THE FIRST HALF MARATHON AFTER CANCER – 5 SHORT LESSONS

Half Marathon Training Lessons

Half Marathon Medal, World Map, Race Number, Consistency is the playground of dull minds
My First Ever Half Marathon Medal – 2017 Brighton Half!

My first ever, and the only one so far, half marathon is now very much over and the medal together with the race number made it onto the wall – for now at least. 2017 Brighton Half fell pretty much on the two year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis hence crossing that finishing line felt as good as it gets on the getting over Big C front.

It’s been truly awesome and it also taught me few things in the process:

1.       EVERYONE CAN BE A RUNNER – fitness has never really been my strong suit, I have dabbled in various sports but without much commitment, and never enough conviction to get to the rewarding part when progress happens. Did cancer make me a runner? Not quite. But it did give me a push to try that much harder and hey, it turns out that it’s all about putting one foot in front of the other and just sticking to it. Plus, those post cardio endorphins are real so plain, old chemical addiction takes care of the rest after a while!

2.       TRAIN FLEXIBLY – I have followed my beginners plan as much as I could, some runs were substituted by spin classes, some long runs happened a bit out of order and some plain old mileage building had to be swapped for altitude HIIT sessions to make sure I was ready to trek Himalayas shortly after the race. I had accepted that this was the best I could do, I had made the plan work for me rather than against me and my chip time proves it! But, also…

3.       INTERVALS ARE A MUST – they say that progress happens when you get out of your comfort zone and as

2017 Brighton Half Marathon finishing line
Running_On_Chemo smiling through the finishing line

much as it is a trite, intervals prove it right. Speed sessions are painful, and tears might have been quite a common occurrence, but they made every next long run so much easier! Dear I even say I enjoyed my long runs at times 🙂

4.       DO YOUR BEST EVERY STEP OF THE WAY – whether it’s a target speed, walking break or feeling like you’re inches from quitting, as long as it’s the best that can be done at this very minute at this point of the race – it is good enough and moves you forward just as well!

5.       BEWARE OF THE THRILL OF THE RACE or RUNNING AND THE LAW OF DIMINISHING RETURNS – I might have questioned my sanity at mile 8 and few other times during the race. Just ahead of the finishing line I could not quite comprehend how people sign up to marathons to run twice the distance… and as soon as I got there, clutching my medal and survival blanket I knew I wanted to do that all over again until it feels that twice the distance is possible. Running is addictive and getting just that bit faster and further gives you a rush that is difficult to compare to anything else really – says Runner Anonymous in the making!

And last but not least what would I not have done without:

1.       All my JustGiving supporters – making a leap into a new distance felt just that much more viable having a reason to get there. THANK YOU!

Tiger Balm, running hair accessories
Tiger Balm – essential winter runner’s kit

2.       Tiger Balm – running in the flu season can feel like a regular snot warfare, there are only that many tissues you can stuff into your running outfit and using your t-shirt as a rag is… just gross. It may be that my Cambodian super fierce version of the herbal remedy was that much better than the original but it truly made a difference on the snot attack days. I suspect the regular one would work just as well.

3.       KT-Tape and a foam roller – instant shin splints and tight hamstrings remedy, totally worth it!

2017 Resolutions vs Intentions

New Year Resolutions vs. Intentions. Plus an introduction to Travelling Sarong Pants.

Running on Chemo showing off sarong pants in Angkor Wat
Sarong Pants visiting Angkor Wat

It’s that time of the year again when blog posts about new year resolutions and planning to stick to them abound. One of my favourite blogs, Live Your Legend, whipped up the whole post about it together with a toolkit how to actually get on with sticking to the 2017 resolve once you had got yourself into the goal setting mode. I’m very much in two minds about the whole New Year resolutions business, but I am also in two minds about setting intention for each yoga class which says something about my commitment capabilities. And because whatever pops in my head when the intention/goal setting pressure mounts, turns out to be either super puny or grandiose, in between does not seem to exist.

