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!

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

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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