Monday, 26 June 2017

Becoming A Stem Cell Donor

I've just got back from a run. A short, slow, difficult run. I'm trying not to beat myself up about it because it's the first in almost two weeks and the first bit of exercise I've done since donating stem cells. I was warned that it would take a while to recover my energy and as someone who's fairly fit and used to exercising 5 times a week or more, it's frustrating, but I wouldn't change a thing.

First Contact
I honestly can't remember when I joined the British Bone Marrow Registry, but it must have been over six years ago. It just seemed like a good thing to do and just s with the organ donor register, I promptly forgot about it; until a couple of months ago when I got a letter from Anthony Nolan saying I'd been identified as a potential match for someone in urgent need of stem cells and would I be willing to go through some tests to see if I was a good match? Dean, my partner, was apprehensive when I mentioned it, worried that I'd be put out of action for weeks or months but an operation to take marrow from my bones, but a leaflet accompanying the letter outlined a far less invasive way of harvesting stem cells these days.

Am I A Match?
A phone call later, having been assured that every effort would be made to work around the various sporting events in my calendar, and a blood sample kit was on it's way to me. I found a local drop in centre who drew the samples and it was all posted off same day. So far so good. Then a wait.

Being a match for someone requiring stem cells isn't just a case of matching blood type, rather human leukocyte antigen (HLA) typing is used to match you with a donor. HLA is a protein – or marker – found on most cells in your body which your immune system uses to know which cells belong in your body and which do not.

Some days later I got another call. I was the best match of everyone contacted in this case (a 10/10 I later found out)... am I still willing to go ahead? Yes! On to the next step...

Full Medical
The lovely Cynthia at Anthony Nolan was my main point of contact throughout this whole process and so she now explained to me that I would be required to go for an extensive, but not invasive, medical examination. She made all the arrangements with the hospital, arranged my travel and generally made it all as easy for me as possible.

I spent about 3 hours at the hospital, under the care of a Lady called Cat, who escorted me through the various departments I needed to visit. ECG, X-Ray, more blood tests, pages of health questionnaires, a chat with the doctor and finally a visit to the Apheresis department where the donation would take place. It was a small room of five chairs hooked up to the machinery used to collect or deliver blood components. I met the nurses who would be looking after me and got to ask questions. I also got a full explanation of the donation process to take away; useful for showing to friends and family.
The Apheresis machine

Pre-Donation Procedure
I got a fairly glowing result from the medical (hurrah!) so two donation days were fixed (with the hope I would only need one) and Cynthia arranged for Healthcare at Home to visit me in the four days prior, to administer the G-CSF injections that would stimulate the excess production of stem cells in my own body so they could be harvested. Once again the process was made as easy and undisruptive as possible.

The injections themselves were fine. My dosage wouldn't fit into one syringe so I had two injections a day, alternating arms. On the first day the site was a little sore, and over the next three days I started to get some mild headaches, a little dizziness, a few aches, but nothing that the recommended paracetamol didn't relieve.

Donation Day!
I had to be at the hospital at 8:30am on the donation day. Anthony Nolan had once again been brilliant and posted out an Oyster day for me to use, as well as one for my mum who was accompanying me. Had mum not lived so close to the hospital we would have had a hotel arranged too, and any food or drink we needed on the day were to be covered too. Having been to the department before helped with any nerves I might have had. One more blood test was done on arrival to check the G-CSF injections had worked then it was time to be hooked up to the machine. I was to be there for around four hours! Whilst this was going on, Lesley from Anthony Nolan paid me a visit so see how I was getting on, to tell me even more about the process and drop off a goody bag with a pin badge, pen, more info about aftercare and a t-shirt (apparently if you donate a second time you get a hoody... not sure if this was serious).
All hooked up
I had two lines inserted in my arms, the one in the left took the blood out and into the machine where the stem cells and some plasma were extracted, and the one in the right was used to return the blood to me. It was all virtually painless and I was made very comfortable. The nurses fetched us drinks and I got a great snack box at lunch time. I wasn't able to move my left arm but mum and I chatted and I read some magazines I'd brought with me to pass the time.
I'd been warned that my calcium levels may drop and to look out for tingling in my fingers and lips. What I actually experienced was more like a vibration through my whole body which made me feel quite tired and ill, but the nurses put my on a calcium boost and monitored me until I felt a bit better. My blood pressure had dropped so the procedure was paused while I recovered but it was all over pretty quickly. It turns out to be very common and I was given a check up after the donation to make sure I was back on an even keel.

