I want to talk a little about my training with arthritis. To be specific, my arthritis is Inflammatory Arthritis and I also have another autoimmune disease called hemochromatosis – this is where I have too much iron in my blood and can’t get rid of it.
The combination of both diseases results in having to adjust my training according to how I am feeling on a daily basis. Some mornings I wake up shattered; one effect of these conditions is that sleep is quite hard at times. There have been nights I would be tossing and turning for hours even if I go to bed early and then when I wake it’s like I had no sleep.
How do I manage to train for triathlon and marathon running with arthritis?
I get asked a lot how I train and how I manage to do triathlon or run a marathon with these conditions. It’s not easy but with the right frame of mind and support it can be done.
This season I made three goals:
- Not to be last in any race
- To complete my first marathon
- To lose weight
I wanted to take this season more seriously and to see if I could push myself without making myself sick.
In my initial few years of triathlon, completing the race was the only goal. I did a few races and finished when they were taking everything down and people were going home. While this was fine as I was still finishing the race, it was getting to me a bit. I am competitive (mainly with myself) so finishing last or close to last was bugging me.
This year was my marathon challenge so that obviously meant running more than I would have normally. Just to put into context: running is my worst discipline by far due to the fact I have no cartilage in my left ankle and my right ankle is also damaged, so for me running is very painful. In fact, it’s bone on bone painful.
I also have the small issue of needing a new right hip too. I was officially put on the waiting list in January.
Why do I do it?
If I were reading about someone doing this, I too would think that the person is mad. The reason is that this could well be my last chance to run a marathon, as when I get my hip replaced I will really have to cut back on my running. It's now or never.
I try to plan my training weekly and I don’t have a coach as I just don’t know how this would work in terms of structure. A coach will design and structure training for your “A” races, but my main issue is missing sessions due to fatigue, illness and just not being able to do the session.
I would typically plan on a Monday as Monday is my rest day. I would write it out and try to stick with it.
I am a member of Pulse Triathlon Club in Dublin, Ireland and they are just simply brilliant. There are many training sessions open to me with Pulse. I mainly get to the swim sessions as I also juggle being a dad of three who need a lot of driving around so that adds another challenge to my training.
How I train
As mentioned, my training this season focused more on the running side of things. I would run in the mornings before work and as I struggle with running I settled on lots of shorter runs rather than a few longer runs.
I would get the early train into the office wearing my running gear, drop off my bag, and head out for a run before the work day begins. I work in the Grand Canal area of Dublin so my course was around the Quays which was a nice route. I started doing 3k and some days 4 or 5k.
I would try to get 3 runs in during the week, one swim or bike session, and at the weekends I would do my local Parkrun. When I wanted to extend the weekend run, I would run to Parkrun and then run home again.
I get infusions every 6 weeks for my arthritis and this basically turns off my immune system, so the weeks I have my infusion, training needs to take a back seat for about 3 days. I also have a pint of blood removed every 8 to 10 weeks for my hemochromatosis and again this sets me back for 2 or 3 days depending how I am feeling.
How did I cope with training for a marathon with arthritis?
Juggling training sessions with my hospital visits was tricky. What I tried to do was have a heavier week of training the week before a visit and then the week of the visit try to get the appointment early in the week so I could take my days off and get back to training towards the end of the week and weekend.
Training wasn’t easy this season. I got hit with a few injuries and illnesses, one of which was in September and put me out for three weeks. This was not great timing as the marathon was at the end of October and I was looking at increasing my mileage in September but obviously couldn’t.
When I got back to training, I needed to be careful not to relapse so could only slowly build the mileage back up so I only got one “long” run in and this wasn’t too good as my hip really was not happy that day. At one point I was giving up completely as I was getting nerve pain into my knee and was reduced to walking a bit. I stretched it out and walked a bit and eventually it eased and allowed me finish off the last 5k. If I hadn’t been able to finish this run I would have quit, but to be honest I had put in a lot of effort and gone through a lot of pain and discomfort to get to the start line so I had to give it a shot.
I also completed three triathlons this season, all sprint distance and I am pleased to say in the three of them I hit my target of not being last or even on the last page of finishers.
Running the marathon
There is still a lot of room for improvement but I was happy with how I managed myself this season. My swim has improved a lot and my bike was a bit better. The bike will be a discipline that I will look to build on when I get back from my hip operation.
The marathon itself was an amazing experience. I had promised my wife I would not kill myself out there and if I needed to, I would stop. I decided on a few plans, the main one was to run for 5 minutes then walk 2 and to walk all the hills (hills hurt both my ankles and hip) so walking hills, although slowing me down, benefited me more by allowing me to run on the flat better.
I employed the plan and managed to get to just over the 16-mile mark before running out of energy. After that I was running on empty.
