Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Can I press the pause button now?

The past few months have been a roller-coaster. I was ready to accept that my summer season most likely wasn't going to happen. After coming back from Kenya and picking up a 'non-specific virus' (no idea what that means either, trust me i've tried googling it too) in my blood – I found it took me months to fully recover. Perhaps I was let down by my own over eagerness to get back training as soon as I could. I found that I was able to train for a week or so and then be hit by yet another 'cold' type illness. In total, from my first training spell in Kenya back in October – I was ill a total of seven times! I was slowly starting to loose the plot but the Commonwealth Games have always been in the front on my mind and engraved into my brain of how high importance it was for me to be there on that start line. I couldn't wait to race in Scotland again in front of a home crowd and knowing all my family would be in that crowd – would make it that much more special. My dad still lives in Carnoustie with my 3 brothers and sister but my mum has now relocated to Qatar – so it has been a tough few years for my family. I was excited by the fact they would all be in the stadium watching me run for the first time. My siblings have never actually watched me compete before although they were not remotely arsed about me but rather the fact that Mo Farah and Usain Bolt were going to be there! After my 10th place in the World Championships last year, along with the fastest time i've ever ran – I was so happy and excited by my performance – yet when I looked around the Russian stadium, it hit me that no one was there to watch me. My family had watched it all on TV and so my phone was going wild – but it wasn't the same as actually having them in the stadium. I think that's what excites me the most by Glasgow. Regardless of my performance, my family know how difficult the last few months have been for me and will be extremely proud to watch me compete in my Scottish vest on home soil.

Where it all began, 2011.
I started this blog almost 3 years ago after breaking my foot in a Diamond League back in 2011. I wanted to remember all the ups and downs, almost like a personal diary. I'm perhaps not the most open of people so it was initially a little strange writing down my thoughts and so I kept the blog private. But I decided to keep it open. Every athlete has their own story. Every athlete has their own problems of which they try to over come and every athlete tries their hardest to create it into a success story. I always thought my mum never truly realised how amazing her achievements were. She was a WORLD CHAMPION – how many people can really say that? It's a very small percentage. She never really acknowledged her own achievements and almost hid them away from me when I was growing up. I'm even slightly guilty of this myself – although I am clearly nowhere near the standard of my mother - my Olympic Games race kit was sitting scrunched up in the bottom of my sock drawer with my race number crumpled at the bottom of a bag alongside the paper part of my driving license. I wasn't in any way ashamed of my performance but I just wanted more. This past year has really made me put things a little into perspective. Even if I don't ever improve from the level of sport that I am currently at – I should still be extremely proud of the fact that I overcame surgery and less than 6 months later qualified for my first ever major championships – the London 2012 olympics. I should appreciate that a little more by the fact that there are hundreds of athletes who tried and failed to make the team and would of taken my spot or traded places with me in a heartbeat. I've now framed my kit and number – it may not be an olympic medal but its still an achievement I should be proud of to have at the age of 21.
London 2012

Every athlete has their fair share of bad luck but it is how they come back from it and stay positive throughout – which is actually a very difficult thing to do. I'm not the only athlete who has had problems this winter, take Lynsey Sharp for example – another Scottish athlete who had been injured for almost the entire winter season, yet has come back stronger than ever and in a position to be fighting for Gold in Glasgow this summer. Every athlete have their own problems but move on from them in order to become more successful than before. Thats the goal. Unfortunately for me, time has possibly run out for this summer but I still have my eyes firmly set on getting myself into the best shape I can.
Extended family

I moved down to Loughborough after picking up a stress fracture in my shin during last summer. It made sense to base myself next to UK Athletics in order to get daily physiotherapy treatment and to see the doctor when I needed to with no delay. It also allowed me to cross train like an absolute trojan. It took over my entire life. Twice a day every day – into an obsession. To me, nothing else mattered. Looking back now it wasn't a particularly healthy way to be thinking but it did pay off dividends in the end with my 10th place at the World Champs and a brand new PB over 1500, 3000m as well as my event the 3000m Steeplechase. It was obviously worth while but it wasn't a sustainable way to live. I lost contact with all my friends, I very rarely spoke to my family as all my efforts were going into the sport. It was a strange situation to be in. I started to operate like some sort of robot on auto flight. Groundhog day. I also didn't know many people in Loughborough – it was all brand new to me but I made no effort to do anything other than visit the cross trainer or swimming pool. I started to dwell on the past and compare it to the dullness that I was currently living in. Throughout my university years, we were completely spoiled. I had a fantastic training group of whom we all lived together and whom I felt were more like my family than friends. My fondest memories and funniest stories were with these people but it was strange knowing that it would never be like that again – we are all growing up now and had our own lives to get on with! We couldn't all keep living together until we were 80 with a house full of cats, living off cereal and toast and videoing ourselves re-enacting Take That and 50 Cent videos....(that last one may or may not have happened, unfortunately someone does still have that video).
Back in Dundee over Xmas for two days! :(