The whole thing lasted from 10:30am to 2:30pm, at which point I was unhooked, another blood test done, and my donation went away to be checked. They'd managed to get twice as many cells as needed, which I was overjoyed about, so after a few more blood tests on me, I was free to go!

Facts about the donation
  • If not enough stem cells are collected on the first day, you have to go back for a second day. Thankfully, I didn't.
  • Any excess cells are stored for further use, initially by the recipient and then for research (having given my consent for this).
  • I'm not allowed to know anything about the recipient of my donation for two years, save for broad age group, gender and how their weight compares to mine (heavier people require more cells apparently). If, after that time, they are happy to be in contact with me, I may find out more but I'm allowed to pass on messages via Anthony Nolan.
  • I may get called up to donate for the recipient again within the two year time frame, and after that time I go back on the general register.
  • You're only allowed to donate to two recipients.
  • The recipients blood type eventually changes to the donor type!
  • Donation from bone marrow still happens but only in about 10% of cases.
  • The donation could go anywhere in the world and has to be accompanied in transit at ALL TIMES. Lesley took some to Australia once and had to take it on loo trips.
  • Every 20 minutes someone in the UK finds out they have a blood cancer and around 2,000 people in the U need a bone marrow or stem cell transplant every year. This is usually their last chance of survival.
  • 75% of UK patients won’t find a matching donor in their families. 
  • Currently, only 60% of patients can find the best possible match from a stranger, and this drops dramatically to 20% if you're a patient from a black, Asian or ethnic minority background.
After my donation I had to take magnesium and potassium supplements and have repeat blood tests as the doctors weren't happy that my levels were high enough. The nurse talked them out of putting me on a drip on the condition that I took a prescription and came back the next day for further checks. On balance it was the least disruptive option, and meant I could go home that night.
Magnesium tablets. Four of these four times a day.
Lesley had suggested that a Guinness would be a good idea, and as our train home was delayed we popped into the pub next door for a "medicinal". 
Doctors orders.
You feel tired afterwards. You might not realise it at first but I started to notice that things that I'd normally have taken in my stride left me feeling wiped out. The aftercare notes suggest no strenuous activity for 48 hours, which I duly adhered to, but two days after donating, just three hours of Personal Training (others, you understand, not myself), left me ready to flop on the sofa for the rest of the day. Hence why I've left it a while before attempting a run. Luckily I have no big events in the immediate future but I'm missing my training. Both my mum and Dean have been trying to feed me up, get me to rest, and as a result I'm feeling a bit softer around the edges, but I need to be patient. 

The impact this has had on my life, compared to what it will do for my recipient, is nothing at all. It's giving them a chance at a better life, an extended life, perhaps to see children they wouldn't otherwise have met... who knows?!

I've not written this post to get praise or recognition. A few people have said I'm brave, but I don't feel it. It's just a thing I've done to help someone because I can. But what I do hope to achieve by writing this, is to give people a real-life insight into what's involved. To show it isn't painful, or scary. To hopefully encourage someone else to put themselves on the register or to say "yes" when they're contacted. Or maybe just to remind someone to give blood, or donate platelets. It all helps, probably more than you realise!

Join the Register
To join the Anthony Nolan register you need to be between 16 and 30 (you stay on until you're 60) but there are other registers with different criteria that are worth looking at too.

