Thursday, 30 June 2016

Mountain Marathon Tips

Here is a link to article I have written for Berghaus on Tips to succeed at a Mountain Marathon. A lot of them based on mistakes I have made. They are probably mostly fairly obvious but hopefully people will find them useful.

http://community.berghaus.com/athletes/13-5-tips-on-how-to-succeed-at-a-mountain-marathon/

Monday, 13 June 2016

Patience



I have never been patient; I really hate waiting for things. But now I have to learn to be patient. My Chronic Fatigue is gradually improving but my full recovery will take a long time. I now hardly ever feel dizzy and my heart beat seems to be back to steady and normal. I still struggle mentally in the mornings but compared to where I was even a few months ago it has improved. But I am impatient to get back to doing long runs and a couple of times I have done too much (an hour’s run with some hills at a faster pace rather than my normal flattish jog) and then I have suddenly felt really dizzy and exhausted for the next few days. Even if I do slightly too much in the garden I can feel the dizziness starting to come back so I have to stop.

The other thing that affects my Chronic Fatigue is stress. Even a small amount of stress can bring along hot flushes in my chest and tingly arms. It can also affect my sleep and ability to concentrate. A couple of week ago I wrote an article for Berghaus about the difference between fell running and trail running (http://community.berghaus.com/athletes/athlete-blogs2/the-difference-between-fell-running-and-trail-running-why-i-will-never-be-a-trail-runner-steve-birkinshaw/). I wrote passionately about why I prefer fell running and there was a large response, mainly positive but some negative. Unfortunately, to some people it read like I was being snobbish and saying than fell running is superior to trail running. I do not think fell running is any better it is just different and I personally prefer fell running. I think trail running is great; it has got loads of people out running that would otherwise be sitting on the couch. There are good reasons why some people prefer trail running (rather than fell running). They want a set route without worrying about which way to go; they prefer a good trail; they think the atmosphere is much better and they like a goody bag and want a medal for their achievement of having finished. I do not like sayings but it is very much “horses for courses” or “each to their own”. I should also have pointed out that I appreciate it is equally hard to run a fast road race, trail race or fell race – just differently hard! The consequences of writing this article are that I have unintentionally offended some people. In my current delicate state I have found this stressful and the hot flushes and tingly arms have returned.

So I now know it is really important to avoid any mental or physical stresses to my body and be patient. I need to think positively and remember how lucky I am to live in a beautiful place and also that I can go out for a 40 minute jog every day.

Again, thanks for all the comments I have received. I really do appreciate them. Many of the suggestions on how to recover I have taken on-board and they seem to have helped.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Am I starting to Recover?



This is the question I keep asking myself. Is my tiredness getting better or worse? Strangely I do not know the answer. I have some good days and some bad days. Sometimes I am really optimistic and then the next day my optimism vanishes.  

Some symptoms are better than a couple of months ago and some worse. Looking at the good side first. My “brain fog” in the morning seems less bad. My mind seems a bit slow but at least I am capable of writing an email and doing some work. My resting pulse is a little lower than it was (but still higher than normal) and when I go for a gentle jog (I call it a jog not a run as it really is slow and my heart rate never gets above 120 beats a minute) it is easier than it was a couple of months ago. I am also sleeping better and have fewer headaches. Another good sign is that I sometimes feel anger again. For months if something was going wrong I would just get really sad and upset, now I sometimes get cross. I used to have a lot of anger, which I needed to keep a check on by going running and so to have it again is definitely a positive sign of returning to my old self.

 The main symptom that is worse is that I quite often feel dizzy, really light-headed, sometimes as if I am about to faint. Another really nasty symptom is that sometimes my heartbeat is really erratic. It can have three or four little beats really close together followed by a normal beat.  I also get these hot flushes, particularly when out jogging. This heat suddenly starts flowing through my body particularly my chest but sometimes my legs. 

