The Healthy Lifestyle?

So that could be the end of another season. Unfortunately it came very premature once again but I’m looking forward to next year and hopefully have a season free from ailment/injury. As mentioned in previous blogs I have been carrying an (left) inguinal hernia for some time. At least since the beginning of the year when a lump was first noticed while running hills in East Germany, and possibly as far back at Nov/Dec 2012 when I first started experiencing problems with my (right) hamstring and glut muscles. It hasn’t been until recent months and feedback from specialists that I realised the two issues may be connected. In a way it’s good to know this as it means treatment of the hernia and a few months of rehab may also fix other imbalances. An inguinal hernia can happen to anyone. I was told by the specialist that my “lifestyle” may have brought it on.

The hernia operation took place on 23 Aug 2013. This was a wait of only 2-3 months after the original diagnosis. You can live with a hernia as long as it doesn’t develop. Some people live with them for years. But they will get worse in time, and they are a daily nuisance. I was barely aware of it from the beginning of the year, but during a flat move around March lifting heavy objects I found the strain aggravated the area, leaving me with continual stiffness and soreness. It was from this point that I had it checked on the NHS and was given the diagnosis.

In racing terms this year I had a terrific result in the March 47M Green Man/Bristol Ultra (win and CR), but DNFd the 2 x 33M Pilgrim Challenge and limped through the London Marathon in a poor time. It was prior to the London Marathon that I was given a rough diagnosis from my GP and was careful to tape the area up and not to push it. I felt ok in the May 52M Malvern Hills Ultra and managed to once again win and just get under the CR despite a few problems. I DNFd the Jun 100M Enduroman and Jul 50M Much Wenlock Ultras. I was unable to get the training in for both events and at Much Wenlock my hamstrings and gluts were a mess. I did however manage to get through a 195mile hike/run along the Coast to Coast between those two races (see previous Blog). I have no idea how I managed that considering the underlying conditions but I did, and I enjoyed it. Since then it has been a struggle to run even a few miles at a light pace and finally I resorted to just cycling and swimming from July through August up to the operation.

The operation itself was fine – quick and not as uncomfortable as I was expecting. I even felt well enough through the evening, thanks to the general anaesthetic. But the following day and through the first week I experienced a fair amount of pain. I won’t go into details. It has now been three weeks since the Op and I have progressed to short walks of around 2 miles every 1-2 days. I hope to be able to drive in the next couple of weeks. I am far from ready to start training, but this will begin with light swims and turbo cycling, perhaps by the end of September.

There will be no rush. This current phase could be quite important for me from an athletic point of view. It is certainly the longest break I have had from training for several years. But I have been carrying a number of other physical issues in recent years and maybe now my body has the opportunity to fix them too.

It’s certainly not the healthy lifestyle people expect. Pushing your body through training and racing every week/month for several years, especially when you’re moving through your 30s is never going to be injury-free. Some get away with ‘niggles’ and the odd light illness that can be trained through. I used to be one of these people. And no doubt this is one of the reasons I was able to reach a decent level of fitness back in 2008-2011. I’ve always maintained that I am not a ‘heavy trainer’. I (and my clients) train to structured programmes to get the best out of ourselves – quality over quantity.

In 2009 I had completed the UK Double Ironman(3rd), a sub9hr Ironman and attempted to run the 175mile Offas Dyke National Trail unassisted and non-stop….all within 14 months. I felt awesome! I had what I consider bad luck in 2010 with heat exhaustion before Ironman Germany and gastro-intestinal problems in the run during Ironman UK. The off-season of 2010-2011 was pretty much the same as the previous year except I started to notice a change in my RHR (Resting Heart Rate). I was seeing a consistent +10bpm (beats per minute) higher than normal readings. Over a short period of time this would not have been a worry and I would have put it down to the likes of over-training, stress, bad diet, illness, etc. But nothing had changed in my daily routines. I was also starting to experience occasional heart flutters and/or palpitations. This was quite disconcerting going into my first A-race of the season – Challenge Roth, Germany. I wanted a fast time (<8hr50min) and apart from the heart issues I felt in good condition to give it a crack. I paced myself on my 2009 time, attempting to go quicker in the swim and run. Everything went to plan until the second lap of the bike when I started to get a kind of tunnel-vision and feel very light headed. It was a feeling I’ve never had before.. I had no choice but to DNF.  This was very frustrating. An Ironman event (or the like) requires a huge investment of training time and cost.