So, how about some durable and rounded intentions that can help with the actual goal setting when the time comes? Here it goes:

May I Be Kind

– to myself and by extension to the world. It’s easy to fall into a trap of thinking that there is no aiming high without laser focus, extensive planning, self battering into getting things done and of course leaving no room for a failure. In reality, high achievements come from a place of self-belief, kindness, repeated failures and giving back to the world – even if it’s giving back to a very limited slice of the world. Being kind does not invalidate resilience, ambition, effectiveness and focus on action, if anything it enhances all these qualities that translate into aiming high and achieving just as high. I bet FTSE 100 CEOs would collectively agree.

May I Be Patient

– I have spent most of 2016 in a rush to jam a lot into my now potentially limited lifespan. A common side effect of cancer survivorship. Yet looking through a wider lense: none of us knows how long we have left so maybe embracing a cliche that all pieces will fall into place when ready, may be a way to go. According to Richard Branson “opportunities are like buses, there’s always another one coming” – that’s another post-it note that is going on to my headboard world map in 2017.

Buddha Face on the back gate to Ta Prohm Temple
Buddha Face reminder of an aim to eliminate constricting desires vel. hold-ups.

May I Be … Me

– I had spent 2014 seamlessly fitting into expectations of my then boyfriend, 2015 gave way to fitting into a cancer patient narrative, and even though there’s been a lot of kicking and screaming so that it would not define me, in the end I became Cancer Me. 2016 meant a complete reset on the scorched earth of my cancer treatment and failed relationship, and working on freeing myself from the hold-ups of my own design. The true Buddhist Nirvana is still far away and likely not what I would aim for anyway but Being Me, the 2017 True To My Guts Me, is already getting there as some serious inroads have already been laid down.

When I sat to write all these I thought I was on the way to conclude that in ‘resolutions vs. intentions’ competition any resolution would end up a sore looser. Yet in the process I did come up with a good, and a totally viable, one – I am taking my sarong pants to at least three new places in 2017. Not to make it too easy the pants adventures will be limited to the surroundings that fit the attire so Nepal for sure … more ideas to follow – I am told they would come in useful when joining a Meditation Retreat.

All in all for My Sarong Pants and The Project Me, I hereby declare that the best is yet to come!

 

Wanderlust Notes – Cambodia AKA the Land of Deep Fried Tarantula

Running On Chemo on a Mekong River Cruise
Running on Chemo on Mekong River – Fresh Water Dolphins Sanctuary and Flooded Forrest Kayak Trip
Ankgor Wat water reflection
I know it’s cheesy but I did get a shot of Angkor Wat reflection – #shamelesstourist
Ta Prohm Temple back view
Ta Prohm Temple

WANDERLUST STOP 1 – CAMBODIA ON BIKE AND KAYAK

To Travel Is to Live said Hans Christian Andersen and it should ring so very true to any fellow ‘travel bug’ sufferer. I’m all for the mindful being in the present, it’s just that being in the present and experiencing the moment fully, happens to be just that much easier when your bags are packed.

Ta Prohm Temple inside view
Ta Prohm Temple

The unfortunate July foot versus taxi incident delayed my Nepal plan and made for a super slow Halloween 10k but it also meant that I could swap rather cold and wet November London for a southeast Asian escape from reality.

I got to kayak through the flooded forest of Mekong, mountain bike around Angkor complex, which gives you access to beautiful small and out-of-the-way temples minus the usual crowds, spend a night on the tiny island next door to a floating fishing village and eat my way through the Siem Reap food market (I might have picked up some sarong pants there too, not my proudest moment I admit).

Running on Chemo on a mountain bike Ankgor tour
Running on Chemo on the bike – Padded Shorts Time

Did I feel more alive than on my daily commute, sweating buckets on the spin bike together with the fellow corporate drones or getting through the December Christmas parties’ slog? Not necessarily, but rubbing shoulders with the 6am breakfast crowd at the busy market in Steung Teng or getting soaked by a hot downpour in the empty and now drowned streets of Siem Reap feels just that much more real. Hence stopping in a moment and bringing the breath in and out mindfulness habit alive happens pretty much on its own.

Home Stay on Koh Trong Island
Koh Trong Island – Night on the Mekong River

Thanks to a bout of red-eye flight migraine I didn’t get to see the killing fields and the Tuol Sleng Prison Museum in Phnom Penh – sombering reminders of the tragic Cambodian history and a chilling  warning where the post Brexit and POTUS Trump times of cheap radical propaganda could lead us.

