4 hours, 11 minutes and 47 seconds of pain, exhilaration, agony and ecstasy!

700 miles training, 6 months of going to running clubs religiously twice a week, hundreds of pounds spent on physio, sports massage and chiropractic, two pairs of trainers, countless Saturday mornings spent plodding the roads for hours on end, all summed up in just 4 hours, 11 minutes and 47 seconds on Sunday 22nd April 2012.

Imagine me looking delighted, drained and delirious all at once!

Inside I’m thinking “I’ve got the medal and I didn’t even mug anyone. Or buy it off eBay. Result!”

That’s it! I did it, I really bloody did it! On Sunday I ran 26.2 miles, something I was never sure my body was truly capable of! And in a fairly respectable time too. The time is almost irrelevant to me – I ran the whole thing, no walking and as I was told last week, “you want to look yourself in the mirror and know you ran a marathon and not that you ran 20 miles and walked 10km.” I wasn’t sure whether it was possible, but those words echoed in my head every time I considered walking and they drove me to keep going.

Last time I blogged, my training was coming to an end and all I had to do was chill out and stay injury free. Not so easy! I’m still not sure what caused it, but I started to getting severe pain in my piriformis (a muscle deep in my glutes), which made running very painful. So I put myself on self imposed box rest, took tablets and got utterly depressed that all that training had been in vain. Giving myself a whole week off, I went to run again and whilst the first two miles were ok, I limped tearfully round the final four. Knowing that I’d never get round 26 odd miles unless I sorted it out, I did nothing but swim and spend an extortionate amount of money on physio and sports massage in the run up.

Traditionally you do taper before a marathon and cut your training right down, but just three days before I’d not run in over two weeks, which was so hard for my brain to take. I was terrified that it was going to hurt from the start line and that the endless swimming and stretching had been for nothing. On the Thursday, I went for a slow 2 mile jog and nothing hurt, which did wonders for my confidence. Suddenly I could get excited about it again – ok I knew it would hurt before the end, but if I could start fresh, it wouldn’t seem so bad. I had my race number, my vest and even more importantly, John, who had taken up the role of my personal pacer through our training, had magically found himself a space to run on Sunday. Well, he’d suffered all those long weekend runs with me; it only seemed fair that he got the medal and glory he well deserved too. Suddenly the anticipation was all a bit too much to cope with. Friday and Saturday were nervous affairs marked mainly by over eating pasta and drinking litres upon litres of water.

We headed into London on Saturday night and walking back across Tower Bridge to our hotel, we saw the mile markers being built and it got even more real. Dinner was a quiet affair with Zizzis filled to bursting point with people carb loading, drinking water and generally looking pensive. As I was fundraising madly, I’d barely let a day go by without reminding everyone that I was running the marathon, which meant that all the good luck messages started flooding in on Saturday evening. It was quite simply amazing – I had no idea that so many people cared so much. It seemed that people thought I was either brave, mental, amazing or amazingly mental. The nerves kept piling up and Sunday morning finally dawned and despite the weather reports forecasting wind and rain, it was a beautiful morning. Breakfast was a sombre affair of bananas and porridge, then it was time to put the gear on and get going. For 7.30 on a Sunday morning, the city was already buzzing and full of people setting up for the day’s excitement.

Once we got to Blackheath, it was usual race procedure; we stripped to our running gear, John made the two minute trip to the urinals whilst I queued up for fifteen minutes for the ladies! Then it was time – when I collected our numbers I was delighted that in some twist of fate we were in the same starting pen (out of three start lines with 9 pens each, I was quite amazed!) However, we were in pen 9, which is designated for the slowest of people. So, surrounded by three hippos, two wombles, two stilt walkers, two naked men (except for their aptly placed toolboxes), and a guy carrying a massive metal tower, we made our way to the start line.

At my final pre-marathon hash, I was told by David (ex GM and 154 times marathon runner) that the first 6 miles will make or break your marathon. London starts downhill and bouyed up by the atmosphere, its far too easy to go too fast. Go too fast to begin with and you’ll crash at mile 22. Take it steady and you’ll overtake hundreds of people coming back at you in the last 7 miles. So with that in mind, we set off at a steady 9 minute mile pace, just soaking up the atmosphere. The first miles flew by in a haze of heady excitement; I remember so many great moments in the suburbs. The guy who stood by the first mile marker, shouting “not far to go now! Just 25.2 miles!” made all the runners laugh. The runners who kept getting the other runners (and spectators) chanting “oggy, oggy, oggy” made the whole thing seem like a big party. The pavements were lined with street parties, barbeques and hundreds of kids holding out jelly babies or desperately reaching out to slap your hand on the way past. All of the pubs were open with big loudspeakers set up, cranking out music with people cheering us on over the mic – it was so surreal to be involved in something where everyone came together for a big party.

We carried on plodding our way to Tower Bridge, where we had stood under the 20km sign the night before and it felt like no time at all before we were at the half way mark. Realistically, it was 2 hours after we’d started, but they flew by in a haze. There was so much to see and I’m gutted that I can’t remember it all already, despite being less than a week ago. There was the amazing moment where we ran round the Cutty Sark and then Dave. We ran alongside a guy called Dave for a fair while. If you saw him, you’d remember. He wore a metallic blue thong and a bunch of balloons. Although running behind him was less than pleasant, it was hilarious watching the crowds spot him and react in exactly the same way for miles.

Up until the half way mark, I’d barely felt my leg at all. At around 9 miles, I’d felt the odd twinge, but at around 14 miles, I started to feel it with every step. It wasn’t too painful at that point, but I was certainly aware that I could feel it. We went round the Isle of Dogs, which is notoriously the hardest part because there are fewer people there. In an organised moment, I had created an itinerary for my parents to follow to try and see me and the Isle of Dogs was one place I’d sent them. Although we didn’t see them, I found looking for them to be a good distraction for a mile or two. As we came out of the Isle of Dogs, we were around 18 miles, which came as such a shock to me. Although I’d been ticking the miles off and counting down to them, I couldn’t believe we were only 8 miles away from finishing.

We were  into the final third and to be honest, I was a little relieved because I could really feel my glute with every step. Stepping down on it sent a shooting pain down the length of my leg and I was glad it hadn’t started playing up earlier on. It seems my swimming and stretching had helped delay the pain for as long as possible. I think it was around 19 or 20 miles where I was just streaming expletives as my glute clutched my hamstring, aductor (and all those other muscles in my thighs that I didn’t know about) and held them tight, making every step painful. It was at this point, John suggested I tried doing the stretches I’d been taught in the last few weeks. Stumbling to the pavement, I did the “pigeon stretch”. (Imagine trying to make your legs into a swastika and you’re nearly there!) I think this photo was taken moments before I crumbled to the pavement as I distinctly remember nearly lying down in front of the photographer by accident. I think it sums up the pain…

Imagine my death face...

The only consolation is that the guy behind me looks like he’s in as much trouble as I am!

