Monthly Archives: March 2014

Health, Wealth, Race Forms and the NHS

“Illness is neither an indulgence for which people have to pay, nor an offence for which they should be penalised, but a misfortune, the cost of which should be shared by the community.” Aneurin Bevan (Minister for Health 1945 to 1951 and “father” of the NHS, 1897–1960)

This is probably a contentious post but it has been something that I’ve been mulling over all week. It is something that will probably effect me later this year when all being well I travel to Germany for my first international race. The issue I want to talk about is whether GP’s should charge individual’s for signing a ‘fit to run’ form.

I’m guessing that international races get people to have these forms signed so that if anything does happen to you then race organisers can hold their hands up and say ‘hey your doctor said you were ok, we’re not liable’. In the main it seems GP’s are happy to sign this form but there is huge variability between practices as to whether GP’s actually charge for their signature on a form. I had to get signed off once for a scuba diving course, and while I didn’t have to pay this particular GP made me go through all sorts of tests because I mentioned that I had suffered from childhood asthma. It was a faff but I didn’t have to pay. However other people report paying anything up to £25.00 per form for the signature. Would I pay if that was the charge? I’ve considered it and I have to say I probably would. Here’s a few reasons why:

When I was a teenage athlete I was quite badly injured. A private ‘physio’, osteopath and Harley Street doctor all misdiagnosed me. It was an A&E doctor and an NHS consultant who correctly diagnosed me. I had the proper investigations done via the NHS and 6 months after the injury I had surgery, without which I would never have got back into sport.

Fast forward many many years, the NHS brought my two beautiful children into the world. All my care and scans were free and the after care at home was excellent. Plus all my children’s vaccinations have been free of charge.

More recently a family member had a massive heart attack. He was swiftly treated and had major surgery without which he would have died.

There are many other NHS stories I could tell but I am grateful for the NHS and what it has done for my family. Individuals who don’t agree with paying for the form feel that they are saving money by being fit and healthy. But to me that is arrogant because none of us know what lies for us in the future. Exercise alone cannot prevent unforeseen accidents, illness and problems that our genes may have predestined for us.

The NHS is also time poor and lacking in funds with a rocketing population to look after. Heck, when I worked there a few years ago I couldn’t even get approval for treasury tags to hold my patient notes together. When Anuerin Bevan developed his vision for the NHS, I think he meant for it to be where people who have come into misfortune might go, not for people to turn up waving forms to be signed. I also wonder how GP’s feel about their time being taken up reviewing these forms alongside all the other responsibilities passed on by this Government.

As it stands the NHS is under ever increasing pressure and whenever I read about it I can see that Bevan’s organisation is looking more and more like it will be dismantled. I know it’s a hassle to have to pay for a form to be signed but I think I would rather pay a nominal fee than have the NHS disappear completely. Because sooner or later I really think that is what will happen and then you will soon see the fee to sign your form sky rocket upwards from £25.

So that’s what’s been going through the abyss that is my brain all week. What are your thoughts on being charged for fit to run forms for international races?

Yoda

Yesterday I took all the advice that lovely people on Twitter left me. I rested. I did not think about running. I took all the positives that I could from the busted run. And then I made a plan to have fun with my children when they came home from school. The marathon was no doubt there in the back of my mind but I decided to force feed my brain with other activities.

After school yesterday I built a den for the boys in our front room. Sofa cushions, chairs from the kitchen and blankets turned into a little hiding place for us all from the world. Before long my eldest boy’s imagination and his love of Star Wars combined to turn the den into the ‘Hoth Rebel Base’. Somehow I ended up being the Wompa and the boys were the Rebel Alliance. I was eventually pretend killed by a pretend Light Saber.

While we were playing I recalled a Yoda quote from one of the films that I quite liked. As a runner it is almost impossible not to relate everything to running, and so it has happened with Star Wars and the little green guy. It has resonated with me because after the other day I need a little bit of a pep me up and what could be better than the sage advice of the greatest warrior in the galaxy?

picture from fohboh.com

I definitely need a little bit more self belief otherwise I may as well not bother. I need to stop beating myself up and believe in my strength and the little bit of talent that I have as a runner. This marathon will most likely be a battle of wills with myself but I know back in the depths of my mind that I am capable of doing it. So I will believe.

Are there any mantras or quotes from non-running sources that you use for running?

Marathon Brain and A Heavy Heart.

When you train for a marathon you expect to feel physically tired and heavy. What I think I have forgotten is that it can impact on me emotionally and mentally. People talk about baby brain but I definitely have marathon brain. For me it’s a sensation of feeling permanently distracted by running and thinking about running and wanting to go running.

