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Heart Surgery to Ironman – January Dramas

6 Feb

I started 2012 with my eye very much on the big goal. As soon as the clock struck 12, I was on a mission to ensure I did everything possible to improve my chances making it. With a pretty rubbish month of training in December due to a lingering back injury, I was raring to go in the new year. Every so often, the enormity of the task that is Ironman dawned on me, usually when I had a less-than-ideal training session!

Like so many others making new year’s resolutions in January, I committed to a healthier lifestyle and a few tweaks here and there. I feel fortunate to to not have a lack of motivation to exercise, even in the middle of winter. It appears that I never struggle to get out of the door! I can only attribute this to one thing – my overwhelming desire to achieve my goal!

Looking back a few years, I’ve had my ups and downs when it comes to motivation. At university I was certainly more interesting in going out than going for a run. From around that age though, my family history of heart disease really did scare me. This fear of ending up with the same fate seemed to serve a purpose when it came to exercise. I wrote my nursing dissertation on the impact of having cardiac rehabilitation in community – ironic that I ended going through that myself aged 27!

More recently, my lovely 84 year old grandfather was taken into hospital with heart problems. Being faced with losing another loved person and watching all the intensive care that was required to get him back to health made me appreciate how precious both life and health is. My fighting instinct kicked in (not violence of course!) and I tried to do all I could to ensure my grandfather got the best care possible. I strongly believe in fighting for both health and life and in these circumstances, a positive outlook on life often directly results physical recovery.

Since my own dice with death, as it were, goals become prioritised, higher aimed even. The ‘do it tomorrow’ attitude now seems pitiful to me. Through recent events and previous experience, I have been inspired to do more, achieve more and encourage others to do the same.

So whilst injuries, the weather and other life commitments can try to get in the way of achieving your goals, remember to stay in control. I find it useful to regularly reflect on why I want to do Ironman, and as you can see, the list is endless!

Importance of HealthIronman Training - Corinne Ellison

18 Months Since Heart Surgery – 6 Months til Ironman!

23 Dec

Today marks the 18 month anniversary since my heart surgery in June 2010. Funnily, it’s not the looking back that I have been focussing on today, but where I am at right now and where I would like to be in 6 months time. With it being Christmas, being around family today and on this date, I am feeling very grateful for what I have and for being alive in general! A little run this morning was just the right thing to do and made me appreciate my health.

There are many who have been in my position who were not so lucky and didn’t go on to make a full recovery from their heart surgery, or recover at all. Living with a long term health condition is difficult and I have spoken with many brave people who do just that but strive to live their lives to the full. If you are healthy, what excuse do you have not to push for more than you ever thought possible?

Just over 6 months from now (and exactly a week after my 2 year operation anniversary!), I will be aiming to prove to myself that nothing is impossible. In 2 years, a lot will have had to happen to get me from unable to walk round the block to completing 140.6 miles. Some say I’m a little bit crazy, others admire my plans. There is nothing that can stop me finishing this Ironman because of what it means to me.

I happen to believe that exercise is the best way of  making you feel good about yourself and it inspires others to do the same. So go out and get some fresh air over the holidays, you know you should!

Heart Surgery To Ironman – October Reflection

25 Oct

Last October, I set myself a target during my recovery from heart surgery. I was 4 months post-op, had been back running for a month and was keen to test my fitness. The aim was to run 6 miles in 60 minutes. I achieved this on the 28th October 2010 and I still remember that run! It hurt every second of the way but the feeling of achievement at the end of it was incredible.

Pre-diagnosis, my running was not improving and those feelings of frustration on a hard run still haunt me sometimes. Pre-surgery, not being allowed to exercise for 5-6 months was mentally tough. Recovery was the first time I felt free to test my body again and this felt even better when I set myself targets such as my October challenge.

Now, a year on, that run symbolised the start of my training as I now know it. Through persistent effort and consistent training, I am now feeling faster, stronger and more confident. Little by little, my running, swimming and cycling times have improved. Beyond figures, how I feel has improved. It’s been a long time since I felt ‘fit’. This week I do and it made me laugh when I saw that it coincides with a similar feeling of satisfaction a year ago.