SOME UNEXPECTED CHANGE OF PLAN NOTES

I did get to see the Cambodian hospital instead and got to appreciate the dark side of travel bug problem, having hydration packs and promethazine at hand as well as a valid travel insurance – silver linings abound when you get sick on holiday 😉  As much as it was a disappointment, such last-minute hiccup is a great way to keep one’s wanderlust in check – there’s never really enough time and the world is bloody big and that is okay, actually.

Angkor Thom Temple Moat
Angkor Thom Temple

This is exactly what H. C. Andersen must have meant – if travel is to live then it can’t ever be completed. It’s best to just embrace it and work on a collection of  places to get back to, be it dune surfing in Morocco, some dark history lessons or a lazy day on a beach – an ever growing itinerary for a journey through already familiar places seems to me like a good way to Be.

To finish with another quote – consistency is the playground of dull minds said Yuval Noah Harari in his brilliant Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind which I happened to be reading on the flight back. What an awesome thought to kick-start 2017!

 

THE ART OF NOT RUNNING – OR 6 WAYS TO … JUST WING IT

Some Lessons about Letting Go

Last time I may have said that the first life after cancer lesson is about letting go – yet when I was getting my musings out into the world I didn’t quite expect that I would immediately be forced to actually get through a crash course in putting a rather specific ‘let go plan’ in practice.

My broken foot saga was meant to end happily with a gentle ‘back to running’ routine that would have morphed into proper, longer and faster runs any time now. The world of pain caused by a jogging attempt was totally unexpected and one MRI and few consults later I was told that the Trick or Treat Halloween 10k would be a big stretch for my fractured metatarsals that have not yet healed fully.

Supegirl Halloween 10k race costume!!
Superheroes will be rocking the Richmond Halloween 10k one way or the other!!

Damn you silly bones! So here comes the Letting Go 101 as I’ve been living it so far:

First and Foremost:

Override all that ‘lala’ land of mind over matter mantras that would get me running the whole 10k, no sweat! Oh, I had few of those:

  1. GUILT TRIP YOUR PHYSIO INTO LETTING YOU RUN SOONER – it’s such a simple and potentially effective idea! The approaching anniversary of the final cancer treatment helps a lot – not that I recommend getting cancer just for the sheer bully effect on the medical staff later in life, even if it really works the treat 😀 I gave it a solid try but luckily my physio turned out to have a heart of stone!
  2. JUST GET ON WITH IT AND RUN THROUGH THE PAIN – 10k is not that far after all, and no pain no gain or so the saying goes. Very tempting, but then what if all these stories of running yourself back into stress fractures and being stuck in a ‘space boot’ for months are actually true? They are, by the way, and luckily your anxiously rational brain can make you see that sooner rather than later!
  3. TRYING TO LIVE VICARIOUSLY THROUGH OTHER PEOPLE’S RUNNING – not too bad an idea and can help to re-frame the unfortunate few more weeks of rest as an acceptable way forward. Check out the Gobi desert ultra story, phew, if only the foot had healed already my camelback and I would have been there LMAO Just reading about it makes you feel you’ve earned to take things easy every now and then.

Having done all that

–  it’s just a matter of adjusting the very personal reality to what’s actually in front of you! And as always it turns out that it’s nowhere near as bad as feared or so far away from the originally intended end game:

  1. ACTUALLY LISTENING TO YOUR PHYSIO – they do know what they are talking about and if it’s settling for more walking rather than running this time around, so be it. You get the medal and crossing the finishing line rush of endorphin all the same.
  2. CROSS TRAINING – cardio comes in a few more shapes than running. Sweating buckets at the spin class may not be as good as pounding the pavements to get that PB smashed but it lets you stuff your face with pizza just as efficiently as running.
  3. PLANK CHALLENGEthe running bug plank challenge pops on all Facebook feeds regularly so why not give it a go. I’m permanently stuck at the week two of the planking plan so if anybody made it to the end … I applaud your abs and I also think you have way too much time on your hands if you can spend 10 minutes a day planking 😀