It was here I met a man who was also walking and he told me not to panic, just keep walking at the pace I was at and get to the next few feed stations so that I could get the drinks and gels into me. So this is what I did: we walked a few miles until some energy came back and I started to jog, shuffle, walk to the finish line.
I finished in 6 hours 40 mins. I know this is slow but I kept my promise of not destroying myself completely I was fine when I finished and I recovered quite quickly too. Although the next day was just pure awful but that’s to be expected.
I saw some horrible things out on the roads with people in aid tents in a bad way, people sitting on the side of the road in cramp and tears and others trying to run only to stop with cramp 20 yards down the road. This never happened me, I was out of energy but kept going.
Oddly, while I said I would not run again I was back out a week after the marathon. I also signed up to a 5-mile run last weekend which I really enjoyed as well as finishing under my target time.
I hope to have my hip operation done early in 2019, so until I get over that and see how things are I won’t be making any 2019 plans just yet. Watch this space.
About the author: Ken Byrne is an Ironman athlete and Sundried ambassador.
Many people have heard of SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder – which refers to the low mood often experienced in winter. Short days, lack of sunlight, and a temptation to eat more 'comfort' food can all contribute to feeling low. But is it actually making us ill? And is taking a Vitamin D supplement the answer? We take a look.
Why do people get more ill in winter?
Do you feel like you're constantly ill over the winter? Coughs, colds, and even the flu make the rounds every year and it can really get you down if it feels like it's constant. But why do we get more ill in winter? There are several factors that cause it but there are also easy ways to combat it.
Drinking less water
If you're someone who regularly drinks plenty of water, it can be hard to believe that some people never drink plain water and exist solely on soft drinks, juices, teas, coffees, or just the water their body gets from food.
In summer, the heat causes people to drink more water because it makes them sweat and makes them feel thirsty. However, in winter it can be easy to 'forget' to drink enough water due to not sweating and feeling cold. Your body needs water to stay healthy and as such, a reduced water intake in the winter could be the reason you are always falling ill and catching colds.
Eating more junk food
It's no secret that the majority of us eat a lot more junk food in winter. Comfort food as it's often called helps us feel warm and comfortable in the dark evenings and something like a salad can be very unappealing in winter. However, surviving solely on junk food can mean reduced intake of vital nutrients and as such your immune system will suffer and you'll fall ill more easily.
Lack of sunlight
Vitamin D is an important vitamin that helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body and a Vitamin D deficiency can lead to weak bones and even deformities. In the summer months, we get all the Vitamin D we need from sunlight as our body is able to create this vitamin when we have sunlight on our skin. However, in winter it is pretty much impossible to get your daily intake of Vitamin D. You can supplement your intake with certain foods such as oily fish, red meat, and eggs, however it can be a good idea to take a Vitamin D supplement.
Why you should be taking a Vitamin D supplement
During the autumn and winter, you need to get Vitamin D from your diet because the sun isn't strong enough for the body to make Vitamin D. But since it's difficult for people to get enough Vitamin D from food alone, everyone (including pregnant and breastfeeding women) should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10mcg of Vitamin D during the autumn and winter.
Between late March/early April to the end of September, most people can get all the Vitamin D they need through sunlight on their skin and from a balanced diet. You may choose not to take a Vitamin D supplement during these months, however if you do take one you may well find that you get ill less frequently (if at all) and that your mood is greatly improved.
Alice: “The monthly cycle is something that has affected me more noticeably as I get older (I’m 36). For a few days every single month I definitely see a shift in my mood and a decline in my performance. Should a race or a big training session clash around the two days of the month, or Day 1 of the glorious event itself, it's almost impossible to hit targets. My core is inflamed, rendering it useless and sloppy for running, and cramps make hard training more of a burden than ever. I gain weight in water retention and can’t stop craving chocolate (an issue most of the time, but that’s another story!)
The contraceptive pill is a no go for me as the artificial hormones really mess with me so best thing I’ve found is to avoid hard days around that date, and recognise I'll be a bit grumpy for 2-3 days before that too. However, avoidance of the hard stuff is all very well and good, but not being regular to the button makes planning, particularly racing, very difficult, and you can’t control the organisers’ race dates.”
Emma: “Everyone worries about having their period for a big event, but in reality your hormones are favourable for performance once your period starts. So whether you’re working out, training or racing, it will feel easier when you are in the low-hormone phase of your cycle which starts the first day of menstrual bleeding. Though there are very few specific studies on performance throughout the menstrual cycle, the research supports that women perform worse during the pre-menstrual phase (the luteal phase) and much better in the 1-12 days following the first day of their cycle (the follicular phase).