Just pausing for 30 seconds to stretch it off made the world of difference, even if it was only for half a mile that the pain was relieved I knew that we were so close to being there and being the stubborn old bag I am, I was desperate not to walk. It was at this point, that I decided to pick up my pace!! Until then, I’d been chasing John and I seem to remember (very temporarily) shooting off ahead and for the briefest of moments, letting him chase me. There was so many little things that kept me going – the guy holding the sign saying “run like you stole something” and another with the classic “pain is temporary, pride is forever.” And it was at this point, I turned to all those messages I’d received telling me what a mad thing I was doing, how mental I was or how amazing I was for giving it a go. Hell if it were easy, it wouldn’t be an achievement would it?

I made it all the way to 23.8 miles before needing to stretch again. Deciding I needed to stretch again, my leg made it’s own decision and buckled underneath me. I hobbled to the pavement and lay down, legs in the air, eye closed, screeching as I pulled my knee to my shoulder. I opened my eyes to see a Medic standing over me, which was enough to get me back on my feet. There was no way I was being stopped now. John pointed at the bridge we were in the shadow of. There was a Lucozade sign saying “2.5 miles until you do something amazing”. It was so close, but so far. We got back underway and soon we were on the Embankment. Hobbling along, I saw a guy that looked even worse off than me, which spurred me on. Knowing that everyone was suffering and that I was pushing myself to the limit was enough to remind me how proud I’d be when I finished. Despite my little stops to stretch, the rest of my body felt fine and I can honestly say, I didn’t notice “the wall”. But I did notice the hundreds of people stopping and walking around us. Everyone was right, overtaking everyone in the final ten miles was the best feeling ever.

Pausing for another 30 second stretch along the embankment – somewhere near 25 miles if I remember correctly, I contorted myself again. Now I knew that I was carrying on and that I wasn’t walking, but the crowd had no idea. I could have been going to give up then and when I stood up and carried on running, hearing thousands upon thousands of people screaming my name and willing me on was the biggest rush of adrenaline ever. I tell you what, it was worth lying down just for that! I remember seeing a couple of girls cheering me on who I’d seen earlier round the course. They had no idea who I was and I’d never met them before. But for that milisecond, we bonded, recognising that we’d already met and I was still going!

The buzz of turning that corner and hitting Birdcage Walk was just unreal. I don’t even remember it – it’s like a dream. I saw the 800m to go sign and remember berating myself for getting excited. Afterall, it was still another half a mile. I’m not sure where that half a mile went though because the next thing I know, I was grabbed by the hand and pulled through that finish line! Stumbling forwards, I couldn’t believe it was over and that was it. All those months of build up and it was done. The marshall put the medal round me neck and I seem to be remember telling her I loved her, but couldn’t she have come to me? – clearly delirium had set in!

Although it’s such a personal battle and only you can face your dark moments on a run, it was just so good to have someone there spotting for me all the way round. Clearly I was a high maintenance running buddy, but I like to think I’d have done the same if it were needed the other way! Just knowing that if you stop, you’ll be slowing someone else up is enough to keep me running anyway!

I think the excitement all got a bit too much for me as I suddenly felt hugely dizzy, dissolved in a bit of a heap and then promptly threw up 26 miles of water. Not my most glamorous moment and certainly not a highlight, but the prompt reaction of those around me was amazing. St John’s were there within seconds, grabbing me and taking me inside to check on me. I was fine once I’d been sick, but the medic (a flying doctor) told me how pleased he was that I’d run for the Air Ambulance, the guys were all super friendly and helpful and wouldn’t let John or I leave until we were in warm, dry clothes and had taken some sugar and fluids on. Their prompt service was amazing and although I’m grateful that I didn’t need serious attention, they were there every time I had a wobbly moment to offer their help.

Clearly this has been a completely personal challenge to me, but I love that I can use something that I can do that perhaps others can’t to raise money for a cause close to my heart. Thanks to your generosity – for it was nothing that I did, it was all you guys – so far, I’ve raised £2305.40 for the Thames Valley and Chiltern Air Ambulance. I can’t believe that I’ve managed to raise so much and I’ve so much to thank you all for. Thank you for putting up with me being an anti social git during my winter training, thank you for letting me come to a post run pub pudding in my lycra without disowning me. Thank you for donating so generously, thank you for sending me such inspirational messages and the biggest thank you goes to John who not only ran every training run with me, giving up our weekends to the cause, he stuck by me at every step and stopped me being squashed whilst attempting the swastika amongst 36,998 other runners. That, and for washing my sicky medal…! Thank you everyone!

I promise I’ll stop being a running bore now – on to the next challenge! Having said that, I’m hooked! Everyone told me what an emotional rollercoaster it was, but it was that, tenfold. The highs (and lows) were so extreme, but the minute I stopped running, I forgot every moment of pain and just wanted to do it again. Bloody endorphines…

If you haven’t donated yet, there is still time – you know the routine, check out http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/bryonyharper and see if you can get my total up to a nice round number!

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Bry’s Marathon Mission

For the last six months, I’ve given up my life with the London Marathon as my aim and the endgoal. For so long it has been a distant goal and something that I’m having to flog my guts out to get anywhere near achieving and whilst it has been a distant goal, it hasn’t worried me unduly as I know I’m constantly training to get nearer to my ambition of completing a marathon.

Last week a major milestone occurred that makes it much more of a reality; the 22nd March came and went and suddenly the Marathon was weeks away and no longer months. As I write this, it is 23 days away and yes, that’s just three weekends between me and the biggest test of physical and mental strength/endurance of my life. As you might be able to tell from the tone, I’ve gone from being quite blase about the whole caboodle to feeling nervous, intimidated, terrified – you name it, I’ve probably felt it!

Last Saturday John and I ran 20 miles. Oh yes, you heard it right – I found someone else willing to be dragged into my hare brained plans. And at that point, he wasn’t even training for a marathon! It was a beautiful sunny day and so the shorts came out, we each packed 4 energy gels, a bundle of caffeinated sweets and the emergency credit card and set off on the longest run of our lives. Neither of us had ever run that far and I think it’s fair to say that stopping was by far the best moment of it! The sun was really beating down on us and so as soon as our watches instructed us to stop, we fell into the nearest shop to buy water and ice lollies!

At the time of finishing, my legs felt like they were ceasing up, I felt dehydrated and genuinely wondered if I had another 6.2 miles left in me. But as always with running. after about half an hour, I’d forgotten the aches and pains and was busy wondering how I could run faster and longer. I find it simply amazing that we ran for 3 hours and 5 minutes, most of which was spent blocking out some form of pain, but yet within an hour of finishing, I felt invincible and of course I could run faster and further than I did that day. I think the endorphin rush must send my head a bit strange!

So I’ve now run my longest run and received my registration pack through in the post. I just have to keep ticking along for another three weeks, avoiding injury and keeping myself fresh. Essentially, if I’m not ready now, I never will be. And if I panic and do more to try and get ready, I’m likely to do more harm than good. So now I’m meant to sit quietly and relax, but underneath I’m bubbling with anxiety having no idea if I’m ready and how am I going to know? The only way I’ll find out is by running 26.2 miles, which I can’t do before the marathon because that would take too much out of my body. I just have to trust everyone that tells me the crowd and the excitement will carry me another 6 miles. Even though another 6 miles is about another 50 minutes of running! (By the way, anyone that reads this does qualify for a counselling fee!)

