Saturday, 15 June 2013

Losing fitness; a benchmark

bear with me, stats are at the end and are precluded by the descriptor........
Once upon a time fitness consisted of being able to train 5, 6 or 7 days per week (depending what I was training for and what stage I was at) sometimes twice or thrice on particular days, with no adverse side effects. We’re talking between 10-20 hours per weeks, though there was a time when I trained 30 hours in a week. Ironically, there is the very strong possibility that my fitness was, in fact, adversely affected by this volume of training.

Fitness is based on your genetics, perceptions and motivation to make improvements. It is different for every unique individual. So if you’ve ever trained and become fit you know that the journey was painful; staying fit, not so. Highly motivated individuals flirt with overtraining more than they ought too and losing fitness becomes something to dread. Ultimately some people are more prone to losing fitness in a quicker fashion than those more fortunate.
Back in November of 2012 (7months ago) I picked up a mysterious hip injury. I ploughed on for 3 months doing everything I could to rid myself of it. In the end I (temporarily) gave up running and with that my goal to take part in the West Highland Way Race which takes place less than a week from now. The latest on the injury is that I am to go for an arthrogram MRI soon. Anyway, when I dropped the running, I contacted my GP and told him I was willing to un-cancel a scheduled Hemorroidectomy.

From that point onwards I was unable to make any plans as I didn’t know in advance when the operation would take place. So I took to circuit and weight training and continued with static cycling (turbo trainer) to replace the running in the hope that I could retain most of my fitness. Nevertheless, my training volume dropped by more than 50%. So in effect I was on a downward spiral from this point – in terms of losing my aerobic and muscular conditioning.
I was operated on the 18th April. I feel somewhat qualified to discuss this as I have had three procedures in the last 16 years; twice for a Hemorroidectomy and in between (3 years ago) for what is known as a ‘banding’.
I don’t have much recollection of the first operation or the recovery period after it. However, on the basis of my being physically active whilst in the Army and the fact that the hemorroids were kept at bay for nearly a decade, I have to assume that there were no complications.
This time around, things have been different. I had three large internal hemorroids removed. In the past, the procedure involved stapling the wounds closed; now they are left open (apparently they heal better this way). The wounds are in a location which have restricted my recovery as well as would have been expected.
I’m sure you can imagine the type of pain one has to endure after this operation. Needless to say, all forms of physical activity were initially ruled out. Rather naively, I gave myself two weeks to recover before I ‘cracked-on’ with my training – as was the case with the banding.
I say it was naive of me but I’ll never really know. The surgeon certainly sided with my optimism but neither of us banked on the stenosis that occurred. Why would we have? When I was informed of the possibility of complications I completely rule them out. Wouldn’t you? 
Anyway, I want to keep this on the thread of fitness, suffice to say that the spasms I endured lasted for approx’ 6 weeks and the stenosis meant that I was in constant pain and unable to do very much. I was able to do something though and here (at the end of week 6 - post operation) the journey to fitness began.
First foray – cutting the grass - at the end of week 6, I plucked up the courage to dabble with my first bout of activity in 6 weeks; the lawnmower was put into action and I cut my back gardens grass. Believe it or not, I had DOMS (in my hamstrings) for 4 days after that!

Second foray - during the seventh week, I managed three four-mile walks and one lower body weights session. Here’s what that consisted;

·         3x20 Bulgarian split squats (body weight)
·         3x20 squat jumps (body weight)
·         3x20 standing calf raise (body weight)
·         3x20 clams, and,
·         2x60seconds plank.

I suffered with DOMS for almost a full week after that! And to think that sort of workout would’ve been a lunchtime warm-up for me not so long ago.

Third foray - into week 8 and after the DOMS subsided I went for a 4 mile run. However, I was determined to keep within my heart rate zone of 75% and that meant breaking the jogging up with equal periods of walking. At least I now had a very tangible benchmark; 10.50 minute miles!

As a frame of reference it should be noted that I have never gone longer than two weeks without doing some form of physical activity, that is, never in my entire life. This 6 week layoff, therefore, presents itself as an opportunity. I have made some recordings;

Before op’
Body fat
Muscle content
Water content
Left upper arm
Right upper arm
Left upper leg
Right upper leg
Left calf
Right calf
Resting heart rate
4mile run at 75%
7.30m/m (pb)
30min TT at 75%
12km (pb)

NR = Not Recorded
TT = Turbo Trainer

So what do I take from these statistics?

No.1 – despite being practically immobility for 6 weeks my legs have not changed shape at all. This has been a useful lesson because it had been previously suggested to me that my hip injury may have been caused as a consequence of having over developed upper leg muscles. That may still be true but I was assured that my post operative layoff would address this problem. It clearly has not.

No.2 – my aerobic capacity has dropped off a cliff, quite literally. Losing over 3 minutes per mile from my running is a real shocker but at least I have an indication of where I’ve been before which will remain as something for me to strive for once again.

No.3 – I’ve lost a lot of mass from my upper arms. Why loads from my arms and nothing from my legs? I don’t know.

No.4 – I’ve started to record my body fat percentage with a set of EKS scales borrowed from a mate. I think this will be quite useful for future reference.

No.5 – perhaps I am more naturally suited to cycling, certainly with my legs being more muscular relative to the remainder of my body it would seem to lend credence to this theory. What do I think about this? Am I likely to take up cycling? I don’t think so.

I’m at peace now with the fact that I’m never going to rival the best of any running club but the freedom and joy of trail and mountain running, either solo or with good company, is unparalleled. For this reason I’m going to use this blog to track myself back to fitness.

I don’t know how long it will take but I have a few goals;

1.       I will learn and undertake a more natural way to eat, one that is more in tune with an ultra runner’s needs.

2.       Increase my upper body mass. My thinking is that I’ll look like more of a man for one thing and I’ll get back to the type of body shape I had in my later years of my military career. The other side to this is that I hope it will bring about more balance to my body composition and thus will mitigate the complications of my over developed legs. I welcome any observations on this, though having said that, advice from other runners is depressingly non-existent most of the time.
3.       I'm going to get my gait analysed at Hampden Stadium sports injuries and health clinic (assuming I get running fit at some point in the future) because there has to be something in the passing comment of most people that I have run with i.e. that I have a strange way of running!

4.       I aim to build up to doing lots of stuff at a slow pace with the odd bit of training done at a high intensity. I’m also going to get used to lifting heavy weights at least once a week. Once I’m content with my ability I’ll step the training up to be more structured in aiming for a particular event – I’m not pinning myself to anything just yet, for a couple of reasons which are about to be divulged.
The stenosis is a serious problem, one that I will require another operation for. I am due to return for a general anaesthetic appointment soon and will know thereafter how much longer I will be out of action for.
And my hip injury! The orthopaedic has told me that I either have a degenerated psoas or a labral tear. If it’s the first, I’ll never run again as there is nothing anyone in the world can do for me. If it’s the second he’ll do key hole surgery on me and I’ll be out of action for a few months after that!

So the next few months will be interesting!



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