Radio Silence

I haven’t posted for a lot longer than I intended. The same can be said for my running.

All attempts to run again had to stop. Passing out each time I even jogged for a minute or two was something I could live with, but when the device in my chest let us know that my heart had decided to beat in inappropriate ways on 179 occasions in 2-3 months, it was time to pause all attempts to run again.

I’m waiting for heart surgery. Decided to treat myself to a 21st birthday present (my birthday is in a couple of weeks)/ heart surgery celebratory gift (yes, I want the effects of this surgery so badly that I’m actually willing it to arrive sooner) and order myself a pair of personalised running shoes. Another pair of running shoes that I can’t run in. But somehow it feels great just to put them on my feet. I felt bad buying myself something, especially when I already have multiple pairs of running shoes that are worn out from the miles I’ve… walked… in them (and therefore I kinda feel I wasted them). However, I wanted a fresh pair. I wanted a pair that said “Hey, you’re 21. Yay, the surgery happened and your heart can deal with life a little better, congratulations for getting through it, look at you now! Now go run a marathon in me.” And these shoes… They’ll say that to me every time I put them on.

Honestly, for the past few months, getting to the end of each day has been, I guess, me reaching milestone after milestone (keeping this blog forces me to try and find positivity from somewhere, which is probably why, for the past few months when I have found positivity nowhere, I haven’t been able to post. Even now, things don’t feel great. Stagnant, yes. Positive… It’ll come eventually?). Part of the reason why I want to run again is because it is so great for my mind. Without any form of exercise at all, and a combination of other things, and also probably just because it could, my mind wandered to a very dark place and has stayed there – in the dark. Cold. Alone. Suffocating. I have yet to work out a way to pull it back that doesn’t involve running myself into a heap of elated but not very conscious human. Of course, I tried to run again the other day. Because I needed to feel… as great as running makes a person feel. And of course while I succeed in my emotional aim, it backfired physically. I know the only way I’ll get to run again is to take things slow. I’m working on that too. I think.

I’m struggling in many ways – physically and mentally, some days more than others. Today I just can’t stop thinking about going for a nice long run, and I guess that thought, whilst keeping me going, drove me back here.

I apologise for my “radio silence” and I’m afraid it is about to resume.

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Stopped Dead

I’m going to have to be a really poor excuse for a human and say that this month’s milestone is to simply stay alive. 

I’m posting this in the middle of an existential crisis which is taking place at 2am in the critical care unit of the hospital that I’ve now been admitted to (and had my life saved by) twice in as many weeks. I want more than anything to run, mentally I’ve never needed a run more than right now, but it just isn’t possible right now. 

Raising money for charity by doing this isn’t really working out at all (there are links to my JustGiving page somewhere on this blog, I’m not going to bother finding them again because I kinda get the message) which kinda sucks. I was going to pick a diabetes charity to fundraiser for this month, seeing as it’s diabetes awareness day (today actually I think?) and also the month in which I was diagnosed with diabetes 17 years ago. 

I was also going to keep at the whole running thing, but I had to adjust my goals to try and not make this month so far feel like a failure (believe me, it all feels like more than that). Maybe I’ll find a better milestone for the days that are left of the month when I get out of here. But right now, staying alive seems like the toughest challenge I’m going to face for a long time. For many reasons.

An Unexpected Milestone

You’ll probably be expecting another post about how far I walked in my attempt to get back to running and raise money for the British Heart Foundation. It hasn’t been an easy month. I’ve been quite seriously unwell, and I had a broken foot that I let my doctor friend assess (before leaving it to try and heal by itself – FYI, this isn’t a good idea, don’t do it). But this isn’t going to be a post about how far I walked. I did hit this month’s milestone, and there will be more about that another time… But I also ran.

I woke up with the sun on the 18th of October, and I stepped out into Mile End Park, where I ran for a FEEBLE 10-20 seconds, and then walked for 2 minutes (aiming to repeat this 10 times). This is a pathetic feat for a healthy human, but it was a big deal for my body, seeing as it was in no fit state to run.

It was easier than I thought it was going to be. My foot hurt and the cold nipped at my fingers, but the smile on my face outweighed it all. I thought through things I hadn’t been able to face. I ran away all the stresses that had been weighing me down and it felt so, so good… Right up until the seventh little jog, when my heart decided to remind me why running was not a good idea, and I went out like a light. I was messed up for the rest of the day. I kept passing out, I couldn’t see properly, I was disorientated and my foot throbbed… But I was suddenly able to face a reality that had been breaking me. And I wanted more.

