Thursday, 13 April 2017

Running after a stroke

Many of you will know that I am a keen runner. I am not a great runner and have no aspirations to be nothing more than a keen plodder with the occasional race thrown in for good measure. 

I started running when I decided that I needed to get serious about my health. I had been a diabetic for a few years and originally was told to use diet and exercise to control it. I was pretty good at the diet bit, but other than the occasional walk, I never did much exercise. There was no specific incident that got me started I guess i just thought it would be a good idea. It was an evening in February 2015 when I first put on my trainers and ventured out for a run. I always thought that even though I hadn't done much exercise i was in good shape. I was totally wrong. I couldn't even run to the end of my road before having to slow to a walk. I don't know how far I ran that evening but it was less than a mile.  I could have easily given up that day, I was cold, tired and fed up that I wasn't as fit as I thought. I didn't give up though. The one thing that most people know about me is I am not a quitter. I carried on trying to go out a few times a week gradually increasing the distance I was running. Running in the evening around the estate where we live wasn't enthralling and I was starting to find my enthusiasm waning. 

There were two things that were instrumental in me becoming a more serious runner.  The first was that I decided to run the North Wales Half Marathon and raise money for Diabetes UK and the Diabetes service at my local hospital. It was great that my sister and her family also entered raising money for Diabetes as well. Having an event to train for kept me on the straight and narrow. I started to increase the frequency and distance I was running. I find that to keep me focused I need a target and the half marathon was just the thing to keep me running. 

I always finished parkrun with a sprint
The second thing was that I found parkrun. I don't recall how I heard about it but I decided to give it a go. Again I thought that running with others would keep me focused. I went to my first parkrun in early May 2015. Straight away I knew that this was an event I really could get involved with. Everyone was very friendly and it was nice to see people that I knew from work and from previous jobs. When I first got there I expected everyone to be a lot quicker and fitter than me but I was wrong there were people of all abilities and fitness levels. I did not feel the slightest bit out of place. Parkrun became part of my normal week. If I wasn't able to run I missed it. If I was injured then I used to volunteer and that was just as enjoyable. If you are a runner at any level and are finding things tough going then give parkrun a go. 

By the time the half marathon arrived in July 2015 I felt quite prepared but nothing quite prepared me for what the run entailed. I knew that it was a tough run but that's what I wanted. After all if you are going to raise money you have to push yourself; it has to be more than a walk in the park. The run started on the beach in Conway. The first 1.2 miles was along the beach it was firm sand as the tide had only just gone out. The route then went along the prom until mile 5 and after then it went up a mountain for 3.5 miles. The route dropped down back into Conway. The last 1.2 miles were back along the beach, by now the sand was soft. So after almost 12 miles of hard running there was the torture of running through soft sand. To add to the struggle I had a hypoglycemic attack (low sugar) around mile 11 when I had to stop and eat a sugar snack to boost my sugars to a safe level. The total climb during the race was 1,740 feet which is over  one and half times the height of the Shard. I finished the run in 2:26 it was slower than I wanted but I was proud of what we had all achieved. My nephews and niece all finished well ahead of my and my sister and brother in law finished shortly after me. the biggest achievement that between us we had raised over £2,000 for diabetes research and diabetes services. 

Having met the challenge of the half marathon I had definitely got the running bug and continued to run at least a few times a week. I also joined my local running club, the Saint Edmunds Pacers. Again this was another way to keep myself motivated particularly when the nights drew in and the weather worsened.

Coming in to 2016 I decided that I need to set a few more challenges and booked up for a number of races. These were the ones I entered:

  • The Suffolk Cross Country Championship
  • Ickworth Park - Suffolk Trail Runners event
  • The Tarpley 10 mile race - a local event organised by my running club
  • Ickworth Park 10k organised by Hoohah
  • Thurston 10k run 
  • Flaming June half marathon.

It turned out I only ran the first four of these events before I had my stroke. 

The Suffolk Cross Championship was the muddiest race I have ever run in. There were parts where the mud was almost to your knees. the good news was that I was the 147th quickest cross country runner in Suffolk, I try and ignore the fact that I was fourth last to finish. I did enjoy the run but made a mental note not to run it again.

