What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

I realise that I have been off the grid for a little while now. Since the end of November, I have been suffering with a knee injury. I explained about it in a previous post a little, so I won’t go into too much detail over that side of it. You can read about it from last year here – you only need to read the first few paragraphs to get the idea.

At the start of the year, the pain got increasingly worse on the outside of my left knee, and I made the decision to see a chiropractor that a friend had seen in the Spring of 2016 and had recommended to me. My knee wasn’t getting any better by itself, so I booked in to see him less than a week later.

The first session was the longest, as we discussed everything you could think of about my health and training, and some more stuff too! I was told it was all relevant though, and that he would explain why once I had answered all the questions. When I had, I was told that things like stomach or period pain could be relevant, as your stomach can’t actually give you pain, so it is referred in muscles and tissue around it, which can. I already knew about fascia (the connective tissue covering all your muscles), so I could understand how this could happen.

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A diagram of fascia, to help with some understanding of it

Fascia, as I mentioned before, covers almost your whole body under your skin, in lots of layers that should be able to move over each other without causing you any problems. If you imagine it like a sheet of cling film; when the sheet is laid out, you can move any corner or piece of it any way you want, and it will go where you want it to. Now pin a part of it down with your finger – it won’t move as freely and may restrict or pull on other parts of the sheet. This is exactly the same as the fascia in your body. More of that later.

So, after a long discussion and a visual analysis of my body, i.e. were my shoulders and hips square, etc; it was down to business. He used physical tests to check for weak spots and referred pain – that is, when pushing, moving or stretching the body in one way, it may cause pain in another area (almost like a map that your body is giving out to try to help find the cause). He then performed several chiropractic moves (a lot of sudden movements and jolts, or as he called it, “adjustments”) on various parts of my body to try and help relieve the pain. It would be revealed at the end of the session that he had actually done a lot of adjustments – and a hell of a lot more than he would usually do in one session.

I was advised to book another appointment 4 days later on the Friday, and then one for the Monday after that – a week later. I did as I was asked. I saw no improvement over the next session, but continued on with the course of treatment – you can’t expect miracles instantly! I carried out the stretch I was given for my hip flexors as there is an imbalance in my hips and the surrounding area as instructed. The left hip flexor – the same side as the knee pain – is incredibly tight and the aim was to try and loosen it up a bit. I was to do the stretch twice a day, on both sides to keep things even, for 30 seconds per side.

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The most painful thing happened in the third session. I was to experience fascial treatment. As I explained before about the layers of connective tissue and how sometimes they could get stuck, I would soon find out how it felt when you tried to release the stuck points. Using what I could only describe as a normal touch on any other part of your body, he would find a point in my leg, ankle or foot, in this case, and then using a circular motion, move over it until it started to free off.

You’re probably thinking that it doesn’t sound too bad (unless you have been unfortunate enough to experience such treatment), however I can honestly say that I was trying not to leap off the bench in pain. It was like he was trying to separate the layers of my skin with a knife. I would to grin and bear it until it eventually it wasn’t too bad and we both agreed that it was freeing off. Then he would go off and find another spot to torture!

The next morning, I was in work (on a Saturday of all days!), and it was still really sore. It would be for a few more days, in fact. It was sore when I walked, in the points where it had been released, especially down the inside of my leg. I tried to jog a distance of probably 20m and the soreness was shooting up the inside of my leg. I took the wise decision to have the weekend off from running!

After about 2 and a half weeks of treatment, going back every few days, I reached my final meeting for the course of treatment. The sessions were getting a bit shorter each time and there was minor improvement. I was advised that the next time I should be expected back would be approximately 3 weeks time, if I needed to and that it would gradually improve over those weeks. It wouldn’t be an instant fix, where I woke up one morning and everything would be as right as rain – I wish it was that simple!

So I am currently 2 and a half weeks away from when I last went into physio. I have been exploring several possibilities in the time since then, and although there is a small amount of improvement, I am sad to say it is still not great!

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An apt Under Armour advert I found

I tried 2 weeks complete rest whilst I was undergoing physiotherapy – that made the pain worse! It is much better if I keep it moving, albeit at a slower pace than I am used to. Don’t get me wrong – I am glad that I can still move about and do some exercise, but I am definitely itching to get back up to speed. I just know that I have to be careful and rein it in when I need to. Taking extra days rest if I have done a longer run, or cutting pace and distance down can all help. I was very proud of myself this morning for not pushing on to do an extra 200m swimming and speeding through a few lengths just to make the total distance up to 2000m. I settled for a round 1800m, which I had taken at a steady pace and not aggravated my knee too much.

