When you need your support crew

I’ve written on here before about how when I first started running, I saw myself very much as a lone runner who had no interest in competition (AH HA HA!), but that all changed when I joined Ely Runners in 2015. Now I really don’t enjoy running on my own, and never have I missed my fellow runners as much as I do now.

I’ll be honest – I’ve really been struggling.

I was genuinely doing ok with lockdown to begin with. Not great obviously, because this SERIOUSLY sucks, but I got into an exercise routine thanks to the amazing array of online workouts available, I started running with the other half when he decided he wanted to take it up to stay fit while he could no longer play his beloved badminton, and I started picking up old hobbies again. But then I had to say goodbye to my darling cat and the wheels suddenly came off in spectacular fashion.

For those among you who aren’t really pet people, it might be hard for you to understand just how much my heart broke when the worst possible moment finally came. Without going into it too much, she was diagnosed with a rare, incurable cancer 6 months ago, so we knew our time with her was limited and we did our absolute best to make the most of the time we had with her, especially during lockdown. But to have to say goodbye to your companion for the last 12.5 years when you’re not even allowed to set foot inside the vets is agonising, and suddenly lockdown became this pressure cooker that threatened to suffocate me.

I couldn’t go for my solo, head-clearing runs because I couldn’t bear to be on my own (if I were to go for a run, I would have to be at home on my own when my husband went for his daily exercise). I wouldn’t even go upstairs to bed on my own so I would stay up until the early hours and skate by on 4 or 5 hours sleep a night (he’s a well-conditioned night owl). I cried every day because everything in the house reminded me of her. I felt like I was constantly on the verge of a panic attack (having had one once at University I recognised that jittery tightness in my chest and the shallow breathing) and I kept thinking how what I really needed was to go for one of those really long runs with one of my closest buddies and howl at the universe and what a crapstorm it could be sometimes.

And my word, the guilt. The guilt of not being able to go in to the vet. The guilt of making the decision in the first place. The guilt of my husband having to shoulder the job of getting me through this entirely on his own. The guilt of struggling with the loss of a pet when people are losing human loved ones by the hundreds in extreme conditions every single day. It was almost as consuming as the grief itself.

But thank goodness for the online world and for those who will be there in whatever ways they can despite the fact they are all currently dealing with all of their own new-world stresses. I had friends who let me ugly cry at them through a screen. Those who dropped off flowers, gin, chocolate and those who I don’t even know that well but who messaged me to check how I was doing and to assure me that in time, it would get better. And looking back I realised that almost all of these people are those who I’ve met through running or my gym.

I think that when you’ve beasted an epic run together that involved dodging cows, dodgy stomachs and bog-like conditions (Ely Runners Christmas run, I’m looking at you) or survived a fitness class together where you end it face-planted in a puddle of your own sweat, you can look at each other in a new light and feel able to open up to each other. You can let yourself be a little bit raw emotionally, having already done it physically.

And slowly but surely, thanks to my remote – but thankfully, still very much present – support crew, I’m starting to come out the other side. I’ve got friends to do online classes with, friends who send me stupid GIFs, friends who drop off a seemingly endless supply of cake and friends who I know I can call and who will answer straight away when I have a bad moment. I’ve picked up the yoga again after a 6-week hiatus, because for a while only cardio appealed as it forced me to only focus on the physical. Yoga felt like it would give my brain too much time to breathe and therefore too much time to think. I’ve started doing Headspace’s grief programme, am baking more and am occasionally able to think of Minnie with a smile instead of tears.

After reading all of this you might be wondering why I’m writing about this in a fitness blog, but to me, mental health and physical health are the same thing – health. And the mental aspect of my health picked up a serious injury and I had to work out how to deal with that. And quite honestly, I’d rather have plantar fasciitis. But thanks to my husband (who is nothing short of a hero for getting me through the last 4 weeks when he had his own grief to manage) and my amazing support crew, I feel like very slowly but definitely surely, I’m coming out of the other side. I would name them all but it would simply take too long. But you all know who you are, and when this is over I can’t wait to thank you all properly in person.

And bloody hell I can’t wait to go for a run with you.

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Was my Injury Actually a Good Thing?

Did I mention that I’ve been injured?

Megalolz. I’m only messing you with you. If you follow me on Twitter or you’ve been lucky enough to find yourself within earshot of me within the last four months you will have heard me banging on about my “posterior tibial tendonitis” (try saying that after a few drinks). This has been without doubt the most stubborn injury I’ve had in the last few years, and I’ve had some really low moments during the seemingly endless weeks of stretching, physio, osteopathy, acupuncture, yoga, foam rolling and self medicating with cake.

But now that I’m finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, I’m beginning to wonder if maybe this happening was a good thing. Yes I may have missed some of my favourite races and my preferred running season (trust me to be fit and healthy in the summer when trying to run outdoors is akin to running in soup) but I’ve been forced to be more creative with my fitness and as a result have seen my perspective shift in some interesting ways.

First of all, there’s the bouldering. If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll know I’ve found a real affinity with clambering up walls (despite being sweaty of hand and afraid of heights – go figure). I’ve reconnected with friends over climbing, have seen my shoulders develop in a way that makes me want to flex like the hulk whenever I walk past a mirror, have spent time with my niece and nephew at the climbing centre and have enjoyed the encouraging vibe between other climbers. It gives me an adrenaline hit but in a more controlled way than the adrenaline I feel on a start line of a race in a sometimes unfamiliar environment. Having said all this though, being on the verge of tears, stuck at the top of a route with my feet on a hold that looked disturbingly like a large pair of testicles was not one of my finest moments. But the good of climbing massively outweighs the bad.

