Running Up That Hill

As you guys have heard many a time before, I am not a particularly big fan of the old health and fitness scenario. I like a good dance (with or without cocktails), I bloody love to swim (you’ve probably heard that a million times right?), but occasionally I pull on a pair of running shoes and drag my backside out for a shuffle around the block. I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again. I am no athlete and I don’t hugely enjoy running, but I do it because I know it’s good for me. And it means I don’t need to feel too guilty about eating all of the cheese. Or chocolate.

Last year, I took on my first 10km. I trained relatively hard, taking on Sydenham Hill once or twice a week and dragging my backside out for shuffles that began to look increasingly like jogs, nay, perhaps even those illusive “runs”. I finished the 10km in 1 hour 7 and I was pretty bloody pleased with myself.

Cancer changed things a bit. I went from running reasonably far at a fairly reasonable pace to being forced to retire my running shoes while my breast healed (or rather, attempted to heal) post mastectomy and all of the follow up surgeries. I found myself counting down the days to when I could get back to running, but then when I did, chemo meant I was worse at running than the early days. I tired easily and I was absolutely furious with cancer for ruining all the hard work I’d done. It was a bloody battle, and one that ended quite a few times with me sobbing in the park, aching, cold and pissed off. With life, with cancer, with my body, with myself for crying in public. Again.

But not long after I got diagnosed, I’d signed up for the Cancer Research Winter Run 10km again on a whim. You know, one of those, stubborn WELL CANCER ISN’T GOING TO RULE MY LIFE whims. One of them OH HEY CANCER, YOU CAN’T STOP ME whims that I came to regret when race day rolled round two days after my last chemo. Great timing, eh? It was suggested I give it a miss, but those whims and my pure bloody mindedness meant there was no way I wasn’t crossing that start line. I would have crawled there if I’d had to. And I’d have crawled the whole 10km if I needed to.

And I did it. With the aid of two of my closest friends, two family members and my homeboy CDB, I bloody did it. Bald and all. And I won’t lie, it was bloody glorious. I loved it. So much more than when I did it solo last year. I got high fives and hugs from strangers. We ran through the closed London streets on a drizzly, chilly Sunday, past some incredible landmarks and sights. And we ran more than I imagined we would. And it made all (though there weren’t many) of those sad preparatory runs worth it when we crossed the line after 1 hour and 31 minutes.

Staying active during cancer treatment is hard, especially if the activity you love most is off limits. So find something you don’t hate and set yourself a goal. But don’t make it an unachievable one. And don’t put any pressure on yourself either. Leave every expectation you have of yourself at home. And I KNOW how hard this is. I’m perpetually hard on myself, and it took a shift not to be. But remember just how much your body is going through and has been through. Give yourself a break and be proud of yourself just for heading out, even if you run for two minutes and walk for 25. That’s totally cool. And remember to be proud of yourself too.

I can heartily recommend finding a #Squad. I honestly believe that my clan carried me round that 10km run – not physically as initially expected – but mentally and emotionally. I held them all back as my pace was slow but I’m so grateful to them for running with me and being such an awesome bunch of people. It makes me a bit teary when I think about it. I salute you all.

I’m off out for a shuffle round this afternoon. I don’t have any aims for distance or time. I’m just going to go out and enjoy moving my body. And I’m going to be grateful that I can.

Here’s a few snaps from the day:

NB: I didn’t fundraise this year, just in case I didn’t make it to the start line or across the finish line. But Big Sis is fundraising for Look Good, Feel Better throughout the year and Sophie is fundraising for Cancer Research. If you wanted to, I’m sure they’d be happy to receive your donations. Choose wisely (LOL).

OH PS – I only went and bloody won Lifestyle Blogger of the Year at the Blogger’s Lounge Awards. Literally never expected that to happen. Not in a million years. If you voted THANK YOU. Couldn’t have done it without you. You’re a rock star!

Getting Chemotional – Part 2

Almost unbelievably, I’ve found myself facing my last chemo session this afternoon. It feels equally like it’s taken an eternity to get here and the last few months have flown. I’ve said again and again that chemo is the gift that keeps on giving – nausea, fatigue, constipation, infections, hair loss, sore feet, painful skin, scaly eyelids, emotional turmoil, more fatigue, mood swings, chemo brain, loss of appetite, relentless appetite, my cyborg woman PICC line – but ultimately, it’s probably going to stop the cancer from coming back, so I owe it a lot. Even though I HATE IT.