If you're already a blood donor, or willing and eligible to give blood, you may be able to join the British Bone Marrow Registry, run by NHS Blood and Transplant, by giving an extra sample at your next appointment. NHSBT accepts men aged 17-40, as well as women aged 17-40 from mixed or minority ethnic backgrounds.  

DKMS UK registers people aged 17-55. You can sign up online, or at a recruitment event.
All patched up!
Do you donate blood? Or platelets? Are you on the register or know someone who's received treatment because of it? I'd love to hear your stories.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Our Weekend Triathlon

This year Dean and I are training up for triathlons. Different triathlons. His is an Ironman in July, mine, a half iron distance in June. Along the way we're doing a number of events under the guise of training, but really we just quite like doing events. In all seriousness, the events are definitely helping me to gauge my progress along the way. And so it happened that the weekend of the 8th and 9th of April saw us covering all three disciplines in separate events. A sort of "Weekend Triathlon" if you will.

Saturday morning was a parkrun morning. We've not done a parkrun in ages so it was a bit of a change for us. Our local course had changed twice since we last went, and has become slower, so no chance of a PB. Given we actually (shock, horror) had a free morning, we decided to jog the two miles up to the start as well. For me, this was a sluggish, stress-ridden run followed by a very slow parkrun. The bottlenecks on the new course didn't even bother me that much! But with 5 miles under our belts we wandered home in the sunshine feeling virtuous.

Next on the agenda was Swimathon on Saturday afternoon. This was to be my third time taking part in Swimathon, having increased my distance on each occasion from 1.5km up to 5km this year; far further than I need to be able to swim for the triathlon and a challenge in it's own right but useful nonetheless for confidence building. I'd been on BBC Radio Berkshire (listen from 41:40) the day before having a bit of a chat about it and was somewhat nervous. It was to be the first time I'd ever swum the distance, having only gone up to 4000m in training. Dean had covered the distance before but not this year. Both of us had swimming lessons as adults and Swimathon is a great motivator for keeping up with our swimming and improving our technique, I cannot recommend it enough as a life skill. Our pool was Bracknell Leisure Centre. We duly arrived at 2:30(ish) for a 3pm start and were surprised to find the car park almost empty. Previous years had been much busier and more atmospheric with music and spectators. We took to our lane with two other swimmers and started our swim finishing just a little over 2 hours later. I can't fault the staff or the facilities, but it did feel a little lack luster this year, perhaps as it was a much longer time in the pool than before. Still, medals earned and confidence boosted.

Last but by no means least was the cycle. I'm not a cyclist. I've never considered myself as one nor found an affinity with the bike before. I envy those who go out and do long rides on Sundays... and suddenly here I was, off to do a long ride on a Sunday! I'd been encouraged to sign up to a Sportive as a way to ensure I didn't duck out of the cycling. I'd done a couple of short outdoor rides early in the year and since then, steadily built up time in the saddle on gym bikes. I'd tried rollers but not managed to progress past hanging on for dear life to the back of the dining chair, and I'd stubbornly ignored Dean's attempt to get me suing cleats by fitting clip in pedals on my bike so it was only the weekend before the event that I took the plunge and actually went out for a ride using them. And I didn't fall off - result!

