Healing Through Exercise

“She was living life; she was not a victim. Exercise had helped her heal.”
Read how walking a half marathon helped one intrepid woman in her recovery from a double mastectomy.

Adventures of a Funatical Runner

I see articles all the time about how we should be exercising to stay healthy. But what is even more important is how we can use exercise for healing. Exercise is incredibly therapeutic.

The first person to hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail (AT) was Earl Shaffer, a World War Two veteran who did it “to walk off the war.” Now Warrior Hike is helping veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to realize the same therapeutic benefits of long distance hiking. They support groups of veterans that hike the AT, the Continental Divide, the Pacific Crest Trail, and Florida Trail. It is such a positive way to help veterans transition back into civilian life.

Exercise helped my friend, Buzz, recover from a double mastectomy after her third bout of breast cancer. During her radiation treatments, she was getting exhausted. But Buzz realized that to get…

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Confessions of a Penguin

Right now the only running I’m doing is over the road in busy traffic or into doctors’ consulting rooms.

After my second Robin Hood Half in 2010 - guess who's got the copyright LOL
After my second Robin Hood Half in 2010

Getting my running gear on and just taking off, however slowly, is one form of me-time – and I feel so much more sane once I’ve done it.

Plus it’s a lot cheaper than alternatives where the weight isn’t put on the foot (e.g. swimming, spinning, one-to-one instruction).

It’s a coping strategy and not being able to do it is pretty annoying!

This blog is, arguably, brought to life by other people’s experiences – whether they’re reblogs or interviews.

But a recent I’ve-just-looked-at-my-diary-for-tomorrow-and-it’s-manic text in response to an interview request has prompted some me-time.

So that’s why this post about me – and my running.

After "bootcamp" - I'm the one in the Adidas top messing around with the water bottles!
After “bootcamp” – I’m the one in the Adidas top messing around with the water bottles!

Yes I’m slow. I’ve done the Robin Hood Half Marathon in Nottingham twice – my personal best is about two hours 42 minutes.

I had to remind the tired cheerleaders to keep shaking their pom-poms in Wollaton Park!

Suffice it to say I’m just glad that there’s a finishing gantry still there for me to run through.

And even though my rucksack’s one of the few still waiting to be claimed, at least volunteer support staff are there.

Slow runners are here to stay!
Slow runners are here to stay!

Luckily I’ve never come last – but I know someone who has – apparently you get the biggest cheer!

US writer John Bingham championed the cause of slow runners like me in “The Penguin Chronicles” in Runner’s World and in (one of his many) book(s) “No Need For Speed”.

The latter could be my motto – though I vastly prefer the saying he’s famous for:

“The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”Penguin editor

do have that courage. I also have doctors’ orders not to run for another month. Hey-ho.

Here’s to all those Penguins out there – I will be joining you again soon!

Take a look at John “The Penguin” Bingham’s website here: http://www.johnbingham.com/index.php

Temporarily Sidelined. . .

“Unfortunately one foot released but my right foot stuck in the strap due to having neoprene booties on. My foot twisted in the strap and it was incredibly painful.”
A kiteboarder fractures a fifth metatarsal in action.

JHydro Power Blog

Last Saturday I met up with some friends to kiteboard on Lake Washington in Darwin, MN, home of the world’s largest Twine Ball.  Wind was steady, sun was shining and we were having a fantastic day jumping and spinning and enjoying a perfect Minnesota kite session.


On one of my jumps, I went a bit higher than expected, swung under the kite and the lines were starting to slack, so I looped the kite in the air and came in for a pretty hot landing.  Nothing out of the ordinary, but the nose of my board dug into the water and sent me toppling.  Unfortunately one foot released but my right foot stuck in the strap due to having neoprene booties on.  My foot twisted in the strap and it was incredibly painful.  Surprisingly I stood up and was only in chest deep water even though I was in the…

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The Marathon Man Who Faced Amputation

As Austin Rathe embarks on this Sunday’s London Marathon, his experience of lying in a hospital bed with two shattered legs will be a distant memory.

Austin had never run more than a mile before the accident
Austin had never run more than a mile before the accident

Yet it was these injuries that motivated him to take up running in the first place.

Austin, now 32, was hit by a car in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, in March 2001 – and at one point doctors considered amputating one of his legs.

He says he himself was never told about this, but his parents were informed.

The possibility of amputation was discussed a few hours after the accident and there was still a risk after surgery.

