I lace up my trainers, don my headphones and select my running soundtrack. At the moment I’m playing the same album on repeat as I run – Jay Z and Kanye West’s collaboration, Watch The Throne. The way the music lurches from almost swooning melodic operatic pitches to slow, snarling and angry seems rather apt and accurately reflects my mood as I try to run.
I’m A Different Person
I’m fast learning that I can’t compare my pre-cancer self to now. Chemo and operations have taken their toll on my body and now the simplest of tasks can make me feel like I’m climbing a mountain. It takes a battle of wills to just get out of the door and run. Then I have to deal with pins and needles (another chemo side effect that is slowly improving) that sometimes course my body. If it’s a windy day I can almost guarantee that I will feel pins and needles in my hand, sometimes in my feet too. I don’t mind it. Normally it’s not painful. However, when the pins and needles are in my feet I can struggle to run. It can almost make my feet feel numb and the result is that I nearly end up doing a weird shuffle for a run. Think about the stereotypical image of a zombie walking and that’s how I sometimes run.
Recently, I’ve been getting frustrated with myself as I’ve found running so hard that I often come back in a foul mood. However, I’m also bloody stubborn and determined to reach the point when I can run for 30 minutes non-stop. Just before Christmas I had almost hit that point and I was able to run for 28 minutes, but the beginning of January saw me getting ill and since then I’ve been struggling to run for ten minutes at a time. I’ve found myself feeling desperately out of breath, battling tiredness and trying to ignore my screaming lungs. I finally admitted defeat and took a few days off. Now I’m ready to get back out there.
It’s Not Just Physical
I’ve recently accepted that this recovery is going to be a lot harder than I had anticipated. Not only am I dealing with the physical challenges but there are also the mental challenges too. Going through treatment is gruelling and can be agonising, but it can also be reassuring. You are surrounded by your medical team and you know that they are doing their best for you. They are looking after you. Then treatment finishes and it suddenly feels like your security blanket has been whipped away from you. You are suddenly shoved back into civilisation and expected to get on as normal. Yet, you no longer recognise the world around you. Everything feels strange and scary. I’m only too aware that there is no easy solution, that it’s going to take time and that I’m really the only one who can make a difference. It’s not going to happen overnight, it will be messy, and it won’t be linear. My progress will very much be up and down. But that’s okay.
It’s Not A Race
I’ve had to learn to be kinder to myself, to listen to my body and to not expect perfection. It might not be easy, but I won’t give up. Running helps me focus and feel positive. When I am running I know that I am doing the best for my body. It is recommended that we exercise for at least 150 minutes per week, ideally over 5 days a week. You should also include weights in your weekly workout. Before Christmas I was so desperate to claw back some normality that I started over exercising. I was trying to run for 6 days a week and I was lifting weights for three days a week. Then I was wondering why I was finding running so hard, and why I wasn’t seeing a difference in my body. I wasn’t giving my body a chance to rest and recuperate. I had become obsessive in my quest to return to “normal”. Now I’ve learnt that this isn’t a process I can rush. I have dropped running back to 3/4 days a week and weights twice a week.
I feel like I’ve finally found my balance and I’m hopeful that today will be the day I crack the 30 minutes running time. I look out of the window and see a clear blue sky and I feel buoyed and eager to get out. It’s a Sunday and the only day of the week where we don’t have any commitments like work, school or clubs, so I feel slightly guilty for leaving my family. But I’m also craving some solitude and space to think. I’ve had two cups of coffee and I can feel the caffeine crashing through my body. I’ve also glugged a litre of water. I’ve had nothing to eat. I recently read a study that suggested exercising before you eat is good for your gut and bowel. I’m not sure if that’s true but I know that I prefer running on an empty stomach. When I run after eating I feel like the food is sloshing around my stomach and weighing me down.
I’m Doing This!
I shout goodbye to my family, but they don’t respond as they are too busy absorbed in what they are doing. I close the door on the chaos and set off in the sunshine. I choose a lane that will eventually wind its way down to the sea. I start my warm-up by walking in a loop before the time comes to run. The music is thumping in my ears, but I have pulled one headphone off my ear so that I can hear if a car approaches. I tell myself not to think about the 30 minutes and I set off.
I run down the lane and for a good 15 minutes I am lost in my thoughts and the music. I then make my first mistake and check the watch. 15 minutes done, that’s good, I’m now over half-way. But then the next 5 minutes drag and I’m no longer flying. I resort to breaking the next 10 minutes into songs. That’s just two more songs, I tell myself. That makes it feel more manageable. I focus on my body, I feel strong. I’m not aching and I’m not out of breath. I could really do this. The 30-minute mark feels achievable. I look around me, glorious green fields, the sun shining and the sea in the distance. I focus on the sea and tell myself that’s what I am aiming for. I get through a song and I only have 5 minutes left. I’m going to do it. I feel like I’m flying. This is brilliant. I realise that I am starting to hunch over a bit so I correct my posture and straighten up. I realise that I am also grinning. I’ve got a big smile on my face because I’m feeling so good. It’s then with a jolt that I realise I haven’t thought about the cancer once on this run. I’ve left it behind.
Finally, my watch vibrates to tell me that I’ve run for 30 minutes. Yaaaaaaaaas, I did it! I bloody did it. I’m so happy and I punch the air, “Take that Phyllis”. It’s another one in the eye for Phyllis. I feel like I’ve turned a corner. I feel like me again.
Running that half-marathon in June is suddenly feeling more achievable.