Monday, 11 November 2013

Train the mind and the rest will follow

  It has been a week since my PB at the Marlow half marathon. Again, I apologise for the lateness of this update but I have suffered from a lack of morale despite my success last Sunday. My low mood had affected my training and I can honestly say I hadn't really trained for this event. I was rather arrogantly banking on my previous attained fitness just coming back to me. My mentality was, 'It's only a half marathon', as in comparison to what I have completed it is a minor distance. This sounds like an arrogant statement and I'll admit it was a cocky and bad attitude to have. However, despite this I was still chasing a PB - I wanted 2 hours (my PB stood at 2h10 at Bath in March).
  My parents came over the day before the event and we all managed to squeeze into my flat. It was great to see them as I have missed them a lot recently. I don't know whether it is with age, the tragic circumstance we are in, or a combination of the two, but I am appreciating them more, not just for everything they do for me as that is always evident but for them as individuals. I feel closer to them than I ever have and I want this closeness to stay.
  With an event the following day I stayed sober and Dan followed suit as he was on call with the fire service. My parents however had a drink and as the weather had dramatically dropped that weekend sitting having a glass of wine in the warmth always goes down well (I did secretly wish I could join them). I know my mum had been having a bad week dealing with the loss of Rosie, much like me, and began to get upset. As an avid reader of my blog I just want to apologise Mum for not being able to comfort you any better. I didn't know what was best to do and know that I would just start crying myself, as I did when I did try to talk. I think a daughter, or any child, has strong protection over their mother and I didn't want to see her cry even if talking about Rose and the good times may have helped. I'm sorry, I wish I could have been more help Mum - I love you to the end of the numbers.

  After a rather uncomfortable and restless nights sleep on our air bed (my parents had our bed

Smile much? Me at the start of Marlow Half
 as my Dad has recently had a hip replacement) it was time to go try and get a PB. I didn't have my usual pre-race enthusiasm that day and just wanted it to be over and done with. I said to my mum whilst eating my porridge, "It's only 2hours and I'll be home" which she laughed off. The plan was for my parents to see me cross the start line but they had a lunch party to get to and to avoid being a rush I just said I would go alone. Although I have gone to many events solo and wasn't particularly worried about the half marathon I wanted someone with me that morning. Dan managed to book off work so I had company in Dan and Larry (my pug) that morning. Parking was surprisingly painless and despite thinking I was going to be late I registered with no problems and had time to spare. At 9.30am the race started. I was very conservative as to where I placed myself amongst the crowd as although I can normally assess a good swimmer as I am from that background, I struggle to do the same with runners. From the moment the gun went off I was overtaking people and this wasn't me getting carried away in race pace conditions. I had naively assumed that the route would be fairly easy - how wrong could I have been! This was by far the hardest half marathon I have done, and easily one of the toughest run courses (even Wales wasn't that bad). Once I had deciphered it was going to be a tough race I decided on a strategy (one that I began using successfully midway through Wales). Just don't stop slogging up and boot it down. Running fast downhill is as much a confidence thing as it is on the bike (something I lack) and Dan had told me a very easy way to get the technique right; open your legs. So when running downhill I was focused and concentrated at the task in hand and I constantly had Dan's voice repeating open your legs at me (if you have taken that wrong it's your own dirty minds!). It didn't take long until I began to get a reputation for going fast downhill. After about the fourth major down (always followed by a brutal up), of which there were too many to count, a woman said to me "bloody hell, your so fast on the downs, this is the third time you've passed me". Now this can be taken positively, but also negatively as it means on the ups she was overtaking me. I pointed this out to her and then said, "downhill is free speed!". She tried to keep up with me until she backed off as the hill got increasingly steep and we wished one another good luck. She didn't overtake me going up after that. Another comment I overheard was sparked off from my t-shirt (of course I was wearing my Ironman finishers top). A fellow runner was asked another, "Would you ever do a triathlon?", I looked around and made a little smile of acknowledgement. His response was "No, I don't think I could do the swim" to which I swivelled around again and said proudly, "Never say never!" before darting off. I heard him mumble something about Ironman being mental or the people who do them are - either way I had a smile on my face, another bit of recognition for my achievement.
  Surprisingly given that my knee normally begins playing up when going downhill it was during an uphill around the two mile mark that my recurring knee injury started. It was so bad by mile three I seriously questioned how I would be able to complete with the agonising pain I was in. The pain didn't get any better but I managed to control it. I thought about Rose a lot, bringing myself to the brink of tears with sadness and pain but I managed to get my mind to push through the pain, "It's all in the head" I kept repeating to try and reassure myself. As well as that my Kinesio tape I had applied in preparation, which worked so well in Wales, began peeling off early on in the race and I had to stop a couple of times, much to my annoyance, to try and fix it. I tried many methods but it didn't re-stick. By mile ten I had a piece of the Kinesio tape knotted tight around my knee. It restricted my movement a little and dug into my skin and joint but that was less painful than feeling the actual pain of my injury. The last five miles consisted of many more tough hills and despite getting some great time splits on the flat I was in agony on the ups. I saw my dream of a 2 hour finish slip away as I slogged up a long and brutal hill and estimated a new time of 2h03 which changed my focus. When I finally reached the top of the last hill I was overjoyed when the volunteers weren't lying when they told me the final mile was all downhill (despite the pain this mile was naturally my fastest time spilt). I was absolutely over the moon when I crossed the line in 2h03 for two reasons; 1). the pain was over and 2). I got a PB. It wasn't the 2hours I had been chasing but I hadn't been in a good mental attitude on the lead up to train properly, had struggled and stopped for my knee and the course was much tougher than I expected. Considering that my previous PB of 2h10 was on a completely flat course I was pretty chuffed with my eventual result. (It made me wonder if I tried Bath again what time I would get - sub 2hour?). I may never win a running race but I pushed myself physically and mentally that day even if it was 'just a half marathon'. It showed me that if you train your mind to have the will to push on, your legs will naturally follow. Furthermore, it also reiterated again that no matter how big a distance you have previously completed, each event should be as hard as the other as for the shorter events you push more and in endurance you try to conserve energy. My next shot at the half marathon distance is on March 2nd at Reading where my sister and possibly my mum will also be competing (come on Mum!). I will be going for a sub 2hour that day and I need to get it considering my hopeful marathon time.
  We were home by 12.15, probably earlier than some people were waking up after a rough Saturday night - I always get some pride in that thought. I had a bath and my first lazy Sunday in ages - bliss!    

