Tag Archives: health

Life is worth the fight!

I’ve had a lot of time to myself the last month. Both while walking The Great North Walk and Cycling for Hope, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on my life, the world and generally pondering the meaning of life.

One thing that keeps coming to me is the amazing inner journey I’ve been on these past few years. I don’t usually share a lot about the inner struggles that I have and sometimes continue to experience because I don’t like to dwell on them and don’t want to be judged for them. But they’re a part of my story and how I came to be where I am today.

See, for most of my life, I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety. I know I’m not alone and that everyone has struggles. But for me, the struggles have been so difficult at times that I wondered whether I’d make it through the minute or hour I was in, let alone the day or week. And I never told anyone about it because I felt too ashamed.

But I kept on going. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. I kept turning the pedals one more round until the minute, hour, day or week of anguish slipped away. It wasn’t always easy. There have been times when I’ve sought the help of professional ‘talking doctors’ to have a sounding board against which to bounce ideas. About four years ago, I tried to make an appointment with one and they said there was a two month wait. I told them not to bother because I wouldn’t be around that long. And I meant it. Fortunately, they made an opening and I finally found the courage to tell someone how I was feeling.

I don’t do the whole lengthy counseling and therapy thing. It’s not my style. It’s not what works for me. When I’d start a series of sessions with a new ‘talking doctor’, I’d lay down my ground rules. My key rule was that I wanted to retain my independence and didn’t believe they could “fix” me; that their job was to help me learn new tools to deal with the challenges I was facing. I told them that I would tell them when I was ready to move on – I wouldn’t just keep coming back because they told me to. I would do any homework they gave me but I wouldn’t accept any diagnoses or referrals to ‘prescribing doctors’. Some psychologists and psychiatrists reading this are probably horrified – but hey, the psychologists I went to respected my rules and the experiences were largely positive.

The pre-outdoor athlete Andrew was messed up in a big way. Sure, I looked like I had it all together – job, partner and education. But I had some destructive coping mechanisms, was scared of getting to know new people, couldn’t describe or name my feelings, and was a moody S-O-B.

But I hung in there. I kept chipping away. I kept trying new things. I kept getting up every time I fell down (and boy did I fall a lot). I refused to give in to what was going on inside my head.

It’s taken years. My outdoor adventures and physical training are part of my recovery. They give me an outlet and positive focus in my life. But when I think back to the Andrew I was before I became an outdoor athlete, I am proud of the changes I’ve made. I’m happy with the man who I am becoming. And I’m grateful for the people who’ve stuck by me through all the dramas I inflicted on them (because, like so many depressed and anxious people seem to do, I splattered a lot of innocent people with my dramatic messes).

I don’t usually cycle with music but on some of my rides I just need some company. Why? by Rascal Flatts is in my playlist. It’s a great little song.

To anyone who’s struggling – take it from someone who knows: the words from 3:10 about this world not being such a bad place and life being worth the fight are so true! Take one more breath. Take one more step. Tell someone how you are feeling. Then take another breath and another step. And don’t stop fighting! None of us want your beautiful song to end.

I hope no one minds me interrupting my usual stories of adventure to share these slightly rambling deep and meaningful thoughts.

A diagnosis

I went to a specialist this afternoon. He performed some tests and confirmed that my injury is a sacroilliac joint dysfunction. My particular version of the injury is excessively loose ligaments in the right sacroilliac joint. It is likely that I actually suffered the injury as a child or teenager through a hard impact (though I don’t remember any hard impacts other than knowing that I once fell off a rearing horse) and that my legs tightened to compensate. With the treatment to my legs, which have loosened, the sacroilliac joint has lost its artificial support.