A fully-recovered Austin with his surgeon Peter Livesley in 2004 (Photo from BBC)
A fully-recovered Austin with his surgeon Peter Livesley in 2004 (Photo: BBC)

Peter Livesley, the orthopaedic surgeon who operated on Austin, explained: “Not only was the bone broken, but it was in pieces and the skin was broken as well.

“That’s about as serious as you get before losing the limb.”

A long convalescence followed, but when I caught up with him this week, Austin was keen to stress that, unlike many of the people featured so far on this blog, he wasn’t worried about missing out on his exercise regime – because he didn’t have one in the first place!

Wheel of Fortune - the lure of the London Marathon is seemingly irrestible (Photo: Ryan Pierse, Getty)
Wheel of Fortune – the lure of the London Marathon is seemingly irresistible (Photo: Ryan Pierse, Getty)

“The thing is, I wasn’t ‘side-lined’. When I had the accident I never did any exercise at all,” he told me, “It was not a part of my life in any way. Of all the things I missed, I didn’t miss exercise.”

He continued: “I was always going to be able to walk again, but I was not sure about running, so I had to push myself,” he said, “When you go through those experiences you have to have something to aim for. It’s months and months of physiotherapy.”

Pleasure at the fairground - he's back on his feet after the accident in 2001
Pleasure at the fairground – he’s back on his feet after the accident in 2001

So the man who had never run more than a mile made the decision to run a marathon while still in his hospital bed.

Fast-forward to the 2004 London Marathon and he completed it in four hours 15 minutes and 26 seconds.

But that’s the thing, isn’t it? There’s no “fast-forwarding” in real life – nobody can wish the time away to full recovery.

Austin’s convalescence from such serious injuries was considerably longer and far more arduous than my own, which, though annoying, is trivial in comparison.

So what advice does he have on handling the situation?

“It feels like a very long time, but in retrospect the good thing is you don’t feel that time. It’s very boring when you’re recovering but it quite quickly becomes a memory. It can be difficult and depressing for lots of reasons but it does go away.”

When I spoke to Austin just before the 2004 London Marathon he had no intention of running another one, but other marathons followed, with a three-hour-52-minute personal best in 2007 (“Every time I finished one I said ‘that’s my last one’ – but it becomes more attractive. Each you forget how it hurts!”).

He wants to raise £2,000 to help disabled kids play video games
He wants to raise £2,000 to help disabled kids play video games

He’s not sure whether the injuries sustained in 2001 still impact on his running now.

His left shin (where pins, now removed, were drilled in to secure an external fixator) swells up on long runs and he has to watch his knees.

Nevertheless, he says he’s “determined” to enjoy the 2015 London Marathon (“I’m not bothered about time, anything between four and four-and-a-half hours will be fine”).

Austin wants to raise £2,000 for Special Effect, a tiny charity which helps kids with disabilities play video games – you can donate on his JustGiving page here.

Read my original BBC article about Austin Rathe here. Admittedly it is difficult getting to view Anthony Bartram’s TV report, but you may be luckier than me!

Beauty Despite Cancer

I’ve just had my first guest blog-post published – on Beauty Despite Cancer (BDC).

There are beauty solutions available for women undergoing chemotherapy
There are beauty solutions available for women undergoing chemotherapy

Having looked at the various contributors and their stories I can honestly say I felt humbled.

So my first post focussed on my own experience of what efforts are made – charity-wise – to tackle cancer – notably in Walk The Walk and Race For Life. I intend to mention more about these fitness challenges in future blog posts on Em’s Way To Go.

A relatively simple injury has challenged my self-esteem, my image and my sense of how attractive or unattractive I am.

Cancer treatment can compromise a beauty regime
Cancer treatment can compromise a beauty regime

At my last visit to the Fracture Clinic I met a woman who couldn’t brush her own hair. Even personal grooming is compromised.

It doesn’t too much imagination, then, to realise female cancer patients face a far greater challenge in this respect.

“Women don’t stop being women when they are diagnosed with cancer,” says Jennifer Young from BDC.

The aim is to give back a sense of control
The aim is to give back a sense of control

She explains that the treatment often damages more than just the disease it’s targeting – so patients can often suffer from dry, sore, sensitive and itchy skin – and that’s why she developed the Defiant Beauty skincare range.

Research carried out in 2007 revealed many female patients reached a low point in their cancer treatment when they no longer recognised themselves in the mirror.

So, basically, Beauty Despite Cancer offers an online magazine full of practical advice for women who face a changed beauty regime because of cancer.

