Knowing when to pause and rest….

The really challenging thing I find, with arthritis is knowing when to stop and rest. With my asthma, its obvious, peak flow dropping like a stone along with all the usual asthma symtoms. 

With my arthritis, it much harder to judge. After 15 years of living with these aching, creaking, stiff joints, I’ve developed a high pain threashold and a great deal of resiliance. Arthritis isn’t static, there are days where my joints are much better than others, there are days I throw all caution to the wind and “go for it” irrespective of the consequences and there are days where I just want to crawl under my duvet and stay there!

I have always believed in taking responsibilty for my health, eating a reasonably healthy diet, taking regular excercise, keeping up a reasonable level of fitness, taking good care of my chronic conditions, watching my weight and finding my way round challenges and curve balls that head my way-not focusing on the negative, the things that might go wrong, but rather always trying to seek out ways round difficulties. 

Despite all this, though I appreciate that there are times where I need to rest. Arthritis renders me at greater risk of injury and if I go too far, I really feel it. A good example of this, was when I was in Lanzarote. I walked for miles, but on the Tuesday I was in so much pain, I could barely walk. Sometimes, it’s worth it, as it was in Lanzarote (that night though, after resting all day and taking codiene, I still managed to knock out the Macarena and join in with the Conga!).

Last Wednesday, my left hip and knee was particularly painful. I knew what the culprit was, butterfly! It was painful, to the point I complained about to my workmates. I choose to rarely complain about my pain, firstly if I did I’d always be moaning and secondly, it drags me down and also, those around me. 

I really wanted to try out for a mile, that night. I was really determined, but same time I didn’t want to make situation worse. I need to train, but I’ve still got nearly six months ahead of me. I knew if I pushed it too far, I could be out the pool for upto three to four weeks, which is risky as I could be the out, even longer if my asthma chooses to pitch in. 

In the end, I decided to go for a swim and judge by how I felt, as I swam, though is difficult as the pain is far less noticable, in the water. 

I arrived, this time at Jarrow Pool, I asked when the pool closed. I was informed, that there was an aquafit session at 6, but that pool closed at 8. It was 5.35pm.

In the changing rooms, I stuffed a bag of crisps in my face in anticipation of swimming a mile, which can burn 5-600 calories. The lifegaurd asked me, as I entred the pool, if I was there for the aquafit session. “No”, was my responce, “well you’ll have to get out at six” WHAT? He went on to explain the pool closes to the general public during Aquafit, I went on to explain, that it had been explained to me that the pool shut at 8pm. 

It quckly became apparent, that I’d been offered the wrong information. I’d have to get out, at six, I could if I wanted, grt back in at 7, but not wanting to spend an hour sat wet, bored snd cold I opted to exit the pool at 6, but I took it right to the wire, swimming, in total 400m, far short of the 1600m I’d planned and anticipated.

I am taking a few days off now, but I should be back in the pool on Sunday, if all goes as planned.

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And we’re off…training begins here!

The “silly swim hat marathon challenge” is six months in the future, but my training has to begin now. I will, without a doubt, loose training time due to my asthma and this has to be taken into account. Last winter, I was out the pool for 14 weeks, from November to April.

The first thing I need to be doing, is creating the time and getting into the habit of swimming five times a week. To complete the challenge I have set myself, I will need to swim on at least 5 days out of 7.

The next thing I need to be doing, is swimming at least a mile each time, building up to 2k. 

Tonight I completed my first training swim, I was planning on swimming a mile, but in an 18 metre pool this is monotentous! This is not helped by the fact that, pool is in the basement, with no natural light!

Half the pool was roped off, for childrens’ swimming lessons, though I’ve never actually seen the children swim a length. They seem to get verbal instruction, allowed to practice swimming a couple of metres then it’s back to sitting on the steps, while the next one has a go! 

That meant that the actual space for swimming was 18m long, by 3.5m wide. It takes very few people, for the pool to become very crowded. 

The pool itself, has it’s wall’s flanking three of its sides, meaning that it can soon get very choppy as the waves hit the walls and then bounce back. In a conventional pool, the water sloshed over the side and into the drain. This further adds to creating a challenging place to swim!

The pool, soon became crowded and busy. Most people were leisure swimmers, gently swimming up and down, heads up, hair and make up perfect, while chatting to their mates. (Obviously the make element applied largely to females!)

