Archive for February, 2011

My Mother Told Me

February 15, 2011

I think it must have been my mother who used to tell me, when I was a kid, that bad things happened so that we can appreciate the good things more. Wouldn’t have been the fascist nuns at my infant school, who were convinced bad things happened because you had sinned. While I wouldn’t want to base a philosophy of life on having to have the bad in order to enjoy the good, I do think I’ve seen a few signs lately of the two going hand in hand.

Comparing notes recently with a few Masters athlete colleagues, there certainly seems to be quite a prevalent pattern of good year, then bad year. Matches my own experience – great 2009, crap 2010. I’m also seeing how, at a smaller scale, this is reflected in two other things, which are, inevitably, related. These are the progress of my training for 2011 and my recovery from severe depression.

One of the great things about being depressed (and those are words I never thought I’d see written down!) is that people refer you to all sorts of great books and articles. A chance conversation in a local bookshop led to a lovely member of staff showing me Dr Tim Cantopher’s “Depressive Illness – The Curse of the Strong” ¬†In its 114 pages, this little book packs a lot of real wisdom. I’ve reached the section in it about “Recovery”. That in itself is good, given the way that depression can destroy your ability to concentrate on a book, and how it has certainly affected mine.

Early words in that chapter grabbed me: “Recovery isn’t, unless you are very lucky, a smooth path upward...” This is so true. As was no doubt clear from my last two blogs, I have been feeling rather better lately. I have even had the confidence to say to myself “Yes, you ARE getting better.” But then come the bad days, down come the shutters, out goes the optimism, and it is all too easy to think you were kidding yourself. I really did take heart when I got to the part of Cantopher’s book which covered exactly this situation, and read: “The crucial message at this time is: don’t act; you are going to be better soon; this is only a bad day.”

In other words, take the rough with the smooth. The one will help you recognise the other.

The book includes this little graphas a stylised diagram of how mood recovers during appropriate treatment for severe depression (be that medication, counselling, or a combination.The author acknowledges “mood” to be just one symptom of depression, but says that, in his experience, “other symptoms tend to follow the same basic pattern, but the timing varies from symptom to symptom in an unpredictable way“. I can’t explain how good it felt to read that, and to realise this was becoming very much my own experience.

And not just in mood. I’ve been boring to death anyone who will listen about how good the “ithlete” iPhone app is for anyone involved in high levels of physical activity (see a recent blog). Without going back over all the detail, ithlete measures heat rate variability, as a measure of current fatigue and fitness levels.

Little surprise then, I guess, to see similar irregular patterns in my fitness and fatigue levels to the pattern Cantopher says can be expected in mood recovery. Here is my ithlete summary graph for the last few months.

The sharp downward dips coincide exactly with severe depression events. However, the latest dip (right hand side of graph) reflects the rather annoying cold I have just developed.

The colour coding is interesting, too. ithlete has a “traffic light” system. Red means activity severely ill-advised. Orange means rest would be good. Green means you can give it some stick. White is ” normal”.

You’ll see that my depression-related dips have no link to a physical need to rest. In two cases, had my mood been able, I would have been well able to turn in a good training session next day.

The blue line, by the way, is my overall fitness trend. Was going well, until recently!

And what of the calf injury, I hear no one ask? Well, ice worked a treat. I had some bruising within 24 hours, which was good, because this showed me I hadn’t imagined anything! I was training again four days later. I didn’t push it hard, but all seemed pretty good. Then my cold struck. I know what they say about training being ok if the cold stays above the neck. Right now, however, I couldn’t even if you paid me.


The Best Laid Plans…

February 6, 2011

Well, still close enough to Burns Night to be a topical title, in the circumstances.

I’m not one who has ever looked forward to the first competition of the season. Too many unknowns, known or otherwise. For me as a sprinter, first competition usually means an indoor 60 metre race somewhere. Big build up, loads of adrenaline, gun goes bang, and less than 8 seconds later, it’s over. Except this year.

The big build up was there. I got the date of the competition wrong. Had I not eventually checked just in time, I might have arrived a week early. I thought I made pretty good use of the unexpected week’s extra pre-competition training. It coincided with very encouraging results from a computerised gait scan by my chiro, and more definite progress in the condition of my troubled left heel. The was also the small matter of the 60 mile journey to the track. I even quite enjoyed the tedious process of registering, and the snatched conversations with friends and acquaintances not seen since last season.

Out on to the outdoor track to warm up. Nothing I’ve not done literally a thousand times before. Wrapped up warm against the wind, feeling pretty good, really. I have never been good at warm up. I either give it too long (nerves) or too little (bad planning or just gassing). Too long turns it into a watered down training session, too little leaves too many concerns about things that might go wrong if not properly eased into action!

I usually start with a couple of laps of jogging, skipping and otherwise shaking out to get the juices flowing. No different today. But a lap and a half in, there’s a pain in my right calf like someone has just hit it, lightly but firmly, with a stick. Unworried, I amble off the track and stretch it out. Hmm, painful, like mild cramp. More stretching until it seems ok. Back to a slow jog, up on my toes. And bang! Big stick, same place, but harder.

Like all athletes with injuries, the first thought is denial. I’ve come all this way, this is the start of an important year, it’s only a bit of pain, probably only cramp, still an hour before the race, I’ve paid my entry fee, I’ll be ok. Only I wasn’t. The short walk back into the indoor arena hurt. The less I moved my leg, the stiffer it got, the more I moved it, the more painful it got. It’s that Catch 22 that actually tells you you’re not making it up, and that you do need to take it seriously. Interesting, it wasn’t even “take it seriously or face the consequences later” seriously. My attempt to just have a see what would happen if I got up on my toes and jogged hard was so pathetic (and hurt!) that scratching from the race, packing and heading home again was almost automatic.

A quick Tweet of the “Bugger, I’m injured” sort really did help me come to terms with it. I’d obviously persuaded myself, because look, here I was telling the world! The journey home was positive. No ” if only” or “supposing I’d given it a go?” thoughts at all. A year ago, in the run in to my depression diagnosis, I’d have been beating myself up for days. Getting home early did feel a bit like bunking off school, but I unexpectedly got to watch the Ireland/Italy rugby live (Ireland being land of my forbears, and Italy my spiritual second home). And ice is a wonderful thing. Ok, I had to smash the first lot out of the freezer with a hammer, but once applied, tea in hand, leg up on a footstool, I did feel strangely contented.

Contented? Have I lost the urge to compete? Am I going soft? Nothing of the sort. I just seem (this time at least) to be able to go beyond “shit happens”, and start at “ok, let’s assess why shit has happened on this occasion?” That’s new ground for me. Just bear with me for a few weeks while I work it out!