Meeting Mr Khan

Yesterday I went to the Department of Neurosurgery at Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital to meet with a surgeon. Understandably I was very nervous; this guy was entirely capable of inflicting pain and putting me off my feet for weeks. The person we met with, though, was the most attentive and reassuring doctor I’ve ever known. He spent over half an hour with us, explaining my MRI and the options it threw up.

My third vertebral disc has just about disappeared; instead of being a lovely spongy bit of spinal padding, it’s now a sad little slither of nothingness. The vertebrae either side of it have been banging against each other and, as a result, are starting to fuse together by their own accord. The pain I’m getting in my leg are the result of nerve damage being caused by all this going on – the spinal channel is currently narrowed and the nerves are getting jangled and prodded when I try to walk or stand.

What Mr Khan suggested was looking at non-invasive methods first. This is because the surgery I would need to have (and might still need) is massive. It involves taking pieces of bone from my hip to pack the fusion of bone and then fix the two vertebrae with plates and screws. It would take months to recover from it. It’s not a bad a recovery as it used to be, but it’s still a huge operation made worse, in my case, by some spinal curvature (scoliosis) probably caused by the fact that I have one leg longer than the other.

So what I’m going to try is a treatment of nerve numbing drugs, allowing me to get on with life whilst my spine hopefully continues to fuse itself, accompanied by an injection of anaesthestic, guided by an MRI,  into my spine. I’ve been given a timeline of four months, after which time I go back and see Mr Khan. I’m to keep a diary of what’s going on, how I’m feeling, how I’m coping and if I can do more or less with the drugs. The side effects of the drugs are pretty nasty and I’m going to feel spaced out for a while until my body gets used to them. I may not be able to drive or work during that time. I’m prepared for that.

I did challenge this; I’ve been in so much pain for so long – I just want to be well again, even if that means surgery. I didn’t want to waste any more of my life faffing about with things that might not work. I had already got the idea of surgery into my head and had accepted the need for it. However I totally understand, once Mr Khan had explained, the benefits of doing things this way.

If the drugs work, I could be walking short distances on the treadmill within weeks. I could start swimming and cycling. I could try some gentle pilates. Within a few weeks!

 

I couldn’t leave without asking the all important questions:

Did running cause this? Perhaps, but Mr Khan said he would rather see a fit 50 year old runner with this problem than an unfit 30 year old couch potato!

Could I run again? Yes. I would have to start with short distances on an even surface and might be restricted to shorter runs (up to 10k) until we know how stable my spine is. Basically I have to behave myself.

 

So there it is. Today I will try and get the prescription satisfied so that I can start the drug regime this week. Then it’s a wait and see.

 

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Festive Fat Felling

It sounds far more adventurous than calling it weight watching, doesn’t it? I’m Festive Fat Felling!

Since last writing I’ve really stuck to my calorie reduced living. I’m not dieting as such; all I do is note down the calories in what I eat, try to stay around 1200 calories a day and drink plenty of water. Sometimes I’m just over and most times I’m just under. I’m still eating platefuls of delicious food and drinking my beloved gin and, most importantly, I don’t feel as if I’m dieting. For instance, tonight I’m having an Indian takeaway meal and I have plenty of calories left in the bank for a gin or two!

And I’m losing weight! So far I’ve lost 8lbs or half a stone in 13 days. I should know how much that is in kilos, but I really don’t care. I’m an imperial/metric crossover kid, still old enough to remember doing imperial maths at school and still young enough to remember being shown a 50p coin and gasping at its alien form. Some things I do in imperial measure and others in metric. It’s probably annoying but, again, I don’t care.

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I’m back at work and I have to admit that the three weeks I took off at Christmas have given me a false sense of wellbeing. When I do next to nothing I feel great. I’ve been back at work a week and I’m knackered. Not just sore, but very weary. I’m getting worn out by the constant pain and there is nothing I can do about it. I take the pills I’m prescribed and have a couple of (allowed, medically and dietary) G&Ts a night and then I try and get a night’s sleep. Those of you who have endured long term chronic pain will understand that there is no position of comfort for any length of time, whether it’s standing, sitting or lying. I’ve taken to sleeping with a pillow under my knees to try and take the pressure off my back. I can’t sleep on my left side because I still have bursitis and sleeping on my front hurts my back. So I try to move between lying on my back and lying on my right side as gently as I can. It hurts whatever I do so I rarely have a really good night’s sleep and that adds to my tiredness. Something else for me to moan about!