The Tarpley 10 was a road race through villages just outside Bury St Edmunds. I finished 262 out of 304 a result that I was very pleased with. I was a lovely day for running and i broke my 10 mile PB by over 5 minutes.

Mud, mud, glorious mud
The most significant race in my life happened on 17 April 2016. It was the Ickworth Park 10k. It was part of the Hoohah race series. The previous week there had been a significant amount of rain and we were warned that the course was very muddy in parts. The day itself was a lovely spring day and the sun was out although it was not too hot. I set myself the target of completing the race in under an hour. I thought that this was a reasonable target as although I could run 10k in under the hour given the conditions and that there were a number of steep hills (they were steep for East Anglia). The first part of the race was fairly easy with a gentle downhill section on a hard country track. I felt very good and confident about the pace I was running. Once the bottom of the hill was reached the ground became quite muddy and it became a task trying to spot a firm route through the mud. Again I was running well and kept a good pace but at a slower rate. I was passing more people than were passing me and this always make you feel good. Once we got the wooded section the mud became very bad and footing was difficult and it definitely slowed everyone down. At about 8km I lost my footing in the mud and fell quite hard onto my side into the mud. Fortunately wasn't too bad but you could clearly tell that I had fallen over. The rest of the run I had comments about falling over in the mud, they were encouraging though. 

Crossing the finish line 30-40 minutes before my stroke
The last 1.3 km of the race were uphill along the park roads. I looked at my watch and realised that I was not going to be under 1 hour unless I speed up considerably. I don't like not achieving my goals so I gradually sped up and then put my foot down for the last 400m. I ran this at a pace of 6.4 minute mile pace and managed to finish the race in 59:57. I hit my target with 3 seconds to spare and finished in 252 place out of 633. I confess that I knew I had pushed too hard as I wanted to be sick. However I wasn't but did have to lie down and recover. It was great to chat with other runners after the race although I decided to drive back home as I was feeling very tired. 

My muddy legs a couple of minutes before my stroke
After I got home I wasn't feeling great and after about 30 minutes I had my stroke. The only symptom I had was that I suddenly went blind and after a few minutes my vision appeared to come back (I didn't notice that I was missing 40% of my eyesight though). I didn't know I had a stroke I just thought I had a very sudden migraine. I thought a stroke was indicated by FAST (Face drooping, Arms limp, Speech slurred and Time) I didn't know that Balance and Eyesight problems are present in more than 50% of strokes. I am now an advocate of BE-FAST for recognising stroke. If you learn one thing from this blog remember BE-FAST it could save the life of you or someone you love. Although my stroke happened after a race there must have been underlying reasons for the clot to be there (I still don't know what those reasons are). What I do know is the over exertion in that race caused the clot somewhere in my body to shear off and travel to my brain where it caused irreparable harm. I won't go into anymore details of this time, you can read it in earlier blog posts.

Since my stroke running is just as important in life as it was before. Exercise is something that is recommended for all stroke survivors. The only thing I am very conscious of while running is over exerting myself. I find this incredibly hard, I ask you who doesn't speed up towards the end of a race to get that one place closer to the front or knock that extra second off a PB. 

Also when I run its like a sword of Damocles hanging over me. Will I have another stroke if I run that bit faster. The thought of another stroke is always at the forefront of my mind when running and not just in a race, even in training runs it is always there somewhere in my mind. People have said that I am brave for running after having a stroke after a race.  I am not brave, to me its another thing I have to beat its not another runner but something that tried to kill me but failed. I am not going let it beat me or stop me doing something I love.

I will finish with this long and rambling post with a shameless plug for the 10k I am running to raise money for my stroke rehabilitation service Icanho (part of livability). Please donate if you can, it may not be local to you but the work they do is essential and worth while.  Follow the link below or you can text DRSW53 £10 to 70070. Please don't feel constrained by donating £10 you can donate any amount you would like, obviously the greater the amount the more use it can be put to.

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