Two days later, having been told how stupid I was and knowing it was all going to go a little wrong, I left for the park before the sun was up (because I was embarrassed to be seen) having stayed up all night losing my mind over the stress of university and my health issues… And I did it again. 30 seconds of jogging this time, followed by a two minute walk. There was hardly anybody around. It was dark and freezing cold and I loved every second. It had a more significant impact on my mind than any therapist ever has. The coping mechanism that got me through my early teenage years was back again, and it felt like magic. Words can’t do that feeling justice, but I promise you it’s incredible. My vision went after the first run. I was disorientated and light-headed for the rest, and there was an inevitable meeting with the floor as my body forgot how to human; but this time I only passed out once or twice, and I went through the rest of the day feeling significantly worse off for my efforts, but like I could take on anything.

A few days later, I spent a rather long period of time unconscious on my bedroom floor, and had a very close encounter with the grim reaper. Just four days afterwards, and 40 miles away from Mile End, I ran again. This time on streets that I used to run on. I pushed myself to jog for a minute at a time and then walk for two. The first minute killed me. It induced chest pain as my heart freaked a little, but I ran through it until I adjusted to its presence. I felt the familiar burn of cold night air in my lungs, and it reminded me of football training when I was 12. I started to wheeze and felt a rattle in my chest but I ran on through that too. It was the foot that got me. Without realising, it was stopping me putting my foot flat when I ran, and my lower leg got very annoyed with this. My gastrocnemius (calf muscle) cramped up, and I ran two steps on it as it tightened. I felt a small pop in my calf and enough pain to make me realise that I’d torn the muscle a little where the achilles and the gastrocnemius meet each other.

I wanted to run again, so I actually dealt with an injury for once. But it’s painful. In fact, the muscle tear hurts more than the broken foot did. My gastrocnemius and my achilles grumble whenever I flex or extend my ankle, and the word “rest” is not one my brain is familiar with.

I have yet to go for a run without ending up in an unconscious heap either during or after my attempt at exercise. It embarrasses me, so I try to go running at times (or places) where I know there won’t be many people to watch such an embarrassing event. It’s just a normal part of my running routine – unfocussed vision and drunken dizziness until the world goes black, and then a disoriented zig-zag of a walk home that I never remember. My heart stays unimpressed and racing for a good few hours. I feel generally awful. I pay for every “run” (if they can even be called that yet). But it’s so, so worth it.

I never thought I’d get to write a post like this. The idea of running again was just a crazy dream. Until I did it.

I ran.

Now that’s a milestone.

Month 2: Milestone 2

11 days into a new month and I haven’t found the time (or the motivation) to sit down and post about this month’s milestone. Some days I can hardly walk half a kilometre, and some days I feel I could walk until I run out of earth (this has happened on one occasion, and I paid the price for my stupidity afterwards, but it felt great). This made it difficult for me to try and think of a milestone based upon the levels of my limitations and capabilities, as they shift fairly frequently; this means that once I’ve settled on one it suddenly seems either wildly over-ambitious or completely pathetic.

For the first week or so of this month I didn’t walk at all. My body danced uncomfortably close with the need for an emergency hospital admission, I was in an awful place emotionally, and I was spending entire days in bed in between trying to juggle uni. I could barely function, and had only managed to walk 5.6km (with a rather long break in the middle before I returned home and slept for hours to get over the ordeal). But I remembered why I’m doing this – for my emotional state, in the hope that I’ll be able to build up to running again, and to try and get at least one person to sponsor me in order to raise some money for charity. 

So this weekend I charged my phone, left my flat, and with no idea where I was going other than a general thought about Hyde Park, I set off from Mile End. 