I went for an appointment at the doctors, as I was after a referral for an MRI scan, ideally, so that I could see, for my peace of mind, what was going on inside my leg. The doctor, despite being told that I had already seen a couple of physiotherapists, did a few tests on my legs just how the physio had, and recommended me for an x-ray. Not quite what I had wanted, but they wanted to rule out any bone issues. Fine, I thought, I will play your game! So I immediately went up the road to the hospital and got the x-ray done as a walk-in.

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Not my knee, unfortunately – I didn’t get to have a browse of that! Different x-ray views of the knee, though.

A week later, I still had not heard a word about my results, so I rang up. The best way I can describe the voice of the receptionist (without sounding insulting) is as a very overly cheerful-sounding, kind of air-head voiced lady. Imagine that as you read on. The conversation went as follows (almost verbatim).

Me: Hi, I had an x-ray last Friday and I still haven’t heard from anyone about my results.

Receptionist: Oh no, you have to ring up for those!

I would like to add here that the doctor confirmed my home address and telephone numbers and DID NOT tell me at any point to ring for my results. I was waiting for a letter or a phone call. I decided to let this one slide.

Receptionist: Okay, so I will just have a look for those results for you. So, there is nothing wrong with your knee, and there are no abnormalities! Okay then?

She genuinely sounded like she thought that was the end of the conversation and that I would be hanging up now….

Me: Uhm, should I book another appointment then…? Because my knee isn’t right still and….-

Receptionist: Oh no, the doctor has looked at your x-ray and has referred you onto a knee clinic!

I am still not sure if I was meant to have guessed this information, but she clearly thought that I was somehow privy to it already! I had to laugh, really.

Receptionist: So, they will be in touch with you to arrange an appointment soon, but I can’t tell you when that will be. Okay?

I had to leave the conversation there. So, if I haven’t heard anything back from them by Friday, which will be a week from when I spoke to the lady about my results, and two weeks since I had an x-ray, then I will be phoning up again to find out what is going on! Watch this space – I really hope I hear from them soon.

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Another thing I organised was a bike fitting. This may seem strange to some, as I have had my bike for at least a couple of years now, but I tried to ride it a week before the fitting and I had to stop after 7 minutes, because it was causing great discomfort and pain in my knee. I was worried that the physiotherapy had straightened my body out and got it functioning in a normal manner again exercise-wise, and that now it wasn’t compensating for itself on the bike, it was revealing where the cause of the pain was. I also didn’t feel like the ride on the bike had been the same since I had made the transition from a mountain bike style cleat/shoe to a road bike cleat/shoe towards the end of last year, and despite several attempts to adjust the bike to where it needed to be, I was convinced that it was someone else’s turn to have a go.

It was a very in-depth meeting that lasted almost 2 hours. I explained everything from my injury to my training, and the chap doing the fitting seemed genuinely interested and attentative (unlike, I must say, my doctor). He took in all the imformation I gave him and asked plenty of sensible questions about it all. I felt like I could be onto something here. He had all these different bits of kit to test and measure the way I was riding the bike – he had popped it onto a turbo trainer in the back room of the shop – and would make an adjustment to the saddle, pedals or my shoes according to what he found. It was fascinating!

Amongst several other things, there was a laser pointer which helped us both see when my knee was moving out to the side, and when it wasn’t after some adjustments and things. Also, a special toolwas used for measuring the angle that my leg was sitting at at the bottom of the pedal stroke. The laser was used for checking across my foot and leg as well. One thing would be checked, I would hop off the bike, an adjustment would be made and then I would pedal for a while to see what the difference was.

To cut a long story short, I have high arched feet. This causes them to roll in when I run, or participate in other sporting activities. I have a different design of running shoe to support the arch in my foot, so it wasn’t a huge surprise when I was told ths, actually. When your foot is locked into postion in your cycling shoes, which are in turn attached to the bike, they can’t move. This means that if the cleats, pedals, saddle, etc. aren’t set up in the correct position, that it could cause pain in your knee, for example, where it is moving to the side to compensate. I was offered up a wedge in the front of my shoes and also some insoles.

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The insoles in question!

We agreed that the insoles were the best option and pretty much eliminated any movement in both knees. The only drawback – they were custom ones, which would need to be moulded to my feet, so they would be mine and at a hefty price tag for a pair of insoles! I had them fitted there and then, as I could see the improvement they were making before they were a true fit to my feet, and it’s my knee, so I wanted it to be right. You would not believe the difference it makes to riding again for me! Time to rebuild my cycling training again. I am looking into using Zwift, possibly, which is a sort of online virtual training partner in a video game format for indoor cycling.

