54 + 12

Tuesday saw my 54th birthday. It’s incredibly reassuring that finally I appear to be comfortable in my skin, regardless of the fact that it’s now showing a few more lines.

My faithful running partner, Murphy the Jack Russell, had his 12th birthday yesterday. He shows no signs of slowing down, even though he is now technically older than I am. I hope that at a comparative age I’m still going as strong.

However, if yesterday’s run is anything to go by, that’s not likely! I’ve not run for a few days, struggling with what I thought was a weakness in my left quadricept femoris muscle (front thigh), a lasting gift from my pre-surgery issues. I’d hoped that the daily yoga I’ve been doing would help free it off a bit, but yesterday proved otherwise.

Since surgery I’ve been having physiotherapy, weekly at the start and now monthly, for a year and a half. The damage done by the motion of the vertebrae as they squashed nerves has been fairly significant and I’ve got an overall combination of no feeling at all, excessive sensitivity, and reactions to touch in places that aren’t being touched! It’s not a terrible thing, just a bit weird at times. Touch my lower back and I feel the touch on my backside and part way down my leg, a fact that my husband finds very amusing.

Although my physio has been focusing mostly on rebuilding my core, which to be fair was shot after I had my son by Caesarean Section and then again five years later when I had the same operation following an Ectopic Pregnancy, one of the exercises she has given me is to help the nerves supplying the quad muscle.

Being a bit of a Google Doctor, I’m really interested in learning more about the physiology of what is going on. My ‘A’ Level Biology based curiosity is wanting to understand the what and the how, rather than just accepting the situation. It helps me to get to grips with why a certain exercise is effective.

From what I can understand, unless there was far more extensive damage to the nerves, what I am experiencing is probably not just nerve damage to the femoral nerve which serves the quads, but also damage to the nerves around my core and hips. Some muscles just aren’t getting the message and so my body is asking others that it can talk to to help out and prop me up. And the nerves that are responding to the call to duty are the femoral nerves and, when my poor quads can take no more, the ones serving my glutes take up the charge.

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 Quadriceps femoris, with different muscles in different colors.
rectus femoris – blue
vastus lateralis – yellow
vastus intermedius – green
vastus medialis – red

(Taken from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quadriceps_femoris_muscle)

Yesterday I woke up wanting to run, even though it was raining. Murphy wanted to run too, judging by his extremely excited reaction when he saw me putting my running gear on! I had decided to abandon my 10k training plan. I’ve got to 4 miles. They are a slow 4 miles in comparison to what they would have been a few years back, but they are 4 miles. I recover from them quite quickly, normally, so I know I have the potential to do more. Yesterday, with this nagging leg pain in the back of my mind, I decided to go easy, do two miles and leave it at that. It was a trail 2 miles, so more demanding than if I’d gone out on the road.

I set my interval timer to one minute, meaning that I intended to run for one and walk for one. I was taking no chances, other than going out and coming back – but I didn’t have a lot of choice about that. And the rain, but it was just drizzle most of the time. In fact it was nice to run in; not too warm, not too wet and midge and clegg free.

The first half a mile was great, but mostly downhill. I kept up a steady pace, even without  the benefit of beat paced music in my ear. (The last couple of times I’ve been out have been without my phone or earbuds. I haven’t missed them to be honest.) As I approached the end of the mile I could feel the strain on that quad and knew that a couple of miles was definitely all that I was going to do.

But my OCD wouldn’t let me stop at one mile and turn round, it compelled me forward to a break in the route before it would let me go. I ran an extra wee bit to the end of the trail and stopped to give Murphy his half way treat and me a bit of a stretch. With nothing to lean against, I stood like a flamingo with one leg pulled up behind me and wobbling to keep my balance!

The mile home was sore. It’s mostly uphill, no matter which way I go. Not only, by then, was my left quad hurting, but my glutes were giving up the ghost too. I inevitably slowed down and, in the end, was mostly limping back. I made it though and did a reasonable 2.3 miles. Murphy probably did an extra half a mile, with all the running on and back that he does. Oh to be 12, even in doggy years!