Chemo (and cancer) has taken a lot from me over the last few months, but it’s given a lot too. Perspective for one thing, gratitude for another. Determination. The odd emotional melt down. Excessive snot (who knew running with no nasal hair was such a snotty affair?). Appreciation for what all the incredible staff at Guys Hospital and throughout the NHS do. Joy in the little things, pure joy when fatigue doesn’t stop me from doing the things I love. It’s made me  obscenely thankful for the people who have really been there, offering calls, texts, visits, food, love and company when Chris and I both needed it most. I consider that we are very lucky. The (x factor word) journey is far from over, but I’m glad to be getting back on the train after a pretty brutal stop in Chemotown.

I know there are a million posts on what to expect and how to deal with chemo, but I wanted to throw my hat into the ring to share some of the things I’ve found make chemo just that bit easier. This is long. So sorry in advance. And if you’re just starting out, I’m sending you a big dollop of love, from right here.

1) The Dumbledore Deal. You know in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince when Harry and Dumbledore go to retrieve the horcrux from the cave? And Harry has to make Dumbledore drink all of the potion before they can get the locket? Well, I think drinking on chemo can be a bit like this, especially on FEC. So find yourself a Harry Potter and get them to engage in the Dumbledore Deal with you, reminding you to keep hydrated even if you don’t feel you can. Drink loads before chemo. Drink loads during chemo. Drink loads after chemo. And keep drinking, even if you feel sick.

2) Fizzy sweets and mouthwash. Chemo makes your mouth gross. From a thick coating on your tongue to a distinct lack of saliva, sores and ulcers, your mouth goes through a range of different experiences during both FEC and Tax treatments. I found Dentyl’s clove mouth wash worked a treat to help me keep my mouth clean and infection free, while the odd fizzy sweet made my mouth feel almost normal for a moment or two.

3) Hair loss. There’s no avoiding the truth of it – hair loss is a bloody kicker. I chose not to cold cap, so I knew all of my hair would fall out pretty quickly, and almost exactly on cue, 19 days after my first chemo, it did. I’d cut my hair short, then gone for a buzzcut pretty much straight after my first chemo to reduce the shock of losing my barnet. While losing the hair on my head was hard, I think I was more affected by losing my eyelashes and eyebrows because my chemo moonface made me look like a cancer patient. Hats can cover up bald heads and eyebrows can be drawn on, but there’s little to be done about empty eyelids. Alas, it’s not all doom and gloom. I’ve had fun playing with headscarves, rocking turbans and wearing buffs with bows – some of my favourites came from ASOS, The India Shop and vintage stores. Hair loss is hard and looking in the mirror is equally as tough some days, but it’s worth it to evict this squatter, hopefully for good.

4) Get away from it. I know it’s tough when you’re full of drugs, facing appointments and battling fatigue but I can’t recommend getting away for a few days enough. At Christmas I spent two weeks in my hometown and during the weekend just gone, I spent a glorious two nights of blissful comfort in Portsmouth. I don’t know if it’s the sea or good company, or just being removed from the situations that have become the norm over recent months, but getting out of London allows me to get away from cancer and just have some room to breathe – so it’s worth it if you can make it work.

5) Support. Being diagnosed with breast cancer as a young woman can feel hugely isolated. I went to one event where I was the youngest person in the room by at least 20 years and I felt totally alone. Luckily (or not so luckily because they’ve got cancer too) but I’m so grateful for my Boob Gang. They know what I’m going through and are beyond supportive when I find myself snot crying in the park. The Younger Breast Cancer Network on Facebook is also an infinite resource of information from women in the same situation as you – whatever stage of treatment you’re at. Dimbleby Cancer Care offer an amazing range of services to make living with cancer easier. Look Good Feel Better teach you how to make your face look a bit more your own when your skin looks like tracing paper and your distinct lack of eyebrows makes you look like an alien. Breast Cancer Care have their Someone Like Me service. The Willow Foundation offer “special days” to help steal you away from the clutches of cancer for the trip of a lifetime. There’s so much support out there if you look for it