But I felt like the normal social side of my life – my friends and my family - were completely missing. I would see pictures of my siblings on Facebook and realise that I didn't really know them anymore. My brother is now 15, but I couldn't tell you what he is like as a person, what music he listens to, what sport he does or what exams he has at school. It was difficult to accept that everyone was living their life almost without me – because at one point we were all so close and together. I had no other outlet other than my running, which had started to take a little bit of a nose dive after taking the month off at the end of the season in order to recover. But that is the life of being an athlete - sport consumes it. Although, these are just minor difficulties - I can say Athletics is my job... - how many people would love to be in that position? I certainly wouldn't change it for the world - but I do moan about it every so often... :)
Siblingssssss
Going out to Kenya in October got me back into some serious training after taking my end of season rest. Kenya is an amazing place to not only train but also just to chill out. There are no stresses at all. Internet is very limited which means you can almost disappear for the month and it's acceptable because people know you cant reply to their emails! Unfortunately, after a good training spell, I picked up a cold. Nothing major... but I then picked up another – less than two weeks later over my birthday– and then another over the Christmas period! I returned to Kenya and had my strongest ever 5 weeks of training which gave me a lot of confidence going into the indoor season and looking forward to the 2014 summer season – but yet again I was struck down with illness. This time though it was a little different. I was constantly fatigued and tired. I struggled to get out of bed most mornings and was sleeping continuously. I would get a few below average training sessions in before then having cold like symptoms again for the following week. It was the most frustrating thing ever. At least with an injury – its disappointing – but you know exactly how many weeks to take off or you can continue to train through other forms – but with illness you are completely blinded. I kept trying and trying to get back but my sessions were on a downward spiral. I started to feel lactic as soon as I started the rep – it was a really weird sensation – my legs just weren’t my normal legs – and I wanted my old ones back!

After about a million blood tests – to which the doctor thought I was genuinely going insane – it came back that at some point I had picked up a virus. It wasn't much help now – but the good news was that is was finally gone. My bloods came back all clear and all my values were within the normal range – more specifically my white bloods cells (those little rascals), as for months they had been lagging.
Doha

I decided to head over to Doha to visit my mum (and coach) as she has relocated out there to begin her new life with her husband. It was definitely a big culture shock. The temperatures were through the roof which meant I had to train very early morning and very late evening – but in a way – I actually really enjoyed the heat. The only thing I didn’t enjoy was the fact I couldn’t wear my normal training kit to go for a steady run. At 100 degrees Fahrenheit the last thing I want to be wearing is a t-shirt and long leggings – I would of happily ran in a bikini! - but the culture is massively different to the UK, religion is taken very seriously and it is quite refreshing to see. I wrote more about my experience in Doha in the blog below but I wanted to add in quite a significant thing that happened to me when I was out there – which I perhaps didn’t want to disclose at the time. I hate listening to athletes or people in general make excuses about their own performances – so I wanted to write this blog irrespective of my performances plus my mum has a big mouth (joking.) and so it was eventually going to come out at some stage and I would rather it be in my own words than a journalist's mis-print.

Since I can remember, I have always had heart palpitations. I used to sit on the coach to junior league races when I was 12 clasping at my chest with several of the older kids laughing at me for 'holding my boob' but they were very infrequent and happened completely randomly. It never particularly worried me as after about 5/6seconds they were gone as quick as they had come on. It also never affected me running and so my parents were never majorly concerned. However, that was to change. After struggling with the move to Loughborough, never seeing my family and then my running going massively down the pan – I wasn't particularly happy as you can imagine. Some days I was walking around in a blur almost – it was a really weird way to be feeling but I just had no energy – perhaps from the illness. I just wanted to feel like a normal human being again instead of being constantly ill! I wanted to get away from Loughborough and running for a while and so 'running away' to Doha sounded like a good idea. I was very stressed with the situation and being in Qatar sounded like the ideal decision.

One thing I have learned is you can never run away from your problems. I may be an athlete but i'm not that fast. Things always catch up with you. I struggled to get to sleep one evening with my mind going into over-drive. I eventually got to sleep at around 3am but was abruptly awoken by my chest thumping. Initially, I thought it was just my normal palpitation but unfortunately this one was different. It didn’t stop. I tried to get up from my bed and almost collapsed. My heart felt like it was going 100 miles an hour. I lay down on the ground with a glass of water and was staying pretty calm about things. Thankfully, my mum woke up not long after. She thought it was just my normal palpitation and perhaps we could go on the cross trainer to 'kick start it' – she does crack me up. Her thinking is unlike anyone else I have ever met which definitely rubs off onto me - a 'just get on with it' mentality. Luckily enough, I decided to contact the UKA doctor just to gather his thoughts and within seconds of sending it, he immediately called me. I then realised this perhaps was a little bit more serious than I had initially anticipated.

I was taken straight into the emergency hospital in Doha and given a heart scan and ECG which came back reading that in my lying resting state my heart rate was fluctuating between 180 down to 130, which for me would be like running a hard training session. Anytime I moved or attempted to stand up it went even higher and my blood pressure took a massive drop. My heart had gone into an irregular beat called Atrial Fibrillation. It is the same condition that Scottish olympic swimmer Michael Jamieson had. Supposedly very unique for such a young female to go into.

A few facts from the NHS website -

'Atrial fibrillation is a heart condition that causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate.

In atrial fibrillation, the upper chambers of the heart, called the atria, contract randomly and sometimes so fast that the heart muscle cannot relax properly between contractions. This reduces the heart's efficiency and performance.'
Atrial fibrillation occurs when abnormal electrical impulses suddenly start firing in the atria. These impulses override the heart's natural pacemaker, which can no longer control the rhythm of the heart. This causes you to have a highly irregular pulse rate.

The cause is not fully understood, but it tends to occur in certain groups of people and may be triggered by certain situations, such as drinking excessive amounts of alcohol or smoking'....

 Well.. you can be rest assured that I definitely wasn't drinking excessive amounts of alcohol or smoking. I was laid up, quite happily asleep in bed!


The doctor said he was going to have to stop my heart and re-start it again, initially I was pretty scared but he reassured me it was a simple procedure with little risk. However, it then came to his attention that the resuscitation room (which is needed for all emergency procedures) was full and so I would have to be moved to another hospital. He asked if I had taken out medical insurance to which I burst out into tears. I only booked my flight the evening before I left and so medical insurance wasn’t on my radar at all. It never even crossed my mind. He told me I would need to stay in over night to be monitored and the whole thing could rack up into the thousands. His advice – get the next plane home – which is exactly what I did. He gave me a medication, a type of beta-blocker, in order to slow the heart down and aspirin to avoid any blood clots. It was a really strange sensation as my heart got slower and slower to the point where I actually couldn’t feel it beat with my own hand or couldn’t feel my pulse anywhere! Thankfully though, it slowed down so much that it then went back into its regular beat whilst I was sitting on the plane home.

The next day I went straight to London to see a cardio specialist Professor Sharma. After more tests – he couldn’t explain why the heart had gone into that condition for just under 2 days. There really was no rhyme or reason – we just had to hope that it didn’t ever happen again. Perhaps, it was due to my heart being under stress from constant illness – perhaps the virus played a small part – they really cant be sure. I now have some tablets in which I carry with me at all times in case it ever happens again. The only way to completely irradiate the palpitations would be to undergo surgery to insert a special valve into the heart – the other option would be to take daily medication for the rest of my life which slows the heart down, but these effectively would slow me down in general life and so my athletics wouldn't be possible.
Pre Diamond League

It made sense to just monitor things and react as they happen. Every morning, I use a heart rate variability monitor which helps to register how tired the heart is. I also use heart rate monitors on every single run I do – again in order to monitor how tired I am and adapt in order to avoid something similar happening again. The whole ordeal was a little bit scary but it perhaps reinforced to me that I need to have other aspects to my life. In the hospital, lying next to people in the emergency room all I could think about was the fact I was missing a training session that evening (geeky). My mum couldn't believe it, the fact that it was my only concern when she thought I was having a heart attack! Athletics is hugely important to me and it still is – but i'm enjoying it again. I'm enjoying being more chilled about everything and going back to the way I used to be about it. Athletics is my job but more importantly it's my hobby and I need to remember that and not let things get too intense. 
Black Bear Lodge, Utah
So.... It wasn't just all training!!
Utah University

BYU University
Park City HS track
Shoe tree Park
BYU
My training spell in Park City, Utah definitely helped me enjoy running again. The routes were so scenic and we had a great group of athletes out there. After being ill for so long – it was nice to actually feel like a normal person again. I was more upbeat and alert during the day and made sure I was keeping myself busy. I knew my first steeplechase in Eugene at the Pre Classic Diamond League was going to be a horrible one. I had only been properly training for a few weeks and always feel very sluggish on the first two days down from altitude. Perhaps I shouldn’t of ran, but I was so excited to not be injured or ill for the first time in months! Right from the gun, I was dead. It felt like the starter had accidentally shot me. After the first lap and every proceeding lap – I considered dropping out – but I have never even dropped out of a session before, never mind a race! I came crawling home in the slowest time i've ever ran – 10.15. It's safe to say, I wasn’t a happy bunny to be around for the next week but it made me determined to turn things around knowing the Commonwealths were on the horizon. I then threw myself into a 3000m flat at the Stretford BMC. I joined the boys race and felt very flat. After taking my spikes off, I then received a text from my mum, saying I was to do the next 1500m race there was! She felt like I needed to get into that race zone but also felt that I hadn’t ran fast enough to justify missing a training session and so made me do the double! Weirdly enough, I actually felt OK but again, very one paced. I was determined in my next race to break 9 minutes but unfortunately that never happened either. The 3000m in Bilbao was a huge improvement in the way I was feeling. I felt good warming up and knew I could break 9minutes but the race was a strange one. My splits ended up being 2.58-3.07-2.57 which is a horrible way to run. My last 200m felt like I was running a PB – if someone had told me to try and run another metre – I honestly couldn’t of unless I had rolled around on my belly. But again, I was so disappointed with my time!
Jeremy Ranch, Utah

Prefontaine Classic
Nike 
My next steeplechase wasn't much better either. In Gothenburg, after the first water jump, my spikes completely ripped. I couldn't believe it. My foot was hanging out the side like those women with big feet who try to ram their toes into sandals or stilettos. Then the next water jump....RIP... the other bloody shoe! I was ready to drown myself in the water jump. To be fair, my spikes were wet from my previous steeple and because I had been travelling from place to place they never got time to dry out – I also had been wearing them for a long, long time and so perhaps they were ready for the bin anyways. Nike were very generous to sort me out with brand new pairs that could probably last me the next few years! Lesson learned. After running the 3000m steeplechase wearing something resembling jesus sandals or flip-flops, my coach then decided that because I hadn’t ran fast enough – to go indoors and do 16x400m on the indoor track with 45 second recovery. All the other athletes were watching me as if I was a nutcase. I had looked awful racing and came close to last and now the crazy woman is doing a session 4mile session indoors in her trainers! Anyways, as they say – its all a big learning curve aye?