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As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been doing daily yoga. The commitment actually helps me to remember to do my physio exercises which, on their own, are a bit grey-looking. A lot of what I need to do in those exercises is covered in the yoga, so I get a second bite of the cherry. I’m enjoying using an app called Daily Yoga, which is so good that I’m actually going to subscribe to it – opening up access to more exercises and more individualised content. I’ve found that even by doing the 10 Day Beginners Tour I’m already becoming more flexible. Having part of your spine welded together takes away a degree of flexibility and some things I still, even after a year, find very difficult to do. I’m having to relearn how to do some things (refer back to nerve damage), such as coming from a seated pose to a standing one, and invariably have to use a table or chair as a prop. The Daily Yoga is helping with that. Plus I should mention the ‘skip’ function? Very useful when you are told to tuck your legs to your chest and roll along the length of your spine, only to look like a fly in its death throes. Skip that, thanks!com_img.jpg

Today is the day after and, yes, I do have some residual aching but it’s okay. My leg hasn’t fallen off in the night and I will survive. A few gentle runs and plenty of yoga and physio and I will get there. Maybe it will take a little longer than I thought. The Jedburgh 10k has been put on the back burner. I just won’t be ready in time and I won’t push myself. I’ll relax and gently build up the miles, perhaps even mostly on the treadmill, and just thank my lucky stars that I can walk and run a bit!

 

How things are going

I’ve sat down here, not really knowing what I want to write! I’m part way through my 10k training plan, enjoying running under the shelter of the trees in the early morning (although not as early as one of my friends, who has been getting up around dawn to get her long runs in before the heat of the sun breaks through!) Murphy, my canine running partner has been coming too although, at almost 12 years old, I have warned him that there may soon come a day when he just can’t come with me. That’s incredibly sad. He’s been my running partner for a long time and has even run a 6 miler with me in his youth!

However that day will come in a few weeks as I start to increase my distances beyond what I can eek out of the woods. In there, amongst the trails, I can get 3 miles. Not all under the shade of the trees, but still. Tomorrow’s run is 3 miles. It’s my Long Run Day and so will be a slow run, so I’m hoping that Murphy and I can get that one done in the cooler weather that is predicted for tomorrow. After than I think I’ll be able to do a couple of shorter runs and then I’ll have to move onto the road.

Road running here is a bit precarious as there are very few paths. I’ve been running for a few years now though and have built up a reserve of quiet routes which test me, but not the drivers trying to get round me! On most runs I hardly see a vehicle. Plenty of cows and sheep, but very little of anything else.

I’ve missed these well-kenned routes and it’ll be nice to get to see them again. Leaving Murphy behind won’t be as nice, but I’m sure he’ll be happy with a post-run walk. And perhaps a squeaky toy and a bone…

I’ve got it in my head that if I am race ready by September I will enter the Jedburgh 10k in October. I haven’t worked out how far through the programme I will be by then as I’m really not wanting to jinx things! At the moment I’m playing with run/walk ratios and seeing what I can do. On my last trail run I went out with 2 min/30 sec, which I adjusted mid run to 45 sec/20 sec and then finished with 3 min/30 sec. It’s reassuring to know that I can adjust these intervals as I feel I am running, without also feeling that I am not performing as I should. The trails are a different thing to road running though and I’m expecting to increase my running ratios to several minutes running to each short walk break. I am not expecting, post surgery and with significant physio issues, to be able to just run. I am enjoying covering the distance in a fairly respectable time.

My pace off road is currently around a 12 min/mile. Previously I could take a minute off that on the road; it’ll be interesting to see if that’s still true. If, however, I am now a 12 minute miler over distance then that’s what I’ll be. At some point or another I’ll run just a mile and see how fast I can do that. I think my fastest mile was just under 9 minutes. I’m not expecting to get anywhere near that.

My physio is happy with me. I am doing my exercises pretty much every day. My Plantar Fascitis has almost disappeared, thanks to those exercises but also to the orthotics I am now prescribed via the hospital. I have now worked up to wearing them all day and am allowed to run in them now too. These help to support my arches and stop my foot from rolling in, as it did. I’ve also started doing what is called Daily Yoga, but not daily. Usually it’s When I Remeber Yoga, but that’s good enough for me! I have problems getting from the floor to standing, so I have a stool on hand to help me. I’m hoping that increasing flexibility and strength will eventually mean that I use this prop less and less.