The specialist recommended prolotherapy. Actually, he wasn’t interested in discussing any other less expensive or invasive options with me, leading me to form the conclusion that he was just churning people in and out for money. In fairness, I only met the man once but as soon as I started asking questions like, “Is the treatment permanent?” and “What other options are available for treatment?”, the specialist seemed annoyed. I have done some reading about prolotheraphy and am not convinced about the science; it seems a little like quackery to me but that’s just my personal opinion. The fact that the specialist said I’d need a refresher treatment every two years was enough to make me realise its just a bandaid.

The good news is that I can’t make the injury worse by running, cycling or kayaking. I can only aggravate it so that it causes pain. I spoke with my physio (who is an incredibly patient man who I actually trust and who I know has my best interests at heart). Tomorrow we will put a plan in place for forward progress. This plan will include pilates classes and changing my running technique to reduce the pressure on my body.

My personal plan is to include aromatherapy, yoga, core strength and massage into my routine. I am also going to look into a lumbar support for when I run, hike and kayak. In the worst case, I’ll switch from running to cycling. But I’ll cross that bridge if I get to it.

In the meantime, I bought myself a copy of Ride by Josh Kench. The blurb on the back and flicking through a few pages inspired me so I’m looking forward to reading it. Who knows what crazy ideas I might come up with as a result 😉

Let’s end the pity party

Everyone has pity parties sometimes. It’s a normal and natural part of being human. We want things to happen easily and quickly. But sometimes they don’t. When we are hurting or afraid our pity parties sometimes take on a tantrum-like quality. It’s like we revert to childhood and to rolling around on the floor threatening to eat worms. It’s not very dignified and it’s difficult to come back from a tantrum. But the measure of one’s strength and courage is not their ability to avoid the pity party; it’s their ability to recover from it. It’s their ability to say, “No! I am going to fight this fight! I will not quit!”

I have spent the past two weeks feeling sorry for myself. My old anxiety disorder has been forcing its way back into my life. I let my guard down while things were good and forgot to protect myself when things got tough. That’s the nature of anxiety disorders, they creep up on you and then cut you down like a sword strike to the backs of your knees. Once you are down, it’s difficult to walk again. So you start to crawl. And you look up at the world around you and feel so small for not being able to walk with them. It takes deep resolve and focus to grab hold of a railing to lift yourself back up into the sunshine. But I’ve been there before and it’s worth it.

Being injured has made me scared. I’ve been scared I’ll never heal. I’ve been scared I won’t be fully productive at work again. I’ve been scared that I’ll lose myself back into the grip of anxiety that I used to live in. I’ve been scared I’ll regain all the weight I worked so hard to lose. I’ve been scared I won’t be able to enjoy the company of my running friends. I’ve been scared I won’t get that seratonin hit that comes with pushing through the wall in an ultra marathon.I’ve been scared I won’t be able to ride my bicycles again after spending lots of money fixing them.

I’ve also felt guilty. I’ve felt guilty about the $250 a month physiotherapy is costing me. I’ve felt guilty for spending lots of money fixing my bicycles and then not being able to ride them. I’ve felt guilty about the angry and miserable moods my fear has caused. I’ve felt guilty about not performing well at work. I’ve felt guilty for not being a better role model for my employees. I’ve felt guilty for not being more available to my son and grandchildren. I’ve felt guilty for not repairing the relationship with my son after we had a major argument on a day when we both felt vulnerable. And even worse, I’ve felt guilty for feeling guilty.

Fear and guilt have built inside me until it’s become a crippling anxiety. And that’s only fed both the fear and guilt.

But I don’t want to go back there! I am not merely the sum of the races I enter or miles I run. They are things I do for enjoyment. Yes, they are a big part of my recovery from anxiety. But there are things I can do right now to fight both the injuries and the anxiety. I always knew it was going to be a long slow road to recovery when I started getting treatment for my shin splints. Fifteen years of muscle tension doesn’t just disappear overnight. I just wasn’t prepared for my back to go. So I didn’t mentally prepare for a recovery period that included a second round of pain.

