Making time to breathe

I’ve had the last week off work and for the first time since before Kona last year have felt like I’ve had some breathing space. Time to sleep 8 hours a night. Time to read a book. Time to see friends. And time to wake up on my own terms, without an alarm. I started my ‘holiday’ with a trip to Dublin for the 70. 3. After a crazy week at work, including a weekend on call, I hadn’t really thought about the race until I got out there. But after 2 10 hour sleeps when I got there I felt surprisingly good in my pre-race training sessions and went to bed the night before the race looking forward to a bit of a blow out (and the chance to take on my old friend Susie once again!) Sadly, it wasn’t to be. At 9.30pm I started vomiting and continued vomiting until 4.30 am. No matter of will power would get me round a 70.3 in that state, so I spent a miserable 24 hours in a hotel room moving between my bed and the bathroom. Yuk! It must have been food poisoning as by the Monday, despite being a couple of kg lighter, I felt absolutely fine, albeit very wiped out. The next 48 hours made me realise how horrible it must be to lose your appetite during chemo. I was forcing myself to eat as knew that was the only way I’d be able to continue training but had zero appetite. I guess you don’t know how important appetite is until you lose it.

Having a bit of time this week has certainly made me remember how important recovery is as a full-time athlete. I think I get by on adrenaline most of the time. Work days are crazy. Non-work days are just as crazy, trying to fit in training, life admin and sponsor/triathlon admin. I honestly love being an oncologist, but sometimes, working in the NHS, you feel like you’re continuously swimming upstream. On a Tuesday, I do a morning clinic in Mansfield (a convenient half-marathon run to get there). This clinic often doesn’t finish until 3.30, meaning we’re not back in Nottingham until 4pm, to do the afternoon clinic, which starts at 2pm. So we’re running 2 hours later before we’ve even started. This isn’t because we’re rubbish or slow. It’s because the clinics are too busy and you can’t cut corners with cancer patients. We have patients coming back to clinic to get their scan results. This is a huge thing, especially for cancer patients. Far too frequently, scans aren’t reported on time so we have no results to give. Patients are understandably distraught. We feel like we can’t do our job properly. And it’s all because of a money-crunched system. We’re now being put onto Jeremy Hunt’s new contract. Which means that if we stay later than our contracted hours (presumably 9-5, though since the NHS often doesn’t actually give contracts who really knows?!) we have to ‘exception report’ and fill in a form to justify why we are staying late. Doctors expect to work late and none of us mind. But personally, I resent having to spend an extra few minutes at the end of the day, justifying why I’m still there at 7pm or why I haven’t had a lunch break. Um, Mr Hunt, we’re staying late because we have patients booked into clinic at 6.30pm. What do you want us to do? Tell them to come back another day?

Anyway, work rant over. This blog was meant to be about recovery. My point is, having a week off, has made me realise just how crazy and hectic my normal life is. I thrive on adrenaline and to some extent enjoy the buzz from being busy. I’m not good at doing nothing, but blimey, life as an athlete is certainly easier if you have time to do nothing every now and then! My motto this year has certainly been ‘do what I can when I can’. And the same stands for recovery. I’ve been fortunate to find some cheats this year that make life much easier. The first is Xendurance. I was a big skeptic until I tried it. In fact, I was even a bit of a skeptic until I ran out. Like most good things (health, appetite, sleep, I could go on) you don’t realise what a difference it makes until you don’t have it. The second is Powerdot, a very compact, muscle stimulation device, which I use to aid recovery, particularly on my calves after long runs, when I’m doing admin on the sofa. And the third are the Casada self-massage devices (I’ve used the Mini-well on my calves and Achilles for years and have now got the Tappymed which is great particularly for shoulders and back). At least now, if I don’t always have time for a massage once a week, I can look after myself a bit at home. I still haven’t found a shortcut for 8 hours sleep though. If anyone has one, please get in touch….

So next up for me is a dirty double. It could be messy. It might not be possible. But you know me, the harder the challenge, the more attractive it is. So I’m going for 2 in 2.

2 Ironman races. 2 weeks. With a wedding in-between (not mine).
Ironman Wales. Ironman Italy. Boom or bust. Do or die. I. CAN’T. WAIT!

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