I was supposed to compete in Ironman UK 2011 just 1-2 months later but while packing on the afternoon before travelling up I had a phone call from my GP advising me not to go. Whether she was over-precautious or not I wasn’t going to take a chance. You hear of of athletes dropping dead in races because of underlying heart conditions.  Until we knew the problem, I couldn’t take a risk.  I actually had a cold the following day so was quite glad to have made that decision!

From August-September 2011 I had a few heart tests involving ECG, and a 24hr recording device. The final diagnosis was that I had generally nothing to worry about, but there was a fair amount of ‘damage’ to the heart as a result of my lifestyle. All those extra hard training sessions and races had strained the heart enough to create a “leaky ventricle” and a thicker wall lining. My heart was trying to protect itself. Apparently this is common amongst full-time athletes. This was one of the main factors for my ‘retiring’ from triathlon. I was already enjoying multi-day hiking with my brother and had just started competing in Ultra-distance trail races. I’d completed my first Ultra in November the previous year (2010), the Brecon Beacons Ultra, finishing in 2nd. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and knew I could improve if I worked a little more on my running and dropped cycling and swimming.

Despite the welcome switch, I didn’t account for the extra stress on my achilles, having developed mild achilles tendonitis in 2007. I know a number of other athletes who suffer with achilles tendonitis. In most cases it will always remain to some degree. You can get away with it in triathlon training, substituting running sessions for an extra swim, bike or resistance workout. But I was now trying to run 1-2 times per day and the ankle wasn’t happy. Thankfully it didn’t have a major impact on my race results.

My training through the first few months of 2012 was great once again taking a few weeks to run over the volcanos and hills in Lanzarote and East Germany. I then picked up the melanoma skin cancer (mentioned in a previous blog). We are all at risk, some more than others and particularly those training many hours outdoors (sometimes abroad). The word “lifestyle” was mentioned once again. This did mess the racing season up. I had two operations on the arm, and then tried to race with the recovering scar taped up.  But this was awkward and despite getting 4th overall and AG win in a triathlon I had to DNF the 50M Caesars Camp Ultra as the wound started to pull. Another mixed season. Once the wound had settled I was able to pick my training back up and win at the Brecon Beacons Ultra in November. At some point shortly after that I picked up the hernia.

I’ve learnt a lot about my body over the years, especially how much damage it can handle and how quickly I can recover from various injuries and ailments. In hindsight you could say that despite the disruptions to my training it has improved me as an athlete and my knowledge as a coach.  I’m no longer the invincible athlete I thought I was.  And it’s certainly only been in recent years that I have sought more regular ‘maintenance’ physio/sports massage treatment.

I’ve now reached an age where you have to give your body more respect. Saying that, I will continue try to push that fine line in training when healthy.  And I’ve maintained it’s better to train/race optimally and achieve great things in a short space of time than forever wonder what if(?).  Whatever happens in the future I will find new and exciting challenges, even if that means changing sports. I have thought about making a return to triathlon in the next couple of years, but lets see what next year brings as I have a few races to revisit first.


3 thoughts on “The Healthy Lifestyle?

  1. hi there, thanks for your blog, i am new to ultra run and decided to do cotswold way challenge next summer with 4-5 mile per hour in one go.could you please suggest me training program and the gears (especially socks/ shoes) , finally good wishes for your operation

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