Conversations with the uninitiated

 At this point in time there are not many of my friends who have not been roped into race support to some level. This weekend, a dear friend, who has successfully managed to avoid this delightful duty, got roped in. As I had been flying solo at an ultra event which was the culmination of a particularly hard week: my ‘Rehearsal Week’, they kindly offered to pop round and see how I was the next day. Not a bad gig really: no getting up at O’F hundred hours; no hanging about in the middle of nowhere waiting for me to rock up; no trying to force feed me; no abuse or swearing from me; no anxious moments trying to get that finish line photo; no having to hug a sweaty, salty, sticky me; no having to prop me up as I stagger away from the finish area. I did warn them that I would be pretty tired and a bit stiff and sore the next day, but perhaps should have provided a bit more detail; or maybe less. On arrival:

Friend: Tell me why I am not bundling you into the car and taking you to hospital?

Me: I am fine, it’s ok.

Friend: Severe gastric distress and intestinal bleeding does not sound fine.

Me: It happens and it settles quite quickly.

Friend: No, it does not just happen, has it occurred to you to speak to a doctor about this?

Me: I have, and have had scopes done in both directions, twice, and its fine. My stomach lining is a bit thin and gets irritated.

Friend: Still not right.

Gastric distress is a conditional that runners suffer from, some more than others, and often intermittently. It is often referred to as ‘runners trots’, it can also involve bloating, nausea and sickness. It can be inconvenient to say the least, and can be painful too. Certain foods and energy products or drinks can cause it as can dehydration. Put very simply and in layman’s terms, when running fluids are diverted away from the intestine making it more prone to irritation especially of you are not taking enough fluid. If your stomach lining gets irritated enough then it does not take a quantum leap of logic to know what will happen. It is not, however, a life threatening condition; but the first time it happened to me I thought I was dying, haemorrhaging even, so I can understand my friend’s disquiet. I now never eat banana within 3 or 4 hours of a long run/hard effort.

My stomach is generally a bit sensitive there are times when I have problems not related to running, often when stressed. Once a regular sufferer of gastric distress, I have by a process of elimination and experimentation managed to all but eliminate it and have only had the occasional bout in the last couple of years. For whatever, reason it made a return last week. I had a couple of emergency pit stops on my long beach run, then during the ultra it was lurking in the back ground threatening to put in an appearance. It did eventually hit after I finished. It was a bad bout. Enough said. I blame the energy drink I was using on this occasion.

A short while later:

Friend: what’s that on your wrist?

Me: a bruise. I fell again.

Friend: withering look.

Me: personally, I think that the falling over is more worrying than the gastric thing.

Friend: another withering look.

I have recently had a spate of falls while running on trails during both training and events. I have no idea why. They are painful and embarrassing. Luckily they have resulted in nothing more than scrapes and bruises. I do need to take more care because any sort of injury at this point is unimaginable. My husband jokingly says it is that my brain has not adjusted to this smaller, skinnier, lighter body. In reality it is most likely simply due to a lapse in concentration. At least one of the falls was a result of me day dreaming and not watching where my feet were going. Others are the result of being tired. As you tire your running form can become sloppy, you start to shuffle and not pick your feet up and the chance of losing your footing and going over increases. Tiredness, low electrolytes and dehydration will affect your brain and ability to think. Your judgement and assessment become impaired, so the chances of not noticing something or making a poor decision on where to go on a path have the potential to result in a trouble.

Later still:

Friend: (as I shuffle across the living room) You can’t even get from room to room.

Me: oh, it’s fine. It’s normal.

Friend: no, not normal. Most people do not think it is a fun activity to run to the point of breaking. Most of us do nothing and sit watching our expanding waistlines.

Me: Oh, and that is really healthy.

This is the sore and stiff bit. Some of it is my own fault. Long distance running is at some point going to involve pain and discomfort. You are testing your body and pushing the limits, especially in an event, when you will push that bit harder. Experience and common sense will tell you just how hard to can push. You will get it wrong on occasion, you are not infallible. The ultra on Saturday always was going to be hard as it was the culmination of a week of hard effort. I knew as I made the most of the down hills and road section that my legs would suffer. I knew when I fell that my whole body would later feel the effect of the jarring as I went down. I knew that the compression tights alone would not prevent the DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). I knew that I should have had a cold shower and bath rather than indulging in the hot ones that I had. I so should have had that cold bath. Finally: I did not stretch. So, I did not break myself, everything will repair, but my actions or lack thereof meant that I would pay the price and that my muscles would be very stiff and sore. But they repair, they grow stronger, they remember the effort and develop to be able to cope with it again; at which point, I just have to push to the next level.

Friend: I wonder if you were able to something else, more in the Arts, form a theatre company, write a book, if you would run less?

Me: Now you are starting to sound like my mum. Running is not a displacement thing, or a substitute. There is nothing particularly missing from my life. I like running. I enjoy running. I like challenge and I like pushing boundaries. Life has to be lived to the full.

So this is where things get a little philosophical. I have said in a previous post I hated sport at school and did everything I could to get out of it. I came to running late and almost by accident, deciding to do a 10k to raise money for the hospital unit where my husband was treated. I discovered I liked running. So, the answer is that I would not give up running. Would I reduce the amount that I do if I had other things to do, and other things to be passionate about? No, I don’t think so. Yes, running is in many ways my stress buster and often a cathartic process, and the increase in distances did coincide with my husband coming out of remission; but I do genuinely love it. It is my meditation. When I run I am in the zone as they say, and free. It does not fill an empty unfulfilled space in my life, it enhances my life. The physical discomforts are far outweighed by the sense of achievement and the feeling of well being.  Life is a great gift as is our capacity to explore boundaries and achieve, and I believe that we should make the most of that. I strive to meet challenges and achieve the best I can in all aspects of my life. This is what drove, and drives, our great explorers and adventurers to pitch themselves against the elements and odds and discover our world. My running is my journey of discovery, challenge and pushing the boundaries; my odyssey: that Shackleton spirit, my friend.

Subsequent email exchange, referring to age category and race position (and absolutely no offence intended):

Me: I could have sworn that two of the women behind me were in their 50s, they looked it, and I thought they looked older than me.

Friend: See that is what happens with too much ultra running - you look much older than you are - they were probably in their 30s!

Au contraire my friend: running slows the aging process. Keeping active, fit and healthy has benefits that far outweigh and of the risks related to running. My resting heart rate sits at about 48; my blood pressure is perfect; my body clock and circadian rhythms are balanced; my risk of cancer, dementia, diabetes, and heart disease are all reduced; no depression as it is a great and natural anti-depressant; no osteoporosis for me either. My husband often jokes that I am getting younger and fitter by the day, and ponders if there is a portrait hidden somewhere in the attic getting older, more broken and wizened by the day.

So, I will keep on running, keep on rocking up to the events; freeze my ass off, hopefully not literally, in Antarctica because I can and because at this point in time all indications are that this is beneficial and life enhancing: making me a stronger and better person.