Look! I’m a GIF! Thanks Oli…

Secondly, when I was deciding how on earth to find something that would get my heart rate up as much as running and Zumba (another exercise form that seemed to be aggravating my injury), I decided to wander into Elyte Fitness and see if maybe they were the gym for me after feeling less than inspired by the other local facilities on offer. Within 10 minutes I was sold on the sheer passion of the owners Lewis and Dawn and I signed up on the spot. I’m so glad I made this decision, as they are full of ideas and plans for the gym, and they’ve built an amazing fitness community. Every time I go there I feel like I’m with old friends and I’ll be writing a separate post on my Elyte journey so far as there is so much I want to say about it.

Because I was finding myself feeling so down about the state of running, I also decided to fire up my Headspace app again.  I’ve flirted on and off with Headspace for some time, but never seemed to manage more than 5 days in a row. Even though they always say not to worry if you miss a day, I would always take that as a sign of failure (competitive, moi?) and end up walking away for another month or two. But I’m currently sitting at 21 days straight of at least 10 minutes of meditation a day, and I am feeling slightly calmer in a general kind of way. I’m not going to claim that I am in some kind of zen like chilled perfection of existence (no one would believe that), but I think the clearest sign that I’m more relaxed and able to see “the bigger picture”, is the fact that I decided to transfer my Cambridge Half place, and I felt completely ok about it. Even though missing races you love sucks, setting back a recovery that has taken 4 months for the sake of one medal is madness. I would have spent the next 6 weeks fretting about building up from 4 miles to 13 miles, constantly wondering if my tendon could take the strain and I would have become unpleasant to be around. So to me it just seemed like such an obvious thing to do.

Another positive to come out of all this is that I feel like I know my body better, and I have a new found respect for it. I’m still making time to stretch and foam roll, and I try and do a little yoga every day (I manage it about 80% of the time). And as a result of my injury I’ve been told by my physio and my osteo that my foot functionality and balance is the best they’ve ever seen (proof that putting the effort into your rehab works!). And really, I’m just so excited to be running again, and am looking forward to getting stronger and building up to my best again. I’ve done a parkrun and a track session and loved every minute as you can see my inane grinning face above. Feeling my lungs fill with that gorgeous icy air is the ultimate tonic to me, and I’m just so grateful to be out there again. It’s lovely to be back with my running family, and I’m going to take my time and build up my distance slowly, and maybe look to do an autumn half marathon. Then again – maybe not? Maybe I’ll just keep doing whatever I like whenever I like, with no pressure, and no expectations.

 

 

Acupuncture and I: A New Love Story

Regular readers of this blog will know that 2016 was a tough running year for me. I had so many injury niggles over the year, and my anxiety around my running got so bad that I had to step back from races and even longer runs because my IBS flare ups were making it impossible to run.

But then towards the end of last year, a friend reached out with the idea of an experiment of sorts, after reading my blog post about my IBS. This friend is an acupuncturist in Ely, and we know each other through a mutual friend. We actually ran Insane Terrain as part of a team of 4 back in 2014. So, he offered to give me a few free sessions of acupuncture, and if they went well I could tell you guys about it, and if they didn’t help me, we could just part ways and continue to meet up at the odd get together.

Now I’ve always been pretty open to the idea of “alternative therapies” (the category that acupuncture tends to get lumped into) so I was more than happy to give it a go. After an introduction session where Anthony spent about an hour learning about my medical background (reasonably complex) and commenting on my “slippery” pulse (that didn’t sound like a compliment), I then had a cluster of treatments over a 6 week period, before moving to a treatment every 4-6 weeks.

Insane Terrain

Insane Terrain. Yes those shorts were odd.

The good thing about Anthony is that although he is incredibly knowledgeable about what he does, he is in no way preachy about it, something I would struggle to get on board with. Instead he just drops into the conversation the fact that I have too much “Yang” (always go, go, go for me) in between the two of us putting the world to rights discussing everything from politics to reality TV. He is incredibly easy to talk to and is also a huge advocate of discussing the importance of mental health, a cause close to my heart (he highly recommends the Headspace app and is the brains behind Talking FreELY, a new Mental Health Awareness group in Ely). All of these things make a great practitioner.

As for the treatment itself, I do get a load of needles put into me (I think the most was maybe about 25) but they don’t hurt. Sometimes they cause a pins and needles sensation but it’s never uncomfortable. Anthony also uses moxa, a herb which he lights and allows to smoulder on my back which is then removed as soon as I start to feel the heat. It’s used to impact on the flow of “qi” in the area being treated, and I am obsessed with the smokey aroma it gives off. A nice side effect. He also often places ear seeds on my ear on trigger points where I can press on them whenever I feel my anxiety building.

But I guess the question is, did acupuncture work for me? My IBS issues during training all but disappeared (apart from when I failed to avoid triggers, such as episodes of unusually high stress or a super strong coffee less than 2 hours before a 10 mile run – idiotic) and my general demeanour around races has been a lot calmer. But the real test was always going to be the Cambridge Half Marathon. A race with a capacity of 9000 runners is huge for me. I hate being in large crowds, and in previous years I would be unbearable to be around from about 2 weeks before the race. Usually I would be maybe 15% excited and 85% nervous about a race like this, but this year it was easily the other way around. I also planned my morning pretty carefully, hanging out at my sister’s until about 10 past 9, before running/jogging to Jesus Green, using the completely empty public toilets there (perhaps I shouldn’t be letting you lot in on this tip!) and then simply hopping the gate into my starting pen 4 minutes before the race was due to start. I avoided all of those stress triggers, and went on to do the race of my life. I firmly believe that the treatment Anthony has done on me has played a huge part in my running epiphany, and I’ve been a (paying) customer of his since the start of the year, and will continue to be from now on.