So Sunday rolled around and we headed down to the New Forest with both bikes stuffed in the back of the car, enough snacks to feed a small army and my nerves jangling so loudly it was a struggle to hear the radio. And it wasn't just the clip in pedals that were making me nervous. When we'd signed up the standard distance was listed as 50 miles. Two weeks prior to the event I discover it's been increased to 66 miles. But that's only 16 miles more, I hear you cry. Ah yes, but I'd only managed to get up to 40 miles in training. An extra 10 miles on top of that is quite manageable in my head but a jump of 26 miles... something quite different.
Feeling like a plonker
The Wiggle New Forest Spring Sportive was a much larger event than I'd anticipated, but wonderfully well organised. No queues for loos, quick and easy registration, comprehensive briefing... and sunshine! We set off, quickly getting left behind my the bulk of our wave (waves of about 30 people were going every couple of minutes). The idea was just to ride, no expectations, no aims for speed, just get around and try to enjoy it. And I did for a while. The scenery was lovely, both out on the heathlands or through the villages. The way was really well marked (no getting lost like last time) and the first food station at 15 miles was soon in sight.
Spoilt for choice
Onwards. It was a long way to the next food stop, and I'd underestimated how much fuel I'd need to take on. I started to flag, to tire, to get frustrated that things were so hard, that Dean was pulling away from me. Dean got a puncture after a few miles and I was grateful for the rest. The energy bar I inhaled didn't seem to help much and at around 37 miles, at the top of a hill, I sat down on the side of the road and started sobbing my heart out. It was too difficult, I was too tired, I'd phone the medical team for a rescue, it was stupid to think I could do this. The numbers were too big to comprehend. It was just. So. Much. Further. Dean tried to talk some sense into me and somehow got me back on my bike and pedalling.
There are tears behind those glasses
At the next food station I downed water, sat down, inhaled many many fig rolls and found solace in conversation with others who were also finding it hard. We got to 50 miles... this should have been the end! 16 miles to go! We walked up a particularly nasty hill, but somehow I managed to cycle the remaining hills. As the miles ticked off I found reserves. 10 miles to go! We stopped again and a pony tried to eat my saddle, helmet and energy bar. It made me giggle and put me in the right frame of mind for finishing.
Greedy pony

The last six miles were fine. As we pull back on to the estate we'd started from I could feel myself welling up. I told Dean to expect tears on the finish line. It had taken me over six hours but I managed to complete the bike ride. I was a big bag of emotions. I could do this. It was further than I'd have to cycle in the triathlon but of course I'd not just done a swim nor did I have to run a half marathon right away. We collected our medals, finishers t-shirts and snacks. Once I regained the use of my legs and had finished reassuring my mum on the phone that I was ok, I got us some ice creams and my word they were the best ice creams ever! The benefit of finishing so late was that we had plenty of space to laze around in for a while and could easily find the car. Every cloud!
That weekend has been a real turning point for me in my training. It was a lot of fun, but tiring. All the events were great and I'd especially recommend the Wiggle events. The process has helped me to consolidate what I've already done and identify what I still need to work on. I've since signed up for another sportive and put some club rides in the calendar. Lake swimming season is upon us as we've plans to go together when we can. I'm still nervous for the triathlon, especially as my running seems to be consistently sluggish at the moment, but I know I've got the strength to pull through.

Do you use events as part of your training plan?

Monday, 10 April 2017

Event Review : Reading Half Marathon

Thanks to Vitality I was fortunate enough to win a place in the Reading Half Marathon this year. I knew a lot of people who were running, it's a very popular event for the local running club, but I must confess that I hadn't felt moved to enter myself. But I also never say no to a free race entry! I've made no secret of having paced at events and as a couple of people asked if I'd be willing to pace them round Reading I thought it would be a great use of my place. Rachel and Cathy joined me on the starting line with Dean, also playing unofficial pacer, on a "breezy" Sunday morning.
We'd turned up nice and early to our pre-paid parking spot in the pink car park and wandered over to the start village to meet fellow club runners and to pay a visit to the Vitality tent to claim a Team Vitality shirt (which will be worn on other runs) and to take advantage of their dedicated bag drop, much smaller and easier to get to than the main one, although I heard no horror stories there. Let's get the important things out of the way... there were enough loos from what I could tell, including some in the parking areas, and there were an array of food trucks, merchandise stalls and massage areas. The start was well sign posted and we found the Orange start with relative ease.
The race was due to start at 10:30am, much later than I'm used to, due to a family run taking place beforehand. It had proved popular, judging by the number of people heading away from the stadium area as we were arriving, and made for a good atmosphere. I believe the front wave was set off promptly but it took around 20 minutes for the orange wave to reach the start line. Thank heavens for the body heat of strangers! In all seriousness, the start was managed well, with everyone managing to set off at their own pace with little jostling and weaving. There are thousands of entrants to the Reading half so managing the start line is crucial.