6) Emotional blackmail. This sounds like a weird one but before every chemo, I would at some point look Chris square in the face and say in my most petulant voice “I DON’T WANNA DO CHEMO CHRIS”. At this point he would respond with (in his stern, managerial voice) “do you want to go to Glastonbury?” I’d look down at my feet, shuffle a bit and mumble a “yes”. Then he’d say “well then. You have to have chemo. Deal with it”. I’m hoping to bookend my treatment with Glasto (I was diagnosed about one week after last year’s festival and we got tickets for this year and by hook or by crook, I will be there). Find an end goal. Strive for it. It’ll keep you going.

7) Rest and exercise. Knowing when you should rest and when you should exercise is HARD. Fatigue from chemo is a f**ker (sorry for bad language but it really is). You’ll never know tired like it, if you’re affected, but if on some days you can find the strength to work up a little bit of a sweat, it’s worth it. Rest when your body tells you to, try to walk once a day, even if it’s just for 20 minutes. And if you try something more strenuous, leave your expectations at the door. Don’t be hard on yourself when you don’t go as fast or as far or as hard as you used to. Be kind to yourself and your body. Remember it’s going through a lot too.

8) Food and shopping. This is easily the thing I’ve found most stressful about being in chemo. Eating is hard. You either have no appetite, stuff tastes weird or your tongue explodes at the merest hint of something spicy. Shopping is hard. A few weeks ago I went out to buy stuff for tea (dinner to you southerners) and when they were out of stock of the main component of my fish pie, I was so tired I almost cried in the Co-Op. I just couldn’t face shopping. And the aftermath! Washing up! Washing up for days! Endless piles of plates and pots and pans! That’s a pain in the backside too. But ask for help. Most of the time you’ll find your friends are only too bloody happy to help you out. So make the most of it. And if your friend is going through chemo, ask them for a shopping list and do their shopping for them. Drop a cooked dinner off. Just pop in and ask if you can do the dishes (or hoover for that matter). They might not know how to ask but they’ll be so, so grateful.

9) Feel what you need to. Chemo is a whirlwind of emotions (as demonstrated by my posts over the last few months). I’ve been guilty of slapping a smile on when I really didn’t feel like it. While there’s an element of “fake it til you make it”, that’s not always possible and nor should it be. This is hard. Let yourself have a cry when you want to, even if it’s those wracking sobs that leave you feeling like you can’t breathe. Make jokes about cancer if that’s what you need to do even if you’re worried it might make someone feel uncomfortable. Get angry. Cancer is bullshit! It’s ok to say it. It’s ok to feel whatever you want to. And don’t ever feel like it isn’t.

10) Lastly. Most importantly. Don’t give up. You can do this. And me and anyone else who has been through chemo are right behind you. It might feel like you can’t make it, but you will. Then you’ll look back and think “that was a breeze” – even though really, it was a little bit like hell. This quote was sent to me earlier this week (thank you Sandra) and it’s fitting. Remember it:

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in.” – Haruki Murakami

Cancer Research Winter Run – Conquer The Cold

A few weeks ago, I was rudely awakened by my alarm ringing out at 7am on a Sunday morning. It wasn’t going off by mistake either, and as much as I would have liked to have turned it off, turned it over and gone back to sleep, I dragged my sorry backside out of bed. The reason I was leaving my lovely, cosy flat early on a Sunday morning in favour of heading out into the three degree weather was to run my very first 10km.

Let’s just take a second to recap on my running “career”. I was a horrendous runner in school. My anti establishment father used to write me notes to excuse me from taking part in cross country, having sympathetically watched me fear that portion of my education more than any other. I was one of those people who believed I just couldn’t run. I’d tried it and I had decided it wasn’t for me. But then I decided to do that ridiculous 25at25 thing and the gauntlet was laid for me to start running. On Boxing Day 2013, I left Mum and Dad’s and embarked on Couch to 5k. It was miserable. I didn’t enjoy it. Fast forward to October 2015, when I’d found some kind of solace in running and had officially left my 25at25 year behind, I signed up for the Cancer Research 10km before I knew what had happened.

