I Hate Running So Much I Ran a Marathon

I hate running. I was made acutely aware of this yesterday, yet again, when I went back to running my

Running the Barcelona Marathon (while I was still feeling strong).

Running the Barcelona Marathon (while I was still feeling strong).

city’s weekly Parkrun, a 5km race held every Saturday in cities all over the UK.

I wanted to get a good time. I knew I wouldn’t be able to beat my “personal best” time for that race. I hadn’t been running for a full month. I needed the rest and recovery after successfully completing the Barcelona Marathon on March 15. The tendonitis I had for weeks building up to the marathon seemed to have mostly withered away. So I started out the week with a slow 5km jog, added a 15 min faster jog in the middle of the week, and hoped I would be able to do a decent 5km run at the end of it.

Running is such a head-fuck for me. (more…)

The NHS: Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You

When you start wondering whether it’s better to be treated in Egypt rather than in the UK, it might be time for the British healthcare system to undergo a revolution.

At the end of last month, a Guardian link appeared in my Facebook feed that immediately touched a nerve. In an article titled “The doctor won’t see you now”, Victoria Coren Mitchell wrote about her difficulties in gaining access to her GP.

As a newcomer to the UK, I have had my own, admittedly different, issues with getting the kind of medical attention I believe I need when I need it. I made a comment to that effect on the Guardian’s Facebook post of Mitchell’s article and was taken aback by some of the responses I received from readers. “You still got time change your mind and go back to where you came from,” was one type of comment. A couple of others told me that GPs knew better than me whether I need a referral to a consultant. My comment was about my complete and utter inability to get a referral from my GPs to see a consultant about a condition I had they were unable to treat.

Although very frustrating for me, the condition I was talking about was a chronic skin condition I have had for years. I had seen several doctors over the years in Egypt, where I’m from, who were also unable to properly diagnose and treat me. My misplaced optimism that I might finally resolve the issue by visiting a British doctor is not the biggest of deals. I’ve had the condition for years. I can continue to live with it if I must. Or the next time I’m in Egypt I can easily schedule an appointment with another top-notch dermatologist and hope I might get somewhere.

I convinced myself that because my condition was not urgent or life threatening, it was all right if it was not treated. I had made three different visits about my condition to three different GPs in my local surgery to no avail. All three refused to refer me to a consultant until I tried their suggested treatment, none of which worked, and I completely gave up going a fourth time. Because of this experience and another, I no longer visit the GP with anything that I think can be delayed or ignored; a dangerous thing for anyone to decide. Despite all this, I still believed that getting access to the right doctors in the UK would not be an issue with more serious conditions.

That is until my British-born-and-bred husband, a Caucasian Scot (according to the comments made to me by some Brits on Facebook, this distinction seems to be important), fell off a horse and broke his collarbone while we were on holiday in Egypt. (more…)

Getting the Post-Marathon Blues…Pre-Marathon

I’ve long known I have a lousy personality. I’ve written as much many times. In five days I’ll be trying to Barcelona Marathon 2013run a marathon after months of training and all I can really think about is: and then what will I do?

While I was training, I read lots and lots of articles on running. One of the things that really stood out was the amount of material available on post-marathon blues. There I was, hating almost every single minute of my training: the boredom, the loneliness, the freezing cold, the rain, the snow, the mud, the puddles, the pain, the injuries…and there were people out there telling me that once it was all over I’d feel depressed. They were saying that all that training gives the runner a sense of purpose and a routine. Once it’s done, runners feel loss. It all sounded crazy to me. I couldn’t wait for it to all be over.

Yesterday I did my last training run and I already feel a horrible sense of loss. Training for this marathon took over my life for many months. My whole life revolved around my training schedule, my workouts with my personal trainer, and my visits to the physiotherapist. I ate to fuel myself up, iced and stretched to recover, swam to get rid of lactic acid, saunad to relax tight muscles. I put many other activities on the side burner because I needed my weekends for the long runs and non-activity days to rest.

And now it’s all done.

I’m freaking out about the marathon, of course. (more…)

The pros, cons and responsibilities of popularizing adventure

This morning I woke up to the news of ten people dying when two helicopters collided while filming a French survival reality television program. This horrible accident has me questioning, yet again, the wisdom – or lack thereof – behind popularizing highly risky adventure activities through reality television.