Alice: “Personally, I find Day 1 of my period is when the cramps and bloating are at their worst, so whilst my hormones settle immediately (mood change and better sleep), it takes a day or two for my body to feel good again. As for the science, it’s good to know that the day doesn’t have to be a write off if I prepare for it as best I can in the days preceding.”
Emma: “Absolutely, it does not mean you are doomed if a key event lands on a high-hormone or sub-par day. Research shows that key performance indicators such as VO2 max and lactate threshold remain constant throughout your cycle, so you can still aim for a PB even with PMS in endurance sports. However, if you are doing sports that involve reaction time, neuro-muscular coordination and manual dexterity – such as ball sports – during the premenstrual phase, it will be harder and more important to keep your head in the game. There’s also evidence that blood sugar levels, breathing rates and thermo-regulation are negatively impacted during this time of the month, which may well account for the slight decreases in aerobic capacity and strength too. For triathletes with heavy periods, racing in the heat and fuelling strategy is something to consider carefully when competing in this phase.
In general, exercise can feel harder during those high-hormone days before your period and there’s no doubt that it can mess with your performance. But as we know, not every period is the same and some months it may affect you less than others. So it’s important not to get in a negative head space as stress can also affect the severity of your symptoms!
Alice: “So, what are the measures we can take to try and help ourselves?”
Emma: “Planning is your first port of call. If you have a regular cycle, you can try to avoid planning your big races or events around these premenstrual dates. On days 1-3 premenstrual this is typically where you can feel and perform a little sub-par and also carry a little water retention. By taking control of your nutrition in the week before you can still perform well, but perhaps nothing spectacular.
The best time to race or compete in a big event during your cycle is 12-14 days after the first day of your period (the first day of your period is Day 1 of your cycle.) This is where oestrogen reaches a peak just before ovulation. Around ovulation your pain threshold will be higher, energy levels better, utilisation of carbohydrate (CHO) better, recovery enhanced and you generally feel happier and in a good mood. Adaptation to all types of training in this phase are generally good. Ovulation typically happens on Day 13 of your cycle.
On days 1-14 of your cycle (the follicular phase), CHO is the primary fuel source during high intensity exercise and your body uses CHO as its main fuel source for all types of activity. But towards the end of this phase there is an increased emphasis on fats for moderate and low intensity exercise. During this phase for soft tissue recovery, include sources of collagen such as jelly alongside vitamin C rich foods to help with muscle, tendon and ligament recovery.
On days 14-28 of your cycle (the luteal phase), particularly for moderate and low intensity exercise, your body is now using fats as its main fuel source during training. During this phase, muscle breakdown may be increased, so focus on recovery after an intense workout: refuel with a protein-rich meal or snack within 30 minutes. Towards the end of this phase, your body will switch from using fats to using CHO as its main fuel source during training. This is the most common time to experience cravings and PMS. The good news is that adjusting your nutrition can help reduce these symptoms. Proteins and slow release CHO will help to maintain blood sugar levels and help reduce cravings. To reduce PMS, include foods rich in vitamin D, calcium, fish oils and magnesium. Avoid too many foods high in saturated fat as these may be associated with worsened PMS symptoms. Your sleep may be disrupted during this phase so try to include foods containing sleep-inducing melatonin such as tart cherry juice.
Energy dips are quite typical in the PMS days and it is recommended to take on board a little extra CHO before and during workouts longer than 90 minutes along with small increases in protein too. It is important to note that you burn slightly more calories overall during the premenstrual phase, so adding in a 200-250 calorie healthy snack during this period is recommended, such as some oatcakes with nut butter.
Just before your period, your hormones drop to their lowest levels. This triggers inflammation which can cause some PMS symptoms. The anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting powers of ginger can help.
A ‘food first’ approach is best so try loading up on antioxidants through your diet, including plenty of berries and green leafy vegetables (aim for 7-8 servings per day).
Alice: “A couple of my races have been a write-off, partly due to the time of the month. With Emma’s help, we created a plan to start the week before I’m due, which helps alleviate symptoms and allows me a chance of racing to a decent standard. It’s tried and tested. So here’s my PMS Checklist:
- Ginger: raw, capsules or powder
- Rich-coloured fruit and veg (8 portions a day)
- Magnesium, Vitamin D, Zinc (can get from food but I take supplements)
- BCAAs (Amino acids)
- Baby Aspirin
- Tart Cherry Juice
- Fish and Flaxseed Oil
Key Takeaway Facts
- Day 1-14 of your cycle is the follicular phase when you will feel and perform at your best. However this phase includes the days on your period so you may also experience bloating and water retention while you're bleeding.
- Day 15-28 is the luteal phase which is the less favourable phase when you may experience reduced endurance, cravings, disturbed sleep, and a higher body temperature.
- Day 1 of your cycle is the first day of your period
- Ovulation occurs around Day 13 and is when you will have higher energy levels, improved mood, and an increased recovery ability. This is the best time to plan a race or event.