  Despite the lovely chill out day, instantly after crossing the line and re-grouping with Dan and Larry in Marlow my knee had seized up and I was hobbling. The pain, hobbling and side walking downstairs continued for days until I saw my sports injury specialist for the second time in one week when he injected some cortisone (steroid) where my pain was. Before that though I went into London on the Monday to see my sports doctor. This had been booked in before the half marathon and mentioned it in my previous blog post. When I saw him my left knee had ballooned. Swelling was something I hadn't really encountered on my knee so this came as a shock to me. After more prodding I was, as I thought, referred to get an MRI and X-Ray which I booked in for Wednesday.

The swelling of my knee if you can't tell it's the one on the right

This is what winter is for!
  Whilst in London on Monday after my hospital trip I had planned to meet up with my good friend Yuliya. I got away from London Bridge Hospital earlier than I had expected and had planned to do some window shopping on my own until Yuliya finished work but instead I got a hot chocolate from Costa, got comfy in the cushy surroundings and managed to finally finish Dean Karnazes' book 'Run!'. You guessed it, yet again I cannot stop myself, I have to include one of his statements. Up until this point I never considered myself a runner, even after all my events; three half marathons, four full marathons and god knows how many miles racked up in triathlons and training. However, Dean's closing statement made me realise maybe deep down there is a runner in me as everything in this statement applies to what I feel, "We runners are a unique breed. We like chasing dreams…Our ultimate challenge is not to arrive at the finish line in a composed state, but rather to stagger in breathlessly, totally annihilated and on the verge of collapse, proudly knowing in our hearts we have ran our race, and it was glorious. Whether you end up with a medal being placed around your neck or an IV line being placed into your arm, (not uncommon in Ironman) the inner bliss is the same. You have waged your war and emerged victorious. You are content. If you are to never take another step, you will forever remain satisfied. The job is done. That is, until the next one. Yeah, every runner knows that feeling". We most definitely do - the finish line euphoria is addictive and why this blog still exists!
  Anyway, back to sitting in Costa dunking marshmallows into hot chocolate in London. Yuliya met me around 5pm and we then headed off to 'All Bar One' for dinner and drinks. Five hours, five food platters, two cocktails, three bottles of prosecco and many drunken tears of laughter and sadness later I was on the train home. (We also decided that night she should come to Lanzarote to support me and she has since booked her tickets!). Yuliya, you are a friend to cherish for life and I thank you for listening, guiding and laughing with me about Rose, all things Ironman and life. I did try and make her promise she will one day do an Ironman with me, but she wasn't that drunk or stupid (she did go to Cambridge)…but there's always next time :). It was amazing to see her and I felt so content and lucky to have such a great friend. As I was sat on the train home, albeit rather inebriated, it made me realise life does continue even after tragedy. I have an amazing family, boyfriend, friends and life. I am still angry and look at the world with an air of complete unfairness but as my sister perfectly put, "life is all about adapting now". I have always been a deep thinker and Rosie's death has made this stronger but I know she was at her happiest and don't want to be down for her. I've been told many times, "She wouldn't want you to be sad" and I am finally starting to actually believe it. We will all never ever forget our beautiful Rose and there will be many times when I will crumble in despair at our loss, but there are ways to deal with the grief and for me that is not drinking in excess as I have been recently in an attempt to forget what has happened. In the long run this actually makes me feel worse as I then get low about my appearance and body (my weight loss being something I have worked hard to achieve). The short term help that alcohol brings does not last - yes it helps me to forget and numbs my thinking but ultimately it helps nothing and no-one. I may have drunk a lot more before but it's not me now - when I decided to become an Ironman I made a sacrifice and cutting my drinking down was one of them. I'm not going to say I'm a quitter as I am still young and do look forward to a drink sometimes with friends and family but I know that I truly feel better physically and mentally since cutting down. I also made a promise to Rose to get to Kona, spending time on the sofa crying, drinking and feeling sorry for myself is not going to get me to that Hawaiian island. #Hollie4Kona.