The four of us stayed in sight of each other for the first few miles, keeping to a 2h15 finishing pace. We sought out supporters in the crowd, enjoyed the bands and DJs on the route, and generally enjoyed ourselves. Dean caused a moment of chaos, concern and hilarity when he tripped over whilst running backwards to point out the lab he used to work in at the University... I don't think he'll be doing that again... and then it was into the town centre proper.

Cathy and Dean started to break away a little bit and we let them. Rachel was running a strong first half of the race but recovering from illness meant this had always been a "suck it and see" goal of 2h15 and we took a pragmatic approach of adjusting the goal in the second half. The support along the route never wavered, there were plenty of jelly babies on offer from kindly folk, the water stations always seemed to be just where you needed them (the squeezy pouches worked well) and soon we were heading down the dual carriageway towards the finish at the Madejski Stadium. I ran Reading some years ago and remembered this being long, tedious and dreary. Maybe it was because I had company this time, that I was stronger, but it didn't seem so bad. Rachel, trouper that she is, saw the signs counting down the meters to go and kicked it up a gear, reaching the finish line just 30 seconds outside of her PB - a fantastic achievement!
Well deserved medal for Rachel
The finish line was just as well organised as the start, with runners encouraged to flow through the first aider area to collect a foil blanket, goody bag, t-shirt and refreshments. It wasn't crowded, easy to find those we were looking out for and similarly easy to get our bags back form the Vitality tent. The walk back to the car seemed to take twice as long as it should have done and he only thing that put a bit of a dampener on the event, for me anyway, was how long it took to get out of the car park... 45 minutes! But all in all a great event and a fun day out.
Proudly sporting our finishers t-shirts and medals!
For your £35 entry fee you got a sized cotton finishers t-shirt and a goody bag including a mars bar, meridian bar, bottle of lucozade and bottle of water. The medal was heavy and had space for an iTab should you have felt inclined to record your time. Vitality seem to have gotten the organisation of their events spot on and although large, I would recommend them. Thank you to everyone involved in the day and congratulations to all finishers, whether you achieved your "A" goal or not.

Have you had a friend pace you before, paced for someone or used an official pacer? What was your experience?

Friday, 7 April 2017

Life Lately... Mainly Triathlon Training!

There's been a dearth of what I would term "personal" posts on here lately. Quite a few race reviews as I try to clear the backlog of races I wanted to talk about last year and the odd Vik's Picks post but little else. That's not for lack of things to talk about, on the contrary there's been a heck of a lot going on and frankly when I've had some down time I've not felt like opening the laptop to write about it. Life's a bit all-or-nothing right now... with the emphasis on ALL!