Occasionally, when I contemplate the extent of what an Ironman involves, it can be overwhelming. I haven’t got years of experience as an athlete but what I do have is strength and determination to see me through my goal.  In additional with this, I am lucky to have a lot of support, plus friends and family who believe in me. I’m very fortunate in having a great coach and appreciate how much having access to his knowledge and experience has helped. I am surrounded by people who have already achieved (several times over!) what I would like to and this makes the otherwise daunting challenge feel almost normal! Inspiration from others should never be underrated.

Through this blog, I have been contacted by more than a few heart surgery survivors, intrigued to know what is possible, how I dealt with recovery and what I feel like now. My story is shared by a few (see www.Ironheartracing.com ) and sharing the motivation to achieve athletically after this experience only spurs me on further. I might have a long scar on my chest that I’m still not comfortable with but being part of this special club makes it worth while.

What have I learnt in the last year? The importance of having a goal, that is regularly reviewed or updated. This is the thing that pushes you out of the door on a cold, dark, windy and rainy morning! It’s also the reason you make sure you have time to work towards your target. My goal is the reason many look at me and say ‘You?’ ‘Are you mad?’  The answer is, yes. Quite probably. But I am committed, happy and am out there to prove that I can do this!

My goal: Ironman!

Vitruvian Half Ironman – Half Way There!

7 Sep

Saturday 3rd September was a date ingrained in my mind since the middle of January. Having set my mind on a year full of races, entering Vitruvian middle distance triathlon seemed a sensible idea and long enough away to not evoke panic! A friend had finished the race in 2010 and fully recommended it, despite giving me horror stories of weeds in the lake and cyclists being disqualified on the bike. A brief discussion on Twitter finalised my decision.

2011 has been a busy year for everything in my life! From half marathon and marathon training over the winter months, to 4 olympic triathlons, I had a race every single month! Work has been insane, feels like I have been making up for having 6 months off last year!

As the date approached, I finally felt ready for the race although facing the idea of half ironman distances is always going to induce butterflies! The week leading up to the race was extremely busy and I made the registration by only 15 minutes on the Friday! A strange calmness overtook me, not at all normal for me pre-race. When the alarm went off at 4am, I was so excited. Today was the day I had been waiting 9 months for!

Arriving at Rutland water in the dark was a surreal experience. I looked around me at other triathletes faffing with bikes, equipment and looking very nervous. After meeting up with friend Claire, we headed for banks of the lake to watch the various waves of male swimmers go off. The two mums were excitable too, finding it impossible to not to be affected by the electric atmosphere. I recognised lots of woman from my previous races and was tapped on the shoulder by many a twitter triathlete! Minutes before I about the get in the water, my dad turned up! It was great to have him there as well and a real surprise.

I briefed my supporters on my expected times, gave them a quick hug then went into the murky water to acclimatise. Others seemed worried but I felt right at home. I stuck to quite near the front of the group, but at the side. As soon as the start gun went off, I went for it. Getting kicked and punched is all part of a mass swim start and I found it very reassuring that I wasn’t getting left behind! I surprised myself by feeling strong all the way round. I was quicker than expected, so much so that my parents were still having coffee when I finished my first lap and briefly entered the lake before heading back in for lap 2.

Headed for transition, my dad shouted at me that I had done 45 minutes for the swim! That spurred me on for the next stage. After a bit of faffing, I got on my bike and headed on on the 52 mile course. I soon arrived at the famous Rutland Ripple, a long drag of a hill which reduced some riders to getting off and walking. At this stage, I was grateful of my training in the VERY hilly Purbecks. Some guys joked that I better not ‘chick’ them, well guess what, I did! I loved the challenge of overtaking, maintaining a good speed and feeling strong. My dad kept driving between locations around the course, shouting words of encouragements and taking lots of photos!