There were one or two, more serious swimmers, but trying to smash a distance, proved to be impossible. Then I had technical difficulties…

First of all, I couldn’t get my “swim watch” to work and being so dark, the pool is illunated with only small spot lights, it was near impossible to fix this issue. In the end I gave up and decided just to enjoy swimming, irrespective of my distance.

 Then my goggles began to leak, it’s pretty uncomfy swimming along with your goggles full of chlorinated water, it also results in looking like Mike, from Monsters Inc, after he sprayed deroderant in his eye!

I’ve never yet found a pair of goggles that didn’t leak after six months and I’m not yet convinced that I’ve found the right pair of goggle’s for me. However, I quickly realised, that part of the problem was that I was wearing a new swim hat, which sits lower down my forhead, hence preventing a tight seal for my goggle’s.  Having sorted that out, I was off and swimming.

It was a really good swim, though I didn’t complete the distance I wanted too. I did accomplish swimming six lengths (108m) front crawl, using tumble turns throughout. 

I also achieve swimming 3 lengths  (54m) butterfly, this I am particularly pleased about. When I started learning butterfly, it was deemed that, my chronic back injury rendered it too risky to swim more than 10m. In time, this was increased to 25m, as my strength improved and only last week, it was suggested to me, while I was at the pool, that I maybe try increasing it to 50m. Butterfly is a difficult stroke, for anyone and and anti-social one!!! 

Then having cracked 50m butterly,  I decided to see if I could increase my individual medley distance to 200m. Individual medley,  often shortened to IM, consists of an equal distance of Butterfly, Backstroke, Breast stroke and Freestyle.  It was hard, but I achieved it and now, I have another PB to improve on, along with my 1600m and 100m front crawl.

My asthma, really struggled towards he end of the swim, my chest was really tight and it took a good couple of hours for my lungs to calm down, but I’ll be back in the pool tomorrow! 

Slightly panicking….

I’ve sat down with my calculator, this morning, to work out out a swimming plan for “my big swim challenge”. I’ve realised that, that if I’m going to have any chance of completing it, I’m going to have to be in the pool, at least five days a week and swim around 80 lengths, each time.

Because of my arthritis I will need to factor in, regular rest days and also, not cramming my distances. That is, not doing 3.5km in a day, so I can have an extra day off, because as I’ve already learnt, this will potentially lead to injury and a flair up of my arthritis. 

Completing this challenge, for Arthritis Care, will be largely psychological. Believing I can do it, not focusing on the negative, not concentrating on the pain, not thinking of what might go wrong and just keeping going.

It’s going to be a massive challenge, both physically and mentally, but with determination and the right attitude I know I will succeed! 

I’ve six months to go, so my primary focus right now, is to get as much support as I can, get as fit as I can, eat well, look after myself and get in the right place, mentally. 

Backwards in reverse!

I’m trying to start planning, my timetable for my my swim challenge. Yes it’s months away, but I feel I need some sort of plan so that I’m not getting to the middle of the month and panicking, because I’ve only done a quarter of my intended target. 

The final week of the challenge, coincides with Arthritis Care Week, the date for which isn’t yet confirmed, but this is the week I’m swimming 10km.

Based on last year’s date’s the plan is 

13th May 2km

14th May Rest day

15th May 2km

16th May 1.5km

17th May Rest day

18th May 2km

19th May Rest day

20th May Final day 2.5km

The real challenge lies though, where to swim ? 

My local public pool on a Saturday will be busy, I know from experience, how difficult it can be to swim a distance in busy pool, particularly when you have a young children, intent on bombing you as you swim! I would like to complete my final swim, at a date and place that allows others to support me, on the poolside.
I’m going to e mail a few pools nearer the time, in the hope that I’ll find ine that support me on the day, otherwise my supporters are going to be refereeing the pool! 

Splashdown…

Tonight, I was back in the pool for the first time in two weeks. 

I was a bit concerned, at first,  my peak flow suggested that there is still some airway obstruction. However, I did as I always do and took a few puffs of salbutamol and then, away I went. 