Other than the minor mental breakdown the imminent long run seems to be causing me, everything is going well. Fundraising is going exceptionally well with over £1000 raised now! I find it astounding how generous everyone has been. People I barely know have sponsored me, which just blows me away. I guess doing something like this really shows you just how amazing people can be – and to everyone that has sponsored me, no matter how big or small the amount, I have so much to thank you for! And I tell you what, when the going gets tough and I want to jack it in, the fact I’ve taken £1033.40 of everyone’s money is enough to make sure I finish that race, even if I have to crawl over the finish line! (Plus I really want that medal!) Of course, if you haven’t sponsored me yet, you can do at www.virginmoneygiving.com/bryonyharper Or even if you just pop over to check out the amazing, lovely and inspirational messages everyone has left, it’s good stuff!

Next time you hear from me, it’ll probably be single figures until the big day! And then I have to work out what to do next – the London Marathon has been my aim for so long, I don’t quite know what I’ll do without it!

 

Link

“There will be days you don’t think you can run a marathon. There will be a lifetime of knowing you have.”

 

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on here, but as we’re well into 2012 now, I feel it’s only fair to update you on my Marathon Mission and my progress.

December saw a last minute holiday to New York, which you might have thought along with a killer cold, would have slowed my training, but against all my better judgement I carried on regardless. I planned to have a nice restful week, but waking up at 5am every morning from jet lag, there was little to do other than abuse the free wifi and use the gym. One morning, I even searched New York Hash House Harriers, but sadly their runs cost $20 – a far cry from our £1 hash cash!

Realising that I probably wasn’t going to be able to beat my cold into submission, I gave myself a whole week off and then an easy week or so. And boy did I appreciate it! After Christmas (but before New

 

Year I’ll have you know) I was back out plodding the streets with renewed vigour. I ended 2011 in style with a 10km trail race, called the Gutbuster on New Year’s Eve. Well, there is no fun to eating and drinking too much if you haven’t been up at 6am for a sprint through the fords of rural Berkshire first! We ran round the course at a fairly stonking pace, I got my free mulled wine (and John’s) and went back to the car. Somewhat distracted by the flat tyre that I’d gained, I completely missed the prize giving. (Well it’s not something I normally need to bother with.) Anyway apparently I was the second ‘open lady’ (don’t, it’s not big or clever!) to finish, which gave me my first (and last) running prize!

So now, the proud owner of a wooden plaque, I was spurred on to enter a glut of pre-marathon ‘warm up’ races. Well, it was either the wooden plaque or the numerous bottles of wine consumed later that day – it’s hard to tell! January was marked not by races or speed, but by the long slow plod of a Sunday morning. Finding someone else foolish enough to join me on my long runs was a great boost and suddenly I found myself running from Tadley to Basingstoke in an epic 19 mile run and I could still walk at the end of it! Feeling full of confidence that I’d finished January running two thirds of a marathon, I leapt into my races.

Following my 19 mile run, I headed down to Devon for a few days of Boot Camp. Monday was a nice relaxing day at the spa, where I did a couple of hour stints swimming, but rested up for the days ahead. Day one started with a half hour warm up in the gym – just a brisk 20 minute cycle and two rowing races! We spent most of the morning being tortured by various odd looking devices in the gym; my favourite was the leg press. The resistence was set so

 

 high that when I lay down and pushed my feet against it, all that happened was that my bum lifted up! Kettle bells, weights and resistence work was all on the menu – a delight for an unfit runner like me! A short break for lunch and then the killer cardio started – an hour’s high energy spin class, which ended with the instructor driving us 6 miles from the gym and getting us to run back (on busy country lanes with no pavements!) When we got back, we had to do 80 lengths in the pool. The next day was slowed down a little by the snow, but we were driven out into the wilds of the moors (after getting stuck in the snow twice) and made to race the 10 miles home. The rest of the day was completed with kickboxing, more resistance work and circuits. All that and then the drive home to Wycombe. I know how to use my holiday!

The next weekend saw the Grim Night Terror. Yep, it’s as daft as it sounds. An eight mile trail run across Aldershot military training ground, up sand dunes and through waist deep bogs. Unfortunately (or quite fortunately as it turned out), the freezing spell meant all of the water was under 4 i

 

nches of ice, so we were more likely to suffer from a broken ankle than hypothermia this time. It was a first for me though – my first night-time, trail run in the snow! I’m not ashamed to admit that I layered up for such an event; two pairs of running tights, a thermal base layer, a winter running top

 

, a neck warmer, hat and two pairs of gloves is perfectly normal right?

Racing round that in under an hour, we were over the moon and promptly celebrated with a fat Chinese takeaway. There has to be a perk of a Saturday evening race, right?

Next up was the Bramley 20/10. Now there was a 20 mile option, which we could well have tackled, but discovering that you had to run the 10 mile course twice (including going back through the finish), we decided that would be far too demoralising. Forgetting that I had a race at the weekend, I trained hard all week, running or using the gym every night except Friday when we moved house and collapsed with exhaustion. Saturday saw a mini duathlon when I sprinted the 4 miles to the bike shop to collect my newly serviced bike and rode it home as fast as my legs would carry me. It was only when we were Bramley bound that I remembered everything I’d done in the week. That, combined with the cold weather made it a killer for me. It was only 10 miles, but we ran it as fast as we could, finishing in 1 hour and 19 minutes. (Well, 1.20 was the aim and I like to please!) But I think the pictures say it all!

Sad face in the final sprint at Bramley
Have you ever seen such sad eyes?
Struggling even from the third mile, I couldn’t get into a decent rhythm, but even with a decidedly ropey moment around mile 7, we finished in our target time. Finding a bakery on the way back to the car went a long way to making me feel a lot better about the whole thing mind you! It was just one week until Brighton Half Marathon, so with a bit of a cough working it’s way through, I did the sensible thing and rested up with just a 6 mile run on Thursday night.
 
The difference was remarkable – I felt really fresh and ready to go on Sunday morning. (Although this could have been helped by the glorious weather, having got caught in the torrential rain and gale force winds the day before!) Leaving the calculations and timing entirely up to John, I just focused on running. Having no idea what time John had plugged into his watch, I assumed it would be pretty fast, so I set off at a good old pace, overtaking people who were getting in the way, thoroughly enjoying the flat road and spending my time looking for some of my colleagues running as well. There was some confusion when at mile 5, our watches seemed to be about half a mile different to the mile markers on the course, but presuming we would find a ‘short’ mile at the end, we carried on with gusto. At about 11 miles, I started to wane, which was only made worse when at 12 miles (or 12.5 miles on our watches), we were still nowhere near home. Even at 13 miles I couldn’t see the finish line and was feeling a little despondent. Again, thankfully there were plenty of photographers there to capture my pain.
Another picture of me looking pained
 
Finally, the finish line was in sight and we sprinted through. (Actually correction, John sprinted through. I stumbled through seconds later). Elated with our amazing time – 1.46, we stretched off and I couldn’t believe that I’d beaten my PB by a whole 12 minutes. But we were still confused by our watches. It’s normal for a race to be a little bit out – after all, we all run different lines, but 0.4 of a mile? It turns out we weren’t the only ones to complain and the following day, the organisers issued an apology and revised times. So what does that mean? Well, I am now officially the owner of a 1.43 half marathon time!  That’s nearer to 1.30 than it is 2 hours. That might not mean anything to any of you, but I’m not a fast runner, so to come away with a semi respectable time is just amazing.
 