I think this is all perfectly normal, it is a major thing to take on. However marathon brain has impacted on my life a bit of late. I feel forgetful, under the weather, grumpy, anxious and not at all tip top. My insomnia has been dreadful of late so I don’t think trying to function on the back of little sleep has helped. I’ve been forgetting things that the boys need for school and that’s just not like me. Plus deciding to try and promote my own clinic in an existing health centre just adds to many things I’ve added to the plate lately.

Last week felt particularly awful because as a parent I have to think of not just my emotional well being but the emotional well being of my children. Trying to function for yourself and two little people who need you is hard going. My eldest has been having a rough time at school of late, trying to find out who he is and what kind of people he wants to be friends with. He’s had issues that have caused him great upset and I think it has affected me in many ways but everything is amplified because I am fatigued from training and poor sleep patterns. I’d love to be a mother who could give a reassuring ‘it will be fine’ and reason everything to be ‘just a phase’ but I find that their pain is my pain and I stress and I worry about them, as I’m sure many many mothers do.

By the end of last week my brain and my body had had enough and I caught a cold, probably because my immune system decided to have a wee rest. I don’t blame it. It was a weird feeling of a head cold that sat at the surface and didn’t really come to anything, yet was enough to make me feel unwell. Annoying, inconvenient and just frustrating. I rested and thought that by mid week I’d be fine to get back our running.

All of this leads me into my long run from yesterday, which was probably the worst long run I’ve ever done. I woke up heavy headed and I dreaded it from the moment I started thinking about it. I dropped the boys at school and headed out with a heavy heart.

I had to talk myself out of going back home from the first mile. I decided to try a different route off the main roads and got lost. I had to find someone to ask directions. My phone died because I hadn’t charged it properly and I then spent the rest of the run intermittently worrying about whether the school might need to contact me. For some reason I decided to take on the route with all the hills. From 90 minutes in I was on the verge of giving up and had to give myself a stern talking to. And at 2 hours and 20 minutes, my hamstring cramped. I tried to keep running and I couldn’t, it was too painful, I had to turn on my heel and limp home. The walk home gave me a total of 16 and a half miles, no where near what I had intended to do.

What surprised me yesterday was that I didn’t even bother crying. Usually I would have balled my eyes out on the walk back home and even more so when I got back to the house. But I didn’t. I felt numb. And then I felt cross with myself because instead of listening to all the alarm bells that were going off, I ignored them and carried on. If I had stopped when I wanted to I wouldn’t have a sore hamstring.

This morning I forgot one of my son’s bags for school as is typical of me these days. I blamed my marathon brain and then I blamed myself for not being organised this morning. I am my own worst critic and I have gone round in circles trying to figure out what I did wrong yesterday. But maybe yesterday my heart and my head were just burdened with too many other things. My heart was too heavy to be able to carry me to the 20 miles I wanted to do.

And there, there are the tears.

International Valerie Adams’ Day

Ok the title of the post is completely made up. But last Saturday, March 8th, was International Women’s Day. There were events all over the world to promote the achievements of women but also to highlight inequalities that still need to be addressed. There were several running events which also marked the occasion.

Valerie Adams at London 2012. Image from radiosport.co.nz

Meanwhile over in an indoor arena in Sopot, Poland, Valerie Adams reclaimed her World Indoor Shot Put title in her own quiet but dominant way. This was her taking the title for the third time. Her winning throw was 20 metres 67 cm. She consistently threw over 20 metres throughout the competition.

She is a brilliant athlete who deserves far more recognition and acclaim than she receives. She is unbeaten in 40 competitions and is reigning Olympic and World Outdoor champion. She is a strong, powerful athlete who obviously works hard and it is no doubt proven in her results. Her win is even more impressive considering she has just come back from injury. I think her hard work and dedication make her the ideal role model for any young person (or older person like me) and she really should be celebrated for her achievements. She is truly a great athlete and I thought it was rather fitting that this amazing sports woman won another world title on International Women’s Day.

Running and Catcalls

A few weeks ago I was running down by the river close to where I live. It was half term and there were plenty of kids around passing the time. As I turned on to a different part of the path, two boys, aged around 12 or 13, were coming towards me. I could see them looking at me and laughing. I’m a big girl, I can cope with the giggling of a couple of pre-teens, after all you don’t seem to see many women running in my local area. What I wasn’t going to put up with was what happened next.