The first length was tough, I learnt tumble turns some months ago, for those who are familiar with tumble turns (or flip turns as they are sometimes known) they are far from easy to learn. For those who see them on the telly and think, they look easy take it from me, they’re not! You have to get your distance, positioning and breathing right, in a split second! Get it wrong and you either, kick out at water and look silly, breathe in under water, come up gasping with snot running down your face or worse, injure yourself. 

Tumble turns, take hours and hours of practice, the first few weeks proved tough, in fact I hated them, but now they are second nature and getting easier. Tonight, however I saw the wall and panicked. I was so annoyed with myself, my flip turn had flipped back, two months.
So tonight, I concerned myself with swimming widths, doing a tumble turn, swimming another width and so on. Pushing myself and working hard to regain confidence. 

I also took the oppurtunity to do some balance and strenghthening work, to help my creaking joints. Arthritis is crap, it hurts and you feel as stiff as an old carthorse, this has been my life for 15 years, but determined not to focus on the negative and spend my days bemoaning my lot,  fixated on the pain I’m in, though I hold my hands up, of being guilty of this, somedays, I try to translate this into something with a more positiv.

Finally, as still have a nagging fear of deep water, I decided to pencil jump, into to pool, the pool is 10 ft deep. What actually happened was that, force of the water, shot my goggles over my face and I got my eyes full stinging, chlorinated water. The result was that I came spluttering back to the surface looking very uncool indead! 

Swimming in silly hats…

OK, so I’m still awake, so I may as well write my next post…

Arthritis Care Gateshead is a charity that is  close to my heart, though I rarely attend meetings, owing to other commitments. It’s a place that’s given me so much: acceptance, cconfidence, friendship and the ability to manage my arthritis better. In short, they help pick me up, at my lowest point, when I was told I needed a walking stick, at 38. 

Now it’s time to give something back…

It’s a massive challenge that I’ve set myself: a marathon in a month, with a marathon in a month. 

Sound confusing…well let me explain!

A marathon, in running terms, is 26.2 miles, while a swimming marathon is 10km, so the plan is to swim 26.2 miles in a month, with 10km being swam in one week, which will take place during Arthritis Care Week in May 2017. It’s going to be a massive challenge!

The plan was to source a swimming hat, on which could be printed “Arthritis Care Gateshead” with my name printed on it, but it would seem that this only possible if ordering 500! So the idea is, to swim it in “silly swimming hats” the sillier the better. 

I’ve already sourced 3 and I’m on the hunt for more, I’m hoping I can get the branch involved in this and I’m really looking forward to the challenge.

Things can only get better…

It’s time for a very long, over due update…

I haven’t blogged for months, there’s lots to update, on!

In August, I picked up a repetitive strain injury in my right elbow, which meant I was out of the pool for three weeks. It was an incredibly frustrating three weeks. Thanks to support and advice from other swimmers, Google is an amazing resource,  I have changed my arm pull, but I’m get to to really see if this will make a difference.

By this point, it was early September and after over 300 days of counting, I was eagerly awaiting my holiday to Lanzarote, a week of relaxation and swimming in outdoor pools. 

Then on Friday, six days before I was due to fly, I awoke with a sore throat and my peak flow, had taken a decidedly downward progession, bugger. I used my nebuliser and rang my nurse, her advice was no nonsense and to the point “if we’re to have any chance of getting you to Lanzarote, we need to get you on prednisolone, today”. Bugger! 

I then sat and disolved in to tears of frustration…you b@@@@@ds, how is it possible to hate something, so essential to life, so much? My lungs, actually, it’s not my lungs, it’s my asthma, my severe, difficult asthma that I hate!

(I need to add at this point, that I rarely get infections, so early, it’s usually late October/early November the infections hit).

I started prednisolone, slowly my lungs responded, my asthma improved and on Tuesday I was given my clearance to fly. I took my last dose, 36,000ft in the air, on a Thomas Cook Airbus A321! I also used my nebuliser, as advised and completely freaked out the woman next to me, who told me that she was a care worker and seemed to be convinced I’d drop dead on the spot, despite my protestations, that I was fine and just carrying out my usual treatments!

I arrived in Lanzarote and had a truly memorable and wonderful week, I laughed, danced, walked and of course, swam…I’m so grateful to the fact that swimming ha’s really improved my physical fitness, as to allow me to do these things, despite my health problems.