Walking through London and the ever changing surroundings it offered, really cleared my head; it refreshed me and made everything feel ok. Furthermore, it was easy. My body grumbled a little at first but it was easy for me to ignore. My legs walked so far, and I felt so empowered by the fact that I was walking such a distance. I thought back to a few months ago when I was unable to take more than a few steps, and I felt like I was on top of the world. I pushed myself to beat my pace for the last 1000m with each passing kilometre. 
I had been in a very bad place emotionally and I was reminded why I had bothered to set myself this challenge at all. Almost 14km, over 2 hours, and a wave of satisfaction later, I found myself stopping not because my body had limited me, but because my phone was about to die and I’d walked so far I had no idea where any further tube stops would be. 
So, probably a little too ambitiously, this month’s milestone is to walk a total of 40km (if I can stay out of hospital). It’s a huge step up, but I need a challenge this month (I really am quite unwell, so it will be quite a challenge), and I have been inspired to walk so much further than before – pick a random street and a random direction and just… Go.

I will be keeping the British Heart Foundation as my chosen charity for another month (possibly for much longer) as I have yet to raise a single penny, so I don’t feel I can just move on yet.

Thanks for following me on this journey, hopefully I don’t let you all down!

Thousands Of Steps Closer… (Milestone 1 Reached)

It’s been a while since I posted here. Things have been pretty hectic – I returned to university and… that’s pretty much it. I didn’t stop working towards my milestone for this month though, in fact, I’m pleased to say that I reached it and then surpassed it.

Having returned to London, I decided I would take advantage of the abundance of awesome places to walk, and wandered through this awesome city sometimes alone, and sometimes with friends. I increased the distances that I walked because I wanted to push myself (how else was any form of progress going to happen?) but also because, in the off chance that I should raise more than £0.00 (my current fundraising total) for charity, I wanted it to be for something that was a genuine challenge to me. This resulted in completely outraging my body by pushing it way too far too soon with an almost 8km walk through Richmond and around Richmond Park (which I soon regretted but didn’t regret all at the same time). A few days before this I walked from my home in Mile End to Shoreditch (via Brick Lane, because I am obsessed with art and every wall there is adorned with the most amazing street art I have ever seen, like a constantly changing canvas as people paint over the art work to replace it with their own). The same day, I then took a stroll along the River Thames from Westminster along the North Bank, soaking in the sounds and smells of the river. I used an app to track the distances I walked and planned to upload images of my walking routes, but at this stage I feel it would be easier just to post a summary.

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Towards the end of this month, as my health deteriorated, it was extremely tough. I tried swimming a couple of times (and paid the price afterwards). Walking would take all of my energy and I would end up so slow I was barely making progress at all, but it was something I wanted to do, and working towards this goal (and then actually achieving it) felt so good.

The total distance I walked during this month now sits at 24.51km. I was aiming for 20.  It doesn’t sound like a long way to walk in a month. There are people who would comfortably walk more than that in one day or even in one go. But to me it was a huge challenge, and I pushed myself almost to the limit on occasion in order to meet it.

Where do I go from here? I’m not sure. My aim is to get back to running, and I feel like I would like to start a couch to 5km running plan (while at the same time I know this is a stupid idea at my current level of fitness). In the accommodation I live in there is a gym which I have access to for free, and I feel I may take advantage of this facility and use it to gradually build my fitness with some low intensity work outs. With lectures and my guilty panic any time I do anything that isn’t uni work, I expect that finding time in which to work on next month’s goal will be a challenge; however, I’m tempted to aim for a longer walking distance, with a certain number of gym visits. I’ll stick with the same charity, seeing as I currently haven’t raised any money at all for this month’s chosen cause (and The British Heart Foundation gave me the idea for setting monthly goals anyway with their campaign encouraging people to run a marathon throughout a month). This process isn’t just for charity though, it started off as a way in which to help myself cope by giving me a focus and getting me back to running again (something which my health has prevented me from doing for years now).

The achievement of this month may not seem like an achievement at all, but it means a lot to me as there were so many times where I didn’t think I would be able to reach that distance. I pushed myself and put myself out there in many ways, with very positive results, and I feel like I’ve made progress. In fact, looking at how far I could walk when I started this mile stone, and the distance I managed to achieve in one walk at the end, I think the progress is clear. In a way I’m almost embarrassed of this process and of what I’m aiming to do, it feels a little pathetic, and I feel a little pathetic, but it has given me such joy and strength that I’m not sure I mind too much any more.

This goal is huge, but you don’t reach the summit of a mountain immediately. You stop. A lot. You tackle different stages in different ways. Goals are like that too. It doesn’t have to be running, it could be anything, and I’d urge anyone reading this to break down a daunting goal that they want to achieve and work towards it one month at a time.