    Treating broken foot with red wine
    Red Wine – best broken foot remedy
  4. DISTRACTIONS – oh the good old one step back to charge forward stuff! I have finally read The Girl on the Train (yup, I can see what this fuss is all about now), and The Stress Test by Ian Robertson – a study of how to improve the odds of the Nietzsche’s ‘what does not kill us makes stronger’ concept becoming the reality. Although I think I have already nailed that one on the cancer front all on my own 😀 I have also caught up on The Fall just in time for the start of a brand new season – Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan duo rocks. Planned some impromptu travels, drank a bit too much, danced just enough to exercise the poor broken foot, and painted my nails a lot. Call that endless possibilities haha
  5. SIGN UP FOR AN EVEN BIGGER CHALLENGE – yes, the 2017 Brighton Half is happening, there is no getting away from that one hence more pressure to get the foot fully healed and not pushing it stupidly now.
  6. WINE – not running in the mornings means more wine-time in the evenings, just saying.

All in all, it is never about totally abandoning your goals and desires, if letting go was about that it would be a really hard graft! It feels much better when it’s actually about picking up some more options along the way, just so that the initially intended result is expanded rather than abandoned – yup, LET IT GO to get more rather than less, how about that!

LIFE AFTER CANCER: 8 THINGS I HAVE LEARNT SO FAR

Cancer Research Winter Run 2016 - Running on Chemo's first ever race
My First Ever 10k Race – Cancer Research Winter Run 2016

Life After Cancer Lessons – Part 1

Two things happened last weekend – Facebook decided to remind me that on 9 September last year I was having the very last chemo and my cancer coming out moment on social media… And with that anniversary in mind I went for a first post-broken toes run. For those new to the story– back in July I went running and took out the London black cab – yes, the story took some spin and it’s likely to evolve even further into a black cab bashing vigilante roaming busy London streets in no time 😀

It’s not quite the end of treatment anniversary yet because my chemo was followed by radiotherapy and that only finished in November 2015 but the reminder of the end of chemo celebrations at the Sky Garden in London, those were some awesome espresso martinis BTW, got me to take the stock of how far I have gone since then and what

I have learnt so far:

1.       How to let go – okay, I may still be working on that but it turns out cancer gives you a unique perspective on living in the NOW. Stepping into a cancer survivor shoes means realising that there is no coming back to your pre-cancer self and that the post-cancer now is all that matters so you may just as well make it as best as you can and dig in hard into the ultimate bucket list. No holding back and no regrets!

2.       How to feel alive – it comes as an ever so tiny shift, a by-product of the acceptance of post-cancer reality. Suddenly everything feels a little amplified and somehow worth it. Unfortunately that includes the dark side of human experience too, yet the good and the bad get to be a bit more real and altogether life starts feeling pretty good again.

3.       How to stop and do nothing – that would be an extension of letting go yet quite a separate skill altogether. In all honesty I did have to get run over by a car to finally stop, reflect and appreciate the ‘not doing’ mode of existence. It’s amazing how everything seems to fall into place once you stop attempting to control the outcomes and just let things be.

4.       Running is the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything[1] – it also gives you much better tights, something that number 42 could never deliver.

5.       Writing brings clarity – there’s plenty of research on de-stressing effects of putting the pen to paper.  It worked a treat for me when the end of treatment drama started to unfold and nothing seemed to make sense anymore, and turned into a blogging project. Result, I say!

6.       How to enjoy small things – hair growing back, yes, it grows back everywhere in case you wondered; full days at work including the early starts; travel that is no longer just a distraction from the illness; getting tipsy on wine which was impossible on steroids (just to add insult to injury it’s pretty much impossible to get drunk while on chemo) and plenty more.

7.       How to be just good enough – all in all, getting through cancer, starting running and finally embarking on finding out the life’s purpose makes for a true good enough feeling.  Would I rather cure my perfectionism in any other way? Hell yeah! But in the spirit of letting go of the road not taken regrets, I declare the cure inadvertently delivered by my cancer as very much good enough too; and last but not least:

8.       How to embrace the freedom bug – a brush with own mortality can drive the fearless factor up a bit, hence the running into traffic mishap. Getting free from own inflated expectations and being true to the brand new self is hopefully a much less dangerous and potentially beneficial lesson. Having gone through the 8 months of cancer treatment it is really difficult to care anymore what would imaginary or even real people say to pretty much anything.