Queue a whole bunch of soul searching, running home on a route that is 75% uphill, doubting myself, nerves and attempting to convince myself that I could do it. February 1st rolled around and I found myself stood alongside 11,000 other runners and Big Ben, ready to Conquer to Cold and run that 10km.

The Cancer Research Winter Run was, dare I say it, pretty fun. With my number pinned to my chest I queued from Horse Guard’s Parade, down onto the river front, and began the race at about 10.10am with Westminster behind me and the sun on my face. The route, which scaled the length of the river down to the Tower of London, looped back around and up to St Paul’s then finished up back where we started was glorious – and to my utter delight, pretty much completely flat. Supported by polar bears and cheerleaders and guaranteed snow on at least two parts of the race, you could feel the atmosphere – especially when the crowd was asked who had been directly affected by cancer, and who was still undergoing treatment. There was one person in my wave who was still undergoing treatment and it was the thought of them and all the people battling cancer and in recovery that pushed me on when I thought my legs wouldn’t carry me any further.

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I finished the race in 1 hour 7 minutes and 33 seconds. I’d been aiming for 1 hour 10, so when I crossed the finish line a little tearfully at 11.18am, I knew I’d beaten the time I had set myself and I absolutely couldn’t believe it. It is a long time since I felt that proud of myself.

Running has definitely become a big part of my life now (yeah, I don’t know who I am anymore either). Though I can’t see myself running a marathon anytime soon, I reckon I could take on a half next year. Since that Boxing Day in 2013 though, I’ve definitely become one of those people who likes fitness stuff – fashion and gadgets mainly. My Nike running tights make me feel like an absolute badass as well as keeping me safe on dark, winter runs while my Nike Aeroloft Running Vest keeps the wind off my chest and makes sure I keep warm on those miserable rainy, windy runs in the depths of January.

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My new favourite running companion though cropped up on my desk at work the day after the Cancer Research Winter Run. I only wish it had arrived a day or so earlier, because I am ultimately impressed. I’m talking about Runphones. I’m absolutely convinced that this simple little headband can make a massive difference to anyone who leads an active lifestyle.

It might look simple, but actually this little band is home to a couple of wireless speakers that play music straight into your earholes from your phone via a Bluetooth connection. Yeah, I know, sometimes technology blows my mind too.

I hadn’t realised how restricted i was by headphones when I was running until I was completely wireless. Suddenly it was easier to turn my head to check for traffic when I was crossing the road, my headphones weren’t falling out of my ears as I was lolloping along. It was utterly fuss free and ultra safe. Runphones enable you to hear music at a volume that’s still motivational without blocking out the sounds of traffic and what’s more, the speakers are removable and the headband is washable. No gross sweaty bugs lying around near your face. The wireless Runphones I’ve got retail at £69.99 and are available direct from Runphones.

I never thought I would be so impressed with a piece of equipment designed for runners. Namely because I never thought I’d be a runner. Turns out I kind of am.

Here’s a picture of me looking squinty with a polar bear to prove that I am still the same person I was 15 months ago, just a fitter one wearing a medal around her neck.

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If you want to donate to Cancer Research, you can text BEAT to 70200

Runphones sent me their wireless headphones to trial but I really am genuinely impressed with them. So much so my parents just bought themselves a set each. If that’s not an accolade, I don’t know what is.

#CurrysChristmasWalk

Christmas has 100% crept up on me again this year, so much so I have no idea how I managed to get all of my Christmas shopping done with minimal stress.

For many though, Christmas shopping can be a bit of a chore – traipsing round the bustling high street is often a bit frantic. The high street stresses are a far cry from the festive spirit we traditionally associate with this time of year, so when Joe Bloggers got in touch to invite me on the CurrysChristmasWalk with them a few weeks ago, I was keen to see the alternative shopping experience they had in mind for us.

They’d teamed up with Best LDN Walks to take us on a tour of some of the oldest shopping haunts in the city – away from the crowds and the fury of the shoppers on Oxford Street. Not only that, but Currys wanted to make us all feel better about the number of mince pies we were certain to eat over the coming weeks, so they gave us a piece of wearable tech to prove just how many calories you can burn while marching around the bustling streets, laden with gifts for your loved ones. I got to test out a Garmin Vivofit – more on that in a minute.

