Lexie Runs

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Bad things coming, we are safe

Having recently been signed off work due to my anxiety, I thought I should probably start writing again. I remain overly-open about being quite mad on social media, but 140 characters sometimes just isn’t enough. I had purposefully let this blog go quiet for a long time. This was ostensibly because I’m not really running much and am rather less mad these days. And that, dear friends, is what we call hubris.

Towards the end of January, I had a serious panic attack at work. It’s the first I’ve had in this role, triggered by a specific event rather than my general state of mind. Panic attacks aren’t new. Unfortunately, this one happened in front of my manager; to her, it was new. Before I knew it, there was a whole paragraph in my appraisal concerning my mental health. Notes made that I had been medicated, that I had received therapy, that perhaps I felt too muddled for the role. (Nobody, but nobody who has ever met would say I come across as “muddled”.)

A selection of our trustees read our appraisals. I was, understandably, I think, rather unhappy (read: really fucking angry) that people were going to be told that I have been dealing with this since my teens. Since I was legally a child. Telling them this, without my consent. Cue phone calls to Mind’s Legal Line,  to ACAS, to the ICO, anybody who might be able to confirm I should put a stop to this. Having a law degree really helps with knowing what not to stand for. The advice was yes, it was unreasonable but there was little I could do except ask for it to be removed from the report. When that request failed, repeatedly, I gave up.

I phoned my mother in tears who immediately drove to Surrey, to have lunch with her finally beaten daughter. Poor woman, I think she’d hoped to be free of me by almost 28. Hurrah for being signed off work and back on drugs!Over lunch, I phoned my GP.  When he asked what I wanted, I begged he declare me unfit for work for a fortnight. He wrote the certificate immediately, without even seeing me (quote: “well, we can close our eyes and pretend we’re in the same room if you like…”). It was that easy, from that moment I was signed off work. I went back to the office, packed my bag and went home for the next two weeks. Before those two weeks were up, I resignedly phoned my GP again and asked for a prescription for any drugs to get me through my return.

Being signed off work sounds serious…

It does, but the severity of it is somewhat negated by the fact that I chose it. My problem for a long time was that I didn’t recognise how ill I was until it was too late. Now I can recognise that bursting into tears at work isn’t normal. That having a meltdown because I can’t bear to answer my phone or open a letter is no way to live a life. Anxiety is going to be a part of my life forever. There isn’t going to be a day where I wake up and finally, I’m over it. What I can do is mitigate the damage and removing myself from damaging situations is part of that.

My day to day mental health is probably the best it has been for years but that doesn’t render me immune. I still struggle to find enough resilience in difficult situations. True crisis and I’m fine, something deep in my brain kicks in when I know that I simply have to cope. The rest of the time, I’ve worked out a finely tuned balance of various triggers to keep me level. I need to account elsewhere in my lifestyle for each little slip.

The 5 Pillars of Mental Health
  • Exercise: The first pillar to crumble when I’m starting to struggle but it probably has the most pronounced effect. It doesn’t need to be running, a walk will do. But at least twice a week, preferably three times, ideally four. More than four and a different sort of burnout takes hold which in turn affects…
  • Sleep: Seven hours. Functional on six. Five and under and we’re really struggling. Don’t try to make up any deficit at weekends, too much sleep is no better. Nap if needed, but don’t use sleep to escape the way you’re feeling. Try not to need…
  • Caffeine: Minimised. The occasional cup of Earl Grey. I can’t have coffee despite adoring it.
  • Diet: Low carb, high fat.Lots of oily fish, lots of avocado. Running friends are currently gasping at the idea of not eating all the pasta the night before a race. My body can’t handle the blood sugar/insulin changes. It converts me to a toddler on a sugar crash.  Similar to…
  • Alcohol: Despite being famed amongst my friends for my love of a drink (and a correlating talent for spilling them), my boozing days are now largely over. Partly because I’ve always been a lousy drunk. The classic drunk crying girl, a lot of parties have ended with me wailing on the kitchen floor. These days, it’s that my resilience suffers for days afterwards like a lingering after effect to my hangover.