So what next? Well, I plan an easy week or so, before celebrating my 25th birthday with a nice 22 mile plod. Other than that, I’m not sure. The marathon is getting closer – just 8 weeks away now, so I just need to stay fit, injury free and aim to smash my 4 hour target!
 
In fundraising news, I’ve raised an amazing £678.40 (0r £779.25 with gift aid) for the Thames Valley Air Ambulance. Money incredibly well spent and proven this afternoon as they landed just metres from my office to rush someone to hospital. So if you haven’t sponsored me yet, check out this link www.virginmoneygiving.com/bryonyharper and see what you can give!

“The difference between the mile and the marathon is the difference between burning your fingers with a match and being slowly roasted over hot coals.”

“The difference between the mile and the marathon is the difference between burning your fingers with a match and being slowly roasted over hot coals.”

I have had so many discussions with people over the last nine months where I’m told I’m so lucky that I can run because they can’t run for more than five minutes without stopping. It doesn’t matter how often I try and explain it to them, it doesn’t seem to sink in. It doesn’t get any easier – your body just allows you to run a little further, whilst suffering the same pain. I suffer as much as them, but my brain is better trained to block it out.

I am no more able to run for 2 hours without stopping than anyone else. But, I’ve spent a year training and building myself up to it. I think that, on the whole, it is not our body saying “no”, it is just our brain. Frequently, half way round a run I will decide that I am tired and I need to walk. The pain hasn’t increased a huge amount or arrived suddenly, but my brain has tired of ignoring it. I will then walk, for all of about five steps before sternly having a word with myself because the pain isn’t changed by walking and the pain is only prolonged by walking, so you just have to get on with it.

It seems to be a common belief that some people can run and some can’t. I hate to burst the bubble, but I have to work bloody hard at it! And it’s not the muscles that need training, more than anything, it is the brain. If you don’t feel like doing a run, or your brain isn’t truly focused, you will find it impossibly hard. Whereas on a day when your brain is switched to the correct function, you can ignore all the aches, pains and hills and simply carry on.

I think that despite the next 6 months training, nothing will prepare my brain for the 26.2 miles that I’ll be running in April. Someone told me that I had to stop thinking of it as 26 miles, but 10 water stops. No matter what we do, it’s impossible to switch our brain off; on Saturday, I decided that my ‘long slow run’ would be from home to course build at Berkshire College of Agriculture. I looked on Google maps and decided it was 10 miles. Sadly it was 11 and ½ miles. Now, I can hear what you are saying – if you’ve run 10, I’m sure you can manage another mile or so? But my brain was so focused that I was going to get to stop soon that when I got to 10 and was in the middle of nowhere still, I could have cried. I just couldn’t find the motivation to keep on running. I did carry on, but it felt like another 5 miles to the finish.

Whatever the distance you are running, I can guarantee that your body will begin to tire in the last 10% of the race. Well, put simply, if you don’t have that pain that feels like you are dying, you just aren’t trying hard enough! But if I do a 10km race now, I just know that at 9km, I would feel like I didn’t have another step left in my body, even though I know I’m fit enough to do the race twice. It is entirely psychological and unless I find a way of unplugging my noddle, I’ve just got to learn to live with it!

Normally I fall into a bit of a retirement in the winter as although I would love to carry on, running alone in the dark seems a bit silly. I went out once and was so terrified that I was going to be mugged or raped that I forgot to look out for potholes and nettles; I came back looking like I’d taken a scalpel to my legs. Thankfully that was the only damage, but I thought that realistically it would be safer to run in a pack. It might also help to keep that noddle of mine motivated through the dark, wet, cold nights. So a few weeks ago, I embarked on a couple of running adventures…

My first experience of running en masse was by invitation of a friend; she said that she does hash every Tuesday and it’s the most fun way of running. I wasn’t sure that smoking dubious roll ups prior to running was that wise, but I went online to do a little bit of exploring about her kind of hash. The next Tuesday, I found myself sat in a pub car park awaiting the arrival of the High Wycombe Hash House Harriers. Clad in more hi-viz lycra than you could shake a stick at, soon everyone arrived. I was taken into the middle of the group, lit only by our headtorches and pronounced a Hash Virgin and welcomed to the group.

Then we started running; there is no easy way to describe it, but essentially one of the hashers (called the hare), has been out earlier in the week and laid a flour trail for the hash to follow. So you run through woods, fields and along lanes shouting “on, on” every time you see a dot of flour on the floor. Every so often, you’ll get to a checkpoint, where you have to find the right way to go, which often means half a mile or so in the wrong direction first. There are some other odd rules here and there to make sure the faster runners run further than everyone else. Once you’ve been lost in the dark for a good hour or so, you eventually stumble back across the pub where drinks and chips are shared by all.

It was, quite possibly the most entertaining run I’ve had – everyone was so friendly and I think everyone made a point of talking to me and making sure I was having fun. Everyone was a mad as me – quite proved by the fact that next week, we’ll be dressing up in Halloween clothing for the hash! Nobody took themselves too seriously – but they made sure everyone was enjoying themselves, which is just what I was looking for! I have to say, despite certain friends likening it to dogging (which it isn’t!), it’s a great way to get some exercise in.

Quite buoyed up by the friendliness and the fun of the Hash, I bit the bullet and emailed a local running club to ask if I could join them. A few days later, I got a perfectly polite email back inviting me to run with them on Thursday. Again, I found myself decked out in hi viz lycra lurking in the carpark, waiting for more people to arrive. Bravely, I walked into the club house, at which point everyone stopped, stared at me and then carried on with their conversations. Try as I might, I couldn’t hide any further in the corner than I already was, but I stood there studying my feet, waiting for someone to talk to me. Eventually, the “ladies captain” came over, asked me if I was new and told me I had to join one of two groups, but failed to tell me how to decide which group to go with. They made some announcements including the classically friendly “there is a new girl in the corner” followed by pointing and staring and then we were off.

Out of sheer fluke, I found myself with the fast group, who ran at a faster pace than I normally train at, but not so fast that I couldn’t keep up. I started to notice that we were losing people on every turn, but no one seemed especially bothered, which further motivated me to keep up! I was damned sure that I wasn’t going to get left behind in the middle of nowhere, when I didn’t know anybody! We ran a good strong 8 miles and by the end, one or two people had said a couple of words to me. I finished, cooled down and went home. It wasn’t that fun, but I think it’s what I need in the run up to the marathon. If I don’t have people pushing me to go faster and further, I’ll be lost. It’s just a real shame that I couldn’t have a laugh along the way.

So that’s how my marathon training has started – hopefully it’ll begin to pick up pace as I get deeper into the winter. In my next blog, you might even get to see a picture of the Halloween Hash!

My Marathon Mission!

It’s been a while since I’ve been on here, but I think my latest project is worth dusting the old place off for.