I have ordered some orthopedic insoles for high-arched feet for my work, running and everyday shoes in addition, to see if there is a difference in using them with more support throughout the day. I hope that this will be a simple solution to getting back on the track.

I have also been using kinesiology tape (or KT tape). The brand I went for was Rock Tape, purely because that was the brand that the shop next door to my workplace had in stock. I am aware that there are other good brands of tape you can get. It had come highly recommended from a lady at the running club, who had had a knee injury and pain in the almost the same point before. That was enough for me, and I rushed out to get some.

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Some examples of kinesiology tape in action. It can be applied to various parts of the body – not just knees!

The idea behind it, from what I can gather, is that the tape lifts the skin and creates a small space between the skin and the muscle, helping with better blood flow, reducing pressure from swelling or from injured muscles, and allowing smooth muscle movement. It is different from athletic ‘strapping tape’, and still lets you have a full range of movement.

I’ll be honest – I hardly notice that the tape is there, and I think it has been helping with a small amount of pain. I have to give testament to its durability, too. It stays on for probably 3-5 days (before the edges and corner start peeling up), and it gets some abuse on my body. I have sent it through the swimming pool, showers and a bath, for a run and a cycle, and it has still lasted for 4 days before it started to peel away. I will continue to use this unless ill-advised by the clinic (if I even get to hear from them soon!).

That’s about all I have to say for now. I am continuing with my stretch on my hip flexor, running at a slower pace and not as frequently to try and minimise impact, cycling with a corrective purpose now – my body will have to adapt to the changes made to the bike positioning – and using the kinesiology tape and insoles to try to improve everyday use and pain.

I will keep the site updated when I get some more (and hopefully better news).

For now though, thank you for reading and being patient! I hope to be posting on here soon with some better news! I have a couple of races (London Winter Run and Wokingham Half Marathon) that I will pop some posts on for when I get a chance, so there should be some more content soon.

Amanda x

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Sweat Or Regret – You Decide!

It’s  that busy time of year again, where there are festive parties and gatherings to attend left, right and centre; various events and celebrations cropping up and you have promised yourself that this year will be different! You won’t stop training, grow a belly, lose all your fitness before the New Year, and drink yourself into oblivion with all your loved ones. There are a few things that I find helpful to combat the inevitable December decline, that may help you along if you wish to avoid it – maybe you don’t and want a rest!

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Try and stick to your training schedule

You have probably got a social calendar bursting with parties, catch-ups, shopping trips, etc. this month, but one of the best (and hardest) things you can do is to balance all of these events, whilst maintaining your training schedule as much as possible. It goes without saying that with friends and family travelling to see each other, you don’t want to miss out on seeing those close to you. However, if you are prepared to be a little bit busy, fairly committed and flexible, you can keep it all up. I will use my weekly training schedule as it stands at the moment to begin to explain. See below.

Monday: Rest from racing or long distance training at the weekend.

Tuesday: Morning – swimming pace training in the pool (between 2000-2500m). Evening – running pace training with Burnham Joggers (if training for longer distance events, I will run to the track/club, so between 5-10 miles).

Wednesday: Evening – turbo trainer session at home (approx. 10 miles hard effort).

Thursday: Evening – running with Burnham Joggers (sometimes hill sessions, 5-10 miles).

Friday: Morning – swimming pace session at the pool (2000-2500m).

Saturday: Morning – Parkrun (if I am not working, or have a race at the weekend; 3 miles), event, or long run.

Sunday: Morning: Event, cross country, or long run.

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As you can see, my training schedule is fairly busy, and I am training almost every day. I have to fit my training in around a physical 8-5 job, and although I am no pro and still have a lot to learn, I have become quite good at juggling 3 sports, a full-time job, running club committee commitments and my social life.

The best thing to do around the festive period is to try and plan ahead as much as possible. When the dates get announced for work do’s and get-togethers with friends and family, put them in your calendar and then work your training in around them. If you know you are out Saturday night, try and get a session, or a brick session, in before you go out. A late Sunday workout can be your compromise if you are feeling a bit worse for wear the next day. Whatever it is, make your plan and stick to it. Or, if you don’t mind having a quiet one every now and again, offer to drive, or just have a couple, so that you have a clear head the next day. The choice is yours. You know what you need to do!

Have someone to train with

An important part in continuing with any kind of training any time of the year is staying motivated. One of the best ways that you can achieve this is by finding a person, some people, or a club to train with. It is so much harder to stay in bed early in the morning, or remain cuddled under a blanket with the central heating, when you know that there is someone else waiting to train with you.