   Thankfully, Dan didn't rub it in too much the day after how annoyingly drunk I was when he picked me up at the station at 1am - he just let me have my fun with my friend. It was a real treat and a major turning point to clean up my act.

The amazing food platters Yuliya and I shared

  I left for London for my MRI and X-Ray early on the Wednesday, two days after my referral. By the time I got back I only had few hours before a 7 day stint of night shifts. The consultation afterwards showed that my ITB (Iliotibial Band - a thick band of tissue on the lateral side of the leg that stabilises the knee starting from the glutes) was severely unhappy. In fact the doctor, someone who deals with sports injuries on a daily basis of which ITB is a very common complaint, said he had not seen one so inflamed in a long time. My ITB is only half of the knee issue but one that is causing the most concern and pain when running at the moment. Is this inflammation caused by something wrong within the knee, elsewhere in the body or just biomechanical? I have also sent my scans to an orthopaedic surgeon who may have some more in-depth knowledge into this and although surgery can be done on recurring ITB injuries a long course of strengthening physio and running technique analysis can help the pain. Some part of me wanted something evidently wrong that could be quickly fixed with arthroscopy. It was also evident that the ligament damage on the inside of my knee is recurring but although it doesn't sound like a long-term solution, injecting the affected area annually through a course of prolotherapy does improve the pain (I'm sure I have explained prolotherapy before somewhere so if you are keen to know more about what is does google it). Finally, in regards to the pain I got underneath my patella on every rotation of the bike during Ironman Wales there is nothing screaming out from my MRI to suggest anything is wrong - but again maybe the surgeon may be able to shed some more light on this.
  As I mentioned earlier on in this post I was given a cortisone (steroid) injection for my ITB. This is an anti-inflammatory and will reduce the swelling and fluid in my ITB. In contrast to prolotherapy injections, cortisone is not a long term solution and can actually harm the area if used too much. I was then given prolotherapy and booked in another 2 dates to come in on to complete the course of it. In regards to any further knee pain help it is another case of watch this space.

  Although my hospital visit didn't include too many shocks I was told not run for at least month in order for my knee to fully recover. My face dropped, it must have looked like my doctor was talking another language. I wrote on Twitter shortly after, "Can't run for a month - hot chocolate and snickers for me then?" to which I got some angry responses saying no you don't! Thankfully there was no vending machine or drinks station on the tube so I didn't get my chocolate overload and in hindsight was pleased I didn't prematurely give in. One wrote, "Have protein and veg in readiness to be unleashed again?" and I have taken this on board. It has also sparked a new nutrition plan for 2014 (more later on in the post). If I can't run I will eat less carbohydrates and swim more. I will never understand the human brain as to why when you are told you can't do something that is what you want to do?! There either seems to be more runners about recently who I am finding myself jealous of or I am just noticing them more because I can't do it. Either way I just want to go on a run and enjoy the cold harsh muddy weather with an off road trail run…I suppose I'll have to listen to doctors orders.