Now that I know these things, I can decide to take steps to take charge of my body and mind. I can become a Body Leader rather than someone who lets my moods and lifestyle react to my body’s signals. Because my body’s signals are signs of how well I am treating it and I need to listen to them and take proactive steps. I won’t perfect this skill overnight. I’ve got to see it as part of my ongoing development. But I can take small positive steps every day.

I took a day off work yesterday. I was a cranky so-an-so all day, though the 40’C (104’F) heat didn’t help. But I did take some very positive steps:

  1. I went to my Australian aunt for Chinese medicine treatment and I asked her to explain what she was doing, why she was doing it, and how it can help me
  2. I got an xray of my lumbar spine to make sure there are no bone issues, which there aren’t
  3. I bought a jar of St John’s Wart to help break the cycle of anxiety and depression; while drugs or herbal medications might not cure the causes of the anxiety, sometimes it’s necessary to get some relief to help you think clearly and retake command of your body and mind
  4. I bought a jar of cod liver oil because my Australian aunt recommended it for joint health and to help reduce inflammation
  5. I didn’t cancel my physio appointment for Thursday (one of my self-destructive behaviours is that I walk away from professional help when the going gets tough so I fought the strong urge to just cancel the appointment and walk away).

Today I am working from home. I am going to take some more small positive steps to help me take charge of my body and mind:

  1. I am resting my body instead of going walking with my partner because I haven’t tried full rest as a treatment option yet
  2. I am researching aromatherapy treatments for my back, calves and mind; I love aromatherapy and believe it can be a helpful tool in both physical and emotional healing
  3. I am making enquiries with a local yoga instructor about her classes; my muscles are too tight and my core weak so I need to take proactive steps to help with those things
  4. I am designing a bar table style desk to use at work so that I can stand part of the day instead of having to sit
  5. I am getting my work done today
  6. I am going to the movies for a few hours with my partner because movies are one of my favourite sources of inspiration.

Most of all, I will not push everyone away from me like I always have in the past. It’s my go-to response. My big goal for this week is not to use it. I will go to physio tomorrow instead of cancelling. I will go to the bakery on Saturday morning at running club instead of being absent. I will phone my mate to see what he’s doing on Saturday afternoon instead of pushing him away.

I will fight back. I will take one positive step every day to control my responses to negative stimuli such as anxiety and injury.

Walking the trails with Mum

You're Kidding, Bayview Conservation Park

You’re Kidding, Bayview Conservation Park

Mum and I went walking this morning. It was fantastic. I introduced her to some new trails, including You’re Kidding. We covered 7.6km in the warm summer sunshine.

My SIJ injury is still giving me trouble. It’s been a month today and I’m still having some bad days. I’m going to see Mum’s friend tomorrow who is a Chinese medicine practitioner and then the physio on Thursday. If it’s not settling by Thursday I’m going to let the physio send me to a sports physician for scans and a cortozone injection. While I am loath to get an injection, I am starting to think the physio might be right that I need to do something to break the cycle of inflammation that seems to have set in. While SIJ injuries are slow, I’ve read that five weeks is a long time, especially when I’m seeing the physio every week and am actively doing my ‘homework’.

Total: 7.6km walk

A walk with Mum (and a vent)

I’m fortunate to have a supportive and active Mum. We enjoy spending time together walking and cycling. We go camping and traveling together, and sometimes do other outdoor activities like kayaking. Mum is currently working on getting her motorbike licence and wants to take up running for fitness to prepare for a dogsledding trip in the US next year so hopefully we will soon also be able to do those things together (the motorcycling and running … I’m unlikely to be able to do any dogsledding here in the subtropics).

This morning Mum and I went walking together in the bush near my home. We completed the 5km single track loop that I was running before I was injured. I enjoyed the walk and the company. It was good to have a chance to talk with Mum. To hear what she’s been up to and to tell her about my frustrations at being injured for so long.