Running is my dream, but I learned not to run before you can walk… Being limited to walking would have felt like a failure, if I hadn’t turned that great space between me and running into a path littered with milestones to achieve along the way. Walking now also feels like progress, thanks to the fact that I broke this goal down. I’m not waling instead of running, I’m walking to run, and that outlook makes it feel entirely different and far more positive (I don’t know where I’m going with this, I’ll stop now).

I am thousands more steps closer to running again, and I’m in such a better place emotionally (hopefully my physical health will catch up soon!)

 

Baby Steps

I looked at my social media feed this morning to see an amazing looking picture of one of my friends from university… in the middle of a 5km road run… against 30mph winds… in 40 degree heat (Celsius. so… 104 degrees Fahrenheit?)… in a desert somewhere in the USA. She plays rugby, and even on holiday, didn’t let her fitness drop. Seeing that picture was the kick up the butt that I needed to decide not to give up on my ambition to run again.

My lack of posts hasn’t been because I haven’t been working towards that role, but after not leaving the house for a few days following a general anaesthetic and an amount of pain that I for some reason completely forgot to anticipate, the goal of running any distance began to feel unachievable (then again, most things do when you have pain shouting over every thought).

But I have been moving towards this month’s little milestone, one walk at a time.

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The day before my surgery

I went for a 2.23km walk, and then for a few days I was in too much pain to feel like doing much. As soon as I’d reduced my pain medication enough to make me less dopey, I grabbed my dog (and my nephew) and went for a walk. It felt like the longest yet, and I went straight home and slept, but I’d at least walked some way and that was all that mattered.

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The first day in which my pain subsided enough for me to feel like going for a walk (or doing anything) again.

Tonight I felt almost back to normal, the pain had subsided to a mild discomfort so my mind was clear, and walking was an enjoyable experience again. 2.29km may not seem like a long way, but at my current level of fitness, it felt like so much longer than that, and it really wiped me (and my dog) out.

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This afternoon/ evening.

But the good thing about walking any distance at all is that it means I’m moving forward, towards my end goal…

Some day I will run again.

If you’d like to help me use this process as an opportunity to raise money for charity and use running to benefit lives other than my own, you can sponsor me here.

Beginning

After delaying the start of this month’s milestone (in order to let my body recover from a recent and very unexpected bout of acidosis) I finally went for a walk today, and in doing so officially began the process of building up to running again.

I took my dog with me, because he never leaves my side and seems to think that one of us might die if we spend more than a minute apart; but also because he used to be my running buddy, and even though walking is not a great idea for his body either at the moment, his reaction is always OMG great idea! Can I come too? Let’s walk ALL the miles until neither of us can actually move any more! What are you waiting for human you don’t need shoes let’s go go go! 

In contrast, most humans at the moment seem to respond to the same situation with remarks such as:

“Should you be doing that?”

“Don’t overdo things.”

“Are you sure?”

“Why don’t you just… bake a cake or something?”

“Why?”

The presence of my 10 year old Labrador was the brake I needed in order to walk at a pace my body could deal with. He developed a limp about a kilometre in (I had no idea we’d walked that far) and when he refused to slow down I realised that I was not the only one of us whose body did not appreciate the walk, but whose mind would gladly run again. My heart had a small grumble. The long-term niggle in my knee decided to… Niggle away. I returned home sore, so exhausted that I was struggling to keep my eyes open, and with a new appreciation of just how tough (and long) this whole process of building up to running again (if ever at all) is going to be. I also returned home in a far better mood than the one I had been lost in when I left the house, and that reminded me why I decided to do all of this in the first place. Walking makes things feel a little better, but running fixes everything.

It is probably pathetic to need a rest day after a 1.85km walk, but I knew that this wasn’t going to be easy, and it makes the end goal even more worth it (and the smaller milestones along the way even more important).

My body tells me no

But I won’t quit

‘Cause I want more” – Young the Giant, My Body

To improve my otherwise non-existent fundraising achievements, I downloaded an app called Charity Miles, and used that as I walked. It uses GPS tracking to record your distance, and companies which work in partnership with the app sponsor you $0.25 per mile in support of one of various charities (which you can select from the list of organisations that the app supports). Currently it only supports American or global charities, but charity is charity wherever it is based. It’s a really simple app to use and such an easy way to use everyday activity like walking to the shops (or running, or cycling) or whatever to raise money. For example, today while I walked my dog, I stood up to cancer (well, I raised money for Stand Up To Cancer). With this app, you can even raise money while playing Pokémon Go!