I’m really pleased, though, with my weight loss. I’ve said that I’ll try to lose a further 30lbs, with my goal being me being even lighter than I was when all this started. I might not achieve that and, to be honest, if I could just get back to my pre-injury weight, I’d be happy. Another stone would do that, so it’s not much to ask of myself and it would probably help with  my recovery post-surgery.

I’ve no news on that front. My doctor suggested a four month wait from referral, which takes me to April time. Whether that’s to meet the neurosurgeon and discuss options or not, I don’t know. I’ve scheduled a regular doctors appointment to keep on top of pain management and developments, which is helping me feel a little more in control.

Again, if anyone wants to befriend me on MyFitnessPal, I’m Paintergirl21. I’ve amassed a few very supportive contacts already from all over the world. We support each other’s achievements and give advice when its asked for.

And, as runners, we all know about motivation…

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Running Home and Away

Last week hubbie and I went away to Oban, on the west coast of Scotland, for a few days R&R. We had decided, at the start of the summer, that taking a few short breaks would be less disruptive to our businesses and lives than taking one long holiday. We had already visited Coniston in the English Lake District for a few days at the start of the school holidays and Oban was our next destination. Mindful of how I worried about running in Coniston I contacted the Oban Runners via their Facebook page prior to leaving, just to check out some routes. They recommended a 6 mile loop around a loch about a mile away from where we were camped which sounded perfect.

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With views like this I might forget to breathe! ©Julie Hollis, 2014
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Gorgeous weather has followed us around the north of Britain!
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The only piece of road I ran on!

I was, however, meant to do a 4 mile run on the Monday we were away, with one of the miles timed. After a reccy walk on the day before we discovered that the route between the campsite and the loch ran mostly along a disused railway track and was almost completely off road. It was ideal. Instead of running around the loch (and believe me I was sorely tempted) I decided to run out for two miles and then run back. It meant that 3 miles were largely in the shade of trees and, with the weather so warm even first thing in the morning, this was important. It also meant that I could do my warm up mile to the loch and then do my timed mile along the loch shore (which was pretty flat). For once I had it planned to perfection! The only possible fly in the ointment was that the shower block closed at 10.30 for cleaning, so I needed to be back before then in order to get cleaned up!

 

My warm up mile was a nice easy one at 10:40. I’ve been running 2:30/1 ratios because these seem to suit me at the moment so imagine my surprise at seeing my fastest mile of the year at 9:22 pop up! I was gobsmacked. This must go to prove that there is truth to what Jeff Galloway says – walk breaks can help to make you faster. I ran an easy two miles home at 11:32 and 11:08, making it home before the showers closed!

The view after my Magic Mile! Loch Creran is a beautiful and tranquil place.
The view after my Magic Mile! Loch Creran is a beautiful and tranquil place.

I know that run walking isn’t for everyone and my efforts are often met with a mixture of confusion and disapproval in races, but using these methods I’m getting faster and recovering from injuries quicker. I can easily sustain 9 minute mile running in the two and half minutes when I have to and walking for a minute adds surprisingly little to the overall pace. Basically it works for me.

Yesterday was my long run day again and I was down for 12 ½ miles. The weather seemed to have cooled down a tad from the furnace we’ve been living in for the past month or so (I’m not complaining, but it has made training difficult for this pale skinned Celt!) and I was looking forward to some cool running. Unfortunately that wasn’t to be and despite setting off early I was thwarted by the heat yet again. At 3 ½ miles I decided to turn back, making 7 miles and then run the 5 ½ later when it would have hopefully cooled down again. Despite the weather the 7 miles were bang on long run pace, one minute slower per mile than race pace. When it became clear that I would be running in the dark before the temperature and humidity reduced I opted to complete the run on the treadmill. Fanned and entertained by Star Trek Voyager, I ran the rest of the 12 miles at a slightly faster pace.

This morning I knew I’d almost run a half marathon! My quads, hip flexors and abductors were all complaining when I moved, but a long walk with the dog solved most of that. Whilst walking I was able to stop and take some photographs of the trail where I tend to do my short runs. The trail has changed such a lot over the last few months, with entire sections of the forest removed by the timber workers, it’s really quite odd to see.

On a nutrition note I’ve decided to ditch the chia seed gels I’d been trying. This is for a few reasons; they are expensive, have a short shelf life (great for long distance runners, but out of date by the time I need them) and they are bit too gooey for me. I’m still looking for something, but in the meantime I’m using a combination of Dextro energy tablets and jelly beans. Any ideas on this would be appreciated.