- Every woman is different and experiences different symptoms so it's important not to get too hooked up on what you may or may not experience in the different phases of your cycle.
If you're trying to lose weight or are training for a race or fitness event next year, Christmas can feel like a daunting time. Lots of indulgent food around the house, meals and drinks out with family and friends, and less time to train can all add up. We're here with our 5 top tips to help you stay on track and avoid over-indulging this festive season.
1. Tell your family and friends about your goals
One of the things that makes it so difficult to stick to being healthy at this time of year is pressure from family, friends, and social occasions. If everyone is eating, drinking and being merry, you don't want to be the party-pooper with your salad in a Tupperware container.
Make sure you tell your family and friends about your intentions and your goals so that they can support you. They'll be more understanding and hopefully won't try to pressure you into eating more unhealthy food if you're open with them about what you're trying to achieve.
2. Make sure there's healthy food in the house
It can be all too tempting to eat cake for breakfast and graze on biscuits and sweets throughout the day if they are littering the house and there aren't any healthy options.
Make sure you've still got normal, healthy food in your house so that you can eat proper meals and then enjoy the occasional treat as well. Trying to stick to a normal eating routine will be key to success and not falling into a food coma after lunch.
3. Plan your meals ahead of time
Another reason why it's very tempting to eat the unhealthy food in the house is because it's quick and easily accessible. If you're stuck deciding what to have for dinner, chances are your family's suggestion of getting a takeaway will sound very appealing.
Make sure you plan your meals for the week ahead of time so that you know exactly what you're going to have and can make sure you have all the ingredients you need. There are plenty of healthy recipes that can be made quickly such as stir fry, grilled chicken, or wraps.
4. Stick to a training plan
Find a professionally-written training plan that fits around your schedule and try to stick to it as much as possible. Instead of making it up as you go and training ad-hoc, sticking to a proper training plan will make sure your training makes sense and that you don't over- or under-train.
However, it's also important to make sure your plans are flexible. If a friend invites you out but you have a long run planned for that day, try to compromise and arrange with your friend for another day. Referring back to point number 1, if you've already told your family and friends about your goals, they should understand and support you.
5. Don't be overly restrictive
It's almost impossible to sit at a table with a salad while everyone else eats delicious festive food. Allow yourself to have fun and enjoy yourself as that is the spirit of the season. If you've eaten a wholesome breakfast and healthy lunch, eating something a little less nutritious but a whole lot more tasty at dinner time shouldn't be too much of a problem. It's only when you're eating unhealthy snacks all day long as well as huge carb-rich meals that things go wrong this time of year.
Most of us will feel stressed at one time or another, but in these modern times more and more of us are suffering from stress chronically. It's not only bad for you mentally, it's bad for your physical health too. Sundried take a look at 4 easy ways to manage stress on a daily basis in order to protect your health.
1. Go hiking outdoors
Fresh air will boost your immune system and energise you with fresh oxygen. Getting a healthy dose of fresh air each day will help to combat stress and alleviate the related symptoms. People who work in office jobs tend to be chained to their desks and it can be a struggle to get any fresh air or even daylight from day to day, especially in winter. Going for a hike outdoors is a great form of exercise and can be great fun too. Not only is it good for your physical health, you'll end up finding new places and exploring parts of your local area you never even knew existing, boosting your mental health and well being too.
2. Go for a long run
Sometimes stress follows us home from work. Perhaps your stress is stemming from family or home life and you just need to get away. It's not practical to get up and run away, but going for a long solo run is the next best thing. The exercise will give you an endorphin boost and help to melt away your stress, which can harm your health if you suffer from it long term. It can also help you to manage your thoughts and process everything that's going on in your life at any given time. It'll give you time away to be alone with your thoughts and allow you to make plans and come up with ideas that you might not be able to otherwise.
3. Practice yoga
It's no secret that practising yoga and meditating is great for battling stress. It has even been found that certain types of yoga can ease the suffering of cancer patients. Taking 10 minutes out of your day to meditate and relax will do you a world of good and can be an ocean of calm in an otherwise hectic day. If you're not sure what to wear to yoga, Sundried have a handy guide you can follow. However, you don't need to go to a specific class in order to practice yoga; you can find a quiet space at home and listen to a guided meditation.
4. Make exercise fun
If your workout or training session is something you can look forward to each day, you will be more likely to stick to your training plan and not skip sessions. Having a fun and enjoyable training session planned for after work will mean you have a goal for the end of the day and something to look forward to. It may help the day go quicker and will keep your spirits high throughout the day. Participating in a group fitness class at your local gym can be a great way of meeting new people, making friends, and relieving stress at the end of a busy day. This is your time with no distractions and no one asking anything of you.