Those of you who have been following me (on facebook, twitter or just with the night vision goggles) may have noticed that I’ve lost a little bit of weight this year. I’d like to say that I found some magic cure for being fat, but essentially I just ate less and ran more. Dull, but true. After a shaky start to the year with a bit of abdominal surgery to test my patience, I was soon desperate to rebuild my stomach muscles and get rid of the post op flop. I had to begin running very quickly because I was entered in a team Rat Race challenge at the end of March – although I found “I still have internal stitches” a great excuse to bypass certain challenges! But pretty soon I was hooked – I entered the Bupa 10,000 in London for the Alzheimer’s Society and loved the challenge.

Being a bit of a geek, I found it really exciting training and pushing myself to try and get in under the time I had set myself. I wanted to complete the 10km in 55 minutes and finished in 55.30, which was as near as damn it, but not quite close enough. So I found another 10km around a similar course just six weeks later, where I came home in 51 minutes and was over the moon! Soon 6 miles wasn’t really enough and I was desperate to see just how far I could run and I began training for my first half marathon.

In the meantime, I had spent marathon day in London and was just so overcome by how ecstatic all the finishers looked, so in a fit of insanity I entered the ballot. I knew the deal – only 1 in 8 people got in and in truth, I would be absolutely terrified if I got in and never ready in a million years. However, I soon learnt that if you don’t get in, you do get a London Marathon branded top. As far as I was concerned, that was fantastic! I could spend most of 2011 telling everyone I’d dearly love to do the marathon, if only I could get an entry and then I’d get a top that would make everyone assume that I had done the Marathon! What a great idea!

I suspect that you can see where this is going… Sure enough, just last week, I got in from work, fresh from telling everyone that I wanted to find some kind of challenge to do in 2012 to find an envelope with my name on it. Not that unusual, but when I saw the word “Accepted” printed on it, I nearly fell over. I dropped everything I was holding to rip that letter open to make sure I was reading it right. I was straight on the phone to a work-mate who laughed and laughed and laughed! I found that every time I went to talk about it, my voice rose about two octaves and suddenly seemed to spew out at high speed.

Don’t get me wrong, I was incredibly excited, but that was far outweighed by the feelings of awe and terror that were coarsing through my veins. Especially when you consider that I’d given myself a few weeks off running to get my hip and lower back a bit stronger. I knew from the minute I got the letter that there was no way in the world I wasn’t going to give the Virgin London Marathon 2012 (oh yes, Olympic year!) my very best shot, but oh my God, what a mission lays ahead!

The next day I was back to the chiropractors to get myself straightened out. He seemed particularly delighted I had gotten in – perhaps he’s rubbing his hands together with glee whilst envisaging a nice holiday for him and his family after 6 months of my custom?! What had been a wind down into the winter months has suddenly changed out of all proportion and sadly, for the next 195 (or so) days, I’m going to become a boring git who runs and eats obsessively. Still, it’ll all be worth it on April 22.

As I got a ballot place, there is no need to run for a ‘gold bond’ charity, which excitingly gives me carte blanche to chose my own to raise money for. I didn’t even have to think about it – there seemed little point raising money for a charity that will have 50 other runners when I could chose one much closer to home that may only have one or two runners.

As I’m sure a lot of you know, I’ve ridden horses all my life and although I’ve never considered it to be a high risk sport, it isn’t without it’s pitfalls. This was all brought home to me when a good mate of mine was riding a horse she rode regularly around a local, straightforward course last year. The horse slipped on the ground and she must have fallen awkwardly as she knocked herself unconscious. Luckily the paramedics were on site and they kept her safe until the Thames Valley Air Ambulance could land and lift her to safety. She was at the Intensive Care unit at the John Radcliffe hospital within 15 minutes thanks to the great service she received by the Air Ambulance. The guys working were calm and knowledgable – keeping her mum calm and reassured whilst making sure Laura was receiving the best possible care. They even travelled back to the hospital later to enquire on any progress.

I am very thankful to say that after three weeks of unconsciousness, Laura has made an amazing recovery – learning to walk, eat, ride (you name it!) again. She’s back out competing and living life to the full, which is great to see.

When the worst happens, you can only hope to rely on a service as professional and quick as the Air Ambulance to get you to safety and treatment as quickly as possible. As a horse rider, I do know more people that have made the helicopter trip than most, but they are there for everyone; drivers, walkers, riders – anyone who needs emergency treatment very quickly. And all of that with no goverment or national lottery funding! It is estimated that each mission costs £1229, which is nothing if it is the life of you or your loved one at risk, so when the time comes, please dig deep and sponsor me to run the 2012 Virgin London Marathon for the real heroes.

My winter plans have changed hugely – in the next 6 months, I’ll probably go through two pairs of trainers, run around 700 miles and eat many hundreds of thousands of calories in carbs. I have already got back out on the streets, even whilst darkness is closing in. Whilst you guys are eating lunch in the office, I’ll be sprinting round Gerrard’s Cross banging out 4 or 5 miles in my lunch hour. Yes, I get sweaty and hot, but no one has complained just yet. Well, not directly to me anyway.

Another thing I’ve had to get used to is running in the dark – I did 8 miles in the pitch black last week and didn’t know whether I was more terrified of potential rapists or holes in the ground! Either way, I ran pretty damned quick and spent most of the hour and fifteen minutes promising myself that I would just have to man up and join a running club. So for the next six months, when you guys are snuggled up in front of the fire watching Eastenders, I’ll be out plodding round the streets clocking up my miles, come wind, snow and rain. But it’s all worth it – to run the Virgin London Marathon in Olympic year is just such an amazing thing – I can’t wait!

I’m not expecting the road to the start line to be a smooth one, but don’t you worry, I’ll be right here to keep you informed. You can either live vicariously through me, or read my blog and thank your lucky stars you have a more exciting life than me. Either way, I’d love it if you checked out my Fundraising Page at some point in the next 200 days. It can be found here – http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/BryonyHarper

It’s all about #meme

Last month I was tagged by a cake loving, Flackwell dwelling friend of mine (@rainbowclaire) in her blog and it’s spurred me into action. I’ve not kept up with the blogging at all of late. In fact, I was so proud of my last blog, perhaps more for it’s 3000 word length than it’s quality, that I put myself into semi-retirement.
But on reflection, this #meme thing looks like fun. Questions designed for soul searching and thought provoking answers. I’m not sure I can provide that, but I am good at making a flippant comment on command. So here goes nothing.

Questions about Me.

Which living person do you most admire, and why?

That’s a really tough question. I admire most people who do things that I find really difficult. I admire people who can stand on stage and make stuff up, which just happens to be hilarious. I admire people who can run a marathon and still walk the following day. If someone can get on a horse and immediately understand and build a relationship with it, chances are I admire them too. I look up to those who can write meaningful, beautiful prose. But I think the most important admiration is for those that stand up to adversity and give it a good talking to. Those who have fought in wars and yet see no bravery in what they have done. I did an adventure race recently, raising money for The Soldier Charity and meeting ex-service men on the finish line in their wheelchairs with their families around them was a truly humbling experience. They were thanking us for what we had done. What we had done? What, abseiled down the Oval and run around London for four hours? It hardly makes a mark compared to the kind of stuff they have done. Yet it never occurs to us to thank them. Those are the kinds of people I admire.