British Champs 2014
Things were starting to look brighter for me since those last few horror show races and I was feeling much more positive about the British Championships after running a some close to my best PB sessions. My coach always repeats sessions and so in my training diaries (yes – I am a geek), I can always look back and compare. Maybe not the best idea when you are running like a donkey but when things are going a little better its always a nice confidence boost. I don't really know who has a voodoo shaped doll of me, but yet again, bad luck struck me like lighting for about the 500th time this year. I ended up with food poisoning – TWO DAYS before the champs. In all honestly, it was completely by my own accord. With me travelling all the time, food is very limited in my house until I can be bothered to get my bum in gear and get along to Tesco (there are other shops available..). I usually try the tactic of 'sharing' (stealing) my housemate Muhktar Mohammed's food until I can be bothered to get my own. I had left some yoghurts out of the fridge for a few days.....well... 12 days to be exact. My other house mate – Michael Rimmer - was pretty adamant that the yoghurt would make me ill. Being my naturally Scottish stubborn self, I wanted to prove the boys wrong. I took a SINGLE teaspoon of it, even though it did look curdled - but weirdly enough it actually tasted alright with some sort of mango streak running through it. An hour later though, I was like the exorcist. Projectile vomiting all sorts of food and liquid. I couldn’t even drink water! The boys could hear me retching in the bathroom all throughout the night whilst shouting out every so often.. ' yeah i'm ok'. Fact is – I was not ok. I thought it was maybe the end of the world. After panic calling the doctor at midnight he said he could possibly give me a tablet in order to try stop the sickness and allow me to eat something as starving myself for a few days before trying to race the British Champs definitely wasn’t a good plan! Luckily enough the night before, I eventually managed to keep some substantial food down. Breakfast the following morning went down rather easily too – pastries galore – I was perhaps trying to do some calorie catching up.

Birmingham, 2014
Perhaps this latest bout of illness – self inflicted or not – helped calm me down a little. I really had no expectations going into the race as I had no idea how I would feel. I had no interest in the barriers – I just wanted to stay as close to the leader as possible and then run as fast as I could between the barriers over the last 400m. Which is what I managed to do. I couldn’t believe the time when I saw it – 9.50. Almost 13 seconds faster than the previous week and 25 seconds faster than Eugene – yet I felt so easy. The clock had been wrong for a few of the events I had watched earlier that day and so I was certain it was wrong – ultimately though – I didn’t care as I had successfully defended my british title for the third year running! Yay! As I walked out onto the track the mens 800m were battling it out over the last 160m. Both Michael and Muhktar have been a huge support to me over the last few months and have helped me out massively with timing sessions etc – so it really did help to watch them come in 1st and 2nd after all the difficulties they have run into too before the trials. I didn't want to be the odd one out, driving home in the car depressed when the two boys had ran out of their skin – I also wanted to do well.

Relieffffff.
Crossing the line – I didn't know wether to start laughing or crying. The latter was closer to happening but I was just so relieved to have won. I would have loved for my family to have been there and unfortunately there wasn’t a live stream as the BBC were being cheeky little monkeys not allowing anyone else the TV rights, but not showing any of the events on saturday live! I am now viewing this as the start of my season – everything else is in the past and I am dong my best to keep looking forward and keep improving. Next stop is Glasgow this weekend, of which my main aim is to secure the qualifying time of 9.43 for the European Championships. The race is stacked again but there are much more europeans in the field – which is what I need. A small group to drag me around. I know I am capable of running that qualifying time – how much under it – I am not so sure... I am definitely not in the same shape as last year and perhaps my expectations of myself for the Commonwealths are a little lower than they would have been had you asked me last year – but I'm doing everything within my ability to make sure I get as close as possible. If I can keep making these improvements in each race and in each session, i'm confident that by the time the Commies come around – i'll be around my personal best. Is that good enough for a medal? Who knows. Personally, I believe 1st and 2nd is out with my range with my current form but those minor medals are definitely in sight, for several athletes. If I came last and ran under 9.38 – I would be the proudest person in that stadium. I'm sure people will view it as a failure, if any of the scots don't medal but in the distance events - and in particular the steeplechase – it is of Olympic standard. In other events, the Commonwealth is a third tier competition after Olympics and Worlds but for some of the distance events and in particular the steeplechase – it is world class. Fingers crossed some of the public – perhaps not regular athletic goers – bear that in mind.

First time in Paris. 
6 pages of ramblings. If you've made it this far – i'm impressed or maybe slightly disturbed with the amount of spare time you have. This will definitely be my last blog before heading into the Holding Camp for Team Scotland on the 20th July. I will go into a little bit of a lock down similar to the Olympics. I think it's important to have that time to focus and distance yourself from the social media aspect of the sport. My mum is coming over to join me in the camp and so I am looking forward to having her eyes back on me during sessions and picking up some much needed advice going into a Home Commonwealth Games. Wish me luck. I could use some :)

One of the most amazing tracks I've had the pleasure of going to! 
Broughty Castle in Scotland being lit up with projections of me running for Scotrail's 2014 Sponsorship of the Games.