I think this is how everyone’s mind works. Plenty of runners start to feel antsy when injured. Caffeine leaves many of us too wired. We’ve all spent mornings hungover and fragile. Mental health is a spectrum and I’m further along it than others. Life requires balance and mine has always been notoriously bad. Seriously, I fall over a lot. Can’t be surprising that my mind falls over too.

Race Report: Romsey 5 Mile Run (2017 edition)

The Romsey 5 Mile Run seems to be my traditional first race of the year. Organised by Offbeat Events, the race consists of three short laps (plus an additional straight out and back section halfway through the third lap) on the Broadlands estate in Romsey, Hampshire. It’s where the Queen spent her honeymoon (Broadlands, not the race) and it is a very pleasant, if somewhat uninspiring race. Whilst I’m not a fan of laps, it does at least breed familiarity.

I haven’t really “run” since the Valencia 10k in November when a hip injury meant I limped around the course and then took several weeks out after. Since then, I’ve turned up for a few tracks sessions with Guildford & Godalming AC and have steadily subjected myself to a mix of swimming, strength and conditioning work, and a number of treadmill runs. I haven’t been out and run, though.

Romsey 5 Mile Run pace

Can you spot: a) dashing around people, b) giving up for water and c) a sprint finish?

My plan was to bimble along and see what I could do.  A field of 672 made for a slow start and the first two miles were spent trapped in small crowds and dashing around people. It did mean that I couldn’t misjudge my starting pace which allowed a steady increase as I progressed. The second half of each lap has a more uneven surface and a noticeable camber, possibly only because the course feels so perfectly flat for the most part that you notice very slight changes! This made for trying to overtake slightly more annoying during this part of the course.

By the time I was completing the second lap, the frontrunners were speeding past us, the winner finishing in 25:42. Despite repeated shouts, a lot of runners didn’t really seem to comprehend instructions to “keep left” and hampered faster runners. Shortly after the 3-mile marker, I attempted to have some water at the first water station and promptly poured most of it down myself (cannot wait to see my race photos…).  As I wasn’t concerned about time, I took the opportunity to pause at the second water station. Cups, they somehow baffle and outwit me every time. With only the second half of the final lap to go, I tried to keep my pace fairly measured until the finish line was in sight. Looking at watch data, it seems I really reigned myself in before a steady acceleration with a few hundred metres to go.

My chip time was 51:13, so somewhere between 3:30 and 4 minutes slower than last year. Despite that, I think I ran better today than last year. Romsey 5 Mile Finishers textI’m currently about 14lbs heavier than I was for this race in 2016 and I am uncomfortably aware of the excess. Last year I was midway through a dedicated regimen of Sunday long slow runs in the approach to Bath Half; a practice that has been dropped while I desperately try to rehabilitate my hip. In 2016 I raced, struggled to hold a steady pace and found it difficult. This year I held back, purposefully keeping my breath steady and controlled throughout. I tried to stay aware of my hip and my form.

Could I have run faster today; almost certainly, but gains made in running aren’t just about speed. All in all, I’m happy with today’s performance. I think I mitigated a surprising amount of damage to my result given how different my circumstances are from last year.

Romsey 5 Mile medals, 2016 v 2017

Medals: 2016 v. 2017

Romsey 5 Mile Run – Is it worth it?

Offbeat Events must be given huge credit; they have only improved a race I already thought of fondly. A greatly improved medal, a new finisher’s t-shirt, a near automatic text with my chip time, live web results. It all made the event feel bigger than it is. At the same time, it hasn’t lost anything that makes it feel such a local, homely event.  Local clubs still play a prominent part. A man with a microphone still shouts your number as you finish and enthuses about how well you’ve done. The goodie bag is reassuringly standard and devoid of rubbish: water, banana, Haribo, medal, t-shirt; a flyer to the Romsey 5 Mile Beer race handed to you separately. Should that appeal, there are still places in their Winchester 10km Road Race in February.

I have every intention to keep up my tradition of making Romsey 5 Mile my first race of the year and will drag more people with me each year.

