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Planning A Heartfelt 2014

30 Dec

A distinct lack of a blog can only mean one thing – a lack of positive topics to write about!

Following on from my last blog,  I’ll share a little of what’s happened with my heart and beyond that, how I expect things to change in 2014!

At the beginning of November, I went to see my cardiologist for a series of tests to find out what kind of condition my heart was in. I knew it was in no state for any long distance races or endurance training but there was a big question mark over how ‘gentle’ my exercising needed to be (note the change of wording, I no longer ‘train’!). I explained to the cardiologist that I had listened to what he had said previously and stuck to light exercise. This for me had meant short swims which slowly had got down to 500 – 750m. Chest pain and breathlessness had ruled out running and cycling. Even with easy short swims, I still didn’t feel great. I was feeling dizzy after any exertion which began to worry me.

I had the same set of tests as I had before, an echocardiogram and exercise tolerance test on treadmill, in which I had to stop and lie down as my blood pressure dropped. My echo looked ok, but I was asked to have an MRI to rule out anything sinister with my coronary arteries. Two attempts later and after 6 needles, a horrendous injection of Adenosine to speed up my heart, all was confirmed as normal. Lastly, I had a 24 hour tape when I had to try and bring on my symptoms whilst wired up to electrodes.

After the tests, I was left with reassuring results but a big question mark still lingering. In this situation I should be grateful that after all I have put my heart through, that it is still pumping efficiently! I am left with a series of symptoms that I am learning to live with, that aren’t particularly pleasant but could be much worse.

I was recently reading up on the five stage grief process for an NVQ assignment. By no means am I comparing my experience this year of having to stop training for Ironman and triathlon races to the grief of losing a loved one, but the process of handling a difficult situation I can relate to.

Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance.

In May I was certainly in the denial stage, when I first was told that I needed to stop the long distance stuff. I carried on training regardless, without admitting to myself or others that I was.

Anger is something I have felt at some times. I haven’t been the easiest person to live with (and for that Liam Pryer deserves a medal!).

I see my bargaining stages as the later part of November onwards, when I joined the local swim on a 6 week membership and stuck religiously to 2 short swims and 2 light gym sessions a week. This meant that if I went easy on my heart, it might get better and somehow allow me to do more!

Depression. Hmmm, well nobody likes admitting to feeling depressed, stressed, low or whatever. But there have honestly been times when I have felt so sad about having to give up something I love so much. I have missed going outside and losing myself in some empty lanes or fields, enjoying the quiet, fresh air and feeling of satisfaction. I have continued to avoid the subject of triathlon, situations and people that I associate with sport as it has just been too hard.

Acceptance. I think (*I hope*) I am there now. Others might argue that because I’m not my usual positive self but deep down I know that tri, marathons and Ironman have had their time. There will be something to fill that hole (and not marriage and babies please people!), I need to feel I am achieving great things outside a relationship, outside having fun with my friends, outside my career goals. I really am trying to fill that hole; writing a book is still going, albeit slowly!

I’ve always been one for new years resolutions, and annoyingly bug others about doing it too. After a sluggish Christmas period, I love how January gives you the feeling of a fresh start, similar to starting a new school year in September.

2014 for me means this:

  • Positively accepting I need to be nice to my heart, forever.
  • I want to be involved with triathlon and the best supporter out there.
  • Learning to feel good about myself even without the buzz of hard exercise!
  • Trying to help others appreciate the benefits of exercise.
  • Absolutely not allow any of the following: bingo wings, muffin tops, pot bellies (GYM!)

This is the recipe for my perfect 2014. Heartfelt of course.

:)

The New Sensible and Responsible Corinne…!

11 Oct

It’s almost 6 months since I visited my cardiologist and received news that my planned season of triathlon was not to be. One by one I cancelled my races in 2013, feeling the financial pain of the situation as well as the physical! Watching all the races was fun but each piece took a little piece away from me. Being honest, I had to almost switch off and ignore anything to do with Roth in July, as pulling out of that hurt so much – hence the holiday to Greece!