My aim on the bike was not to feel as though I wanted to get it over with. I achieved this as near the end of the second lap, a woman ahead of me shouted back that she couldn’t wait to get onto the run. I didn’t feel the same, if I really had to carry on for another lap, I would have done! Back in transition, I did actually start to look forward to the run. Every triathlete likes to discuss their strongest and weakest discipline. Mine is not that clear cut, whilst I have done more running than anything else, I wouldn’t say that I am a particularly strong runner. I love all 3 disciplines the same!

The run at the Vit is a two lap course, across a windy dam and around a lake. By the time I started on the run, I had been out for over 4 hours. The thought the some competitors had finished by then was unimaginable! I enjoyed seeing people I knew on the run and I tried to encourage others around me who appeared to be struggling. I kept looking down at my watch and realised the aim I had in my mind was more the achievable. As I approached the last part of the run, it all started to feel real.

14 months since my heart surgery, I finished Vitruvian in 6 hours 37. Without my knowledge, my boyfriend’s mum went to speak to the organisers and informed them of my ‘story’. As I approached the finishing chute and after looking at my watch, I was already a little bit emotional. No tears, just an appreciation that my body had allowed me to get this far and proud of what I had achieved this year. Over the microphone as I finished, I heard the words ‘Corinne Ellison you are a Vitruvian!’. The woman then went on to tell the crowds that just over  a year ago I’d had open heart surgery. This prompted the medal-givers to give me extra fuss – queue the tears! At the end, I soon met up with my mum, boyfriend’s mum and lovely friends from twitter, Claire and Lee. I don’t normally cry that much but I was off!

For the rest of the day, I was buzzing and couldn’t get over what had just happened. The support I have had from friends was incredible and I have a lot of people to thank.

So, I am now half way on my journey – from heart surgery to Ironman!

London Triathlon 2011

1 Aug

London Triathlon 2011

London Triathlon 2011Sunday 31st July was a date which evoked mixed feelings for me. Part of me was sensibly thinking withdraw from the London Triathlon. Whilst I have been training, that weekend was crazily busy with work. I would be away for two days before the race and the night before, I’d get 2 hours sleep. Crazy? Yes. Do-able? Yes.

All 3 triathlons so far this year have been with 45 mins – 2 hours sleep. Work means I have to work late every Friday and Saturday night, as well as Sundays sometimes! This schedule and a desire to take part in triathlons don’t make the best partnership!

However, I have this passion for achieving the seemingly impossible. The bigger the challenge, the more I want to do it. Pushing your body to the limit isn’t always advisable but it is satisfying! When you love triathlon, you will happily get up at 5am on a Sunday and get into lycra, a wetsuit, a very unflattering swim hat and goggles, following by jumping into cold, murky water. Why not take sleep out of the equation? :)

Joking aside, my nerves where at an all-time high. The London Triathlon is the biggest. It’s overwhelming but exhilarating. Fellow competitors chatted to me and by the time I was in the water, I was laughing my head off and completely ready to go.

This triathlon was a race I had deferred from last year when I had my heart surgery. For this reason, it was kind of special. I just had to do it, no matter what. With perfect timing, my Ironheart Racing tri-kit had arrived. Check out www.ironheartracing.com for inspiration from athletes who have gone through heart surgery or are raising awareness of congenital heart defects. London was my turn to wear the kit and be proud of where I have got to in the last year. I also spend a large portion of the racing thinking about those that cannot exercise as they’d like to as a result of their heart condition. I count myself very lucky.

The race itself had many good points. I enjoyed the busy swim, despite a lot of kicks and punches! I got a PB of 42 mins. The run also went well and I finished in another best time of 55 mins. I met up with a few friends on the day which was great. Damon dutifully took pics all day! On the bike, I somehow missed a short lap on the bike, meaning I was disqualified. I was gutted but was determined to finish in good spirits.

Every race I do, I learn more and more. About triathlon, about pushing your body further and about how much I love this sport!

Next step, last olympic distance of the summer, half ironman in 5 weeks then it’s all about the Ironman!

Heart Surgery to Ironman – Austria, The Next Step!

20 Jul

Just over a year after my heart surgery and soon after the Bournemouth triathlon, I did something brave/stupid/controversial – entered Ironman Austria 2012!