See, I’m starting to struggle with the frustration of being unable to run and cycle. On Monday it will be three months since the City to Surf Marathon in Perth and I’ve really not been able to run since then. At first it was okay because I could still swim and cycle. But for the past four weeks I’ve not even been able to do that due to the SIJ injury. And it’s starting to get to me. I can’t get rid of the energy that builds up inside me. I can’t release the tension that builds after a day in the office. I feel like screaming because I can’t release the energy through running. And it’s becoming difficult to keep the old depression and anxiety away. It’s becoming more challenging to resist the compulsive behaviours I was replacing with healthy behaviours like running and cycling.

Sure, I can walk and I enjoy walking. But it’s not an activity that provides the same release of energy. It is nice cross-training and preparation for running but it doesn’t provide the sensation of wind blowing through what little hair I have left on my head or of sweat dripping from my brow. I am hopeful that I’m only 2-3 weeks away from running again and I’m trying to keep my eye on the prize. But some days are just plain darn tough! Sometimes I get tired of working at staying positive and pretending everything’s okay when really it’s not.

I’m feeling a little sore this morning and know this is adding to my frustration. I know I will feel better later in the week when I don’t have to sit in my office chair all day because that will be easier on my back. But today I’m feeling frustrated and anxious about how I will get through this next few weeks of relative inactivity. All I know is that I’m going to be celebrating when the physio gives me a program that lets me start running again.

I know this period of healing will be worth it because I am developing positive habits like stretching, trigger pointing and pilates exercises. I know I will be a better runner for it. I know I am young and that this season of healing will benefit me for decades to come. So I am trying to focus on those positives to get me through the frustration.

Total: 5km trail walk

Cautiously starting to run again

It’s been seven weeks since I last went for a run. My injuries have been responding well to treatment and I have been given the all clear by my physio to start running again.

Over the past seven weeks my right calf has gone from being an alarmingly short 6cm (2.3″) to a healthier 10cm (4″) and will hopefully continue to lengthen through the stretches and exercises I am performing. My left calf hasn’t lengthened quite as much, being now 9cm (3.5″) long but I am confident it too will reach the magic 10cm mark in due course.

I’m performing a basic 10 minute stretching routine twice daily. It includes some shoulder, back, hip flexor and leg stretches. I am also trigger pointing my calves and rolling out all my leg muscles every evening before I go to bed.

So … back to my excitement. This morning I went for a run! It was so good.

I walked for 5 minutes to warm up; not that I needed to warm up much when it was 25’C (77’F) at 5:15am. I then ran for 1 minute, followed by a 4 minute walk. I repeated this 1:4 ratio four times, bringing my total ‘running’ session to 20 minutes before I walked the 5 minutes home to warm down.

I felt solid in the running sections and ran them all effortlessly at 4:30 – 5:13 min/km  (7:30 – 8:50 min/mile) pace. I consciously focused on moving effortlessly and with good form, rather than on my pace. I want to reset as many of my bad physical and mental habits as I can during this rebuilding phase of training.

I’m going to try to stick with this 1:4 ratio this week and possibly increase it to 1.5:3.5 next week before I start the couch-to-5km program. If anything hurts at any time I’m going to slow down my progress. And I’m hoping I can restrain myself by not overdoing things too early.

Total: 3.41km run/walk

Off for bone scans

I’m off to see my doctor on Wednesday morning to ask for a referral to get bone scans. My left foot hasn’t improved so it needs to be checked for a stress fracture. My left shin is starting show signs of trouble so I’m going to ask for a scan on it too. And my right shin, which was responding really well to treatment before I overdid it in the garden 2 weeks ago hasn’t settled since.

While MRIs would be a more appropriate test to check for stress fractures, I don’t want to pay upwards of $280 per scan. I’ve heard from other runners that bone scans can be used to check for stress fractures and that bone scans can be bulk billed through Medicare.

I’ve never been one to do things by halves so why start now.