 

 

Running Long and Tapering Down

Today saw my last long run of this training programme. After today I’m on the taper.  And, to my relief, I’m feeling…

G-R-R-R-E-A-T!

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The weather forecast for today was dismal, so imagine my surprise to see sunshine and blue skies this morning. The weather gods were obviously smiling, so, after a breakfast of porridge, bananas and honey and having done my email duties for the morning, I set off. I had decided to run a tougher route than just along the fairly flat shore road. It’s my 4 mile loop which, if run again, becomes a 5 mile loop. I know that doesn’t make any sense, but if you take into consideration that if I’m doing a 4 mile run I walk to warm up and cool down adding the extra distance. If I run right round it’s 5 miles. Honest it is.

The run starts with a first mile which is mainly uphill. I always find that tough when I start off; my legs aren’t properly warmed up and my calf muscles are still too tight. However, I soldier on. After that the route undulates with some good hills to climb and descend. It’s a good route and I prefer to run a loop than go there and back. The only issue with this route though is that it tends to flood and yesterday we had some pretty nasty rain. I was expecting the worse.

The worst bit wasn’t as bad as I had expected, although as this road is being used as a diversion route for a farm which is cut off at present thanks to roadworks, it has suffered a bit. The road was pretty broken up in parts, with massive holes on either side; I feel sorry for the folk who live round there. The holes, predictably, had filled up with mud and rainwater and with the increased farm traffic the sloppy mud was being distributed all over the road. It was unavoidable and my lovely Brooks trainers are no longer quite as lovely; they are drying as I type, in the hope that the dirt might brush off. We’ll see.

I had taken with me my 33 Shake chia seed gels and my Camelbak with ¾ of a litre of water with a High 5 Zero tablet in it. I had been just using water, but I felt that I needed an extra boost. The High 5 Zero tablets had been sent out by the Edinburgh Marathon Festival organizers with my number, so I felt duty bound to try them out and I liked them; not too juicy tasting, salty if anything, and gentle on my stomach. I was a bit concerned when I got home though to discover that I had almost all of my ¾ litre left – I’m not drinking enough. I need to watch this, especially if I’m racing in warmer weather.

I planned to take my gels at miles 4, 8 and 12 but after mile 8 I forgot and ended up taking it at mile 9 instead. In the end I just didn’t bother taking the third one – I was managing fine with what I’d taken. Maybe the drink was helping there. I like the chia seed gels, but they are a bugger to swallow in a hurry when you’re a bit out of breath. I always take them on my walk breaks, but I inevitably run out of time. If I’m honest this is putting me off them and I’m wondering if I can do anything about it. I might contact the makers and see what they suggest.

By mile 8 the forecast weather had arrived and it was throwing it down. I stopped to call my son at home as I’d left two machine loads of washing on the line and knew that it would be soaked again by the time I’d run the last of that loop home. I decided at that point to head home and complete the run on the treadmill. The wind had picked up and the rain was extremely heavy – it wasn’t worth slogging out another loop. I may be mad, but I’m not crazy!

Having set up Star Trek on the DVD player I set off to boldly go (again) and boldly went with the Voyager crew. I felt surprisingly good and even ended up increasing the pace in the last couple of kilometres.

With my 14 miles complete in about 2:39 I had a rushed lunch of scrambled eggs, toast and humous and a strawberry soya milkshake and a quicker shower before heading into town to do the weekly shop! As a result, I haven’t sat down much, which might explain why I’m feeling so good! I honestly don’t feel pained enough to have run 14 miles – maybe that will come tomorrow!

But I hope not!

So now the taper begins. I’m pleased to have run my last long run before the race – I’m looking forward to saving my legs a bit. I’ve got two 30 minute runs to do this week, then a 5 mile run next Monday and two final 30 minute runs and then it’s race day!

After last week’s podiatrist downer I have some good news. I went to see my chiropractor (he of the Vulcan death grip) and told him what the podiatrist had said. When I got to the part when I relayed that I’d been told basically to give up running he stopped me. “Don’t give up running,” he said “Running has given you so much. Strength, confidence, achievement – don’t give up!” It was what I needed to hear. All athletes get injured. I don’t have the financial backing that elites have, but I do have a very good chiropractor who listens to how I’m feeling and helps me. Sometimes I need to work through injuries and having his support, as well as Jeff Galloway’s running plans, help me do that.

