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Freedom and solo frolicking

For the seventh time on Wednesday morning, the buzzer went. I took a deep, calming breath, straightened my stethoscope and walked around the partition to assess the patient’s suitability for a hip replacement. Eight minutes of sensible questioning, gentle reassurance and explanation to the examiner later, and I was done. I practically skipped out of the exam room, this moment marking the end of five years of medical school, and immediately set off home, my brain buzzing with excitement at new found freedom.

I headed to the obligatory Medsoc BBQ to celebrate with fellow fifth years, and necked shots, relaxed in the sunshine and laughed about some of the more ridiculous parts of our exams. But it seemed only right to see out exam season with the people who supported me most through it, so with my two gorgeous housemates and James, I headed out for beer and burgers and relaxing. Nothing hits the spot better than a mac ‘n’ cheese burger sometimes.

By 9:30pm I was at home, exhausted and ready for nothing more than a huge sleep after the stress of exams, so I awoke on Thursday morning fresh and ready to enjoy my freedom. I loaded up my jersey pockets with a few snacks, loaded a route I’d planned on Strava onto James’s Garmin to follow, and headed off towards York. I picked a mostly rural, very pretty route, and rode between fields of bright yellow oil seed rape and past spring lambs. I rode alone, and relished the peace and freedom, the wind in my hair (and my face. for 30 miles.) and eventually, after navigating York’s well-laid out bike lanes, I arrived at Your Bike Shed for a coffee stop.

After rides for the past few weeks being a quick 20 miles here and there as a break from my desk, it was nice to linger over coffee and cake. No pressure to be home soon to revise, no guilt that I wasn’t working as hard as everybody else, just relaxation. When I fancied it, I set off back home, via Tadcaster and a brief diversion onto the A64 after a road closure. I returned home, 69 miles in the bag, and feeling a lot more confident on the bike- I’d cycled mostly on quiet roads, but I’d also negotiated motorway roundabouts, busy junctions and the centre of York. I’d also ridden further than I ever had before, at a decent speed for me (14.4mph), and I’d done it alone, not sat on somebody’s back wheel.

I’ve written a lot before about finding cycling difficult, and scary, but I’m now thinking it was only ever a case of getting the miles in. The photo above was taken on Monday, near the top of a Cat 4 climb on a social ride with a few friends from the cycling club. When they told me about the hill, I laughed and asked them to wait for me at the top, but bit by bit, I got my head down, and I made it. In the end, I was only a little bit off the wheel of Emma, one of the club’s stronger girls, and I was proud of myself. Those winter miles being dropped on social rides, and those vile turbo sessions, have all started to pay off. My long ride to York was hard work, but it was fun, and I enjoyed the feeling of being stronger than I used to be.

You can see my ride route and such here if you’re interested.

The Sunday Summary – Part 7

If, like me, you got out today and battled the chilly weather to get a long run or ride in, then a) well done- winter miles mean summer smiles! but also b) you should right now be on the sofa recovering with an array of delicious snacks. So, here’s a few awesome things I’ve read recently for you to enjoy whilst you proudly ogle your Strava segments from the day:

  • I’ve always been a fan of taking bloggers and pseudoscience ‘experts’ to task over some of their claims about health and nutrition, and always wonder what the evidence is for some of these claims, so I enjoyed this article about when a doctor spoke up about one of these superbloggers and her misinterpreting of things.
  • One of my all time favourite bloggers Cathy, tri babe extraordinaire, wrote an awesome piece about cycling; about how it can be elitist, expensive and frustrating, as well as scary, but it’s also exhilarating, rewarding and bloody good fun. A top read.
  • You can probably guess my feelings towards fitspo (largely that it’s nonsense), so I really enjoyed this article; ‘Fitspo, you had one job!’
  • I’m a naughty one like most people for forgetting to do a proper warm up for a hard running session, so handily my pal Fiona has put together a post full of really good dynamic warm up exercises here.
  • I’m always personally slightly envious of hardy fell runners, and would love to have a crack at some proper fell races, so I enjoyed this piece from The Guardian about the appeal and participation of fell racing and what makes it special.

Enjoy! And if you got out for a long run or ride, enjoy the hunger and the sore legs tomorrow. I’ll personally be indulging in ALL of the edibles and a nice recovery run after riding my longest bike ride.

The Sunday Summary – Part 4

Just in time for you to snuggle up cosy in bed, after battling the gales outside training, it’s this week’s Sunday Summary, where I round up some awesome things I’ve read this week for you to enjoy. So grab a cuppa, get cosy and settle in!