Now onto living the lessons which may be a bit of a hit and miss, as life tends to be – that may be the greatest post-cancer lesson of all times in my case, accept what life brings and make the best out of what lands on your plate!

 

 

[1] Douglas Adams – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Peripheral Neuropathy Flashbacks – One Year On Musings

broken toes in the window frame
broken toes looking out of the window

One Year post Chemo Notes plus Some Broken Toes

Peripheral Neuropathy is a common side effect of the taxane based chemo regimes – numbness and tingling of fingers and toes that usually extends further with each cycle, but in most cases the issue remains mild and transient. In my case it was mainly toes that got affected, it started from the baby toes and luckily didn’t go much further past the middle section, four courses of paclitaxel went and the symptoms started to improve. Numb fingers meant that my handwriting got worse but it had been bad enough already – the scribbles just got a bit more artistic, let’s say, and just a bit less legible but hey, that silly quill to paper business is so over now with the keyboards and touchscreens. Typing might have been a bit of an issue too I think but autocorrect saved the day on few occasions 😀

Perpheral Neuropathy Realities

It’s funny how realisations get delayed in the surreal world of chemo. I did not quite realise that my feet were affected until I went to a yoga class, all defiant with my picc line covered by a cut off sock, and nearly wobbled face to floor attempting a warrior pose, warrior two I think but it could have been anything else that needed some basic balance, like a … low lunge. Same with the handwriting, I just got used to guessing what I had written here and there, when suddenly last week I realised that my control over pen somehow got back to normal. 10 month after the last paclitaxel there is a chance that people will now be able to read their birthday cards. Shame about my post it notes that would now lose their awesome Picasso style appeal.

It’s totally different with the foot treated to the full on black cab weight. The realisation of not being able to use the foot, transformed into a foreign looking and feeling appendage in seconds, is so instant and the numbness so pronounced that it all puts the mild chemo peripheral neuropathy in a totally new perspective. The coincidence of my hands getting totally back to normal just as my foot went the other way is just following the basic karma rules I guess.

Crutches to the Rescue

Broken Toes Afterefects

Crutches suck big time but it turns out that they happen to have few more uses than the good old getting you from one place to another following an injury – be it a beer holder or a chew toy for your foster rabbit. When you can stand, even if wobbling heavily, on your own two feet again you could even try to pretend it’s a lightsaber or a guitar. Or be the responsible one albeit slightly boring and give them to someone who could use them for, you know, just walking.

crutches used to hold a pint of beer
Beer Holder Crutch
rabbit chewing on crutches rubber end
Crutches as a Chew Toy

Of course the crutches could also be used exactly as prescribed which should at least get you better guns once the lower appendage problem is over. I gave up on using both crutches as soon as I got home, with the whole weekend on my own ahead of me I just had to carry stuff every now and then 😉 My foot wasn’t exactly liking it but hey two weeks on and it actually looks like a foot, the ankle is back and it feels like some running can be done following the recommended 6 weeks of recovery. How very reasonable of me! I had to spend some time with my foot iced and elevated and as any reasonable and only moderately anxious person would, I used this time to extensively google compartment syndrome and nonunion – yikes, seems that a week or two extra of wearing the super ugly rubber boot or non-running may be worth it in the long term.

A Medal and Some Fractured Toes

The Vitality British 10k London Run 2016 Medal
The Vitality British 10k London Run 2016 Medal

10k medal and three fractured toes

These two photos are linked in a very ironic if not plain surreal way actually. I ran 10k on Sunday the 10th July and the following Thursday went for a lunchtime jog and got hit by a London black cab in the middle of the square mile – I love you London.

As far as silver linings go, this time last year I was in the middle of chemo which felt like a never ending drag so the setback of four weeks on crutches seems doable now, I guess. Do some work from home, ice the foot, drink wine and binge on The Good Wife. Enjoy my whole two 10k medals so far…

 

Foot run over by car - accidents and emergency stop
Broken Foot goes to London A&E

And I should make sure I stick to my oncologist’s advice – cancer survivor testing her luck by running into traffic? Great way to get over the post cancer marasm? – Maybe. Altogether not too smart and possibly going against this whole running from cancer idea that I had concocted for my life ahead 😀

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