This year is the year of the wedding and the year of my half iron distance triathlon amongst other things (see my side bar for full event listings). Since January I've already clocked up three official half marathons and a night run. I'm working on new classes and opportunities for my business, including gaining my CiRF (coaching) qualification and working on another older adults fitness course. I'm neck deep in decisions about gift lists, accessories, table decorations and guest lists, playing step-mum every other weekend and trying to fit in the odd social thing like an evening with Mary Berry or seeing The Mavericks play The Indigo at the O2. Add into that training that's ramping up and it's no wonder I feel a little like I'm burning the candle at both ends. A friend brought it home to me recently with a message informing my that I "looked f*cked" in an instagram photo not so long ago and that I should slow down.
Looking less than brilliant after 40 miles on the gym bike.
I've been increasing my swim distances for Swimathon 2017. I've previously done the 2.5km swim but this year I'm tackling the 5km distance. I've done 4km in training and frankly I'm counting on that to get me through. I've also been building up my cycling distances. I'm a reluctant cyclist, not yet au fait with cleats or rollers and a bit of a wuss when it comes to cycling outside. I'd signed up for the standard distance on the Wiggle Spring Sportive which was advertised at 50miles but now turns out to be 66miles. I'm up to 40miles on the gym bike with no more time to really push further before the event so am hoping that sheer will and determination will be enough (along with the support of Dean who is also taking part). So much for it being a bridge to my triathlon! Both the swim and the bike sections for the triathlon are shorter than these events so I'll be in a good place if I can maintain some of this fitness. 
Severe goggle marks after one of my longest swims.
The running is a different matter. Comfortable at half marathon distance I've not managed to hit my planned longer runs lately. When I'm pushed for time, it's the running that usually gets shelved. I *only* need to be able to run a half for the triathlon but we do have some longer distance events coming up which I want to be able to complete comfortably. I won't lie, I am getting a bit stressed out about it, but I have to be realistic. I'll be able to reduce time in the pool soon and so will have a little more time for running. It's been finding suitable blocks of time that's been the real struggle, especially ones that aren't on consecutive days.
Strength needs to feature, though it's often neglected.
On average I'm doing one swim (1.5-2hrs), one cycle (2hrs plus), and two runs a week (10k-ish and one longer)  with occasional yoga and mini strength workouts or HIIT sessions. I'm generally enjoying the training, and although I'm not seeing any changes in my body I know it's stronger and more resilient than it has been. Rest and relaxation are also part of training which is why on Thursday last week, instead of going out for a long run I took some time out. My body felt heavy and if I didn't rest I knew I may jeopardise my ability to train later. 
Yoga is part of my self-care regime.
Things don't really calm down after the triathlon... although I'll be able to drop the cycling and swimming if I so choose, I'll need to keep my long distance legs going for the honeymoon... he's only gone and signed us up for the Costa Rica marathon!! No excuse for not being in great shape on our wedding day though.

What's your "A" race or event this year? Are you suffering from training stress or taking it in your stride? 

Monday, 3 April 2017

Event Review : Oxford half

The second half of last year was a bit of a disaster in terms of training. I just didn't do enough. No excuses, I could have, but I didn't make it a priority. New relationship, building the business, getting to know the two new little people in my life... all these things were put over and above training runs, save for those I went on with my beloved, and so it was no surprise that the Vitality Oxford Half, that I'd planned as my sub-2-hour attempt, didn't go to plan.
Support crew
Billed as being a flat course, well organised, under the management of Vitality, and late in the season, Oxford seemed like the perfect half marathon attempt. It was a bright day, temperatures were good and I was feeling psyched up to give it a go. I'm not sure whether I believed I could get a sub-2hour but I thought I could have a crack at breaking my PB that has stood at 2:10 for years. My support crew of Dean and the children hurtled up the motorway to the park and ride that we'd pre-booked for £6. Hearts sank at the length of the queue to get on the bus but in fairness it moved pretty swiftly and we were soon making the walk through the town centre to the start pens. No need to go to the race village as I'd already got my race pack and left my bag with Dean.
On the start line
The start pens wound all around the city centre, hemmed in by old buildings and narrow streets. It was very picturesque. We were set off in waves according to time so I didn't start for several minutes after the gun went off but it all flowed fairly well. I do remember there being a bit of a bottleneck somewhere but I can't remember where so it really can't have been that bad. We started winding around the city with plenty of support on the side lines. As we ventured further out there were fewer people but rarely a stretch where there was no cheering. Several music acts were dotted along the route, something I always enjoy, and all in all it was very pleasant.
Medals on the start line
My legs felt good at this point and I had a good pace. I felt as though I could hang on to it and if I had, I'd have achieved my target. Dean and my parents were following me on the tracker and were rooting for me... but at about half way, despite taking my gel and staying hydrated, I started to slow. We were in the area with least support, a long out and back with some underpasses that felt like mountains to my suddenly heavy legs. I tried giving myself a stern talking to, picking up my heels, my knees, driving my arms, all the things I coach my runners to do, but to no avail... I just tried to keep moving as best I could. It was a little bit heartbreaking, not to be able to summon up any more speed but I knew I'd have to get to the finish line so left foot, right foot, the body followed. The pack hadn't really thinned out at all so I had plenty of people to wash my along and as we headed back towards the centre the support grew again.
Feeling shuffly at the end
I was run-walking in the last couple of miles and feeling pretty sorry for myself. Doing maths on my pace and time to see what could be salvaged. In the end I crossed the line in 2:11 which actually wasn't too shabby, but I know I could have had a more comfortable and quicker race had I put the training in that I had intended. Lesson learned.
Big smile after 13.1 miles... and a nice bit of bling to show for it
Over the finish line and goody bag in hand, medal around neck, I found Dean and the children for much needed hugs. They'd passed the time in the race village listening to Chico, playing and snacking. We'd worried that they'd get bored but they actually seemed to be pretty entertained and even enjoyed a bit of spectating - so a big tick for a family friendly event!