The Christmas edition of the BMJ always has some interesting articles in, and this year there’s this one about what happens to the fat that we lose- the answer might just surprise you….

Always one to enjoy an article about why fad diets might not be the answer to health and weight loss, this article made some interesting reading for me- about some of the drawbacks there might be to a modern-day person following the Paleo diet.

I read a lot about ‘base miles’ for triathletes and cyclists in winter, and whilst they sound ace, they require a lot of time to rack up, so this article provided some good alternative ways to get strong on the bike in winter without spending your entire life in the saddle.

When everyone is taking training really seriously, there’s a lot to be said for getting silly before you knuckle down to tackle your 2015 goals, and Autumn wrote a great post (if for no other reason than she’s dressed as a Christmas pudding!), about how we should embrace the silliness.

Between them, Liz and Laura of Write This Run are like motivational dynamite, and they shared a brilliant post today, about why we should stop caring about doing things better than others to be validated, but focus on what we can do differently. Powerful stuff.

If you’ve enjoyed this week’s Sunday Summary, you may enjoy the previous editions:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Things I’ve read recently

When writing about your own life at present would be a list of medical knowledge gained that’s exciting to you, it’s unlikely to be that interesting to anybody else, and it’s at times like this that I really enjoy reading other people’s blogs, articles and opinions, as well as doing a shedload of perving on food recipes. So, I thought I’d share a few things I’ve liked reading recently:

  • Men writing about feminism and #everydaysexism is normally fairly cringey, with them whining that women have their own gym classes and isn’t it all terribly sexist against men, AND we get maternity leave so we should stop complaining. Sometimes, they get it right though, and Robert Webb wrote a brilliant piece about it lately: he completely ‘gets’ why women are still talking about it and expresses ideas I share way more eloquently than I can.
  • This beautiful post about what it really means to be fit and healthy almost made me cry; ‘The planet looks different from a bike or a pair of skis than it does from a car or an airplane.’ In a time when we can all be pretty focused on arbitrary statistics like minutes per mile pace or the weight we can lift in the gym, it was good to read something that focuses on the real reasons that being fit is awesome: and numbers didn’t come into it once.
  • After signing up for the 45 mile Country to Capital ultra in January, I’ve been swinging between really excited and absolutely terrified, but this article about why it’s the perfect first ultra has tipped me firmly towards excited again. As has the list of people signed up to do it- loads of running Twitter pals who I’m really excited to meet IRL.
  • Queen of the gentle arse kicking Liz Goodchild has written another brilliant post, this time about why we should stop giving into our inner toddler, and letting what we feel right now decide the outcome of our lives, instead of ignoring those feelings in favour of what we actually, truly, deep down want. So since reading it I’ve vowed to stop hiding because I feel scared when a doctor asks me to do something a bit terrifying, and say yes because I know I can actually do it deep down; I just need to take the leap.

I do love discovering new posts online, so drop me a link if you’ve read something interesting recently!

[Sponsored post] Now BT love students too!

When you’re a student who blogs, a good, reliable internet connection is absolutely essential, but spending the earth to get it isn’t an attractive prospect. This is where BT have come in. Rather than tying students into contracts, they’re now offering 9 month broadband package deals, perfect for students moving out of halls into houses in September, and moving out again in July.

Launching on July 30th, BT are offering three new packages:

BT Broadband

  • Save £96 versus the standard price for Unlimited BT Broadband (unlimited download usage), with Unlimited Weekend Calls on BT’s exclusive to students 9 month contract, for just £16 a month (plus £15.99 a month line rental).

BT Infinity

  • Save £138 versus the standard price for BT Infinity 1 Extra Broadband with a 40GB download limit and Unlimited Weekend Calls on BT’s exclusive to students 9 month contract for just £14 a month (plus £15.99 a month line rental).
  • Save £222 versus the standard price for Unlimited Infinity 1 broadband with unlimited download usage and Unlimited Weekend Calls on BT’s exclusive to students 9 month contract for just £19 per month (plus £15.99 a month line rental).

Now being able to blog, catch up on my favourite TV and (snooze) do my exam preparation needn’t cost the earth, and less internet costs = more money in the race entry fund. Winning all round!

Finding my path

Compared to other students, in some ways, medical students have it pretty sweet. We pay the same tuition fees as everybody else but get a whole load more teaching, we get to learn really interesting and sometimes quite cool stuff, and we can be reasonably confident that as long as we graduate with decent results and don’t come across as a raving sociopath, we’ll get a job at the end of our degree. 