So, that’s where I am! Things are generally going ‘fine’.

Beating the Heat

I’m sorry that I’m not posting more often. I think I got out of the habit when I was unable to run (and a bit depressed about posting about not running) and it’s just difficult to get back into it. Especially as I have so much to rebuild.

It’s been so hot here recently that running has been largely out of the question, but this morning I decided to hit the trails early and get a couple of miles in. The sun had been up for hours, but it was still cool as I headed out of the door accomapnied by Murphy the Running Dog. He was happy to get out as the heat has largely stopped his walks too.

I’ve somehow managed to resurrect my old Garmin Forerunner 405 through a series of resets and battery drains. I am amazed that it’s still working! I’ve had it pretty much since I started running and the battery should be goosed by now, but it keeps resurrecting itself. The Jesus of Sports Watches!

I’m running a 45sec/15 sec split using LoLo’s 10k app. Two things to explain there: Firstly, I’m running for 45 seconds at 7 mph and then walking for 15 seconds at 12 mph. This averages out at about 11 min/mile pace on the road, a little slower on the trails. Secondly, I decided, in the middle of my second shot at the 5k app, that as I wanted to work up to 10k anyway, I might as well hop across to the 10k program now. I’m was on day 3 of this plan today, a 2 mile run. The 45/15 split means that I’m pretty much running continuously, but giving my extremely tight calves (and plantar fasciitis) a chance of getting to the end of whatever I’m doing.

In the trees the temperature was bearable, but as soon as I came through into the open I could see that both Murphy and I would struggle if I did my usual there and back route, so I decided to run around up to the castle and benefit from almost constant tree cover. Thankfully the midges were pretty scarce, so this was still a good decision. Apparently there’s a national shortage of midges because all of the puddles have dried up. I can assure you that there are still a few puddles on this running route, left behind as the sun never gets through, but the midges could be seen dancing in the sun and I just made sure my eyes and mouth were closed when I ran through them!

 

I got to two miles just past the castle and decided to just enjoy the walk back and cool down a little. My new running shoes, Asics Noosa FFs, are a little on the small size (even though I bought them in a full size bigger) – so I’ve not been wearing socks in them. Unfortunately a couple of tiny bits of grit ensured two lovely blisters today. I’m looking for a good pair of inexpensive trail shoes now! I’ve seen some Karrimore shoes at Sports Direct which will do, but didn’t want to pay the extra £4.99 postage to get them! I’m sure that our local store can order them in for free if they don’t have them in stock! I may have to invest in another pair of runners if the Asics prove to be just a bit too small.

I’m still attending Physio at the local hospital to try and help with my core strength, inflexibility and plantar fasciitis. I’ve got a shed load of exercises to do on a three times daily basis, which I sometimes manage – but often forget to do! To make up for this I’m also doing a Daily Yoga challenge, which I forgot to do yesterday – so that’s going well too. Jeesh.

I’m hoping that I’ll have got far enough through my program to run at Jedburgh in October. It’s the hardest 10k I’ve done (so hilly and windy!), but I enjoy the route and it would be nice to get back to doing something reasonably competitive. 5ks aren’t really my thing, they are too fast and I don’t enjoy them the same. (Although I do like the BUPA Winter 5k run up and round Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh! Maybe I just like hills!) I’ve always said that 6 miles is my distance, even having run at half marathon distance and beyond.

So that’s it. I have a goal. Get myself race fit for October and see if I can beat the hills of Jedburgh again.

Running in the Big Outdoors

The rest of the country are, apparently, enjoying a sunny and warm Bank Holiday Monday. It’s dry here and not blowing a gale; I’m confident that our two weathers are the  same.

sunshine

I’m staying at my mother’s house near Stranraer in south west Scotland. We live about two hours away, still in the same region of Scotland, but further east. I’ve missed a couple of days of running through work and being here, so today I decided to head out for a run.