The £35 entry fee got me a t-shirt, snacks, drinks, the usual array of discount vouchers and a nice medal. We spent some time back at the race village for a picnic before finding the bus to return to the park and ride. It was all a pretty smooth operation and I would absolutely consider entering again. I don't say that too often but let's face it, there's unfinished business there now! All the Vitality events I've entered so far have been well organised, if on the large side, and I'd recommend them. As a company they promote healthy living for all the family and so are particularly good as an opportunity to get youngsters involved with some mini marathons and plenty of offers to encourage you to stay active.

Post race picnic
It's unlikely I'll attempt another half marathon PB this year as the focus is on triathlon and ultras (oh and a wedding) but 2018 might be the year... I'm starting to get people comment on how I look as though I should be faster and that there is fighting talk!

Have you taken part in a Vitality event? What are your best family-friendly event recommendations? Going for a PB attempt this year?

Friday, 31 March 2017

Vik's Picks : March 2017

This month my picks are very much geared towards looking after myself. I make no apology for the local links... these guys are part of my unofficial tried-and-tested rehab crew, but even if you're not, finding your own "team" is worth considering. As my own training ramps up I'm trying to make an extra special effort to give enough time to recovery and as we edge closer to many people's marathon dates it's quite relevant!

1. Torq energy gels have been fuelling me on some of my bike rides recently. I
ve chosen to try them on the bike rides rather than on runs on the basis that as I've not ventured out of the gym for cycling lately, if they do upset me I'm only a hop and a skip from some "facilities". Loving the dessert inspired flavours like raspberry ripple, apple crumble and rhubarb and custard!

2. Meridian Foods Coconut & Almond butter has also been fuelling me, but mainly post run or for breakfasts in over night oats, on bagels and rice cakes. I like the subtle hint of coconut and how spreadable it is. Doesn't seem to separate too much and is also an excellent addition to banana bread!

3. Well Being Treatments is the business name taken by the lovely Georgina who has been looking after Dean and I for months with sports massages. She's the only person who's managed to get Dean close to being able to touch his toes - how's that for magic? I firmly believe that massage shouldn't be a last resort but a regular part of your routine if you train for events.

4. Similarly I've been visiting Elgar Physio for some months now on a voyage of discovery to find out what's causing my niggly knee and what might fix it. Five minutes of backwards walking at least every other day seems to be doing the trick for the most part and again I think if you can find a physio that you get on with, you will better recover from and avoid injury. Matt doesn't claim to know everything and I like his down to earth approach fuelled by curiosity.