After seeing the specialist, I made an effort to reduce my training down, in volume and intensity, incorporating some yoga and gym work to keep me busy. But soon the lore of triathlon was back as I entered a local sprint tri in August. My training was back up to doing two sessions of each discipline every week. A few faster runs, an extra mile or two per hour on the bike, and regular sea swims. All of a sudden, and not surprisingly the chest pain returned – warning signs to slow down. I felt annoyed and frustrated, I was only training for a slow ‘sprint’  and my body couldn’t even manage that??

Those close to me asked me to stop training. I was running myself down and being grumpy most of the time! Letting go of such a big part of your time takes time and a great deal of patience – certainly not my forte!

I’m back to see my cardiologist in two weeks, fully expecting to be told off and given what for, again. I’ve learnt my lesson this time and this dodgy heart of mine is only going to get TLC from now on! Since my surgery 3 years ago, I have completed 3 half marathons, 2 marathons, several 5 and 10k’s, probably 10 Olympic distance tris, 4 half ironman and obviously Ironman Austria. Even though I was told my heart would be as good as new (maybe incorrectly), I don’t think the doctors could have predicted I’d go on to do all that!

Deep down, I felt invincible after my op, like it was a second chance to do whatever I wanted. In a way that’s why I’m not finding it hard to let go or give in. I feel cheated of all the things I still wanted to do and have a feeling that I have much more to give.

Having said that, I think I’ve finally accepted that tri is off the agenda, at least for the foreseeable future. I can’t trust myself to train sensibly so I’m better to have an almost complete break. As to running events next year, I still have hope but we’ll see. Ultimately, there is life outside of triathlon (shock horror). I have so much to look forward to and be grateful for, being selfish is just not an option.

Breaking my toe last week I’ve been told is a godsend, actually forcing me into resting. You may still catch me occasionally sneaking a few lengths in, eagerly pacing around the beach or lifting some weights in the gym, but that’s it.

Here is the new sensible and responsible Corinne. The one who puts health and the future first, not merely thinking of the here and now or giving in to the dreaded training guilt.

Just keep me away from the apple crumble please!

Take A Step

13 Nov

www.takeachallenge.org recently posted a photo with the following phrase: The first step is the hardest – take a step. This really struck a chord with me, especially as that day I had found the diary I kept for my rehabilitation after heart surgery. Each step then was a huge challenge, starting with a walk around the ward. I was told to walk every day and slowly increase the distance. Determination to improve, get better, become fitter and feel ‘normal’ again were the motivating factors.

But what if you lack the motivation to exercise, to take the first step? Or if you have previously had motivation but somehow lost it, what can you do? My personal drive is to focus on a very specific goal, be that a big race, a specific target such as my 6 miles in 60 minutes run goal after my surgery, or a dress to wear in Las Vegas :) If you lose sight of the reasons for wanting to achieve, chances are you won’t see it through.

When I have experienced low points, I have had to remind myself of the importance of health and fitness. I recently had a humbling experience when I went to see a sports cardiologist. Not satisfied with the input I received from the NHS, I sought out a specialist who understood why we do sport. I wanted to get an honest opinion from a professional about how safe it is to continue with training for Ironman, when you have or have had a heart condition.

Whilst there, I had a full set of tests to determine both the state of my heart and my fitness levels. The results were quite pleasing, however, the cardiologist sat me down and literally asked me how many marathons or ironmans I wanted to do. I found that hard to answer but was honest and said I’d like to do as many as possible! He explained that that wasn’t a great idea long term, that my heart as a muscle will never be perfect again and will likely tire if I continue with these endurance events. He also told me that I shouldn’t ever hope to be competitive or go for ‘fast’ times. This conversation was humbling because it put into perspective mortality, health and the reality of living with a heart condition (even if it is ‘better’).

My second method of motivation is thinking of those less fortunate than myself, those who can’t exercise for whatever reason. The consultant I saw does a lot of work with the CRY charity – cardiac risk in the young. With many stories of athletes and non-sporty people who have dropped down dead from an undiagnosed heart condition, how can you not appreciate your own health? This is just a subject close to me, but I believe everyone could relate to a cause or health condition that might have affected a family member or friend.