I’ve been re-following a Couch to 5k programme written by Jeff Galloway and mostly using the treadmill. I don’t really enjoy running on the treadmill and my poor old treadmill is starting to show its age. There is no treadmill at Mom’s house and as she lives right on the coast it was a no brainer to run on quiet roads. I don’t really know the little roads round here, so Mom suggested a circular route. It was quite short (I obviously run further than Mom thought I do!) and was part road and part trail, but it was lovely running outdoors!

 

I’m back to running intervals and I’d worked up to 3:1 run:walk intervals on the treadmill, but adjusted this to 2:1 for this first outdoor run for a while. I’m becoming quite sensible in my old age! It worked well and I covered 3km in about 20 minutes.

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I’ve thrown all of my pre-surgery shoes away, runners included, because my gait has changed and the wear patterns were making me unstable. All of my running shoes were fairly worn anyway, so I didn’t feel as if I was throwing a fortune away, but I’m now left with one pair of runners – a pair of Sketcher Go-Runs which I didn’t enjoy wearing much before. They have a drop heel, encouraging me to walk and run on my midfoot and toes, and they are definitely helping with the plantar fasciitis which I’ve had since November last year. I’m due to go to see a physio tomorrow so I’ll wait to see what they say. I will need to buy a new pair of road shoes and a pair of trail shoes too, so a bit of gait analysis is required!

 

 

I hope you’re all still there…

It’s been ages since I last posted. Last time I was rejoicing at being able to walk again and how much difference it had made to my life.

Last week I met with Mr Khan, my consultant surgeon. He asked the usual questions and then announced, completely unprovoked, that he felt that it was maybe time for me to start running – if I wanted to.

IF. I WANTED. TO.

I stayed very calm, thanked him, and then, on the way to X-Ray, I did a Happy Dance in the lift.

Since then I’ve restarted my running. I’m following the 5K program designed by Jeff Galloway. His training plans have worked so well for me in the past, allowing me to train up to a good half marathon pace, so I trust them. It’s slow going, but after a week I’m already up to a mile and a half. It sounds nothing when compared to the 17 miles  I used to be able to run, but it’s a mile and a half  more than I could run last week!

I don’t have any ambitions, other than to be able to run 3 miles. I’ve promised to take it steady and I’m running on the treadmill so that a) I’m running on cushioned and even ground and b) if I get into difficulties, I’m only at the end of the garden!

Honestly, just being able to run again is just wonderful!

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Progress Report! There is Progress!!

It’s been a very long time since I last reported progress, so I felt it was time to do so again!

Since I last posted I’ve had, and been discharged from, physiotherapy, I’ve been up to Edinburgh and seen my surgeon and I’ve started back to work. I’m now at 14 weeks post-op and the change in me is quite astonishing really.

I can now walk for a very long way without any problems, unless you count losing my sock and shoe in a muddy puddle. My hip/groin/leg pain has 99% gone. I still get a slight nagging right at the top of my left thigh, but nothing in comparison to the searing pain I used to get pre-surgery. I have a long and well-healing scar from my bra strap to my knickers – a reminder of where I’ve been, like a sticker you put on your car when you’ve been to Blackpool! I still have some ache at the site of surgery and I’m still a bit stiff, so doing ordinary things like getting dressed is still a contortionist’s dream. If I get down on the floor, I can’t get up unless I’m hanging onto a piece of furniture. Sadly I didn’t discover that until I was already down and then had to crawl to the nearest chair! You live and learn.

The surgeon was really pleased with my progress. He was happy for me to start doing more than walking and suggested pilates, swimming and cycling. But not running. Not yet. Until my bones have fused with the help of the rods and screws, and aren’t likely to be jarred by anything high impact, I can’t even think about running. I try not to, anyway.

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These are the bits of tin holding me together!

I started phasing myself back into work at week 6 post-surgery with an hour a day for a week, then two hours daily for the next week, then four and then, finally, six hours. It meant I could gradually get used to driving and being at work again. A few weeks later I still get really tired by the end of the day, especially ones which have seen me either spend too much time in front of the computer or too much time standing with customers.