After all, if a 14 mile run leaves me feeling like Tony the Tiger, I’d be daft to let that go!

 

 

A self-affirming 6.5 easy miles

Sunday saw the first real increase in mileage since I restarted my training following injury.  It was a lovely day, a truly lovely day.  The sun was shining, there was just a gentle breeze and it was a cool 5ºC. I decided to head down along the shore road, despite the fact that it was just 6 ½ miles and that I could have done a loop of my favourite route. Truth is, I expected (bearing in mind that it’s been a very wet winter) that the route would be flooded in at least a couple of places and I really didn’t fancy paddling this close to the birth of my new running shoes! They deserve to stay reasonably clean for a few more weeks, at least!

An idea of the amount of water we're coping with - this was a field when I started out, but the high tide and increased river height caused a flood by the time I was heading home!
An idea of the amount of water we’re coping with – this was a field when I started out, but the high tide and increased river height caused a flood by the time I was heading home!

I’m also just training for a finish; I’m not trying to get a PB. I have had a string of rotten half marathons, because of injury, weather and both, and I just need to finish comfortably this time and then build on that. An easy run along the shore road was what I needed, all I needed.

Jeff Galloway was in my head, as ever. His app gives me reassurance and guidance. I’m getting better at using it, altering my pace and walk/run ratios as I need. I also took time to look around me and enjoy my lovely day. I met a couple of friends who watched me run off and come back again, grass in hand. I do love horses!

My new neigh-bours!
My new neigh-bours! Groan!

I ran the first 3 miles reasonably well. It is still taking me that length of time to get into the rhythm of running. After 3 miles I’m more relaxed, possibly not as fast, but happier. I think forced inactivity has just put me out of step with my running spirit and it’ll take me a while to find it again.

I ran the 6.5 miles at between 11 and 12 min mile pace. Not fast, not far, but fine.

Since then I’ve been reading my running mags avidly. One of them has suggested using meditation and self-affirmation as a way of boosting self-confidence. This is a great idea for me because I do tend to doubt myself, especially on long runs. I tried it last night and I’m going to add this to my training programme. Basically I relax each muscle group from my feet up, then imagine myself walking down a staircase to a lovely familiar place and when there I tell myself that I am a good runner, repeatedly. When I’m ready to finish I count myself from three to one and open my eyes. I’m happy to give this a go and I’d be interested in hearing about your experiences with self-affirmation.

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Last news from me for this week is that I’ve decided to fundraise again this year. I’m booked into three half marathons, almost 40 miles of racing on top of many more miles of training and a couple of 10ks thrown in for good measure – I think if I could raise a bit of cash for a worthy charity that would be great. I decided on Diabetes UK  in memory of Tina, my friend who passed away recently. Tina had Type 1 Diabetes and to raise money in her memory would be a fitting tribute. Diabetes UK were delighted for the support and have already sent out a fundraising pack, including a smart technical running vest. As I have already secured my places in the three races I don’t have to raise a certain amount for them, but I would like to raise at least £200.

If you would like to help please click on the banner to go to my JustGiving page or follow the text donation instructions. Thank you!

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Click to donate via my JustGiving page

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Week 1: It all starts here

Here I am, fresh after my first long run of my training for the Edinburgh EMF Half. Fresh indeed – I think I need that shower now!

Who would hate running here?
Who would hate running here?

I couldn’t believe my luck this morning, after what seems like weeks of rain, flooding, locusts and boils (OK, so I lied about the locusts) today dawned frosty, clear, calm and bright. Perfect running weather. I was down for just 3 miles, hardly a long run, but embraced the fact that 3 miles is exactly what I can get out of the paths through the local woods and my dog, Murphy, would love that! Once I’d managed to harness his excitedness we set off for an easy run.

My Garmin was a bit low on battery, but I had remembered to put my heart rate monitor on (wonders will never cease!) I turned on the GPS on my phone and set Jeff Galloway/LoLo’s Half Marathon training app to run (it’s really worth the £10 odd, honestly). I’d had issues with hooking up to GPS on these apps before, maybe because of the thickness of the case I use to carry the phone, so wearing my Garmin was a back up plan. What I didn’t realise was that as this was a new phone I hadn’t actually turned Location Services on for this app and so it was never going to hook up to a satellite. Technology is useless in the hands of fools.