I’m seeing this holding pattern as an excellent opportunity to develop into a much stronger, fitter and faster runner in future. By taking action now I have a better chance of running into retirement, rather than being a cripple at 35.

This current injury situation doesn’t come as a shock to me. I’ve been expecting it and am surprised I made it through the past 15 months without coming a busta earlier. I’ve had extreme shin splints for 15 years and a bad ITB for over 10. Even after not running or exercising for 6 years, my right shin and ITB still hurt every time I walked.

The ITB doesn’t hurt at all anymore and after my 12 weeks off I know I won’t have to worry about shin troubles anymore because I’m still going to attend my physio to get the underlying causes of the stress fractures fixed. Long story short is that my muscles and joints are ridiculously tight (e.g. my calf is only just 6cm long and my ankles almost don’t flex at all).  Did I also mention I’ve neglected my core? Yoga, qi gong, pilates, weights and swimming are going to make all the difference.

My goal for 2013 is now much more modest. Rather than hoping to run my first 100 miler, I think I will spend:

  • January working on a recovery phase that includes 4min walk / 1 min run combinations
  • February and March completing the couch to 5km program (who would have thought given I’ve run a 50km and marathon this year)
  • April to August doing a kilometre buildup program in which I hope to increase my weekly mileage to 50km and my long runs to 18km.

After that, I’ll find a 50km or 60km race to train for and I will stick to a 20 weeks program to slowly increase my mileage.

It means I won’t run another marathon or ultra until 2014 but it’s the only real way to do it safely. And besides, I’ve now run two ultras and a marathon without proper preparation and I enjoyed them all. Imagine how great I’m going to feel when I am properly prepared for the events instead of being on the verge of physical break down.

Part of the reason I’m writing this is to remind myself later when I get impatient again.

‘Bayside Runners and Swimmers’

Image courtesy of vorakorn / Freedigitalphotos.net

I’m part of the Brisbane Bayside Runners and Walkers. It’s a social running and walking group here in the Redlands area of Brisbane. I started running with the group in August 2011 and love being part of the family atmosphere.

With the running season coming to an end, there are more and more people from the group hitting the pool. This morning I turned up to find three blokes from the group already gliding through the water. It felt good to have someone to say ‘hello’ to before starting my session. To me, the social element of training makes a big difference.

Set Swimming
Warm up 400m alternating freestyle and breaststroke
Drills 100m pull buoy100m catch up

100m pull buoy

100m one-arm freestyle

Main 800m medium pace with fartlek (8 x 25m sprints)
Exercise 400m freestyle kick
Cool down 100m freestyle100m breaststroke

The 800m swim was the farthest I have swum continuously so I was pleased with my effort, especially because I was able to do the 25m sprints throughout the set.

Total: 2.2km swim

Committing to the 12-in-12 Challenge

The more I think about my 12-in-12 Challenge, the more I realise how exciting it is. I have been looking for a big adventure for some months now but wasn’t sure how to fit it in with work and home commitments. See, I thought an adventure meant that I’d need to go someplace else for an extended period of time. I was envisioning weeks of hiking some long lonely trail in a beautiful location. But, instead, fate and life have led me to this crazy 12-in-12 Challenge. And I am more excited about it than about the idea of going away alone for weeks or months at a time.

When I first came up with the 12-in-12 Challenge, it seemed like such a simple idea. I just have to put one foot in front of the other for 12 long running events in a year. And that’s what I like about it – the simplicity.

But the reality is, I have to approach this challenge with the same commitment and care as I would approach a thousand kilometre hike. I not only have to make sure I enter the right events, but I need  to ensure my body and mind are healthy enough for the challenge. And that they stay healthy.

Mentally, I know there will be times ahead when I wonder why I took up the challenge. There will be times when I forget what a blessing it is to be able to experience the places my adventure will take me. This is normal. I read a lot of books and blogs by adventurers and without fail, they all have their dark moments. For some, the darkness and hardship take over, while others embrace the hours of discomfort as part of the adventure. I want to be one of the latter group. And by mentally preparing for the hardships and acknowledging they will come, I will give myself the best chance of success.