Not long after I passed them by there was a thud beside me. A large stone rolled past my left foot. I turned round to see where it had come from. The sight of two boys looking over their shoulders as they ran away pretty much established their guilt. Now I could have run on, used it as fuel for my run but the worm turned that day. I chased them. I was livid. I had already been running steadily for over half and hour but now I was getting in a sprinting session as I shouted in lots of swearily ways for them to stop. I am not proud of the way I swore but I was angry.

I ran up to the main road and saw one boy cross over into a nearby estate of new build houses. I paused and got my breath back and as I turned I saw the other boy. His eyes met mine and he squealed as I then laid into him:

‘Who the mother fucking fuck do you think you are, throwing things at women running on their own. Do you think it’s alright to do that? Did your parents teach you that this was ok? Where is your mother? Your friend has left you, where has he gone? Are you proud to have a friend who’s just left you to take the flak?’

That’s only part of what I screamed at him but I was angry, so angry that it’s not just grown men now who think it’s okay to abuse lone female runners but their sons too. I told him that him and his friend were cowards and that it was not all okay to treat people like that. I told him that he could have hit me on the head or if it hadn’t been me that he could have hit an elderly person, a child, someone more vulnerable than me. I wanted him to see that his actions were not on.

I made him pull out his phone and call his friend’s father, who to be fair sounded pretty disgusted by what they had done. And then I left him and jogged home, fuming a little less but a little hoarse from all my shouting.

Why am I writing about this now? Well I read an article by someone called Paris Lees that made me cross. Paris wrote an article in Vice magazine entitled ‘I Love Wolf-Whistles and Catcalls – Am I A Bad Feminist?’ If you fancy a read you can find it here.

I am so angry that someone has said that it is basically fine if a man catcalls a woman. From the runners I follow on social media and the blogs that I read, female runners are constantly being shouted at by men, who are usually in groups and more often than not in cars. Yes they can shout fairly flattering stuff but to me, even if it is flattering, it comes over as really sinister. Women don’t go out running or doing anything else to satisfy the lusts and fantasies of men. Male runners don’t get shouted at and I’m pretty sure if I had been male those boys wouldn’t even have considered throwing anything at me.

My other problem with Paris Lees’ article is that she’s validating the men who do it. There is a message being sent that do it enough times and a woman might actually like it. A little bit like ‘she said no but she really meant yes’. Well actually being shouted at to ‘run and jump on my cock’ or being called a ‘cunt’ purely for being a female that is trying to empower herself or better herself is quite frankly disgusting. A man even slowed down, looked me up and down and shouted ‘errggh’ at me because I obviously didn’t meet his objectifications. It is sinister and it is a dangerous road to other things.

If we say that catcalls from men are ok then what does that teach the next generation? Obviously not much going by the two boys I encountered. And we’re also teaching young girls that it is just a fact of life and that we should just expect it. I mean, who do us women think we are, going out trying to better ourselves with exercise, making ourselves all hot and sweaty rather than playing along in the role of sex symbol that these men obviously want us to do.

Obviously I know that not all men do this and the majority of men would also think that to shout out at a lone female runner is wrong. But there is a small number that are signalling to other men that doing this is normal and that women should just put up with it. Well we shouldn’t have to. You may think I over reacted that day when I chased the boys who tried to hit me with a stone but I think it was a long time coming after being shouted at and cat called so many times over the years. Unfortunately after my recent experience it looks like they’re starting young.

Edited: I wish I hadn’t pressed publish too soon but I just wanted to add that over my years living in Cardiff lone female runners have often been the target for all types of assaults, physical and sexual. For me this is way cat calls are not ok, how are we to know that it wasn’t cat calls that a man started with?

You’ve Got This

This post is dedicated to anyone having a pre marathon wobble (myself included!)

You are getting closer to the start line of what might be the most frightening but also the most exhilarating thing you have ever done.

Six months or more ago you committed yourself to train in the wind, rain, sleet and snow for one day which seemed forever away.

There have been ups and downs, good runs and bad runs, training sessions that haven’t gone the way you wanted but you never threw in the towel.

You are a runner, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

The miles that you have run have made you stronger and are there in your legs waiting to carry you further than you’ve ever been before.

Draw on anything or anyone for inspiration you might need but don’t forget that you are your own hero.

Once you’re done, once you have crossed that line, no one can take that away from you.

No matter what happens, the people who count most in the world will be immensely proud of you.

Enjoy it, revel in it, try and take as much of it in as you can.

You are harder, you are tougher than you once thought. You are about to surprise everyone. You’ve got this.

