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!

 

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

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