• Catherine Steele

4 Reasons Not to Follow a Training Plan

In August last year I set myself a goal - a Park Run by Christmas. If you're familiar with Park Runs, they're 5 kilometre runs that take place right across the country every Sunday. So, I downloaded the NHS "Couch to 5K" app which promised that, if I stuck with the programme, I'd be running 5k without stopping in nine week. Fabulous I thought - I'll crack this goal well before Christmas. So I plugged myself into my iPhone and went for my first run.

It's now five months later and I've just completed week 3 - yes, I'm less than half the way through the programme. I can only run for 3 minutes without stopping. So, what went wrong?

Chemo. That's what went wrong. Until recently I've been having Taxotere chemotherapy which sometimes made it difficult to go for a walk, let alone a run. By the time I felt my energy return (usually about half way through the three week cycle) I had lost the fitness that I'd built up and didn't have a hope of sticking with the programme. I've lost count of the number of times I've diligently started week one again promising myself that this time I'm going to make progress.

I found the whole experience very demoralising because it reenforced the fact that cancer is, once again, preventing me from doing 'normal' things like following a relatively easy training programme that is designed for beginners.

I've since discussed this with some people I know in the fitness industry and they've offered me this advice.

1. Building fitness isn't a linear path

Everybody has good days when they've had a great night's sleep, the sun is shining and they're feeling full of energy. On days like these, training is easy and your goals seem well within grasp. On other days, when you're fighting off a cold or the rain is pelting down, training is hard and you feel like stopping. If you drew a chart of your progress you'd see a bumpy rather than a straight line. There are good days and bad days and nobody reaches their goals without a few bumps and detours, least of all someone who has to withstand the rigours of cancer treatment.

2. A training plan is just that - a plan

Unless you're following a training plan that is specifically designed for you, it won't be matched perfectly to your abilities and certainly won't make allowances for the physical burden of cancer or the side effects of treatment. Plans are helpful to help you gauge progress, but expect to tailor them as needed. A suggestion that I was given by one of my friends who is a personal trainer was to take a week off the plan when I was recovering from my treatment and then go back one week when I resumed training. So complete week one and two of the plan, skip a week when I had my treatment and then complete week two and three of the plan. This worked for me for a while, but I needed to adapt it again as the time it took me to recover from each infusion started to increase.

3. Make rest part of your training

Rest is a vital part of training as it allows your body to recover and repair itself from the stress that exercise exerts on the body. Though it can be tempting to push yourself hard when you are feeling good to make up for the periods of time when you feel too unwell to train, make sure you incorporate an adequate amount of rest or you'll be doing more harm than good.

4. Mix it up a bit

Exercise of any sort is better than doing nothing. If you feel you can't manage the next training run on your programme, how about a swim or some yoga, or even a walk. It will still give you the endorphin high, will give you a sense of achievement and will help to maintain your fitness level for when you do feel well enough to resume training.

...so what about that Park Run?

I've now come off Taxotere (for the time being) and right now I'm feeling good. I have six weeks remaining on the "Couch to 5K" programme so IF I'm able to stick with the plan I should be ready by mid of March (maybe).

Watch this space!

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