If you’d like to contribute even 10p to my attempts to reach this month’s milestone of walking a total 20km, you can do so here. Any donations at all would be beyond appreciated, but please don’t feel any pressure to contribute – reading along with the journey is entirely fine! On that note, thank you to all those who have visited this blog, read my ramblings, and to those of you who even hit like or follow…

Month 1, Milestone 1

This month’s milestone: Walk a total of 20km. (In doing so, hopefully build my fitness to the level of a “couch potato” so I can start a couch potato to 5k running plan).

In aid/ support of: British Heart Foundation

Founded in 1961, the British Heart Foundation funds research into “the causes, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of heart and circulatory disease.”

I chose this as the charity to support throughout my first milestone because it was the British Heart Foundation’s “My Marathon” campaign which gave me the idea for all of this in the first place. The campaign encourages people to run the distance of a marathon spread over one month (or a different timeframe, if that is unachievable), and this gave me the idea of spreading out my goals over one month as well (to make them more achievable and prevent myself trying to run distances I can’t even walk yet).

I know it sounds like a feeble feat to walk a total of 20km over the course of 30 days, but if you’d met my body and attempted to walk a mile in it, you’d realise what a challenge this is going to be for me.

I’ve set up a fundraising page and will post updates here about how I’m getting on.

Here goes nothing, I guess… Wish me luck!

 

“Mission: Impossible”

A week ago, I sat in front of my cardiologist and told him I wanted to run again. Things with my health were about to become tough. I was in a bad place, had given up on everything (including myself) and had no idea how to cope. Until I heard the words,

“Go for it, sure”

Due to health issues, I’ve been unable to run for years. At present, my body is not a fan of physical activity, and my tolerance for exercise is so low that I was warned I’m not in a state acceptable to start a “couch potato to 5k” running programme. My cardiologist is happy for me to start attempting to build up to some level of activity, as long as my heart tolerates it, and I increase the intensity very slowly. He said that I wouldn’t be able to run marathons, so naturally… that’s now my end goal. Currently, a short walk is about my limit (it leaves me wiped out), but a few months ago I couldn’t manage even that – and this gives me hope that in a few months from now I will be able to manage much more (and eventually even… run).

Working towards running again will give me something to focus on and motivation to do things. In a weird way that I can’t quite explain, it will also be a coping mechanism of sorts, giving me back my outlet for the things that I don’t know how to talk about.

But running even a half marathon (if achievable at all) is a long time, and a long way off. There’s an awful lot of time between now and that end goal in which to get lost. In the space between trying and triumph, it’s easy to lose sight of where you’re trying to go and become disheartened – too long without achieving an aim can feel like a failure, and begin to make that aim feel unachievable. Plus, in the face of such a daunting task, it is difficult to even figure out where to begin. This is why I want to set a series of smaller, achievable goals – milestones to pass through on the way to my final aim – so that I can appreciate my progress, motivate myself short-term, and also stop myself from doing too much too soon and outraging my body. Even when climbing Everest, you stop at Basecamp.

Running (or at least, my attempt to get there) is going to have a significant and positive impact on my life. I very quickly realised that I want to share that. I feel it is only fair to at least attempt to pass the benefits on.

In order to do this, I plan to set myself a running goal each month (realistically I’m probably going to start with walking, because I’ve been compared to a baby that needs to build up to everything all over again) and each month ask people to sponsor me to reach that goal, picking a different charity each time.

I decided to share my progress in a blog not just to allow those who sponsor me to ensure that I’m actually reaching the goals I said I would, but because I wanted to encourage others to start taking baby steps towards their goals too. It doesn’t have to be running, and you don’t have to be unwell – this is about finding time or building the ability to do something that you love, to take back what life took from you or gather enough motivation to start heading towards a goal that has always felt out of reach.

This is in no way going to be easy for me, but if I get to run again, it will be more than worth it.  At the moment, attempting to run any distance at all feels like Mission: Impossible

But those missions can’t be very impossible if there have been five films.