The change of lifestyle I am finding to be reasonably easy. It is over two months since I had any alcohol, the long hard runs stopped a while ago. I am avoiding taking on any new things that will cause me stress and I feel much more on top of everything at work so much more relaxed. 

Overall, I knew it was going to take a long time to recover properly and I guess I just need to be patient but optimistic that I will fully recover.

The doctors are taking my problem seriously, which is good. My blood pressure and resting pulse are higher than normal so they know something is wrong but lots of test have shown no reasons for my fatigue and tiredness. It seems once they have ruled out everything else they are left with the only other thing matching my symptoms which is a mild form of Cronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). Mild, because I can still function reasonably normally, including going for gentle jogs. It is nice to have a diagnosis (or will be when all the tests are finished) but it is not one I particularly like. It seems to me that the current state of medical knowledge is saying that we know there is something seriously wrong and there are other people with similar problems but at the moment we are not really sure what is causing it. This is why in my previous blog I liked the adrenal fatigue diagnosis (even if it is not a medically recognised condition). 

Thanks for all the comments from my previous blog and personal messages I have received. I really appreciate all of them and I am taking on-board everyone’s suggestions. It is great to hear from other people who have had similar tiredness and hear how they have recovered. 

To finish here are a couple of pictures when I have been out and enjoyed the occasional nice day we have had recently.


 

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Tiredness Update

This blog is an update in how I am feeling. I have not written it as I feel sorry for myself; I have written it for two reasons. Firstly, I hope it is useful or interesting for other people who have been through or will go through similar experiences. Secondly, a selfish reason, which is that it is great to have a blog written down as to how I am feeling and my thoughts at the time. I can then look back at any point and see my recovery (or lack of it). I really enjoy reading reports from inspirational runners who have just won a race but many people are suffering from various injuries and illnesses and it is really important that all this information is out there for people to read.

My symptoms seemed to have settled down, instead of just complaining about feeling tired I feel I can now catalogue them.
1)    Persistent exhaustion that has now been going on for 6 months. But there were also signs ever since I completed my Wainwrights run. So even 12 months ago after a long hard race it would take me two weeks to recover and feel up to running again.
2)    ‘Brain fog’. I cannot think straight or concentrate and my short-term memory is absolutely awful. This normally clears around midday and by the evening I feel back to normal. But on a good day it might clear at 10am, on a bad day it might never clear. When the ‘brain fog’ is bad I find it impossible to write a simple email or even remember a simple instruction.
3)    The persistent wish to go to sleep even when I have just had an 8-9 hour sleep.
4)    Disturbed sleep. If I am in a bad phase, I wake up in the middle of the night and cannot get back to sleep
5)    Regular headaches.

 I also now know three things that make it worse:
1)    A long fast fell run (90 minutes or more). Particular bad is a long hard run before breakfast. After this I can feel shattered for a week or more.
2)    A big drinking session. I have just had my works Christmas ‘do’. For three days after it I was exhausted and I found thinking and concentrating nearly impossible. All I wanted to do was lie in bed.
3)    A stressful situation, such as having to give a talk in front of a group of people. On the next day I will again by really tired and find even a slow run impossible.
What does not seem to cause any problems is a run (or jog) up to an hour, as long as I keep my heart rate down below 130 beats per minute. In fact being outside relaxing my mind seems to help.


As I mentioned in my last blog the doctors have given me a blood test and have found nothing wrong. So what is the problem? The symptoms are those that are found in either Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) or Over Training Syndrome. There are various theories about these illnesses and one of these concerns hormones, which brings me onto another possibility which is adrenal fatigue (where the adrenal gland is above the kidney and it is responsible for producing hormones particularly adrenaline and cortisol). This is still not a medically recognised condition and as such there is still a considerable amount of controversy about it, but the symptoms again correspond with what I am suffering from. At the moment I also like this diagnosis because there seems to be a scientific explanation of why the stresses I have put my body under for the last 18 months would have caused me to feel as I do.

