, substituting time on the phone in the morning and on occasion TV in the evening for a book. My favourite one to dip into has been Lagom... very much in keeping with what I'm trying to achieve this year.
That's all been for my mental wellbeing. For my physical wellbeing I've indulged in bubble baths, had my monthly sports massage (tight lower back, calves, quads and forearms), booked in to see an osteopath and gotten a flu jab. When I've felt tired I've rested or had an early night. I'm taking my vitamin supplements and trying to eat well. Oh I know perhaps at the moment it's all sounding a bit smug. I'm not looking for any recognition here or to guilt anyone into doing anything, it's just a snapshot of my life at the moment. This blog has always been about documenting my endeavours including the ups and downs of training and how I deal with those. If it helps or inspires anyone, that's a bonus as far as I'm concerned!
Afternoon treat of scone with blackberry gin jam!
To that end, are you getting to the end of January on a high or a low? What's your driving factor this year and how are you staying focused?

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Event Review : Costa Rica Marathon

The warmth and exoticness of Costa Rica seems a distant memory now we're mid January but it was only a few weeks ago that Dean and I were out there for our honeymoon. A fortnight in the Central American country had been timed so that we finished with the Costa Rica Marathon on December 4th. A fitting honeymoon for a couple as active as we are!
It's not so sunny in the cloud forest
Of course the best way to prepare for a marathon is to spend the fortnight prior travelling around taking part in all sorts of activities and sports right? Can we call it cross-training? Hmm, probably not. We're not sitting-on-a-beach type of people, not for more than half a day anyway, as we proved to ourselves, so Dean had arranged for us to spend a few nights in different areas of the country to see  and do as much as possible. And it was fantastic. After flying in to San Jose we travelled straight to the Arenal volcanic region where we took part in white water rafting, canopy walks, canoeing, and Stand Up Paddleboarding. As it wasn't the height of the tourist season we got some of these tours and activities to ourselves!
White water rafting - one of my favourite activities from the trip
We travelled to Monteverde for caving (think scrambling through tunnels and wading through underground rivers) and zip lining then Rincon de la Vieja for horse riding, more zip lining, tubing and  hot springs. We finally got to Playa Hermosa beach for some real R'n'R, which in reality turned into morning runs on the beach, mornings in the sun and sea then either snorkelling or SUP in the afternoon. But it was exactly what we wanted to do and it was bliss. 
A friendly Boa at the snake garden
Running on the beach was great, and helped to get the legs and lungs acclimatised to things, reminding them that they had a rather big job ahead of them. And yes we did take our running club tops with us just for kicks. 
Smug club runners (spot the other runner behind us)
Finally we returned to San Jose the day before the marathon to collect our race packs. The event was to start at 6am on Sunday morning, presumably to avoid the heat of the day as much as possible, and roads were to be closed for the event which meant that we would have to walk from our hotel to the start as cabs wouldn't get through. Although our hotel was central, it was still a 45 minute walk on Saturday through the claustrophobic crowds to the stadium to collect race packs but at least proved that it was doable. The race packs were collected without issue and I tried to decipher the information pack as best I could but in the end, although I got the gist, just decided to treat it as any other race and hope for the best.

Sunday morning, we set off in the dark through the almost empty streets, packed breakfast in hand. It was still warm enough that we didn't need anything more than the t-shirts and shorts we were racing in and I'd slathered myself in sunscreen in preparation. As we neared the stadium I was relieved to start spotting other runners, striking up conversation with a couple from Minnesota (Minne-snow-ta!). The event was tiny compared to most of the other marathons I've taken part in, only around 1,500 people participating across 5 different distances from a fun run up to the full marathon. It was a real family atmosphere, lots of kiddies had been prised out of bed early for this!