10 Weeks (Or How Not To Train For A Marathon)

About twelve weeks ago I was chatting to a patient in clinic who happened to be a decent club runner. I told him of my own injury woes and how I felt I was running out of time to train for the London Marathon.

‘Don’t worry about it, you can train for a marathon in ten weeks if you’ve run one before’.

And so it appears I have taken my patient’s words quite literally. I didn’t really start training properly for the marathon on the 13th of April until five weeks ago. To date I have only done three long runs: an hour and a half, a two hour and a two hour fifty minutes. It was only over this weekend that I allowed myself to run on consecutive days (no long run this week). Previous to this I would have rested or jumped on the turbo trainer. It has been a higgledy piggledy mess of a training programme.

Well I don’t actually have a training programme. When I came to look at programmes there was nothing that was suitable for a runner just coming out of injury. Looking at them just made me panic about the runs I wouldn’t be able to do at the very early stages so I decided to take an alternative approach: listen to my own body and create my own programme as I have gone along.

There have been no tempo runs, no fartleks, no hill sprints and no real pattern, or rhyme or reason to what I’ve been doing. All there has been is a gradual build up of time back on my feet again. I wouldn’t suggest anyone follow anything I’ve done because it has been a process that can only personally fit me.

I have tried to vary things from time to time but because injury still doesn’t seem that far behind me I continue to hedge my bets and err very much on the side of caution with all my runs. If my legs have felt more tired than usual then I have opted not to run. If I have been aware of that familiar niggle in my calf/achilles then I have jumped on the turbo trainer or gone swimming instead. If I have felt unwell then I have stretched my rest day to two rest days.

To be quite frank I am winging it. I am blagging marathon training this time like the London Marathon is an exclusive club and I want my name on the list. I have no time in mind and I have no goal other than to be at the start line with the aim to finish.  I have no idea how to pace myself and I haven’t used a GPS in so long that the only way I know how to run right now is by how I feel. It’s scary but also exciting. It’s going down to the wire and the only advice I can give to my fellow runners is ‘Don’t try this at home’.

A 19 Mile Mistake

Last week was half term for us Welshies (I’m an honorary Welsh person now, on residency) so mid week I piled the boys and half the house in the car and headed up to my folks’ house in West London. Thursday and Friday I didn’t get to run due to trips to parks and museums and trying to be a good mum. I therefore had my eye on Saturday being a long run day. My legs were feeling ok after the 800m reps on Tuesday so I estimated that I’d like to do somewhere between a 15-16, possibly even 17 miler. Anyhow, I wanted to run for over 2 hours and 20 minutes.

I spent some time considering my route. In West London I was pretty spoilt for choice. There was Bushy Park, Windsor Great Park, all the paths by the river if they were accessible and of course Richmond Park. I decided, after reading about so many other runners love running there so much, to go for Richmond Park. But how would I get there? Bus, get dropped off or just run there? I logged onto the computer and mapped out how far it would be from my parents house to Richmond Hill Gate and it didn’t seem to bad, roughly 5 miles. Plus when I checked how far it was round the perimeter of the park it came up as about 7 miles. It seemed doable.

Now this is where I went wrong. Maths and I have a very hairy relationship. Adding I can do but stick decimal points in there and ask me to convert things to other measures just blows my brains. Now I say roughly 5 and I say roughly 7 but in fact I was converting in a very rough way, in my head, from kilometres to miles, based on what I know 5km and 10km to be in miles. This it turned out later was a huge mistake.

I set out into the cold crisp air on this St David’s Day in London with all my gels and water packing me out like a little donkey. It was cold but it was dry and that was ideal. And so I made my way up to Richmond via Hanworth and the river side path from Twickenham to Richmond. As I reached the gate I looked to my right to have a look at the Star and Garter House, the place where I had my work experience as a teenager, now closed.

When I left my parents house to run to the park my mother had urged me to be careful as ‘there are nutters in parks that might attack you’. Well she needn’t have worried as activity within the park jumped at me as soon as I was through the gate: other runners, dogs, walkers and hundreds of cyclists. It was going to be fine. I checked my watch, it read 50 minutes. I didn’t check the GPS running on my phone as I assumed that all my calculations were correct.

Running in Richmond Park itself was blissful for the most part. There were of course hills everywhere but I tackled them and didn’t let them deter me. I glimpsed round from time to time trying to work out where I had run cross country for the school but I think my radar was well off.