Those close to me know that in the last few years I always wanted to complete an Ironman. So the timing was right, I had my races planned in this year and I just wanted to go for it! A scary feeling but also very exciting. I was very aware of what lies ahead!

My reasons for entering:

Having being told I wouldn’t have made 40 without major surgery, I want to experience the biggest challenge.

I love triathlon! It makes me feel alive, appreciate being healthy, makes me get outside in all weathers and enjoy the fresh air!

I am best when I have a goal or a deadline.

Along the way, I hope to both inspire others to take-up an active lifestyle and raise awareness of adult congenital heart defects.

Between now and the 1st July 2012, I have a long way to go physically, but psychologically I am prepared for the challenge and can’t wait!

Bournemouth Race Report – One Year On

4 Jul

The year anniversary of my heart surgery was 23rd June. The day came and passed without much occasion. The following day, I went to the hospital alone to speak to the consultant. With my Ironman plans becoming more real, I wanted to be absolutely sure that all was ok inside! An ultrasound, ECG and examination confirmed the ticker is good as new and normal sized. I made sure the doctor understood what I am about to undertake and I was relieved to hear a non-hesitant ‘Yes’!

I wandered past the cardio-thoracic ITU and felt a funny feeling that I couldn’t put my finger on. I’d almost forgotten about that week in hospital and it was strange to walk around there one year on.

Today I raced the Bournemouth olympic distance triathlon, a race I first did in 2009. My expectations weren’t high after missing a lot of training recently due to crazy work schedules and the fact that I didn’t actually get to bed on the two nights preceeding the race!

A 7am start meant I had time to catch up with friends from the tri club and twitter before heading down to the water. I felt a little shaky with nerves beforehand but nothing too spectular. Getting to the sea with a large mixed wave was fun, lots of running and splashing! I held back to let most of the pack go before timidly starting swimming. Soon, I settled into my stroke and felt strong. My goggles started to leak and I had to tread water a couple of times to empty and re-adjust. During these short stops, I managed to lose most of the group. Heading to the first buoy, I could only see 3 or 4 other swimmers ahead. The rectangle course meant that on the last 750m, we were swimming directly into the sun. The combination of non-tinted, leaking goggles and blazing sun meant sighting the last buoy was very difficult! By this point, there was only one swimmer around me and I struggled to stay with them. Soon, the next wave of swimmers overtook me and I was caught up in a mass of hands and feet! Finally exiting the water after 43 minutes, I felt drained. A run up the beach was challenging!

Onto the bike, I struggled to get clipped into my new pedals quickly enough on the main road. A bus made it’s way behind me and made the pressure even worse. Once off, I was fine and got on with the 25 mile course. As I was tired, I felt cold but pushed as much as I could. There were no women in sight! One by one, male athletes overtook me and I made it my mission to catch them up. Man with blue shoes, Cervelo boy; I named them to keep my mind distracted from my hurting legs! The busy main road of the course meant we were always in danger and unfortunately one guy got hit. I was determined to stay safe and concentrated on getting back as soon as I could. I finished in 1:33, 3 minutes slower than my 09 time.

Once of the bike, I downed some water and headed off onto the run. The morning had heated up by now and the beach was packed! I found that my legs were running ok but just slowly! No jelly legs but I could not get up any speed. I was motivated to run as fast as I could, had taken on fluids and gels with caffeine but it appeared my body would not allow that last push. Friends along the course cheered me on which was great, but still I had no energy. Once I hit the half way point on the run, I thought it would be downhill from there. The last 5k seems to go on and on! My run was a slow 1:03. I felt disappointed but I have never been so glad to finish a race.

Positives: I’m alive, well and injury free! I have the ability to exercise and take part in amazing races. I finished the course despite having no sleep. Seeing friends along the way was brilliant and I felt so well supported. The race has spurred me on to train harder. 3:24 is a 6 min PB! On year on, I am lucky to be at this stage.

What have I learnt? I need new goggles! Doing the London triathlon at the end of the month might not be an option as I will be unable to sleep beforehand and that doesn’t make for a pleasant experience. Sleep is very important! I need to work on swimming faster. Try not to let work consume ALL my time, as improving at triathlon is important to me.