On the Monday, there was an option of a discovery walk, to a local “viewing spot” I was up for that, despite the temperature being in the high 20’s.  It was incredibly hard work and of course I had my rucksack, with my nebuliser etc with me. 

The viewing area was on top of a hill, a steep gravely hill, with no real identified path, I looked up and thought “there’s no way I’m getting up that” then I saw someone, at least 25 years older practically run up it! Not to be outdone, I decided to give it a go, despite being nearly on my hands and knees and puffing on my inhaler, I made it, I was so proud of myself and it was so worth it, for the breathtaking view.

Then there was the small matter of getting down, visions of having to be carried down, swam into my head, luckily, slowly, step by step, with the help of other participants, I got back down. By now I was sore, aching and really struggling, the walk out there was close to two miles and climbing the hill, had really taken it out of me. 

The tour leader stuck with me, other participants offered to carry my bag, slow but sure, I made it back to my hotel, using self-management techniques. Never did I think, the hotel is two miles away, it was always I need to get to that rock, then that plant, then the bridge and eventually, my hotel. I was so relieved to stumble back, to my room, but so exhilarated that I’d achieved it.
I had managed because, swimming has taught me, the importance relaxing my muscle’s.  It’s the same when I decide to have a bit of a dance, if I allow myself to relax and being in tune with what my joints and lungs are telling me, I can achieve so much more and I’m much less likely to take a tumble. Yes I will still ache and be sore, but self-management has taught me how to manage that, too. I’m in control. 

I also swam, a lot,  not big distances, but I practiced tumble-turns, over and over again. Getting my timing right, getting my breathing right, not kicking some poor, unsuspecting bloke, in the love spuds, wedding tackle, knackers, balls, goolies or whatever else you want to call them-believe me, I’ve so nearly done it!!

More than anything I chilled out, ate well and enjoyed the sunshine and yes, I also sank a fair few cocktails, being all inclusive and all that!!

Then, like every holiday, it came to an end and I flew back home to Britain! 

The first week back and the second, was great, I felt really well and I discovered, after a comment made about me having lost weight, that I’ve lost nearly a stone, since I started swimming.

Then, less than two weeks after my return, onmynous clouds began to gather, I woke up on the Wednesday with a sore throat and my asthma didn’t feel great. I questioned, as to whether I was developing what I refer to as a “back to back”. A second infection, in less than month. It’s only happened four times before, March this year, March 2014, September 2010 and way back in 1994 or 5. In September 2010, I was hospitalised for 4 days and started on what I commonly refer to my miracle drug, Tiotropium.

I went to bed on Wednesday and was rudely awoken, by an incredibly sore throat in the early hours of Thursday-after a lot of silent and inward swearing, I swallowed two paracetamol and went back to bed, only to awoken, again, in the early hours this time I shovelled codeine and some ibuprofen down.

By Saturday I was loaded with cold and my asthma, was in a word, crap, getting up the stairs in one go was out of the question. Everything pointed to me needing another course of prednisolone, but I was determined not to. My asthma nurse will have a fit, if she finds out!

I knew what I was doing was irresponsible and potentially dangerous, but I couldn’t face it! I battled on through Sat and Sunday, despite having very little sleep, and then on to Monday. By Tuesday, people where making noises that I should be on prednisolone, but my PF was on the way up and I was feeling better. I had managed it, I got away with not needing the “evil smarties” and I felt smug.

Until the next morning that is..

The next morning, I awoke and my first thought was “you evil b@@@@@ds” my lungs, clearly determined  to have have their own way, had thrown a massive spanner in my plan, in the form of a chest infection. I felt dreadful, shivery and more frustratingly my PF was 310, I was out of options, leave it any longer and I was going to be in serious trouble. I’d gone to bed, on the crest of a wave, and woke up in deep water, water I was not going to be able to swim out of alone. I needed a life belt, I needed both prednisolone and anti-biotic’s. 

So this is where I’m up to right now, swimming cancelled for at least another week, asthma is improving, but it’s going  to be a long winter-I’m currently where I usually am, in January,  I’ve already  had two courses of pred, meaning that my immunity is pretty much wiped out for when the really nasty bugs come sailing in.

I need to swim and I need to train, as I have a massive swimming challenge coming up, in six months time, but more of that on my next post, I promise you, it will be a lot more positive!