We also get to spend most of university swerving the ‘what are you going to do when you graduate?’ question, because there’s only really one answer: you study medicine, you become a doctor. The thing is, there are an almost infinite number of specialist areas of medicine to work in, and by fourth year, the ugly sister of ‘what are you going to do when you graduate?’ starts to be bandied about: ‘What do you want to specialise in?’.
Since starting medical school, I’ve gone through a ridiculous number of phases of wanting to be a different kind of doctor. One week it would be that Neurology was the one for me, then the next week I’d think Orthopaedics looked pretty cool. But I was safe in the knowledge that I had absolutely ages to decide. The same is still technically true, but I have to start job applications for work as a junior doctor in September, and the six junior doctor jobs you complete in your first two years of work can be quite important to your career choices.
Fortunately, I’m beginning to think I’ve found my place. I’m learning that most of the age-old stereotypes about doctors are true: the rugby players with the big hands really do become the orthopaedic surgeons, and those with no attention span do become A&E doctors. The assertive, dominant personalities are made for surgery, and those who love to talk and listen to patients become GPs or psychiatrists. 
Since starting my placement in Wakefield, I’ve been spending most of my time with the anaesthetists, and I’m finding myself really, really enjoying it. There’s none of the competitive willy-waving that can sometimes predominate amongst the surgeons, just a quiet, measured sense of calm in the anaesthetic room, as the patient drifts into unconsciousness and the doctors take over the vital functions of looking after their airway and breathing. 
Since resolving that my word for 2014 would be ‘believe’, I’ve been more keen to get involved and have been rewarded with some great experiences. There’s nothing as terrifying but exhilarating than taking over holding open a patient’s airway as they slip into unconsciousness, making sure their oxygen levels are okay and then taking off the mask to put the breathing tube down their throat. There’s the minute where you wait with bated breath to see if the tube is in correctly, and the feeling of relief when you see their chest start to rise and fall and their breathing reappear on the monitor. There is no other walk of life other than medicine where at the age of 21 I’d be given the privilege of quite literally holding a life in my hands, and it’s bloody exciting.
So with belief on my side and a bit of patience, I think I might have found my path. Now to survive the rest of medical school so I can follow it!

Doing something every day that scares me

I sometimes think with running as much as I do and having time for baking and other frivolities, it must seem like I don’t take being a student doctor that seriously, which is largely dependent on what I’m doing. Since starting my fourth year in September, I’ve completed rotations through Psychiatry, Primary Care and Oncology.

Psychiatry was interesting, and certainly caused me to lay aside a lot of the preconceptions I had about mental health (not prejudices, just ideas about what conditions were), but it wasn’t a massive challenge. The amount of knowledge expected of medical students isn’t vast, and so I found it easy to balance work and play.
Three weeks of Primary Care (GP practice) came and went, and involved polishing and slightly extending knowledge I already had, so it was good to learn more about common conditions, and the days were quite long but not particularly demanding. So on went the running and the baking.
My last three week placement before Christmas was in Oncology (cancer care), which was a very new experience for me. I was apprehensive about being on placement in such an emotionally-charged area of medicine, but found that thanks to the wonderful consultants I was working with and the fantastic standard of care at St James’ Hospital in Leeds, I didn’t need to worry. The three weeks were interesting, challenging emotionally and quite draining, but again, the knowledge level wasn’t unmanageable with the time I had available.
So what am I doing straight after the laziest Christmas ever, where the most intellectually taxing thing I did was watch Sherlock? Acute and Critical Care. Words that are enough to strike fear into the heart of any student or junior doctor. I feel a little like I do in the days leading up to a race: apprehensive, unsure if I’ve prepared enough and not sure I can do it, and more than slightly nauseous. But you know what? To my surprise, running has taught me a lot more than I expected about what I’m capable of, and it definitely transfers over to medicine.
Similarly to looking at a new training session and thinking ‘I can’t run that fast!’, I look at the study guide and learning objectives for this placement and think ‘I’ll never be able to intubate a patient or remember all those drug names!’. However, as Chrissie Wellington famously said in her autobiography, our limits may not be where we think they are. This is a career path that both excites and terrifies me, so come Monday I’ll be applying the principles of all good race prep: I’ll be fuelling well after an early start, making one last loo stop, choosing comfortable footwear, and rather than trying not to trip over discarded water bottles, I’ll be trying not to trip over the cables of life support machines in Intensive Care.

One thing I’m not sure about though: is wearing a sports bra under my scrubs overdoing it?

My word for 2014.

In most areas of life, I have a massive tendency to self doubt.