Thanks to the advice of a friend, I was put in touch with Access to Work,  which is run by the UK’s DWP and is aimed at keeping self-employed people in work when they are struggling with a disability. Although I’m post surgery, my recovery will take a year and having some guidance about how I should be sitting, lifting, standing etc. is really important. Last week I was visited by an assessor and I’m waiting on the results of his report. I only wish I’d known about Access to Work before my op.

The biggest change has been in how I am feeling. I no longer hurt, so I look better. There is no pain etched on my face, where it used to be. We went for a weekend away recently and I could again go out for walks and appreciate the countryside from the pathways, instead of the car or the mobility scooter. I can even walk to the pub! And, because I’m mobile, I’m starting to lose weight.

It’s these small things, ordinary things, that are now so precious to me. Being able to walk hand in hand with my husband, being able to walk the dog, being about to do the shopping – these things were either an effort or impossible before.

My grey world has at last become far more colourful.

The Bionic Woman

I grew up in the 1970s, watching such TV delights as Starsky and Hutch, Charlie’s Angels, The Six Million Dollar Man and its spin off The Bionic Woman. How little did I know, as a skinny ginger-haired kid, that I would too be bionic!

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I closed my gallery for Christmas on Christmas Eve and I was, by then, totally exhausted. I couldn’t stand for any length of time, and I couldn’t walk at all without pain.  I was hoping for a surgery appointment in the Christmas holidays, but with no date appearing,  I rang the Admissions Clerk a couple of times and explained that, as a self-employed person, I needed a date and an early one at that! Having been given (and then turned down) a date previously which fell in the week before Christmas, my by far busiest week of the year, I didn’t want to keep my gallery closed any longer than necessary. To their credit the date came through the fairly quickly after that.

I won’t bore you with the details, but watching this video explains the surgery I had.

http://www.spine-health.com/video/spine-fusion-surgery-video#vm_A_569b6008

Short story – I am now bionic. Fact.

I don’t remember much of the aftermath; I went from recovery to the high dependency unit thanks to low blood pressure. I do remember trying to focus on details of the room, which changed as more and more lights seemed to be put on around me, but I don’t remember much other than the constant nurse checks. Once my BP increased everyone seemed to relax!

I came out of hospital four days after being admitted. All I had to do was prove that I could walk to the toilet, go to the toilet and navigate the stairs. It was a little earlier than I’d anticipated,  my husband had even booked work for that day, but the junior doctors seemed happy.

People now seem split into two groups on discovering that I’ve had surgery; half think I should be in bed all of the time and the rest think that’s you fixed,  why aren’t you in the pub?

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Truth is, my recovery consists of walking, sitting and lying down. I am currently paying the price for over-estimating how much I can comfortably walk. I thought it was more, my body says no! So, without pain afterwards, I can probably walk a third of a mile without issue. I can sit down for up to an hour and a half in total, yes in total – in a day! The rest of the time I’m lying down. I might be doing abdominal exercises, I might be resting on my side, I might be posting on Facebook or doing my blog. I might be sewing, doing my diary or watching TV, but all of those things I can do lying down! What will change over the next few weeks is how much more walking and sitting I can manage.

Some things I’m not allowed to do at all, like anything involving bending. I can’t put on my shoes. I can’t hoover. I certainly can’t load and unload the washing machine, make a bed or put my socks away in the bottom drawer. I can’t drive. I can’t catch a bus. I can’t put the dog’s lead on, unless I can coax the dog to jump to a surface at my hip height!

This will all improve and by 8 weeks I should start physio again, appointments permitting. I should be starting back to work at that point too. By then I should be able to walk three miles. That’s a lot of shoulds.

My only worry at the moment is that besides the back pain, which is understandable, I also have nerve pain on my outer lower left leg. I can’t bear to have it touched, or for the bed clothes to even brush it. If I wear close fitting leggings or long socks, it’s bearable – but it’s there. It feels as if a layer of skin is missing and the nerves are exposed. I’ve got the same thing to a lesser degree to either side of the surgery site. I’m hoping that this is temporary. In any case it’s better than I have had and I’m grateful for that.

Does anyone else have experience of spinal fusion?