Emotionally, this adventure is going to take me far inside myself. There is no one else who can run the long lonely miles of a race with me. When the going gets tough, we all shut down to those running around us and enter our own worlds. This is when I need to trust that I’ve come a long way from the anxiety riddled man experiencing deep depression to be the optimistic and peaceful man I am today. I no longer fear the solitude of my thoughts and draw strength from the memories of days gone by. Because I know the elation of success and the euphoria that comes with achieving the seemingly impossible.

Physically, I have a lot to balance. I have greatly improved my diet over the past three weeks. I have shifted from taking most of my calories from sugar, flour and meat to eating a largely plant-based diet that is supplemented by meat. I am eating five serves of vegetables for breakfast every day accompanied by herbal tea fresh from my garden. My lunches consist of vegetarian tortillas or brown rice with vegetables. Instead of eating cakes and biscuits for morning and afternoon tea, I am eating fruit and nuts. Today I supplied morning tea to work but brought in a date loaf instead of a mud cake. It’s a big change and my body feels better for it.

For race days, I have been experimenting with real food nutrition, rather than relying on bars and gels. I have found it works really well for me. I like oat bars with fruit or nut flavours, vegetarian tortillas or burritos, and fresh fruit. They fuel my body for longer, are lightweight and easy to carry, and contain lots of calories. I will probably always carry a gel or two for emergencies or late-race bonking. But they are now my backup not my ‘go to’.

Aside from food, I need to look after my bones, muscles and joints. For the past few months I’ve been receiving post-race massages from my daughter-in-law who is qualified to perform relaxation massage. The difference in my recovery has been astounding.

I have a long, painful history of shin splints and ITB syndrome in my right leg. The pain started between 1996-1998 and has been a constant in my life. It stopped me running for six years between 2005 – 2011 and is one of the reasons I run in bare feet or barefoot-style shoes. I have decided that rather than sticking my head in the sand, I am going to address the issues with my leg in three ways:

  • I am running slower than I might if I were training for triathlon and am trying to focus on technique, rather than on speed. My goals will only require me to average about 8-9kph in my races (6:40 – 7:30 min/kph pace) and I am not afraid to go slower if necessary. Because right now, it’s more important to finish than to get a good time.
  • I have made an appointment with a craniosacral therapist. I used to see him years ago and he helped me a lot, both with my emotional health and with my physical well-being.
  • I have made an appointment with a physiotherapist who is himself a runner and who treats many runners at my running club.

It’s not that I’m injured but I know I need to be sensible and honest if I want to remain injury free.

On a personal level, I am committed to the 12-in-12 Challenge because I am running for the transgender community. I want to show transgender men and women who are early in or struggling with their transitions that there is hope for the future. Our gender histories don’t have to limit our life options nor hold us back in any way. It’s not about success – it’s about being willing to try.

Sure, I might not achieve my goal. But it wouldn’t be an adventure if there was no risk of failure. The important thing is to set a goal, aim high, prepare properly, look after your body and soul, and just get out there and do it without fear of failure.

Man Flu

Oh no! I have Man Flu 😦 I was feeling tired and had a headache all day yesterday but put it down to poor nutrition on my 100km bike ride the day before. But this morning I’ve woken up with a sore throat and foggy head. At this time of year (Winter), it can only be one thing: Man Flu.

It’s only 6 days until my first race for the 2012/13 season so I’m keen to do whatever I need to get rid of this sickness to be healthy for that event. So my partner is getting me some day-night medicine. I’ll get myself some fruit today and drink lots of water. But first I’m going to hit the thyme and marjoram tea with honey to try to soothe my poor throat and loosen the mucus from my chest.

I am excited about the Tre-X Duathlon on Sunday so don’t want to miss out.