A friend said the following to me recently: “The ONLY reason I “came back” was to complete an IM.  While there is a lot of other good stuff about life that I appreciate, the dumb IM is the mountain I wanted to climb, and quite frankly, I didn’t much care if it killed me to try since one cant ask for much more than to be living life on the path you want to be on, rather than a path everyone else thinks your life should be on.”   Without realising, I was of a very similar thought process. Before completing Austria, it was my overwhelming goal, to finish, to achieve what I had set out to do. To be completely honest, there isn’t much that could have stopped me finishing that day. It meant that much to me. But on completing my goal, is it realistic to continue to pursue it again, over and over? This was my reason for seeking out a specialist, one who actively promotes sport, is passionate about it and has a desire to help athletes overcome physical obstacles.

When he told me that ironman is not for me forever, I had a sad moment. I thought of all the joy training brings, the build up to the day and the race itself. The experience was the most positive one in my life so I had been keen to continue getting that feeling. The cardiologist then went on to discuss the possibilites of my races in 2013. With the go ahead for 2 iron distance races next year, my sad moment turned into exhilaration. So what if I can’t race forever, I will just enjoy the time I do have and will spend it doing what I love – Ironman!!

 

 

 

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

Heart Surgery To Ironman – The Next Chapter

3 Jan

So then new year has finally arrived – for me, 2011 signals the continuation on a journey to the ultimate physical and mental challenge of an Ironman. Reminiscing about 2010 today has made me realise the strength I gained from a trying year inspite of the obstacle of being diagnosed with a heart condition. The experience has made me even more grateful for the ability to exercise and the excitement of entering races to push my physical boundaries.

I started 2010 bursting with enthusiasm for exercise and had entered many races; running and triathlon. I was enjoying being part of the local triathlon club, had huge plans for new business and generally felt great…apart from a few nagging symptoms. I had been to see my doctor on new year’s eve as something told me that was a serious condition underlying. Lucky that I did as 2 weeks later, I was diagnosed with a hole in the heart. On new year’s day 2011, I sat discussing that year that has passed and tried to pinpoint the positive parts that stood out. I identified moving house, employing a first member of staff, enjoying having family over in the summer, signing up to a coaching course. I was a little sad to not have achieved the sporting and business aims I had set out in January 2010.

Aims from last year are now being carried over to 2011, with an added few, including a half Ironman in September. My journey to Ironman is not only following heart surgery but  also as a novice triathlete. I had just a year of training in the 3 disciplines before doctors told me to stop all exercise. This was a frustrating time, leaving me feeling helpless. My focus on the future kept me going, as it does now. When I lack the motivation to run, bike or swim, I imagine myself back in the hospital speaking to the consultant who told me my heart was failing. The previous day I had run 16 miles!

Speaking of heart failure, my grandfather has recently been diagnosed with this condition after a history of angina, heart attacks and coronary artery bypasses. We share stories of scans and consultant visits , laughing about the similarities. Coronary heart disease is all around and this makes me passionate about spreading the message about the importance of a healthy lifestyle. The cardiac history in my family has always been a concern to me, and maybe was one of the reasons I started running regularly. When studying to be a nurse, I chose to write  my dissertation on cardiac rehabilitation and found it amusing that I ended up attending these classes myself, age 27!

Now that 2011 is here, the long term goal of an Ironman in 2012 feels that much closer. I just can’t wait!!

Happy New Year! :)

December Goals

1 Dec

Two and a bit weeks since my last post, my excuse? Life, work, stress… all reasons that prevent us from taking action towards important goals. I guess I have felt overwhelmed with urgent tasks involved with my business which resulted in November being largely unsuccessful. Yes I have earnt money, run a few times, been to the gym, seen a friend, written an article…. Ok, maybe unsuccessful is an unfair assessment. Urgent tasks persuade us away from the difficult jobs, such as finding time to write blogs, speak to that person or work towards a short term goal.

My lack of a November goal has had a huge impact on my exercise. I have lacked motivation to get out running regularly. My knees have started complaining when I did go out and I am seeing a chiropractor to get the aches nipped in the bud.

Business is so busy, I am working at least 12 hours a day when in the office and around 16 hour days when out at events (3 times a week). I am now very behind in my ‘to do’ list!