When were you happiest

I’m happy quite a lot of the time to be honest. It sounds dull, but I am. Perhaps if we step a little deeper into my pysche what we can actually read into this is that I haven’t had a life-changing event that was the “biggest day of my life”. It is one of the biggest cliches to say “I was happiest on my graduation day”, but actually sometimes the days in between are the best. The day I received my results at university was a great day. After a can or two of warm Fosters and a few pilfered Jaffa Cakes, we got snap happy with the camera, taking photos of friends and an era that was so soon to end. I couldn’t describe a particular reason or thing that happened, it was just a lovely time.

I love live events and I love being in the middle of a crowd, knowing that this moment will never happen again. It’s addictive, I adore it. I was in the front row at the Live8 concert in Hyde Park and it was amazing. Seeing U2, the Stereophonics, Sting, Mariah Carey, Robbie Williams and countless others performing was breathtaking. I remember the excitement of Robbie Williams standing directly in front of me, singing Angels, as though it were yesterday. Like the addict that I am, I still crave live shows and so I adore going down to the Comedy Store to see improv, which is the best form of live performing; it’s so immediate, that outside the confines of the show, it makes no sense whatsoever. It’s forgotten, but the feeling of rocking back and laughing uncontrollably is a fantastic one.

What else makes me happy? My horse. I’m predictable, I know. But I’ve had my horse for nearly four years now and I ride her nearly every day – it’s an amazing relationship that you build up with understanding and patience, that can be so frustrating, but also rewarding. You can think you are getting somewhere, or on the road to improvement, and then in competition, it can all go back two steps. But when it does go right, it is such a wonderful feeling. Seeing your picture in a magazine or beating 40 people to win first prize is so exciting. Obviously these things don’t happen all the time, but that’s what makes them so exciting. You get a taste of success and you spend the rest of the year craving and striving for more. That’s what makes me happy.

What was your most embarrassing moment?

As an individual, I tend to be a little excitable and easily led, which leads to many embarrassing moments. But the one I remember most clearly was pretty out of my control.

I was working at Tescos late one evening and having a giggle with the person on the till next to me. My customer, an Asian gentleman, finished loading his shopping on to the belt and came down to begin loading it through. Between giggles, I said my mandatory line, “Hi, are you alright packing?” He turned an interesting shade of purple and without mincing his words, told me exactly what he thought of me and “my kind”. It was only after what felt like an eternity, I realised he had misheard me and thought I was being racist. This wasn’t really my fault, it was a simple mistake, but I was so mortified, I just didn’t know what to say.

Aside from property, what’s the most expensive thing you’ve bought?

The most expensive thing I ever bought was my degree! But that is an incredibly boring answer and not strictly true as, although I have approx £10k worth of student debt, I did use some of it to buy my car. It is an 09 reg, Hyundai i20. It is grey, with pink flowers on. I shouldn’t love it as it is a bit ugly and not very cool, but I really kind of do. Having pink flowers, you would think it was a girl, but it is most definitely a boy car. Perhaps a boy car who likes other boy cars, but he is most definitely a boy.

What is your most treasured possession?

I can’t beat Claire’s lovely answer to this. Memories are the most treasured thing ever, especially for experiences we won’t ever get again or people we will never see again. It annoys me so much when I go and see comedy and there is someone sitting there recording it on their phone. Just appreciate the moment and enjoy it for what it is. You won’t get it back and that phone recording isn’t going to bring it back. I do wish I took more photos though because I feel there will be so little for my children’s children to see about my life. Digital cameras are great, but we just don’t have photo albums like we used to any more.

Where would you like to live?

At this time in my life, I’m very happy living where I am. It is convenient and useful for city, town and country. What more can you ask for? I’m happy as long as I’ve got friends and/or family around me.

But in a dream world, I’d love to live in Edinburgh, Pitlochry or somewhere in Somerset/Devon. Never going to happen, but they are beautiful areas.

What’s your favourite smell?

I love the smell of new sponges. That is all. Well, what more can you say?

Actually, I also love the smell after you have popped a new can of tennis balls. Weird, but true.

Who would play you in the film of your life?

I would love to see Sandra Bullock play me. I think she could manage the pratfalls with aplomb.

What is your favourite book?

This is really difficult! I have so many books for so many occasions. There are “pretentious” books that I enjoy as an English Lit student; Dickens, The Fairie Queene, Atwood… that sort of thing, but I also love a trashy book like Jill Mansell or Mike Gayle. But I think my favourite books of all time would have to be the Wind in the Willows and Winnie the Pooh. I treasured my big hardback copies as a kid and I was never as excited by the films or cartoons as I was by the books. The illustrations and the big hard spines on them just made them feel so special. That was what gave me a love for reading and I can still enjoy them now.

What is your most unappealing habit?

Not thinking before I speak, every single time! I get too excited in company and talk too much.

Another unappealing habit of mine is that I’m just too stubborn to accept help when I need it. I see asking for help as some kind of failure and am strangely proud of not wanting to admit I can’t cope.

What would be your fancy dress costume of choice?

Last year I dressed up as a British tourist; it was great! Socks and sandals, black velvet hot pants, a pink check shirt, a red face and panda eyes. Oh yes, and a bum bag. Absolutely perfect!

What is your earliest memory?

I remember snippets of going out for a meal with my family and coming home to find that there was a surprise 40th birthday party for my mum. Now I don’t want to age her unfairly, but I’m pretty sure I can only have been 4 at the time.

I also remember being at Abbotsbrook – a kind of pre-school thing – and being in the play. I was the Queen who baked a pie. I also remember cooking things there, like chocolate cornflake cakes and then eating most of them before Mothers Day when I was meant to give them to my mum. (Some things never change!) Another memory from there was a boy called George, who got playdoh stuck in his hair when we had our milk break one day.

It’s strange the things you remember!

What is your guiltiest pleasure?

This reminds me of a Tim Minchin joke; people say their guilty pleasure is listening to Take That. Well that shows an incredibly low threshold for both guilt and pleasure. His guilty pleasure is cancelling a charity donation and using the money to buy wine. Sadly, mine is awful music. I can normally only listen to my mp3 player alone because it is ram-packed with cheesy pop and dodgy comedy!

Another guilty pleasure is baking cakes. I enjoy eating the cake mix and the butter icing more than making the cake and I know how bad it is, but I just can’t help it.

What do you owe your parents?

That’s a strange thing to ask because technically, they have paid for the first 16 years of my life or so, so I owe them a huge amount. But I also know they would not ask for that back. They will always support me in what I want to do and hopefully be there to comfort me and pick up the pieces when it goes wrong.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?

So far? My family and my pets/horses. I spend most of my time with them, so it’s love or loathe!

What does love feel like?

I’m not too sure myself, but I think it’s feeling comfortable in your own skin and not worrying about others judging you. Feeling that you can speak without being judged and that that person will always be there to encourage, and support you in the times of good and bad. But then maybe my hopeless optimism is why I can’t find a nice man!

What was the best kiss of your life?

Interesting question. Normally the first kiss with a new person. That moment of will we, won’t we, followed by the excitement of not knowing what’s coming next. That’s all I’m going to give away! Saying who I’m thinking of would be far too gossip-worthy.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

I can’t help but overuse exclamation marks when I talk to friends! Not many!! Just one at a time!