I had downloaded some new music, having worn out the last lot I bought during last year’s training. I needed something new. My husband might not agree; apparently I am “always” downloading something off iTunes; magazines, music – you name it. I allegedly spend a “fortune” because “all these little bits add up”. Yes dear. Tell me again how much the Jaguar was…

Anyway, I had purchased The Running Bug’s Ministry of Sound album. It’s a year old, but it had really good reviews from runners, whereas a lot of the albums were not rating well. Comments such as “you can’t run to that” and “waste of money” really put me off buying quite a lot of so called running music. I don’t mind putting a playlist of my own together, but sometimes I need fresh music in there to keep me interested. What I did listen to today was well paced and I enjoyed it. I didn’t know any of it, but then I’m getting on a bit. It certainly wasn’t Status Quo.

Panoramic view of the trail
Panoramic view of the trail

I was surprised at the slowness of the pace that the app dictated. It was comfortable and made me realise that, yet again, I’d been starting off runs far too fast over the last few weeks. I relaxed into a sensible pace

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based on achieving around an 11 minute mile. Obviously as we’re including walk breaks I was having to run faster than that, but it was a nice, easy pace. And I enjoyed it. I managed to maintain a just-over-11 min mile pace which, off road, is fine. To be honest I couldn’t care less what my pace was. It was a lovely relaxing run with my little dog in a place I love. What could be better than that?

I get a rest tomorrow from running, but I want to get those core activations up and running instead. I have my book stickied with small bits of paper and I’m off to empty the cabin of some junk so as to make a bit more space, or at least reorganise what junk there is. Wish me luck on that one; we store a hell of a lot of rubbish!

New Kicks for a New Day

My last post was a bit down. I don’t apologise for that; it’s a reality that life dishes out downers and we need to deal with these and carry on. So I’m carrying on.

Yesterday I crossed the border, left Scotland and went to Carlisle in England’s county of Cumbria. Carlisle is just under 30 miles away, quite close by our standards, and a much larger place than our local town of Dumfries. I hadn’t intended to go to a running shop, but my chores led me in that direction. Honest they did!

I ended up gazing longingly at nice new trainers in Chivers Sports. I tried on about half a dozen different pairs, mostly Asics and Brooks – the two trainers I’ve bought in the past, and ran up and down the shop under the watchful eye of one of the salesman. He knew his stuff! I explained that I had been told that I was a neutral runner, but that I’d had Plantar Fasciitis and had the start of bunions on each big toe (requiring a wider fit). He wasn’t put off by my peculiar running style (flicking my twisted right leg so that I landed well) but noticed that my left foot rolled in slightly. I needed some support, but not the excessive support of the Asics I’d worn previous to owning my Brooks Ghost 5s.

Choices, choices.
Choices, choices.

In the end we were choosing between the Ghost 6 and the Defyance 7. I noticed that the Ghost  dipped away at the left big toe, making me want to roll more in that direction, but the Defyance had me landing square. It was a no-brainer: I choose the Defyance.

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Brooks state that the Defyance has…

..that same amazing balance of the GTS…smoothly infused in the Neutral construction of this hybrid ride. From the reliable transition of the segmented crash pad to the adaptability of anatomical Brooks DNA and the adjustable eye row, this versatile shoe wins the all-around award every run.

After choosing, my salesman disappeared with my kicks for quite some time. It transpired that they keep records of every shoe sale to every customer and note down any issues that the customer has. My poor salesman had an essay to write! I eventually left with new shoes, at a discounted price and a discount card for future purchases.

So far as my running is concerned, well I’m almost ready to restart my half marathon training. I’ve been treading water a bit since Christmas, not wanting to put any undue strain on my left foot and re-spark my PF. I’ve done mostly short trail runs (up to 3 miles) and treadmill running. I’m enjoying trail running again, as is my dog!

Murphy in sniff-mode.
Murphy in sniff-mode.
The trail is great at this end! Wish it was all like this!!
The trail is great at this end! Wish it was all like this!!

The excessive rain we’ve been ‘enjoying’ has made parts of this route very, very muddy, but it doesn’t bother me other than obviously slowing me down! My old Nike Alvords are looking really manky these days, but they dust off when the mud dries and they are still  comfortable. I’ve even started leaving my Garmin at home and not timing my running. It’s quite liberating really!

My half training starts next week, so I’ll have to dust off my Jeff Galloway training app. I’ve set it for 11 minute mile pace, which I know I can more than handle, and will adjust the walk:run intervals as I feel fit. I’m feeling really positive about things just now so let’s just hope that I can stay injury free!