All in all, I just can’t wait until Christmas when I can stop and take stock. A recent email from a correspondent in the US made me stop my complaining and consider all that has gone well recently. Thanksgiving in America sounds a great idea to me. In the UK, we love to moan about the weather, the economy, the recession and anything else that depresses us. The power of gratitude is overwhelming. Comparing my life to others less fortunate, less healthy, really helped me gain perspective on my perceived problems.

Already, I am finding excuses about committing to a December goal. I am tempted to fall into the common trap of delaying action, until next month ‘when things have settled down’ or ‘when I am more financially stable’. Learning from November, I refuse to go goal-less again.

My December goals will be:

To complete my first module of reading for my coaching course

To get to the gym for core / strength training at least once a week

Complete a turbo trainer session at least once a week

Week Two Recovery

7 Jul

I have now been home a week and getting better by the day! After a major operation, my ‘little book’ of common problems suggests it is normal to feel emotional for up to 3 months. I can certainly vouch for the emotions! Luckily, I am constantly surrounded with people who lift my spirit and keep me positive. It is all too easy to succumb to a gloomy stance of self-pity. Daily activities and long term visions are what keep me going through the boredom. Reflection has also played a large part of my recovery, as I have been dissecting my stay in hospital, the care given by the NHS and the good/bad points.  I have now drawn a line under that experience and am determined to move on with my recovery.

Many have asked me about my scar, a long straight scar down the middle of my sternum. To me, it is a symbol of what I have been through. I am proud of my scar and certainly don’t feel any need to hide it. ‘Aren’t you concerned about it fading, as a young women?’ nurses asked me. My reply was the same as before the operation when I opted for a straight scar as opposed to a horizontal scar which can be hidden more easily; the scar is the byproduct of the surgery that will improve my quality of life. Without the hole in my heart being closed, my ability to exercise was severely limited. My dreams of completing another marathon and gaining more experience in triathlon were unachievable. Now, with my thin, fading scar there is no reason why I can’t get back to my beloved training.

The second week at home has brought with with it frustration. Frustration at not being able to open doors, change position easily or walk as far as I’d like. Eagerness to progress seems healthy but I can’t let my frustrations lead me into doing too much. This week is still early days in my recovery, whilst my breast bone is healing and my heart settles down. Every so often, the fact that I had open heart surgery hits me and forces me to retire to the sofa with my feet up!  I have at least another 7 weeks before I can return to my office based work and 11 weeks until I can physically get cracking i.e. starting swimming, running and cycling. Can’t wait!

To anyone going through a similar time, my advice is the old cliche ‘patience is a virtue’!

Week One Recovery

3 Jul

After a long week in hospital, I am finally back home and happy to be feeling better by the day. Heart surgery took more out of me (and my family) than I expected. Pyschologically I took a knocking, by way of loss of confidence in the concept that I would ever get back to the same level of fitness. During my stay, I battled with post-operative pain and nausea which resulted in a 10lb weight loss. Not good when you need energy to recover! I struggled to keep my head focused on the long-term benefits of my surgery and I found it all too easy to concentrate on my latest symptom.

Positives included the surgeon and anaesthetist assuring me that I would not only be able to attempt the London marathon in April, but may even knock an hour off my best time! This cheered me up no end. Anything is possible, my family reminded me regularly, anxious for me to stay upbeat. My thoughts drifted back to ‘The Secret’ and ‘what you think about, you bring about.’ Enough with being sick, laid in bed and discharge date being postponed. What I needed as a hospital patient was to be able to visualise being well, painfree and at home in my own environment.

Now back at home, my recovery has come on in leap and bounds. Today I completed my first outdoor walk, a whole 7 minutes! I assure myself that little and often will pave the way for my running again, and eventually the start of marathon training. Once my sternum has healed, I will be able to get back on my bike and back in the sea / pool again – something that thrills me.

My thankyou list:

2010 may have been the year to focus on my health and to take stock. There is no point rushing into planning races, other than next year. Above all, I am grateful for the support of my family, so many of my friends and neighbours. I am also thankful for posts from women on a health forum who have gone through the same procedure.

I class this as week one of my recovery and the first week of 10 months of steady training towards 26.2 miles!

Spring Clean Your Life

11 Apr

With the joys of Spring all around and the whiff of Summer oh-s0-close, it’s easy to get carried away with thoughts of holidays, lazy days in the sun and wishing time away until your next day off.

This time of year is the best time to spring clean your life. Start with your mind. I wrote a list of goals for 2010 on the 1st January and every month, I revisit this list, re-evaluate and reconsider. My life style has changed dramatically in the last few months, and hence my goals for the year have altered.

If any obstacles present themselves through out the year, it’s not time to sling in the towel and give up the fight. It’s time to take action and kick start the fire you felt in January when setting new year resolutions with passion. The example in my life is my health, my heart problem and the impact that has had on my ability to work and exercise. Since the deterioration of my health, I have actively taken steps to make positive changes in my life. These have included: attending a personal coaching course, spending time with friends and family, moving to a more suitable property for our lifestyle and business, employing a new member of staff and finding new enthusiasm about getting better as quickly as possible.

To spring clean your life, sit down and analysis where you have come in the first 3 months of this year. Where you want to be in 3 months, 6 months and by the end of December? How will you take steps to reach these goals ( adding in positive actions)? What can you remove from your life that is hindering you in some way? This may be removing yourself from difficult family member, non-helpful friend, seeking helping to change a negative mindset about a certain aspect of your life e.g. work stress, exercise or a relationship problem. Indulge yourself with some counselling, coaching, yoga or find a partner to take up a new hobby. April is perfect for getting out and blowing away the cobwebs of the British winter.

Dust off your pride, clean out the cupboards within your mind and give your body a blast to set you up for a wonderful 2010!

Keyboard of Positivity

19 Mar

The Keyboard of Positivity

Earlier today I made a flippant comment about how I wish I could press a button to ‘refresh’ people and make them rethink some negative comments. After this, I came up with a concept of using different ‘buttons’ on a keyboard to banish unwanted or negative thoughts.

Consider the following buttons found on the standard computer keyboard:

Refresh
Control key
Tab
Space bar
Backspace
Return
Caps lock
Escape

We can learn to associate each of these keyboard ‘buttons’ (amongst others) with certain activities that will help you implement positive thoughts.

Here are some examples:

Press ‘Refresh’ when work is getting on top of you –  associate this button with 10 minutes of yoga or an activity which relaxes your body whilst meditating your mind.

Press ‘Control’ to control feelings of hunger, shopping or nicotine cravings, by distraction therapy such as playing with a pet, writing a diary.

Feeling lazy? Not motivated to attend a planned exercise class, press ‘Tab‘ and spend 15 minutes  slowly counting to ten to regain your focus  or reason for wanting to keep fit.

Use ‘Space bar’ – take yourself physically away from a person that is irritating or upsetting you.

Backspace’ – apologise for something you said or did that you didn’t mean. Avoid angering or upsetting others, by taking back an action or hurtful words.

Unable to gain perspective on a current problem or are you overrun with negative emotions? ‘Return’ – return to a happy memory, with a person you love, a holiday destination,  a happy time in your life. Remember to lock these memories as they happen. Positive thoughts are much stronger than negative. ones

Having a disagreement with someone? Press ‘Caps lock’ to stand up for yourself and your beliefs. If anyone attempts to bring you down, stand true to yourself and protect yourself against unconstructive criticism.

Escape’ – if all the above fails, ave a back-up plan to remove yourself from your current situation. Have a weekend away planned, a spa day, massage, gym session with a friend – anything that helps you escape an overwhelming situation. Come back to the situation relaxed and rested, with a new focus.

Regular pratice of a variety of coping techniques can build up your confidence to cope with whatever difficult situations life throws at you. Every technique takes time to learn. Compare the above ‘buttons’ with learning and then perfecting a swimming stroke.  At first, you may believe the stroke is impossible to master. You learn the basics and, with practice, your technique slowly improves. Practice everyday and you can become a master, having the ability to call on coping strategies in any situation.

Without realising it, this is something I have been practising over the last few months. I can honestly say I have never felt so positive, despite many recent setbacks. Try it!