I get told I overuse phrases all the time, but I just can’t think of any. I say “to be fair” an awful lot.

What is the worst job you’ve done?

I’ve been very lucky in that I haven’t had many terrible jobs. Although, I’m always keen to impress, especially when I don’t know people, so when I started at Tesco, they asked me to clean the “crumb trays” from the tills every night. It wasn’t until I’d been there for a month someone told me I shouldn’t have to do it. The “crumb tray” is the underside of the till. It doesn’t sound unpleasant, but imagine squashed, mouldy berries and all sorts of rubbish found under there. Not so pleasant, but it was hardly like being taken down the mines aged 9!

If you could edit your past, what would you change?

You can’t change the past. You can only use the past to change the future. We’ve all done embarrassing things or stuff that we wish we hadn’t, well all we can do it about it, is learn from it.

What is the closest you’ve come to death?

I’ve kept a distance from death thankfully. I crashed a car at 70mph into a ditch and tree, but I walked away. You sometimes think, if a different part of the car had hit the tree, it could have been different, but you can’t dwell on these things.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

I’m not very good at selling myself, but I’ve got a degree and a respectable job where I do my best. I’m an active member of the riding club, doing lots for the club. But I think it’s actually using the things I enjoy to raise money for others that makes me proud of myself.

When did you last cry, and why?

I haven’t cried for a little while. I’m sure it was over something trivial and what I was crying about was not what really upset me. Sometimes things just build up and you have to let them out.

How do you relax?

Riding, running, watching comedy, writing. All of my hobbies are my downtime.

What single thing would improve the quality of your life?

It’s very hard to say. I think my quality of life is pretty good at the moment. Obviously winning the lottery and buying a house would help, but we all know miracles don’t really happen.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?

Live for the moment because once it’s gone, you’ll never get that moment back. (I wish it had been more groundbreaking and succint, but there we go.)

“A is for Appendectomy, B is for Barium, C’s for Cystitis, Defibrillate is for D…”

Today I decided I would ride for first time since my op; I found some oversized jods and headed out to find my tack. Seeing it in a pristine state; freshly cleaned, with my show bridle assembled and placed neatly on top of my saddle seemed so sad. My boots and hat in their show bag, with my newly acquired gloves and a couple of dressage tests rammed in with them. It seemed very poignant that I had to take it all apart to ride today. Normally, it would be slightly cruddy after a day’s competition and then it would be cleaned and put away again. This time, we didn’t get to the competition.

Anyone who has the misfortune of following me on facebook or twitter, will probably be fully aware of what happened, but they say you have to write about what you know and this is all I’ve done of late, so here goes!

Just two weeks ago, I was busy preparing for a dressage qualifier and with the exception of a bit of a sore belly, I was completely oblivious to what was about to hit me. I woke up on the Saturday with a bit of a stomach ache, but I didn’t think too much of it. I spent the day doing all those mind numbing tasks you do in the run up to a competition; cleaning my tack, scrubbing and re-scrubbing Bea, plaiting her up and desperately learning my dressage tests. If I’d have known I wasn’t going to be competing, I wouldn’t have bothered putting all that effort in, quite frankly!

I started to feel quite under the weather when I was getting Bea ready and by the time I got in at 5pm, for a quick turn around to go out again for the evening, I knew something wasn’t quite right. I sat on the kitchen floor feeling sorry for myself and rang my friends, explaining that I wasn’t feeling 100% and I was just going to crash in bed. I was sure if I could just go to sleep, it would all go away and everything would be hunky dory. Sadly, Total Wipeout, a Top Gear repeat and Casualty came and went with me fully conscious. I had a tiny cheese sandwich and then set about feeling sorry for myself again.

I just didn’t really understand it – there seemed to be no position that I could get myself comfortable in. Every way I tried to lie down it hurt and then by about nine o clock, the pain really put it’s foot down. I have no experience in the baby department, but this felt like how I imagine the onset of labour to be. The pain rolled over me in waves, leaving me gasping for breath. I couldn’t breathe, without having to attempt deep breathing as my body gave in to my stomach. And whilst the cramps rocked along, I felt increasingly bloated and pained. I must have looked such a sorry sight; sitting on the bathroom floor, crying and gasping, whingeing that it hurt and I didn’t know what to do. My mum, bless her, half heartedly suggested NHS Direct, who told me that it could be serious, they would get a doctor to call me within six hours.

My mum decided that we should just have done with it and head off to A&E. Sadly the government cut Wycombe Hospital’s A&E department, so we trotted off to their “drop in clinic”. We didn’t make it in before the drunks started filtering through and if I were feeling in a better frame of mind, the collection of casualties would have been pretty hilarious. Starting with the gang of about thirty who were there to support someone who’d been punched by an ex boyfriend. All of her friends and family were there, being guarded by two pre-school aged policemen. Then, we had the girl who walked in claiming to have broken her leg. (Go figure!) And then the girl who was PFO, possibly PGT. (I love medical acronyms – Pissed, Fell Over, could be a candidate for Pissed, Got Thumped.) Anyway, her mates had dragged her to A&E and were trying to tell her that if she went home, she would almost certainly drop dead. However, she didn’t want mummy and daddy finding out what she’d been up to, so decided, very wisely, to refuse to give anyone her name or details and threatened any member of staff who tried to help. Eventually after plenty of swearing and an argument  between the girls, she was taken straight through to be treated. Her mates turned on a lad minding his own business in the waiting room and thankfully, he was sober enough to catch her fists as they flew towards his head. So then, they were kicked out and we were back to a bit of sanity again.

I was taken through and made to do the obligatory pregnancy and blood tests. I was told that I wouldn’t be treated until the bloods came back, which could be several hours. Working in the job I do, I found it mildly distressing that it could take so long to provide my results, but powerless, I went back out to the waiting room. My stomach wasn’t content that I was in enough distress, so then I started sweating, shaking profusely and being violently sick. I spent the next hour or so between the floor of the toilets and the front desk, begging for them to hurry up. After what felt like an age, but was a mere 2 and a half hours, I was given a bed and left for another half an hour, before I finally saw the SHO, who wasn’t very sure about anything in particular, but joyously sent a nurse in with two humongous syringes of drugs and another with a chalky drink to settle my stomach. So now I’ve been sick and sick and sick, followed by the world’s most disgusting drink of chalk. They then decided it would be best if I were nil by mouth in case they had to operate that evening. I wasn’t even allowed a sip of water to clear my mouth out. After being left for another hour, in which time the drugs kicked in, I began working out how to get to the dressage in the morning. By this point, it was 2am and my first test was 9.15 in Leighton Buzzard. I began to think that perhaps I could just do my qualifier test and then we would get an extra hour’s sleep, but it still didn’t occur to me that I wouldn’t make it.

Then the SHO reappeared with a spot of bad news; “I think you have signs of appendicitis, so I’ve referred you to Stoke Mandeville. They are expecting you imminently.” Hmm, well a friend from work went through all of this, including being referred to Stoke Mandeville only to be told it was just a niggling appendix and they didn’t plan to operate. I couldn’t think of anything worse than trekking over to Aylesbury to be sent home again, but off we trotted. I was still pretty sure I would be doing the dressage on Sunday, albeit quite tired! We got back in the car and headed across country to Stoke Mandeville, only to be re-admitted into A&E. I had a letter that would bypass me through the queues, but I still had to see the triage nurse, to have another pregnancy test. Now even without severe stomach pain, I’m not sure I could get myself knocked up between Wycombe and Aylesbury hospitals!