  My sister on the other hand has gone from running strength to strength. Since finding out she has a London Marathon place next year through an Epilepsy Charity three weeks ago she is up to 7 miles on an average of 6mph. She is like me and many others who takes comfort and distraction in having a goal and uses the training runs as time to think and have some personal space and peace. She even admitted she can see why exercise is addictive - triathlon next Em? Well done sis, so proud of you!

Me and my boy!
  Although I am not able run and 'zone out' at the moment I have found a way that I can have my own personal time as well as try and combat another fear which will help me for the channel swim next year. It may seem pathetic but as I mentioned before the dark is my biggest fear and one that is worrying for the channel crossing next August. I have begun walking Larry alone in the dark. I can understand how stupid and childish this must sound but the dark has been a fear since I was a child. My imagination takes me elsewhere and in the dark I create some horrendous circumstances which means I always have a beating heart and rushing to get home. Therefore I would always walk in the dark with company and always sleep with a light on (it does make me feel slightly better to know that the horror writer Stephen King also does this). However, now I am starting to enjoy my walks in the dark. It gives me time alone to think about Rose and my own thoughts. Sometimes I just think of nothing at all and just take in my surroundings and feel the cold winter air on my face. It's my own time. I also don't know whether it is me looking into it too much but I don't feel as scared anymore, as if Rose is watching over me and keeping me safe. My mind does start to wonder but I push the thoughts away. If the support I have received from friends and even strangers proves anything it is that there are some lovely people in the world and I need to remember that. Either that or I just don't care what happens to me anymore given what has happened but that's a rather more cynical and worrying way to look at it. My next progression - no nightlight in the bedroom (Dan will be pleased!).
This little bundle of joy is getting me over my fear of the dark on our walks

  On the topic of the kindness of strangers I also have to mention the kindness of a local bike shop in Andover (where I bought my new bike from). Behind the Bikeshed's owner Bernard Baker has sponsored the loan of a bike bag for both my journeys to Lanzarote next year given my fundraising mission - something that could easily cost £200+. He is also offering a sale or return on any kit I need for the dates abroad. I want to again thank you personally Bernard for your generosity and support. Furthermore, for everyone at the shop thank you for all your help.

  In other rather disappointing news we are pulling out of buying my 'perfect' property. The shocking survey along with the shocking amount the vendors offered off the price has made it a difficult road to follow. Furthermore, the poor and disappointing communication from both the estate agents and vendors means we have lost interest. The whole situation has been both upsetting and frustrating and as sad as I am to walk away it has to be done for a whole array of reasons. So it's back to the drawing board where the Rightmove and Zoopla app's are second nature browsing every morning. Please fate, I need you now!

  After a tough few weeks I finally think I have found my determination again. After this night shift stint is over on Wednesday morning I am back on it nutritionally and physically (not that I have been bad nutritionally - I just have a change to a protein loading plan). I cannot wait until we are settled in a house but that'll have to wait until fate decides it. I am wishing and praying for the early part of 2014.

 In regards to 2014 I have high hopes for it. I have decided already that even though I wanted to be settled in a new home which would also aid my training this may not happen until March. So, as the move isn't imminent I am going to buy a small stand alone freezer as our one in our rented flat is integrated into the fridge so is tiny and also broken. I am already beginning my nutritional plan for the New Year which will include a high protein rich diet to aid recovery and energise my training sessions. The freezer is so I can essentially store chicken and other high protein meat so I don't have to spend the extra money on fresh meat all the time. There is a website which many athletes use called Muscle Food where you can buy meat in bulk for a fraction of the cost of supermarkets prices. I am excited to optimise my training with nutrition. I am really interested in nutrition so this is something I have always been keen on doing and hopefully I will also see the improvements in my physical appearance whilst doing this. I don't want to wish my life away but I am looking forward to 2014. In one respect I want to finish what has ended up being a bad year but with all I have planned, possibly even Kona if I qualify in May, it holds a lot to look forward to. Think I'm starting to get my mojo back.

I couldn't help myself - had to include this

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