Giving them back a sense of control can only be a good thing.

See my profile on Beauty Despite Cancer here

And here’s the home page!

Yoga With An Injury – The Practicalities

At the moment I’m only really able to do restorative/yin yoga, and – as my instructor Espi Smith has pointed out in a previous post, I can not do anything at all which puts too much pressure on the foot.

Don't strain that foot!
Don’t strain that foot!

What I want to do here, briefly (not least because it’s Sunday and outside the sun might even be shining even here in England LOL), is to show how determined people have compromised their practice despite injury.

Despite the benefits of a class, I’ve always enjoyed my YouTube Yoga sessions too – the laptop balanced precariously on the sofa, the living room becomes my Ashram.

And so, once again, I’m looking to YouTube for coping strategies!

Here’s Jordan, who broke her fifth metatarsal (and from the X-ray it looks quite close to her joint), showing her adapted Sun Salutation.

The YouTube description mentions that the injury – sustained four weeks prior to the video – is “notoriously difficult to heal” (tell me about it!).

Needless to say it makes feel just great to see someone practicing despite being in plaster.

Here’s US instructor Lara Falberg showing a seated sequence intended for those who already have a yoga practice and don’t intend to give up because of a fracture.

Judging by a guy calling to her in the background, she’s in her living room too!

She started the routine 10 days after undergoing surgery.

From a personal point of view, the question that begs the asking is: Are both sides of the body getting an equal workout?

After all, if say, it’s your left foot that’s hurt, there’ll be no weight put on that, as opposed to when you do the same on the opposite side. And if you’re in plaster, then there’ll be the extra weight involved in lifting it – again on one side.

In my own restorative sessions just after the injury, I noticed I was a lot stiffer on my left side (all that hobbling LOL).

Not that any of these factors should put anyone off practicing in a modified, sensible and professionally-guided session!

The most determined will always find a way, but yes, it’s all about compromise too.

Does Yoga Heal?

Can I still do yoga? Here’s a Q & A session with my instructor Espi Smith.

Espi says painful moves should be avoided
Espi says painful moves should be avoided

Me: What adaptations should I make to my practice?

Espi: I guess that depends on how you define the word “yoga”. If you are looking at only the asana (postures), they you will need to modify your physical practice to account for your injury. In your case, you should avoid standing and kneeling postures as well as some seated asanas that involve the outside of your foot putting pressure on the floor. If it hurts, it’s a definite no-go!

She uses a greater understanding of internal energetics and anatomy since being injured herself
She uses a greater understanding of internal energetics and anatomy since being injured herself

However yoga is much more than a physical practice, its a way of looking at life. Pranayama (breathing exercises), meditation, proper diet and positive thought will all help keep you happy and healthy throughout your recovery.

Me: Anything I should definitely avoid?

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”

Espi: Anything that puts unnecessary pressure on the foot. Remember to listen to your body and not your ego, if there is pain it’s a sure fire way of knowing that you’re upsetting a part that should be healing.

Me: Do you know anyone who’s survived injury to continue their practice?

Espi: Yes, me! A few years ago, before I’d let go of my ego and gotten over my competitive side I decided that I couldtry and jump from Down-dog to Crow (an arm balance that requires a lot of strength).

Good communication is the key to maintaining the fitness lifestyle
Good communication is the key to maintaining the fitness lifestyle

Turns out I had a lot more momentum than strength. I face-planted on the floor with all my might and wound up in hospital with a neck-brace on and some very worried-looking doctors. Luckily I hadn’t broken anything I just had soft tissue damage.

A positive attitude is important
A positive attitude is important
The injury left me with a huge fear of inversions and arm balances. It took a couple of years of very grounding practice to give me the confidence to practice my arm balances and inversions again. Under the careful instruction of my teacher during my teacher-training, I got back into it.
Me: Can injury make people who enjoy exercise feel cut-off and even make them drop out altogether?
Espi: I think this is very much to do with each individual’s attitude towards being injured. If you see it as being betrayed by your body and allow yourself to feel that you have been kicked to the side-lines then yes, your are likely to become isolated.
It's all about mind, body and spirit (artwork by Molly Pepper)
It’s all about mind, body and spirit (artwork by Molly Pepper)
However, if you adopt a positive attitude, respect the road to recovery and speak to your teacher/instructor about the things that you can still do, then you’ll still be able to enjoy the fitness lifestyle.

Me: How can meditation help?