After a short wait whilst Stoke Mandeville found some staff to open the Surgical Admissions ward up for me, I was off to another hospital bed and being faced with another quality gown. I don’t understand hospital gowns, why do they not do up further down the back? No one needs to see that! It was now 3.30am and the surgical registrar was fussing aroung doing everything, but examining me. The nurse swabbed me for MRSA and then gave me my wristbands. It was at this point that it started to occur to me that they might not be going to let me go. I asked, very gingerly, if I was to be staying the night, which the nurse quickly confirmed. Suddenly it hit me that I wouldn’t be competing later in the morning and my mum, taken over with tiredness, headed off home for a few hours kip. Sadly, I wasn’t to be allowed such a privilege. The SHO eventually saw me and she decided that it was my appendix causing the pain, but I would have to see the registrar before she knew what they would do to me, which wouldn’t be until the ward round. In the meantime, I was best to stay nil by mouth, just in case.

The pain started to kick in once again and after a bit of to do, the registrar was called down and he decided to examine me on the spot. There is nothing quite like a hospital trip to rob you of all dignity; I didn’t know which was worse, having to breathe into his face with my minging cocktail of sick and chalk breath or suddenly realising how hairy my legs were when he went to examine my ankles! Still, I made light of the situation and told him just how mortified I was; my nan was a Ward Sister – back when they were scary – and she always told me I should wear nice underwear and have shaved legs in case I was hit by a bus. I’m not sure how much the doctor wanted to know that though, to be honest. Another round of belly tapping, wobbling, smacking and poking later, he confirmed that my appendicitis was pretty textbook – being with a generalised high pain turning into a severe localised pain, exacerbated by being hit and followed up with a fever and sickness. It was decided that I would be operated on later in the day, but for now, I should rest. Easy for him to say, but I was still nil by mouth and I was in a brightly lit ward, there was no chance I would sleep.

At around 5am, they decided to move me into another ward, which was dark and quiet so I could rest up. Sadly by the time I had done my third pregnancy test, had my blood pressure double checked and had my drip fitted, it was 5.30 in the morning and I was just nodding off when the nurses turned the lights on to get everyone up at 6am. That is another thing I just don’t understand about hospitals; why on earth do they get the patients up at 6am? It’s hardly like the patients have a lot to fit into the day! I wasn’t expecting to go into hospital, so I had nothing with me except a phone to keep my amused. Thankfully, the lovely women in the beds around me donated me some magazines to keep me amused until my mum arrived with some goodies. When I saw the consultant (and his hoarde of students) I was due another round of poking and smacking before being told that they were hoping to do keyhole surgery and “it’s most likely to be your appendix, but this way we can whip anything problematic out”. Reassuring, huh? I was then asked to sign my consent forms after being told that laparoscopic surgery has the highest risk for bowel perforation. Again, thanks doc! They told me that there were a couple of paediatric emergencies that would push their op time into the afternoon, but I was on their list for the day.

At this point, I would’ve loved to have caught up on some sleep, but with obs every thirty minutes and having a wailer in the bed opposite me, there was no chance! I soon discovered that the ward I’d been put on was a Gynae ward, which made me feel better as some half hour earlier, one of the nurses asked me if I was in my first trimester. I knew my belly was big and I was holding it protectively, but I thought that was quite cruel! The day crawled by in a cycle of pain, drugs and blood pressure readings and in the early afternoon, I was moved into a general surgery ward, where I found a veritable bunch of lunatics to share my afternoon with! Next to me was a 94 year old lady who was selectively blind and deaf, whom I kept opening my eyes to find praying over my bed. She spent her time offering us all chocolate biscuits; “Sorry Hilda, I’m nil by mouth,” That’s a shame duck, are you sure you couldn’t have a sneaky biccie?” Then there was Elsa, the feisty smoker, opposite me, who went and told the nurses “I know it’s changeover, but our beds are right next to the nurses station, so please keep your voices down. We are trying to sleep!” and they listened! She was a wiley old stick who wouldn’t take any aggro, but was hilarious. When it got to 8pm and I still hadn’t heard anything about my op, she made her way over to my bed with a butter knife from dinner offering to lend me a hand!

Finally at 9pm, the anaesthetist came round to tell me that I would be next and he would come to get me in about an hour. It got to 10.30pm and we were all having a good chin wag about nothing when the nurse in charge of our bay came in and exclaimed that she was having problems with the computer, was I any good in Excel? I made my way out to the nurses station, flashing my underwear at all and sundry through my useless hospital gown. It was soon clear that the nurses station wasn’t designed for patients to go behind with their drip stand, but she hoisted it over the desk and set me to work. It was at that moment the anaesthetist came back to collect me. He said to the nurse, “I need one Bryony Harper”, to which I looked up from the desk and said “Yay! That’s me.” He looked a little confused to say the least; “are you meant to be sitting there?!”

The operation itself was a breeze. Well, what would I know? I was unconscious and happily came round at 3.30am in recovery. I was slightly concerned that my bandages appeared to be on the left side of my stomach and more upsettingly, they had fitted me with a catheter, but I was alive and vaguely kicking. To perform laparoscopic surgery, they inflate your body with carbon dioxide to open your cavities, so I awoke feeling a little like a helium balloon, inflated up to the nth degree, but I was barely back in the ward before I was asleep. I managed to only wake briefly for my hourly obs, but then they got me up again at 6am for drugs.

By 8am, they were trying desperately to get me out of bed; it was only when I pointed out that I wasn’t being lazy, but the drip was tied to one side of the bed and the catheter to the other, that the nurse saw my point of view. Thankfully, they whipped the catheter straight out and told me that as long as I behaved, I could go home. The conditions were that I had to eat 1 sandwich, have 3 wees and see the consultant. I was dressed and ready to go by 10am, but by midday, the pharmacy had yet to send my drugs up and I was awaiting a sick note. I fell asleep for the first time all weekend, to be woken at 2pm, by the pharmacy and then my mum.

Granted, the hospital wouldn’t let me take the lovely intravenous flow of drugs home, but my doggy bag was in impressive haul of metronidazole, tramadole, paractemol, ciprofloxacin and clarithromycin. My experiences at Stoke Mandeville were excellent; the staff were so patient and friendly, but I was ready to go home and sleep for a week. The first week was rough; I spent most of it with a fever and high temperature, sleeping fitfully and waking up in a cold sweat, but that has passed. Now, you will quite possibly hear me coming before you see me,with my wheelbarrow to carry my big swollen, muscle-less post op belly! I’m just desperate to get back to normality. Sadly my body isn’t quite ready as my mind and I suffered today after being a bit too active yesterday when I had a visit from Florrie and Rhys. Tomorrow I expect I’ll be sore after my little ride this afternoon, but I’m getting there.

It struck me that walking back into the garage to see my tack in it’s pristine pre-competition state was quite a sweet metaphor. Today I was walking back into my life back again after a very brief pause.

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