Vicky Ware has produced an article for cyclists about adrenal fatigue here: http://www.cyclingweekly.co.uk/news/latest-news/is-your-adrenal-system-making-you-tired-198720 
Here are a couple more:
https://liveto110.com/epidemic-adrenal-fatigue/
http://elinorfish.com/i-think-i-have-adrenal-fatigue-should-i-stop-running/

I am not a biochemist and with my ‘brain fog’ as it currently is, I still cannot work out the full details of all this, but it does make sense to me. For example, in general the hormone cortisol is highest in the morning, whereas if you have adrenal fatigue this is not the case. This would therefore explain the reason why I feel so lousy in the morning. Also loads of cortisol is released during a long hard run, so for the next several days all the stores are exhausted and I feel absolutely shattered.

As for the future, I feel confident I will return to running at a top level. My mind-set has finally changed. As an ultra-runner I need to ignore my body when it is telling me to stop. I have to carry on pushing it and pushing it, accepting it hurts but ignoring the pain. Finally my body has caught up with me. So instead of fighting my body I now need to be very gentle and work with it (which is basically the treatment for any of the possible diagnoses). I can now happily accept that I am not going to run hard again until I have fully recovered and then wait a while afterwards. I am also going to avoid alcohol. Avoiding stresses in my life is harder but I know I can do it. I have no more talks planned in the near future and the work will become easier once I can think straight again. The human body has an amazing ability to recover if you look after it and that is what I need to do.




Here are a couple of pictures to finish the blog. These are when I did get to the top of a fell (Threlkeld Knotts) in November.



Saturday, 7 November 2015

Joss Naylor 60 at 60 Pictures





In 1997 aged 60 the legendary Joss Naylor ‘Iron Joss’ ran 60 peaks in 36 hours. To celebrate this amazing achievement Phillip Allder painted a picture of Joss and 500 limited edition prints were produced and sold to raise money for MS. My family now has the remaining copies of these prints and we are selling them to raise money for an MS charity called the Samson Centre (http://www.samsoncentre.org.uk/).

When I completed the Wainwrights last year (beating Joss Naylor’s record) I was raising money for two MS charities one of which was the Samson Centre. But the reason we have the prints is not because of that. During the summer my older sister, Karen Parker, completed the Joss Naylor Challenge http://jossnaylor.blogspot.co.uk (I supported her on the 2nd half), with Joss, as usual when someone finishes it, coming out and offering his congratulations. My younger sister, Hilary, who has MS and gets treated at the Samson Centre (she can walk a short distance with a stick but mostly needs a wheelchair to get around), was there helping Karen with roadside support and she got talking to Joss who said we could have all the remaining 60 at 60 prints if we sold them to raise money for an MS charity of our choosing.

So now we have the honour and privilege of selling these last 100 prints. The print is 36cm x 55cm. The piece of paper is 45cm x64cm and includes some text at the bottom and Joss’  hand-written signature (individually signed on each print). The difficult question is how much to sell these prints for. We have decided that a minimum charity donation of £20 to the Samson Centre is reasonable, plus another £4 for p&p.  My Mum, Sue, has kindly decided to sort out the payments and send out the pictures. She can be contacted on  sue@josspicture.myzen.co.uk
The prints are available on a first come first served basis. Knowing how popular Joss is I think they might go quickly.


Thursday, 24 September 2015

More resting needed?


In June I was struggling to run fast, feeling really tired and decided I needed a rest. This is a bit of an update on my progress since then.


I took a couple of weeks completely off running and felt fine again. So I started running doing short and gentle runs at first and then slightly harder and longer runs (up to about an hour). I thought I was over whatever the problem was. So in the middle of August I completed the Sedburgh Hills Fell Race. I took just over 2 and a half hours, which was about 10 minutes longer than normal. I was happy with that (considering I had not done a large amount of training) and felt no ill effects afterwards. I also competed in the short Round Latrigg Race again I was a bit slower than normal but happy that I felt OK after. 