Tomorrow is Ironman entry day…. !

Heart Surgery to Ironman – Spring Training

8 Jun

The main reason for this blog is recording my journey from having heart surgery last year all the way though to completing an Ironman race so here is my latest update! After completing the London marathon in April, my training took on a triathlon flavour! My first race of the season was the New Forest triathlon – an (nearly) olympic distance race. This was my third triathlon, with the last race being nearly 2 years ago.

Previous to this race, I’d had limited time on the bike, only a few sessions in the pool but plenty of time on my feet! For that reason, I took it steadily in the lake swim and exited the water feeling fresh. On the bike, I loved cycling through the beautiful New Forest. The scenery was stunning and although the wind was up, it was a steady ride. Onto the run, I felt a little challenged by some of the ‘undulating’ course, but finished the second half of the 10k on a high and even managed a sprint finish!

A year ago, completed a triathlon seemed a long way away. Getting back to a previous level of fitness was a goal to keep me motivated. Now I feel I have achieved that and am headed towards new levels of fitness! With a new and improved heart, breathing feels easier, post exercise tiredness is now what I’d call ‘normal’ and the hideous blue / purpleness has gone!

All was going well with training, despite work being so busy. If racing meant only having two hours sleep, then I did it! Missing a session was not an option, even if I was excessively tired. Keep going, keep pushing, I kept repeating to myself. If you are going to attempt an Ironman, you have to get used to tiredness, pain and pyschological challenges.

What I forgot to do amongst all this was take time off. This resulted in a small burn-out, loss of rational thinking, being unable to get up in the mornings. Small decisions became high mountains to climb. A holiday (was well as regular days off) was needed. So we did, and headed off to Dubai for 10 days.

On our return, work was even worse and sheer determination has kept me ticking over with training. I now have an amazing coach, who is really helping with my training , opening my mind to pushing myself further and taking the headache out of planning sessions. I am so excited about the future and planning my Ironman. There is so much choice with races and as you have to apply a year in advance, the clock is ticking! Favourites are the moment are Austria, Florida or the new IM NYC!

Decision to be announced soon!

From Heart Surgery to A Marathon – London 2011

22 Apr

After a super busy week coaching, recovering and working,  it is now time to reflect on my long-awaited marathon last Sunday!

The Virgin London Marathon 2011 was, for many reasons, one of those life changing events for me. In October 2009, I was over the moon at receiving a place in the ballot. After lots of previous fundraising, I was almost glad to be relieved of the pressure of badgering friends, family and strangers for donations. My focus was purely on the challenging, improving my running and tackling my fourth marathon. Finding out about my place for VLM came only a month after I had completed the Berlin marathon in 4:41. I had been disappointed with this time and was determined to do better.

Training began well as I kept up my running fitness and joined the local triathlon club (www.zoomtri.com). Most of you reading will know the rest of the story: start of heart-related symptoms, tests and eventual diagnosis of an atrial septal defect in January 2010. Deferring my place for VLM was one of the most difficult parts of the whole experience. My fear was that I would never be able to run a marathon again.

After my heart surgery, my focus was once again firmly on the 26.2 miles round London. During the tough runs, rain and snow, my visualisation technique was lying in my hospital bed feeling frustrated. Remembering the pain of a broken sternum and stitched up heart meant a few interval sessions seemed easy!

As the day approached, nerves set in. My shin splints saga meant I had 4 less than desirable weeks training. I knew that prior to that my training had been more than adequate and I was mentally feeling strong! A busy lead up to the day meant my mind was occupied but I still had chance to go through some race day strategies. My mantra was ‘run tall, race strong’. Tall to stop me slumping when tired, strong to feel powerful and continue my race pace.

This year was my first time at Blackheath and the blue start. I loved it! Despite being a little cramped in Pen 5, the atmosphere was electric. I had my iPod with me for the tough times, but found I hardly needed it. After a slow start until mile 3, I soon settled into my pace. Managing to see my family at mile 9, 19 and 23 really helped. A school friend randomly shouted my name from the crowds which was an unexpected boost!