5. A little bit of self-care I can do at home is soaking those tired muscles. Adding Champneys Heavenly Days Relaxing Bubble Heaven to my bath has been a more regular treat in the last couple of months. I still use salts but when I'm highly strung after a hard session this helps to calm me. If you're a Vitality member you can get a discount on these products direct from Champneys but they are also available from Boots stores.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Event Review : Polar Night Half Marathon 2017

There's quite a back log of races to write about, and while some I may not, I wanted to share my experience of the Polar Night Half Marathon that I revisited back in January. You may recall I ran this last year with a couple of friends and at the time thought "great, that was fun, another tick" and toyed with the idea of the Midnight Sun Marathon but not the night one again.

Ha! What a fool was I? My friends signed up again almost immediately and eventually I was persuaded to go back out to Tromso too. And then Dean said he'd come and run too, as some partners were also coming out to Northern Norway, so that was that. Hotel was booked, flights sought, down jackets prised out of the wardrobe and ice grips left until the last minute to buy (and failed to turn up in time).
Landed in Norway!
The trip out was fine and we were delighted to get snowfall on our first night. There was already snow on the ground but it wasn't as thick as the year before and it was a little warmer, meaning conditions were slushier underfoot. Discussions were had about the merits of trail shoes against road shoes either with or without grips. As the race doesn't start until 3pm we had a morning to try out some options and ask the locals at the race pack pick up.
As last year, registration was busy but efficient. Timing chips were checked to be working, we were given a bottle of water and a race paper (in which two of my travelling partners made an appearance) and able to ask the burning questions. "If you want to get a time or win, wear spikes" was the advice of a local. I hadn't brought trail shoes so road shoes it was! There was no further snowfall and temperatures were verging on comfortable. Whilst I was at the "expo" I pawed again at the race t-shirts and other items. Everything in Norway seems expensive and if you ever thought a race vest was pricey in the UK you can imagine how much more it might be out there. Regardless, Dean bought us both a race t-shirt and an additional reflective beanie hat for me. Bless! They didn't half look smart and they were duly worn over base layers for the event.
His and hers t-shirts. Here, have a sick bucket...
On the start line once more I was looking forward to it all. Dean was nervous and excited and just a general bundle of fizziness. We set off, slowly at first as we got used to the ground underneath, and to be fair we didn't get an awful lot faster. Conditions were ok, slightly slippery, but calm in the residential areas that the route winds through at first. There was just as much support as last year, lots of marshals around and torches all along the way. As we came out of the residential area and beside the water towards the airport the winds started to whip the snow around us. My face started to feel red raw on one side and I gave up wiping my nose. A gel was consumed at 5 miles and half way was a very welcome sight. Dean was seeming strong but I was finding it all very hard going from mile 9 and eventually I had to call out to him to slow to a walk for a moment. I had the second of the gels I had with me and we walked for a while. Turns out he wasn't feeling too great either and we ran-walked a couple of miles, managing to jog the last mile (I can always run a mile, but stringing them together doesn't alway happen).
Post race with medal. 
Some of our group had done the 5k option and others in the half marathon had beaten us home so we got a nice cheer on the final straight. Hot squash and bananas were hoovered up, alongside several snickers bars (Dean) and we all retired to our hotel to defrost, clean up and rest in advance of a group dinner and drinks later. Olhallen, the brewery bar we enjoyed so much last year, was the go-to destination.
Fighting with the bear in Olhallen
With the race being on a Saturday we had a couple of days after to relax and sight see. We were fortunate enough to get the last few spots on a whale watching trip on the Sunday and took some time to meander around the town, on Monday, after the obligatory recovery run over the bridge to the Arctic Cathedral and back. And just to top everything off we saw the Northern Lights again whilst on the plane heading home.
Dressed for whale watching
Arty photo moment
A great time was had by all and despite the event being such hard work on this occasion, I thoroughly enjoyed it (in hindsight) and would absolutely do it again, although I think we've got our sights set on the Midnight Sun event for 2018! These events are well organised, not too huge, and a real novelty for those of us used to running in the UK. They're not cheap but it's a great excuse to travel and maybe fit in some other activities while you're there.

What's the most unusual event you've ever taken part in? Does night running or ice running appeal?