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Swimming sessions for me are now all indoors, as the lakes have closed down for the winter. So in the pool, my training partner is my friend, Andy. He’s been swim training with me from the start of my triathlon journey, and is a great motivator, making sure that I stay on pace. He has got to know how I train and the best ways to keep my attention on the pace when I need it. For example, when we train at 6am, there are usually the same people in the pool and you get to know who is running at what pace and you can work around this.

Most people just get in and swim for an hour, then get out, however this is not useful training for a triathlete. We do sets of varying distances to keep it interesting from session to session, but focused with a finish goal, as well as technique sessions. As I am training for sprint distance, I need to focus on a 750m swim. The plan is to work over an 800m distance, to give me a little extra in the bag and it is more manageable to divide, e.g. 8 x 100m, 4 x 200m, 2 x 400m, 1 x 800m.

This can work to  our advantage as well as our disadvantage. I like to train around one lady in particular, who is now running at a similar pace to me as someone to chase, or keep off my tail and I think the feeling is mutual with her. However, others can get in the way at a slower pace sometimes, and unfortunately don’t always want to let you pass, which can eat at your session sometimes. Additionally, if you wanted to train 8 x 100m on 2:00 – that is to complete 100m in under 2 minutes, and the remaining amount of time left is your rest, i.e. a 1:45 100m earns you a 15 second rest, whereas a 1:52 will only earn you 8 seconds – you can sometimes get caught either behind a slower swimmer, or you can’t find the right gap to go again in. We are currently looking for a solution to this, as the faster lane is even busier than the one we use so that may not be the solution either.

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Cycling training is something that goes slightly against what I have just spoken about, but is something I can get on with because of my background. Cycling is something I have always done since I was younger – we would go on camping holidays as a family and would go on day rides around the area, as well as around the campsites in the day. I have done a few 100km (62 miles) bike rides as organised events and some just for fun(!), as well as Ride London this year – a 100 mile cycling event around London and Surrey hills. Some members of my running club have also formed a little group that go out for rides between 30-60 miles on average at the weekends which is generally really good fun, sociable and usually involves a nice stop somewhere like the “no car café”!

On top of all of this, when I joined the gym a couple of years ago, I got talked into partaking in an indoor cycling class. It made you sweat loads, I could get my teeth stuck in, it was tough and made me sore; so naturally, I couldn’t get enough of it! I got involved in going to those probably 2-3 times a week, until the instructor announced he was leaving to have a career change. With a slight fear of the dreaded unknown instructor that might come along, and a thirst for new skills, I inquired about becoming an instructor. Within a month I was sat on a 2 day Spinning® course one weekend, trying to qualify to be an instructor. I passed the clinic, spent a few weeks practicing by bullying my work colleagues and boyfriend into coming along to the gym out of class hours to help me practice, and soon I had my own class.

I was an instructor at the gym for a year, until there was an unfortunate falling out with the management, when they started messing me around, and I decided my time could be spent training for other things, like 100 mile bike rides! I never regret that year, though, as it gave me the tools to create training sessions that are relevant to what I need, more information and a better skill set for exercise physiology and cycling in general and it gave me more confidence as a life skill. I can now apply all of this over the winter with my turbo trainer.

I know, *groan*, the turbo trainer! Unfortunately for me, this is a staple for the winter, unless I stop cycling for a few months, as I suffer with Raynaud’s phenomenon. This is a condition of which my understanding is that the blood vessels in my hands and feet are too small, so when they get cold, or it gets cold outside (I don’t always feel the cold when it happens), I lose blood circulation in my extremities. This means that when I am cycling, the first point of contact with the air is my hands, which, believe it or not, will still lose circulation through 3 pairs of warm gloves, which is no good if you are trying to brake or change gear! My feet go numb and are much more difficult to pedal, then eventually start to burn – it will probably take an hour of gradually warming them up and walking on them before they go back to normal.

Anyway, all of this means that for the winter, rather than repeating last year and attempting a 30 mile bike ride and only managing 8 before turning around because I couldn’t use my hands or feet (in October!), I have to retire to the indoors. I have adapted many of my Spinning®  designed classes to work on my turbo trainer. It’s something I can quite happily grind away at, and the one thing that for a few months, I will self-motivate to complete. There are various training aids that are used by several people I know with their turbo trainers, which seem to be quite effective, but I have never used them myself, so would not like to comment on their effectiveness. Joining a cycling club is also the other option for those of you who can get away with putting on extra layers!

