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.

A Bitter Break for the Greater Good

I’ve not blogged for a few weeks. While this is mostly due to a lack of time (I’m hardly the sort who’s lost for words), it’s also due to the fact that now the Kevin Henry 5k series has finished, I’ve decided to make September a race free month.

I put a lot of pressure on myself to be the best runner I can be. This is completely my own doing, and I don’t get pressure from anyone else (I surround myself with lovely, supportive people who do nothing but encourage me). So after the Kevin Henry series I decided to take stock and actually look at what I’d achieved. I had completed my first ever full season for Ely Runners competing in all 6 of the races. I was 1st woman for the club 4 times and 2nd woman twice. As someone who has chronic pre-race nerves, this is a big deal. And to come back from race number 5 (the hill of doom that resulted in a mid-race breakdown) and get a season’s best of 20:41 in race number 6 was something that I’ll forever be proud of.

But I’ve always hated walking away from races. I didn’t do the Greater Cambridge 10k on September 11th, which I was looking forward to since it was the inaugural race with my workplace as race HQ (the set up literally couldn’t have been better for me). I also couldn’t be part of the Ely Runners B team for the Round Norfolk Relay, something I would have loved to have done, especially after hearing about what an amazing experience it was from my clubmates (not to mention the INCREDIBLE medal). Feeling left out sucks, even more so when it’s somewhat out of your control.

So, what’s the reason for this self-enforced hiatus? I have a health problem that has been steadily getting worse over the last couple of months – most likely due to stress – so my body and mind need a break. I have the dreaded IBS, and as any fellow runner who also suffers from this knows, IBS and running are a hideous combo.

pug-bowl

I’ve always suffered from “pre-race nerves”, but this problem has started to appear on my training sessions too. Whenever I reach the 3 or 4 mile mark, my stomach just gives out. I used to be able to control this with tablets, but even these have stopped working like they used to, and I’m now having to plan my routes so that there are places I can stop, or take my bike to any training sessions that are more than a mile from Ely Runners’ base so that I can get back quickly. Not only is this embarrassing (although Twitter tells me that I am by no means alone), but it’s also starting to ruin the thing I love. If stress is causing this, I am stuck in a seriously vicious cycle right now.

But I’m trying to get some control back. I’m keeping a food diary to see if there are triggers (my stomach is cramping as I type – was it the wheat in my pretzel at lunchtime or the dairy in the cheese I had in my salad for dinner?) and I’m looking at some alternative therapies to see if they make a difference. And I think a trip to the doctors is in order – it has become significantly worse in the last 2 months, and there’s no obvious reason why  (although stress can be a sneaky little blighter, hiding beneath the surface).

Apologies if this is a little TMI for some of my readers, but I’ve only ever been completely honest with you. And running and stomach issues have a long and colourful history – the toilet queues at any big race are enough to tell you that! I’m hoping that I might stumble across a resolution for this that others may benefit from, and if you have any advice from your experiences, let me know. And if Immodium are looking for a poster girl, you know where to find me (usually behind a locked door).

shameAll gifs courtesy of Giphy