Easier said than done!
Easier said than done!
Espi: Meditation allows you the time to get out of your conditioned mind. The one that tells you that injury means “being out of the game”.
When you do it, not only will you get the chance to clear all the negative emotions that surround being injured, you also bring a deep sense of relaxation to the physical body.
The muscles and the nervous system will get a well-earned break and this will help to relieve any built-up tension and waste products that come up as a result of injury.
Finally, thanks for giving me the opportunity to speak about this on your blog, Emma. Rest, relax and remember to breathe. You’ll be healed in no time.

Cleared for take-off?

I’m discharged.

X-ray from six weeks ago - fifth metatarsal fracture clearly visible
X-ray from six weeks ago – fifth metatarsal fracture clearly visible

The six weeks is over – the bone is officially healed.

I was given the news after a one-hour-45-minute wait, during which time I’d met a prison officer who’d broken his arm in two places falling downstairs at home (“my daughters help me”) and a carer who’d smashed both his elbows out walking his golden Labrador when she spooked and pulled him to the floor (“Lucy hasn’t left my side since”).

I was brushing a woman’s hair and fastening her pony-tail when I was called over  – she couldn’t reach around and neither could her mother (“C’mon, this lady here’ll do it”).

Mr Bhalla, who examined me, explained I had “good flexion”.

Long waits are inevitable at the bone clinic
Long waits are inevitable at the bone clinic

How did he know the bone was healed?

“You ran in here”.

Apparently no physiotherapy is necessary as my recovery is good – and walking will do the trick.

The shoe can come off – good news – now I just need to find some suitable ceremony for dispersing with it or maybe I could make it into some Modern Art installation?

Gettin' a groove on - but it'll be another six weeks before I can run again
Gettin’ a groove on – but it’ll be another six weeks before I can run again

What about exercise? Well, predictably, the high-impact ones, the ones that cost the least money to do – ie running and Guerrilla training – will have to wait another six weeks (“It’s three months after a fracture”).

The pay-in-advance ones – swimming, cycling, cross-training, spinning etc – they’re all fine.

Funny how getting injured didn’t automatically make me any  better-off financially to make these adjustments!

Yoga? Fine as long as I don’t stretch the foot, put all my weight on it.

Will the bone be more vulnerable? He doesn’t see any reason for arthritis.

It was good to see the original X-rays (on the computer screen) – especially with the realisation that this time the clean oblique break shown in them had healed.

Mr Bhalla explained the fracture was not near the joint and that, apparently, is “good”.

Things are changing, blossoms on the trees, the sun’s out – a contrast from the filthy coldness I contended with when first injured.

My foot’s changed too – healing happens.

Now join me as I continue towards my running goal.

Eve of the Fracture Clinic

Well – tomorrow’s the biggee!

He's smiling - will I be?
He’s smiling – will I be?

Time for my 6-week check-up at the Fracture Clinic.

Good news – I no longer hobble. Or even limp. The bone soreness is still there but the grotesque elephant-man swelling is gone. The outline of the tendons can be seen. The OAP-style bloating of the ankle has vanished too.

And I’ll be honest with you, when they said six weeks I couldn’t really envisage any improvement whatsoever.

But there has been a coming-to-terms-with-the-situation – or acceptance – and you’ll have gathered I’m a pretty impatient person.

No Love Like Shoe Love!
No love like shoe love! But when can I ditch it?

In “The Lore Of Running”, Tim Noakes, MD, says; “Finally, after some months (!), the athletes learn to accept their injuries and to modify their ambitions to accommodate the inadequacies of the mortal body.

“When this occurs, the athletes are likely to be over the injuries.” (My italics)

So is Time really the great healer?

There is still plenty of work to be done regarding this foot – very much a Work In Progress. And plenty more to go on this Blog.

The science behind a lifestyle screw-up
The science behind a lifestyle screw-up

Now I just need to know I’ve got the right questions for when I finally get to see the doctor!

  1. How can I know if the bone has healed?
  2. What physiotherapy will I need? (So far I’ve been offered nothing at all)
  3. Do I need to keep wearing the shoe?
  4. What advice on exercise? When can I start doing it again – eg – running, guerrillas, high impact.
  5. What are the chances of this injury happening again?

I just want, above all, to be treated as if this injury, small though it is, is not inconsequential.

Okay it’s not life-threatening. I can still work.

I just want some acknowledgement of the impact it’s had on my life. As if I haven’t imagined the whole thing.

The one thing I really don’t want right now is disillusionment.

Once again – watch this space.