On our stroll around Piccadilly, we visited chocolate shop Charbonnel & Walker, longstanding bookstore Hatchards, Berry Bros liqueur shop, Lock and Co hatters and Paxton and Whitfield cheese shop. I’m not hugely familiar with this part of the city and I would never have thought to do my Christmas shopping here, but there was certainly something for all of the people on my festive list. And Hatchards has fast become my favourite new haunt in London. A bookshop with a spiral staircase? Hello! Anyway, I snapped several photos before my phone gave way – so here they are:

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Our guide Charlotte was incredibly knowledgeable about the stores we were frequenting and the surrounding area. This is the only Best LDN Walk I’ve done, but I’m certainly keen to do more in the future. They have a whole host over on their website (linked above) so be sure to check them out.

I was initially given a Jawbone to test on our festive stroll but couldn’t get it to pair with my phone, so at the end of the walk, I had it replaced with the Garmin. As a result of that I don’t have the final stats for the walk, but I can guarantee you’ll be surprised how many of your recommended 10,000 steps per day you get done walking around for a couple of hours.

For me, wearable tech is more useful when I’m running (which I’m doing more of these days) than for everyday but the Garmin Vivofit is still really cool. The display shows you how many calories you’ve burned, the miles you’ve travelled, the steps you’ve walked and how far off your daily target you are as well as the time. It feeds all of this information back to an app on your smart phone, allowing you to track all of these things, as well as using GPS to track your routes. I think you can also use it to track your heart rate but I haven’t figured out quite how yet.

*I was invited along on the Curry’s Christmas Walk and was gifted the Garmin Vivofit but this hasn’t affected my views on either the walk itself, the wearable tech or the excellent tour provided by Best LDN Walks.

Hot Pilates with simplyhealth

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I’ve been getting into this fitness lark of late. I’ve gone from a girl who swam once a week and occasionally fumbled my way through a ballet class to someone who dances, stretches, strokes and – still unbelievably to me – runs regularly. It turns out all those people who rave about the benefits of exercise aren’t losing their mind. In fact, it seems like they’ve all been talking sense this whole time – who knew?!

I took up yoga a while back and as a person who loves a stretch generally found it offered me a little piece of stretchy haven in the midst of a busy week. Despite having written about the benefits of yoga, pilates and Tai Chi, on London Beauty Queen, I’d only read about the benefits of pilates so I was excited when I got an email from simplyhealth asking me to pop along to a hot pilates session they were running at Yotopia in Covent Garden.

The benefits of hot pilates are many. The 35 degree temperatures (which are a little lower than its Bikram yoga counterpart) help you detoxify. Sweating allows the body to cleanse itself, whilst viruses can’t survive high temperatures. The heat also allows your muscles to stretch more, allowing you to get into deeper poses which in turn can enhance weight loss.

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(Cue awkward no make-up, gym wear photo)

Yoga teacher and osteopath Amy Slevin fronted the class, talking us through the key concepts of breathing, imprinting and ensuring you’re in the right positions at all times. We worked our way through planks, balances and stretches all while getting increasingly sweaty. The hour passed pretty quickly, despite the fact some of the exercises seemed to last for small eternities.

Pilates focuses on core strength and as such is incredibly good for your back. My family and I know all too well the impact back problems have on every day life, so I’m often trying to increase the strength of my back. Through ballet and yoga, the strength in my back is increasing, but I was interested to check out simplyhealth’s back care app for top tips on how to look after it a bit better.

I really enjoyed my experience of hot pilates, but I think yoga remains my first love. When a friend asked me the difference, I explained that for me, yoga is more about being kind to your body than pushing it to get results, while pilates is more focused on working yourself hard. That’s not to say yoga isn’t difficult because it is – it can be as hard as pilates and leave your core muscles as tender the next day but for me, it’s more about giving yourself a little love and TLC. I’m looking forward to giving one of Yotopia’s bikram yoga classes a go with the voucher included in the goodie bag.

There were a whole bunch of lovely bloggers at the event. It was so nice to finally meet the incredible Katie from FatGirlPHD (her blog is a must read – reading it so often elicits a big YES from me) and briefly speak to super impressive Kirsty, who’s training for the London Marathon.