Some runners nodded, some runners said hello and some runners stared ahead robotically, tuning in only to what was playing to them from their head phones. I had no idea what trail I was on but I stuck as close as I could to the perimeter. The second time I looked at my watch it was reading 1 hour and 45 minutes and I started to panic a bit as I told myself I should be nearing Richmond Hill again. As I was pondering to myself I managed to run through the start for a 10k race. Moments later crowds of runners came past me, ruining my void and my running chi. ‘I’m not in your race, I’m doing a really REALLY long run’ I wanted to scream at them.

After what seemed like a path leading to no where, I finally reached Richmond Gate and it was at this point that I realised I could have made a little bit of an error. It was now 2 hours into the run. If it took me 50 minutes to run there it would probably take me well over that to run back. Thankfully I was able to run down hill for a while, down Richmond Hill and down over the bridge. In my head it gave my legs a short rest.

After Richmond Bridge it became a case of putting one foot in front of the other. My longest run up until Saturday had been 2 hours. As my brain whirred I estimated I would be running at least an hour more than that. As I run towards Twickenham on the main roads this time I almost screamed at people to get out of the way as I knew that if I stopped, then that would be it. Game over, miles from home. I started to shorten the rest of the route into chunks to make it seem quicker and forced myself to ignore the shrieking that was coming from my painful quads.

Somehow, through gritted teeth and bloody mindedness, I got back to my parents’ house. My father opened the door and grinned at me, my boys ran full pelt at me (ouch) and my mother took one look at me and told me I was nuts.

As I started unravelling myself from water belts, gilets and trainers I took my phone from my pocket. 30.88 miles in 2 hours 50 minutes. Eh? It’s ballsed up I thought. But then I realised Runkeeper could mean 30.88 km. Which if you convert it using online tools becomes 19 miles.

Holy Mother of Running Socks. Had I really run 19 miles? After I felt more human again I checked via Map My Run which gave me an estimate of 29.65 km, so I’m sure my phone app must have been correct. And I also realised that my maths was shocking and that I had woefully underestimated how far I was attempting to run.

Then as I often do, started to wonder how I had managed to run that far with a poor amount of training behind me and not a great deal of distance in my legs. Was it muscle memory from previous long runs and my history as a runner that enabled me to do it? Had I slightly altered the construct of distance in my head to lead me to run further than I had intended to? Am I more capable than I think of running the longer distances? My last long run was 14 miles so this was a giant leap for me. The last time I ran anything close to 19 miles was in 2012 and since then I’ve been injured. Was it just fluke or did I really do that?

I have checked and re-checked maps and apps to make sure I’m right and it hasn’t changed: I ran somewhere in the region of 18.5 to 19 miles on Saturday and I really enjoyed it. It was a complete error of judgement on my part but it was a good error. Just don

Demons

I keep seeing journalists, columnists and bloggers having their little say about Rebecca Adlington and about the fact that she has apparently had corrective surgery on her nose. Tone and content of articles has been variable: one article supported her right to do it and that she was showing empowerment, another apologised for the public making her want to do it and others have said that they are disappointed that she gave in to bullying on social media. Well all I can say is to heck with the lot of them. We can all sit in our ivory towers and judge someone but I can only guess that to undergo surgery on your face, things aren’t always as simple as that.

I don’t think Rebecca Adlington would have come to the decision lightly. I have my own feelings and thoughts but I can’t put myself in her place to come to a true understanding of her choice. Only she knows why she felt compelled to do it. But I wonder if people are being simplistic when they say that she has ‘given in to the bullies’ on Twitter. How can we be sure that her issues are not far deeper and entrenched?

We tend to put Olympians, or in fact any sports person, on a pedestal and are expect them to be shining examples in all areas of life, not just in their physical and sporting achievements. We can’t seem to fathom that someone who has achieved something that only few other people ever will can be crippled by self doubt and possibly self loathing. I think we were all shocked when Kelly Holmes revealed that she had self harmed and had even considered suicide but the for athletes the highs are so incredibly high, how are we sure that they are armed to deal with the lows?

Addiction and depression have hit so many of our favourite sport stars and yet we feel disappointed in them when they reveal that they too are just human beings, trying to make a living. Eating disorders are rife in some sports and yet we refuse to believe that they would succumb to such ‘weakness’.

I have no idea what made Rebecca Adlington have her operation but it is quite frankly no business of anyone’s but hers. We could all tell her she should flash her medals at the bullies but what she obviously felt has very little to do with her sport. I just think it is all so easy for us to read stories about sports people, who don’t actually intend to be celebrities when they start out, and we can throw our opinions at them but they are people like you and I. And like you and I they have their demons too.