I remember first waking up in the hospital bed. My eyes flickered as the white lights of the ceiling shone brightly down on me. It was hard to figure out what was around me, I did not understand what had happened. I saw my mother, brother and sisters holding my hand, telling me it was going to be okay. I had no idea how I got there, let alone whether I would be okay. Time was a complete blur, but it was a few hours or days until I tried to move my body. Have you ever laid on your arm when you are sleeping and it’s gone dead? Imagine that but the whole way down the right side of your body. It was so scary; the feeling of wanting to move but not being able too. In those times it’s hard to hold back the emotions of not knowing whether you would ‘feel’ again.
A few days had passed before I was confronted by a doctor explaining what had happened. