Saturday, 28 February 2009

Springtime or something like it...

During each of my winters in England I would convince myself that once February was over it was officially  springtime. With that logic the days should be longer, the weather should  be warmer and my training should become more pleasant and hopefully more focused too. Of course I was merely lying to myself, tricking my brain into thinking that, hey, it's not that bad, spring is just round the corner.

Well, now in Greece, I have more reason to hope. First day of spring tomorrow and already I can smell spring. The blossom is out, wildflowers have started to put colour on the mountain side and the days are already longer - it is no longer dark when I get up in the morning and I can still ride well past 6 o'clock in the evening. 

Spring brings hope and this time more than before. Two years ago next week was the day I first got injured - the first sleepless night after a long run. Last year this week I was lost - no hope of getting better as my condition was worsening, left undiagnosed. 

But this year is different. I have been in rehab for 4 full months now and I am without a doubt getting stronger - I am painfree for some of the time and I am having manageable pain the rest of the time. I have been able to train (very sensibly) every single time that I have planned- have not had to skip a session for longer than 6 weeks because of pain (though I have had to cut sessions shorter, just to be on the safe side). And I am getting close to starting a more structured training plan, knowing that I will not be missing session after session with crippling pain. Maybe this springtime will bring more than hope with it. It might bring change. 

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Swings and roundabouts

It feels like I am going 3 steps forward and 2 steps back. This week has been another big reminder that I am not healed yet, that my body still needs time. 

Monday and Tuesday were fantastic. I kept repeating to Duncan how good my body felt and it kept surprising me how I had no pain, no discomfort, not even any stiffness - not one small sign that my spine has been damaged for the last 15 years. I cannot fully describe the sweet feeling of waking up without pain, the dizzying heights my mood can reach if I have managed to get through to lunchtime without the radiating pain I dread. But I felt like that on Monday night, even after 45 mins on the cross trainer (and just saying that makes me frustrated - I never thought I'd be one of those people having to go to the gym to get a work-out). Tuesday I managed a swim, kept short by a pounding headache, side-effect of a long day at school.

Wednesday I wasn't quite so lucky. I was also lazy. I skipped my quick Pilates routine in the morning, swapping it instead for a few more minutes in bed with Duncan, who was flying off to a triathlon course in London that afternoon. Big mistake! I could tell it wasn't going my way at around 10 o'clock when sitting at my desk started becoming impossible. I stood up and walked around for the rest of the day (god only knows what my pupils must think). At 4, walking home seemed to help and I felt well enough to take the mtb out for a quick ride on the mountain.

The evening was just right, the light was clear and bright and the sea looked impossibly high on the horizon. I smiled all the way round. I even sang (the benefit of mtbiking in a country where everyone else uses the mountain just as a dumping ground - there was no one around for miles). Of course only when going downhill and my breathing allowed. There was stiffness when I got home and a bit of discomfort but I took it easy and managed to sleep without painkillers. 

Thursday was another glorious day so I decided to go for a "run". I guess 2 years ago it wouldn't qualify as running (pace of 6' 40"/km) but now it is the most I have been able to do since last time I was brave enough to try running, on New Year's day. I managed about 16 mins before the pain started. I walked and ran home... and kicked every stone on my way. I knew from experience that if I got pain during the run the worse was yet to come. As the evening progressed I got more and more discomfort and the pain started hitting my lower leg. A functional pain, a pain I could live with, in fact a pain I HAVE been living with, but a pain I dreaded feeling, because it was proof that I wasn't well yet - that I was still a long way from healing. 

Read this on one of the tri-forums about herniated disc pain and wanted to share:

 It's interesting that when you have this sort of condition you develop an acute sence of all sorts of different levels of pain all across the scale. The pain that sends you to bed. The pain that is just there. The pain that is strong but leaves you functional. The pain that you know you are going to need some medication to get through your day... and so on. You learn to deal with it all and find your own little routines for coping. Every now and then you also get days when you are completely and totally pain free - it's a depp and delicious feeling. You wonder how you got there, but you are not sure. "

I think I am moving forward. My pain has been less disabling. I am mostly able to do what I want (apart from runnig and riding for extended amounts of time... oh... and sitting down, though last week I managed the cinema with no pain). In fact I know I am moving forward: I have more good days than bad these days. And I have those delicious pain free days that lift me up and keep me going. 

Sunday, 15 February 2009

At the races

Like kids drawn to a sweetshop, Duncan and I went to a running race today. Neither of us could race - Duncan had an accident 3 months ago while playing rugby (...) which left him with partial eyesight and a total ban on exercise. The ban has been an eye-opener (excuse the pun) as he has been able to see what my world has been like. It has driven us both crazy. 

The running race was organised by some friends of ours and we had promised to be there to help. So, no sleep-in on Sunday morning, we were out into the snowy mountain to set up, help marshal, register, hand out t-shirts and generally do a lot of backstage work. 

I felt like a kid in a sweetshop no longer. I felt like a deprived adult, on a permanent diet, being able to touch and smell and look at the sweets... but not eat. I chatted with the runners before, I helped them up after the finish, I gave them water, I heard as they complained about their perfomance, all the while jealous to the core of the fact that they could and I couldn't. 

I heard of people dissappointed with their race, talking about minutes and seconds they could have saved and it reminded me of me a while ago. Of the times that getting to the finish line was the goal, the driving force. And I realised how goals change over time. My goal is now the startline. 

Monday, 9 February 2009

The long and winding road

It's been a long time since I have been able to train, but this weekend gave me hope. And hope, it seems, has been the only thing that has kept me going since my injury back in June 2007. That and the patience and support of my partner, Duncan.

My activity has been limited, but I am slowly progressing towards being able to do more and more. There were times, especially last October, when I had days when I was unable to get our of bed, let alone walk, swim or do anything vaguely active. And I guess it's those days I have to keep in mind when I get frustrated that I cannot run - there are now several more activities that I can perform without pain.

Pilates has been my savior, and I recommend anyone with back trouble to get involved. It was in fact not advisable to start while I still had radiating pain, but I did and the results were felt from the first 5 weeks. I now perform the mat sequence religiously every morning - it sets me up and makes me feel strong for the day.

So, last week, for the first time in about 6 months, I got back onto the road bike. Although I hoped with all my heart that I would get no pain (during or after) I had been in that place before several times in the last two years, when after 10 minutes in the saddle I would get the all-too-familiar pain and tingling down the leg. I waited... and waited... and it never came! Not after 20 minutes, not after 30, not after the first hour.

I stopped while I was ahead. And felt ecstatic. Like I had won a race. And in a way I had.

The road is long and winding.