Romsey 5 Mile Run

My little ginger face and my medal

Hips Don’t Lie: Running with Hip Dysplasia

I know; I’m angry that I’m using a Shakira reference too. My musical taste is better than that. Unfortunately, The National are yet to write any songs about hips or hip dysplasia so I was at a loss.

Quite a lot of my (running) life is spent complaining about a dodgy hip. Every time I mention it, people helpfully jump in with all sorts of solutions. I hear tales of physiotherapists and cross-training and pilates and strengthening exercises. That’s wonderful and I love the support of the running community, but inwardly I sigh. My problems stem from something called hip dysplasia, which nobody has ever heard of and I have to repeatedly explain. It means the mechanics of my hip are slightly different and so whilst yes, all of those solutions help, it isn’t quite so straightforward.

Hip Dysplasia - Anatomy of the hip

Anatomy of a regular hip, (c) International Hip Dysplasia Institute

What is hip dysplasia?

In short, the hip is a “ball and socket” joint and is the largest of its type in the human body. The ball fits in the socket and allows free rotation of the joint. With hip dysplasia, either the joint is malformed and the wrong shape, or sits in the wrong position. Either causes increased force and creates abnormal wear and tear on the cartilage that lines the hip socket.

Nobody is certain about the exact causes of hip dysplasia. In my case, it’s thought that it was because I was a breech baby. It seems apt, considering I’ve spent the 27 years since my birth falling arse over tit on a reasonably frequent basis. Young bodies are malleable and during my birth, my hips got forced inwards, distorting the joint forever.

Hip dysplasia - feet turning in

I can actually still walk, pain free, while my feet are like this

This meant that as a child, I would turn my left foot inwards at a near 90-degree angle. I also couldn’t sit cross-legged in a school assembly for more than about 5 seconds without pain. To this day it’s a revolting party trick, that I can walk with my feet at 180 degrees. On a day to day basis, it’s no longer that severe, although I’m noticeably a little pigeon toed and it gets increasingly noticeable as I get more tired. Some friends have claimed not to notice it until I point it out. Sometimes people on the street notice it and stare.

It is the only thing I remember being bullied about at school. I blame Ant and Dec for having a segment on SM:TV Live entitled “Wonky Donkey”; I seethe when they win the National Television Awards each year.

How it affects my running

Note foot/leg turning in at bizarre angle

It’s the one characteristic I remain incredibly self-conscious about on a consistent basis. This has actually got worse since I started running because for the first time since home videos of my childhood, I’ve seen it captured on film. Almost every race has some level of photography and the bigger road races often provide video footage of you finishing. Seeing me sprint for a finish line is akin to a newborn lamb scampering along – limbs everywhere, all going in different directions. I have, on more than one occasion, burst into tears at seeing quite how ridiculous my legs appear when captured on camera. That is an overstated reaction and I won’t pretend otherwise; you have to remember I’m mad.

I can’t truly comment on how it affects my running because I’ve never experienced the alternative. It seems logical that a joint lacking optimal fluidity should have a negative impact on the mechanics of running. I’ve certainly compensated in other ways and that this has created some imbalances. I have general stability issues that stem from my hip and fall over a lot, repeatedly damaging the left ankle. Pain often kicks in at around 8-10 miles in my left hip to the point where even walking becomes agonising. I can’t sleep on my left side the night following a race. A lot of time is spent trying to hammer out what are “standard” problems and what is an unavoidable consequence of my hip and searching for workarounds. Really, I could probably do with a coach who understands dysplasia and can rebuild my technique to account for it.

The future

The twist in my hip means that my leg moves in a different way from most people. Realistically, I’ll spend the rest of my running days with unwavering devotion to strengthening exercises and physio trying to manage it because else I’m immediately in huge amounts of discomfort. There is no way of correcting the condition aside from surgery to attempt to reorient the joint. One or both hips will require replacement in the future, at a much younger age than is considered normal. Until that day, here’s another odd and grossly disturbing party trick of mine as a result of hip dysplasia:

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