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Running is a very easy one in my opinion. I used to run by myself, in the dark, alone and struggled to stay motivated. I had enough last year and joined a local running club, Burnham Joggers. It is the best thing I could have done for motivating myself over the winter and for training from then on. I never knew how many things there were to get involved in other than races! We participate in a cross country league from November into February, as well as the Staggered Jog once a month, various members doing different Parkruns every Saturday, lots of members entering local (as well as not-so-local events), and a club championship, where a huge amount of club members descent upon 15 chosen races to compete for the title.

Not only that, but in the Summer, there is a 5k series competing against other clubs, and social events such as Running Scrabble (we will get to that one one day)! How can you stay bored with all of that going on? There are so many wonderful, encouraging and lovely people in my club, that I can just never look back. Also, there is always someone that you can talk into participating in some silly race you have found, coming along to support you, or others who are training with the same goals as you are. What could go wrong?

Have a goal or target

Another important thing is to have something to reach for. Whether it is to complete a distance by a certain time (8 weeks to 5k, for example), complete a race, beat a PB, or even shift a bit of weight; there is always something for you to aim for. Having a purpose will e7bc1f480d9a6834a5cb29871d1f3de2.jpgalways help drive you along and telling people about it as well will push you to completing it, so make sure it is both achievable and something you want!

Studies have proven that if you tell people what you are trying to achieve, you are more likely to succeed, as you don’t want to appear as a failure to the people you have told. It is important to enjoy your training, in addition to having your mind set on something. If you are sore, injured or ill, listen to your body and don’t worry too much about missing one workout. You will recover faster from resting off and coming back to it. Do not try and bump up the mileage too much because you have missed sessions, either. Continue with the plan, and you will do just as well.

Reward yourself

This part may have peaked your interest slightly, however I am not just talking about pigging out. Although there is nothing wrong with doing this every now and again, it is not good for reaching your goals if you have poor nutrition. Sometimes, it is nice to say to yourself, “when I finish this training session, I can have this chocolate bar”, or whatever your preferred treat is, but it is equally as important to stay on track.

You can reward yourself in so many other ways. If you are fixated on food rewards, choose a favourite healthy/healthier snack of yours, such as avocado on toast, a home-blended smoothie with your favourite fruits/vegetables in, or peanut butter and apple. If you aren’t too worried about filling up on snacks to give b9f6411171db73bded59843b6c248d59yourself a pat on the back, there are still other ways you can reward yourself.

Some people have been known to put money in a pot based on mileage, e.g. for running, 10p a mile if you are running high mileage, or maybe 50p a mile if you don’t head out too far. Once you have a nice kitty stored up, you can splash out on a new pair of trainers, or some new sports gear.  Another idea is to book in for a massage, or to delay your rewards over a week or month, so that when you have completed a certain distance, or met your criteria, you can treat yourself to a bubble bath, a day out, a gift to yourself, etc. This will help not only to power you on during your training, but improve your motivational skills.

Connect

There are so many websites to help keep you motivated nowadays, as well as various brands of watches. Watch-wise, I am rather biased towards Garmin, although there are plenty of other good brands, such as Tom Tom, Suunto, Polar, and for some a FitBit (although that is the only one I am not a fan of). Garmin has an online community called Connect, where you can follow others using Garmin watches, compare and read all of your activity data, rank PBs and much more.

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The most popular website, I think is Strava – here is a brief look at it (I do not have the premium function). On here, you can create and join clubs, where you can compete in a leaderboard for distance, time on your feet and climbs. You can upload your content automatically from your watch software, which is pretty handy, and then you can give and receive ‘kudos’ (a thumbs up to someone) and comment too. There are also segments, which are parts of routes that people have selected, where you can race against yourself and others. The final motivational feature on here that I think is a highlight, is the monthly challenges, covering distances and climbing feet.

Another I have used is Map My Run. This is similar to Strava, however the challenges on here earn you badges and come in all forms. This can be from covering distance to completing a number of activities of all kinds, and you can pit yourself against your friends to complete them first.

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My other personal favourite is Running Heroes. This is another website that can upload straight from all of the above mentioned applications and a few others. You earn points for every run (and bike ride) that you complete, which you can redeem for discounts off events, sports brands (Speedo, 2XU, Adidas, etc.) nutrition, and various other items/services such as magazine subscriptions, hotel rooms, etc. They offer 2 challenges per week, where you are required to either earn a number of points, or run a set distance over the week. You can win various things including but not limited to sports clothing and gear, race entries and food/nutrition products. So far, after joining this year, I have won some Bamboo socks, a tub of Oppo ice cream and a free entry into Ride London 100. There are also sometimes limited offers to use a large number of points to gain a free entry into a race, such as London Winter Run, New York or Paris Marathons, and lots more.

I hope this helps at least one person over the winter!

Happy training!

Amanda x