Several weeks ago, British television aired a two-part documentary about a British adventurer trekking the length of the Nile River. While on the trek, the adventurer and his guide, at this stage completely on their own, had to walk through territory they knew was under the control of armed men. They clandestinely filmed an exchange in which they gave the armed men some of their gear in order to secure their passage through the territory. Later, in the same documentary, a journalist and his photographer came across the adventurer and asked to join them for part of their trek. Apparently they were heading in the same direction. They were welcomed by the adventurer, who continued on his way to trek by the side of the Nile, during the daytime, in exposed 50-Celsius heat. The journalist got heat stroke. Due to the nature of this particular trek, the emergency evacuation available to the adventurer was hours away. All that could be done was to set up a makeshift shade for the journalist and try to cool him with the little amount of water the group had. The journalist died. The adventurer appeared incredibly sad. The end of the documentary showed a black screen with the picture of the journalist and a nice “In memory of…” And viewers were expected to then watch the second part of the documentary the following week and cheer the adventurer on for the remainder of his journey.

I felt insulted. A man died, in my mind and from what we were shown, directly as a result of this group engaging in unacceptably risky behavior, and I was expected as a viewer to take this in my stride as being normal and expected. I was supposed to accept that the adventurer continued on his trek, continued to film, and continued to enjoy and revel in his own experiences. I refused to watch the second episode of the documentary the following week. Not that it mattered to anyone.

I believe it is one thing for an individual to engage in risky behavior only at his or her own expense. But that it is a completely different and unacceptable thing to take inexperienced people under one’s wing while engaging in such behaviors. Much worse, I believe, is popularizing this sort of activity in a way that undermines the seriousness of the activities involved. (more…)

Guest Post: Myelofibrosis and Willing to Live

“Diseases are only rare until you know someone with that disease” – Amy Dockser Marcus Myelofibrosis_MF_awareness_badge

I first read this some eight years ago in an article in The Wall Street Journal, but I only understood what it meant when I suddenly found my life turned upside down.

Six months ago, I was diagnosed with myelofibrosis – a rare type of blood cancer where the bone marrow cells, which are responsible for producing the different cells of the blood, die off and are replaced by fibrous tissue.

These fibers disrupt the body’s normal production of red blood cells (which carry oxygen to all organs of the body); white blood cells (which protect the body against invading diseases); and platelets (which help the body form clots when we are injured to stop bleeding and allow our bodies to heal).

Before this, I never knew what myelofibrosis was. My quick reading on my phone as I drove back after getting my results from the clinic showed that it is a fatal, rare disease that usually hits people over 60, with an expected lifespan of two to seven years after discovery. It very rarely affects young people. Every new piece of information I read came as a shock to me – I was in my early 30s, I was part of a small and very loving family, and I realized I had an untreatable type of cancer.

I spent several weeks in a very, very dark place. I was confused, desperate and had nowhere to turn. The only thing that kept me going was support from my partner who stayed strong to help me through this confusion – even though it was confusing for them as well. (more…)

The Need to Write

Sometimes I feel like I just need to write. 

When I’m sad, when I’m happy, when I’m confused, when I’m excited… sometimes I feel like I just need to write.

Many times when I feel like I just need to write, I don’t have anything of importance to write about. I’ll dig deep inside, try to disentangle all the thoughts and stories inside of me, and find something worthy of letters. I think that’s why I blog so much about my feelings. They are the most accessible things for me to write about. They are always there, ready to be dissected and exposed to the world.

Writing connects me to people. I need that connection. Now more than ever because I have so few people who appear regularly in my day-to-day life. Can I blame everything on the Egyptian revolution? I want to. The sense of loss…loss of family…loss of friends…loss of purpose…loss of hope…loss of home…loss of work…loss of passion.

I make it sound horrible. I know it is not. Not always. Most of the time I manage to keep myself in a positive frame of mind. So much has happened in four years; in my personal and professional life, in Egypt, in the world. I cope by approaching life with tunnel vision. I focus on the one thing I feel I have some minor control over: me. I focus on the day-to-day. I give myself goals. I entertain myself. (more…)

Life’s Lessons: Marathon Training and Doing What’s Right

I’ve done everything humanly possible to do this right. Yet it doesn’t seem to be working. Today, or tomorrow, or in the coming few days, I might have to make a very difficult decision that will leave me frustrated, to say the least. But it won’t be the end of the world.

I’ve said this now many times: I find running particularly challenging. I’ve engaged in many types of physical activity in the past few years. I go to the gym and workout. I hike. I cycle. I dive. I’ve climbed tall mountains and cycled across a continent. I’ve had to train very hard to do both. I’ve had to endure pain, cold, wet, mud, heat and disappointment in my activities as well. But for some reason, at least in my head, none of that compares to the challenge of running and trying to be good at it.

It is specifically because I find running so difficult that I decided to challenge myself and train to run a marathon. I started running about six years ago. So I’m not exactly a beginner runner. I incorporated running into my general training regime to keep fit and healthy.

But I only started trying to become a stronger runner about three years ago. My husband encouraged me to sign up for a 10km race. I had never done anything of the sort. I wasn’t sure I could even run that far. With some training, I did. Then I ran another. And another. They were all very challenging. I almost gave up on my second 10km race. I was the third or fourth from last to cross the finish line in that race. I could have given up then. Instead, I decided that I needed to figure out how to become a better and faster runner. (more…)

Cheaper Than Coal

Another guest post from my 18-year-old daughter, Somaya. Egypt and the broader Arab region are on her mind.

Cheaper Than Coal

By Somaya Abulfetouh

The most precious things that may cross your mind

Are the same things that could turn you blind

They shine so bright and drive people mad

They control even the strongest lad

Gold as bright as the sun

Silver as white as the moon

Diamonds, oh I want them by the ton!

At the sight of crystals some might swoon!

Which, you ask, is the most precious?

I’ll tell you none; I’ll tell you blood is.

All the above, compared to a soul

Become cheap, cheaper than coal

The blood of your friends, your family, your children!

Not even those, but your country’s citizens!

The people who live on the same planet,

Why should you make of killing them a habit?

What more value does your blood hold?

If theirs is cheap, yours is not gold

Oh, what a funny world this has become!

It’s become so dark, all the days are dun

No, not dun, more like red

When all our days are filled with dread

In the papers, on the news

All we see is sadness and blues

Where is the outrage, where is the ruckus?

How can you let murderers live among us?

Raise your voice, make a change!

Kick and thrash till you break the cage!

My Letter to a Younger Me

I turned 46 this year. If I could send a letter back in time to a younger me, this is what I’d write:

 

Nadia, 

You’re about to turn 30. Strap yourself up in your seat belt because it’s about to get really tough.

You’ve already started to see glimpses of how difficult things are going to get.

The unhappiness. The general feeling of discontent. The loneliness. Feeling lost about almost everything.

All that gets worse. Much much worse.

Prepare yourself for a long period of darkness. You will feel like you are drowning. Every now and then you’ll find a straw, you will grab onto it thinking it will pull you back to the surface only to discover it’s a thorn. You will be pricked, you will have to let go of the thorn, and you will sink ever deeper.

Things will get so bad at one point that, for the first and only time in your life, you will briefly consider ending it. Breathe. Let the moment pass. It will.

You will call out for help. You will explain, using all the words you can find, what ails you. You will be clear that you need professional help. The people who matter, who can help, will hear you. But they will not be listening.

You will look around you and not know whom to trust. You will have many people around you, but you will feel as if you are alone in a stark, empty desert. (more…)

The Myths and Truths of “Listen to Your Body”

Foam rolling to nurse an aching leg before a run

Listen to your body.

How many times have people said that to me over the past ten years since I decided to become physically active?

But what does it mean? The implication is: If your body tells you it is tired, if your body tells you it needs a rest, then give it a rest.

But it’s not that simple, is it?

The easiest thing in the world is to use “listen to your body” as the best excuse in the world not to go to the gym, or not to go out and run, or not to get on that bike and cycle. That’s what physical activity does: it makes you feel tired. You’ll have aches and pains. You’ll get ravishingly hungry. You’ll feel hot or cold or itchy or sleepy or mentally pushed to your limit. If every single time we listened to our body when it told us we didn’t want to do something, we would hardly do anything.

I cycled across Europe last year. I know I go on and on about it. But it was one of the best experiences of my life. And I learned so much from it. On that trip I felt tired every single day for a two-month period. E V E R Y  S I N G L E  D A Y. There were times on that trip when I had cycled for more than 100 kilometers, I was lost, I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was hot… but I kept pushing myself to get to my next destination. I complained in my blog posts during that trip incessantly. I complained about how tired I was. I complained about my aches and pains. I complained about all my anxieties. It’s what I do. I express myself to get the feelings out of my head and be done with them. I got many messages from people telling me it was all right to take a break. It was all right to slow down. It was all right to give myself a rest. Yes. It would have been all right. But I didn’t need to. I could and I did keep going because I knew I had it in me despite the aches, pains, and anxieties. I knew I had the physical and mental strength to do exactly what I set out to do. And on the few rare days when I felt I really needed a break, I gave myself one as a treat.

I’ve been training for a marathon now for months. I’ve found this experience even more grueling than a two-month cycle across Europe. (more…)