To have made it to my fourth year of medical school with grades high enough to still be eligible for honours points, I must be reasonably capable, but every year when exam time rolls around, the same thoughts flash through my mind. What if this is the year? What if this is the year I fail and get kicked out because I’m not clever enough to be here? I don’t know any of this stuff. Why didn’t I do an easier degree?

When I line up at the start of some races, I wonder if I can finish them, or if I can run the pace I’ve planned to. When I was marathon training, during the taper, I constantly questioned whether I’d done enough training, whether I should have done one more long run or pushed myself harder during my tempo runs.

But you know what? It always has a habit of coming together. I’ve yet to fail an exam at medical school, and with hard work for the rest of this year, there’s no reason it should happen this time either. Similarly, I’ve only DNF’d one race as I was being sensible about an injury. I finished my marathon fine, bang on target and with a smile on my face despite my eyes being blurry with tears.

So, inspired by Liz’s post, my word for 2014 is believe, because it’s something I need to do this year.

Adapt & overcome

As I’ve previously written about, life doesn’t always go to plan even if you’re only loosely planning your marathon training with a coach week by week. You can pencil in as many miles at whatever pace you want, but if your legs ain’t playing, you’re going nowhere.

After last week’s monster week of 52 miles, ‘battered’ would be an understatement in relation to my legs. My calf muscles could probably be used to string an orchestra’s worth of violins and to say my tight piriformis and hamstring are unhappy would be putting it kindly.
This week I had a tempo run of 3×4 miles at marathon pace pencilled in, as well as a 22-23 mile run on Sunday. By Tuesday, I realised it was unlikely. By Wednesday, I realised it most likely wasn’t happening. So what now?
I spoke to my lovely coach tonight (who incidentally had pizza at our meeting. Love the guy.) and we made a plan to adapt. To overcome. No tempo run for me this week, but plenty of whatever it takes to get my legs ready for 22-23 miles on Sunday. The next week’s tempo run is being moved to Sunday and with a decent warm up and cool down, will be long enough to be a long run too.
Because there’s no point in being the fittest I’ve ever been for sitting on the sofa, injured. I’m better to make it to York slightly undertrained but raring to run. This image from Marathon Talk sums this up perfectly.

A week of ups and downs

This week has been one of ups and downs.

On Tuesday I turned 21 and had a lovely day. I finally got to take Archie, my lovely new road bike, for his maiden voyage after he’s spent a week chilling in the living room.

Katie and Jocelyn treated me to some lovely (and probably very useful) running presents:
I had a lovely roast dinner for my birthday tea, followed by a gorgeous cake made by my sister’s fair hands:
Midweek, after one of my runs, I noticed my right glute/hamstring area felt really tight and like it was in spasm some of the time. I put it down to a week of high mileage and took a couple of days off, and did lots of stretching. It seemed to be better by Saturday afternoon after a steady 3 miles, so I put it to the back of my mind whilst I enjoyed a gorgeous afternoon tea with my sister- if you’re ever in Lancashire, the Dizzy Ducks tea room in Wrea Green is well worth a visit…
I felt good and carbed up on Sunday morning, so I duly headed to the start line of the Wagon and Horses Half in Lancaster….
It sadly wasn’t to be. I got through the first 5 miles at a decent pace, but sadly the wheels then started to fall off. It was taking more and more effort to maintain the same pace, and I could feel my right hamstring area seizing up. I stretched a couple of times, but it just didn’t really want to play, so rather than do myself a more serious injury (bearing in mind the saga of my hip injury in January), I did the sensible thing and pulled out at 8 miles, whilst it was still a niggle and not a full-blown injury.
The race organisers were wonderful, as the marshal at the 8 mile water station called another colleague to come and help him and drove me back to the race HQ so I didn’t have to walk back, and when I got there, the organisers still gave me a race t-shirt, even though they obviously couldn’t give me a medal (nor would I have taken one!). The other runners were also awesome, as soon as I stopped I was offered gels, water and company within a minute or two- it was lovely to see the community spirit of runners in action.
If I’d not got an important (to me) race coming up, I’d have ploughed on and dealt with the consequences later, but I have a marathon to think of, which is why I spent my Sunday afternoon with my bum on an ice pack, relaxing in the garden after doing a few stretches. I’m doing my best to get an appointment with physio genius Chris, and in the meantime, it’s cycling and swimming time for me- as well as some quality time with the yoga mat- I’m determined not to succumb to a long spell of injury and miss York.
This week:
Miles run: 22.5
21st birthdays: 1
Weight of cake eaten: at least 8st 12
Excellent birthday gifts received: a LOT, I am a lucky lady
Race DNFs: 1