We all set off together bang on 6am. Only the colour of the race number distinguished the different distance runners from each other. It was lively but not crowded. Spectators were sparse but enthusiastic as we left the area of the stadium and heading into the city centre. Roads were cordoned off and we saw lorries along the roadside setting up for bands, or so we thought. The mountains were visible on either side of the city, so although the city itself isn't especially picturesque, there were some lovely views.
We passed signs directing shorter distance runners off to one side and set about heading up to our turn around point in the city. The course for marathon runners was three loops into the city, back out past the stadium on the opposite side to our start point, and looping back again. We had it in our heads that it was a flat route... it was not. The first loop was pretty good, we had some excellent splits and although I wasn't pushing I didn't feel inclined to hold back too much, especially on downhill sections. I started on my gels and took water at roughly every other water station, of which there were many. It was light by now and warm despite being over cast.
The elevation chart from Strava
On the second lap I started to feel the hills. We slowed a bit, I allowed myself to walk on the steeper sections and continued with the gels. We started to notice people in white t-shirts starting to crowd the city centre. It was Sunday, the first of Advent, and they were heading to Mass. In addition to the water pouches on offer, there were also pouches of energy drinks. As I was starting to flag, Dean started pressing them into my hand. He's somewhat sensitive to energy drinks but these appeared to be magic and I don't think I've have gotten through without them; I just wish I knew what they were! He was still looking strong and throwing encouragement my way. 
Starting to flag
We'd agreed we were running the whole thing together and I know that had he not been by my side as we passed the start/end point for loop three, that I would have given up. The nice thing about three laps though, is that the first is easy, the second might be tough, but then you know there's only one to go, and if you can start it then you're damn well going to finish it. And start it we did. Both in some amount of discomfort now, walking a lot more and not always by choice. By the time we reached the city centre for the third time it became obvious that the trucks we thought were for music were for public services and the streets were jam packed with people attending mass in the great outdoors, so much so that we literally had to pick our way through (the route wasn't fully cordoned off). Running was not an option! It really was quite surreal but my legs were grateful. The last loop was a real grind. There were very few people around us, most having finished shorter distances. The clouds had started to break and the sun blazed through. I kept on with the energy drinks, kept putting one foot in front of the other, tried to run when Dean encouraged me.
Hard earned medals
Eventually, we came back around to the stadium. Dean almost missed the turn in to the finish inside; it wasn't well signposted and I only saw it as I had seen someone ahead of us take the turn. We rounded a corner into the stadium itself, under an arch... was that the finish? No. Around the track... over timing mats on the other side, no finishing arch... done! There was very little pomp or ceremony to the extent that we had to make our way back out of the stadium to the registration area to swap timing chips for medals and collect some fruit. No superfluous goody bags here!
I was beat. We'd done it, and well within the cut off time, not even my slowest marathon, but it had been a challenge. I was so happy to be finished. Dean collected our belongings from the bag drop and we put on fresh t-shirts before gingerly making our way to find a taxi. No way could I have walked back to the hotel. We were back before 2pm! The benefits of an early start. The rest of the afternoon was spent lazing in the hotel room before taking the lift up to the rooftop bar in the evening for a few beers.

We left Costa Rica the following day, but not until late evening so we had a morning in the hotel and once we'd exhausted the time we could spend there before check out we meandered around the city, easing out our legs prior to 12 hours of flights to the UK via Paris. I cannot sing the praises of compression socks highly enough! It was a fantastic honeymoon, amazing holiday and a memorable race, but we won't be going back on our anniversary for a repeat performance... Honolulu is on the radar though....!

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

New Year... Better You

Happy New Year everyone! I think I'm still just about able to get away with saying that. I hope you had a fabulous Christmas and New Year, however you chose to spend it. I had a lovely, quiet time with my husband and parents, eating, drinking and doing very little exercise. It was perfect.
At Kew Gardens with the Mister
The lack of exercise wasn't by design. In the space of two months I've suffered with three separate couch and colds and was ordered to rest. I broke the rules a little by participating in an event we'd booked between Christmas and New Year but it was a lapped event and I bowed out after just one lap of 5km to collect my medal and spent the rest of the day on the sofa in my pyjamas. I'm just about on track now but I'm determined to look after myself better this year. Which brings me on nicely to the subject of New Year's Resolutions!
Costa Rican tree frog and MR & Mrs tree decorations
I still make resolutions but I also set goals for the year. These are two very different things to me. The goals are very concrete and tend to focus on the results I want from events I enter and the way I want to develop my business. They are specific, measurable and I can tick them off. An example of one of my goals: complete Brighton Marathon in under 4h30. The resolutions tend to be a bit more wooly and give me a direction but they are ongoing. Looking back I can see just how much stress I put my body through last year what with the events, wedding, stem cell and white cell donations. It's no wonder I got so ill in November and December. So my resolutions are all around self care. I will take more time for myself (reading, discovering new music, cooking new recipes, bubble baths), remove the phone from the bedroom overnight to help me sleep better, have regular massages and take my supplements. Perhaps I could substitute the word "resolutions" for "aspirations"... I aspire to be better.
I don't really like all the "new year, new you" stuff that gets bandied around at this time of year. I think the new year enthusiasm is fantastic but becoming a whole new you? That's just setting you up for a fall. And denying yourself in January doesn't sit right with me either. It's cold, dark and miserable for most of the month, we need cheering up, not deprivation! I'm not suggesting we continue with the holiday excesses but we can aspire to be better in small ways.

Do you still make resolutions? What about goals? Let's hear your aspirations for 2018!