I passed halfway in 2:03, a little behind but still feeling good. The weariness started to kick in around mile 17. Soon after this, a Twitter friend Tim – @IronmanTD2011 appeared! After chatting for a couple of miles, I felt revitalised and ready to tackle the remaining 10k. Determination kept me going even when I felt a little dizzy at mile 23, remember what I have been through in the last 18 months made me dig in at run faster than ever! I finished strong, happy and feeling that I had given my all.

It was my ultimate aim to go sub 4 hours, and I still think I have this in me! 4:12:55 was more than good enough for this year and I beamed with pride at the finish line. I have been overwhelmed by support from all my family, friends and Twitter army! Thankyou to all who have donated to www.justgiving.com/CorinneEllison4GUCH, listened to my wobbles, given great advice and been an amazing source of support. Special thanks go to Damon, for letting me take time off from our busy life and photo booth hire business to train for the marathon, for always supporting me. Also, to my mum for being the most enthusiastic supporter at each and every marathon. Thankyou to my sponsors – ellasport. For the beautiful kit and all the support along the way! On Twitter, thankyou to Neil @GartsVLM2012, Jason @davmort, Kim @kimingleby, Nick @wombatsVLM, Claire @Claired0 and Candice @caliwi. @IronmanInTrng – we share the same unique journey and your support has been the best. You are all amazing.

SO….what next? With a full season of triathlons kicking off next week, I thought I would be satisfied. But guess what, I need to do another 26.2 – hopefully London 2012! Whilst I have been through my fair share of hurdles and low points in the last 18 months, I know there are many others with a congenital heart defect who are unable to run a marathon. I am the lucky one. My aim is to give people hope that with determination and passion, anything is possible. Whether a jog round the park, or a marathon, exercising when living with a heart condition is a great achievement. 10 months after open heart surgery, I managed to achieve my goal of running one of the biggest marathons in the world. What an incredible experience to share with 35,000 other runners.

Next year will be my year to go long. My journey to Ironman draws even closer – my biggest challenge yet!

Shin Splints Saga

25 Mar

Last week, I was diagnosed with shin splints – 4 weeks before my London marathon! The week previously I had run exactly as planned, 5 times, mixture of intervals, different paces and ending in a 19.5 slow run. Two days later I attempted a club hill session which resulted in a strange pain in my lower legs. I thought I had been working too hard and maybe pulled a calf muscle.

A trip to the physio the next day brought the news. Shin splints! How can this be? I’d had new trainers around 3 weeks before, had sports massages, always stretched, gradually increased mileage. I was in shock and felt quite emotional. Since my diagnosis of with a hole in the heart last January, I had this fixation with running the London marathon once more. I was forced to defer my place from 2010 and throughout my recovery from heart surgery, my driving force was VLM!

I began running in September last year, 8 weeks after surgery. Very slowly I increased both distance and speed. By January, I was able to stick to a sub 4 hour training plan and ran 5 times a week. My speed was at a level I could never have dreamt of before my surgery. As the weeks ticked on, I felt stronger and more confident of achieving an all time best performance.

My injury occured 12 weeks into my schedule. With 4 weeks to go, decisions had to be made. If I am to get though the marathon and really go for it, I have to cut back the running and allow my shins to heal. There is no way in the world I would miss the 17th April – I have put so much time and energy into achieving this goal.

In the last week and a half, I have thrown myself into cross training and have loved it! Had some amazing bike rides, feeling strong and enjoyed being back in the pool. Now, when I am able run  I appreciate it even more.

My plan for the next 3 weeks is:

Run on alternate days (3 times a week), some short and faster, some longer and slower. No more long runs or hills :(

Cycle twice a week, including a long ride at the weekend.

Swim twice a week.

Gym for strength work once a week.

This should keep up my fitness and keep the legs ticking over until the big day! Wish me luck!

If anyone would like to sponsor me for the marathon, please check out my Justgiving page at: www.justgiving.com/corinneellison4GUCH