However, three days later I did an hour long training run and felt absolutely shattered afterwards. I felt half asleep the whole time, a bit feverish and dizzy. I was definitely too tired for running. I started to feel a little better but was worried about trying to support my sister over the second half of the Joss Naylor challenge (my section was about 8 hours over the fells with lots of climbing). As I had promised to help I thought I would try and see how I felt. To start with I was really tired, but I picked up through the day and felt quite strong by the end and was happy to have helped her complete it. 

For the next week I felt OK and was running regularly but then suddenly one morning my run took more effort to run slower. Again I felt shattered for the next week. I had entered the Lake District Mountain Trail and the day before I felt just about good enough to start. I thought I would jog round if I felt OK and maybe make it to the finish. Surprisingly as soon as I started I felt good and was moving quite well. I was astonished to finish second. 

So what is going on? I wish I knew. Sometimes I feel OK and sometimes really tired. I managed to get a blood test from the doctors but it found nothing unusual. It seems most likely that I have a virus that I have never completely recovered from (is my body still not completely recovered from my Wainwrights run last year?). But if anyone reading this has any better idea then please let me know.

What I probably need to do is take it easy for a while. I think I should make sure all the runs I do are short and steady (the problem is that at my age is if you stop completely it is very hard to start again) and then once I know I am completely recovered then build it up again slowly. The problem is that I love running and I enjoy going to races and racing hard, but I need to think about next year and future years and not do myself any long term damage.




Friday, 5 June 2015

Time for a Rest



15 years ago I was doing a mixture of fell racing, adventure racing and mountain marathons. Over the summer I competed every weekend in a long race. I was fit and running well. However, I started to struggle, it was not very obvious at first but people who would usually be just behind me in a fell race were just in front. But it got gradually worse; I was working really hard but getting less good results. In adventure races and mountain marathons my team or partner started carrying a lot more of the weight so I could just about keep up. Finally my body decided it had had enough, I had overdone the racing and training. It got to the stage where I could not even run a mile and I had to get the lift up three floors to my office at work. My resting pulse was 10 beats per minute above normal but when I went to the doctors for a blood test they found nothing wrong. It took three months to recover and another three to build up my training and get fit again.

However, two years the opposite happened. Over a month I competed every weekend in a long distance Lake District fell race (about 3-4 hours of hard racing with a lot of climb). On the first one I ran really badly but then on subsequent ones I improved each time. By the end of the month I achieved some of my best performances in these races.

There is always a fine balance between getting fit from doing long hours of training and racing and overdoing it. It is very individual and I seem to be able to cope with quite a lot but after what happened 15 years ago I have been a bit more cautious not to overdo it.

By the start of this year I felt I had fully recovered from my Wainwrights run over the previous summer. I started to train hard and gradually my results improved. By the end of April I was getting close to my PB’s in races. After that I got a bit of a cold – nothing too bad but enough to take it easy for a couple of days. I thought no more of it and carried on training and racing. But as happened 15 years ago my results seem to be getting gradually worse with people beating me who are normal behind me. Over the last two races, Duddon Fell Race and Blencathra, I have done my worst ever times despite trying really hard. All the way round I have been struggling to breath and had a tight chest. Normally after races I feel brilliant but after these recent races I have felt shivery. My resting heart rate also seems about 5 beats per minute higher than normal. It is hard to know but I feel I have not fully shaken of the cold virus and it is causing me to struggle.

 So the time has come for a bit of a rest to let my body recover. It is hard to do with so many great races coming up but if I do not stop now I might end up missing the rest of the season or doing myself some long term damage. I will still go out and do a bit of cycling and running but nothing hard until I know I am back to normal again. 

Enjoying descending from Helvellyn via Swirral Edge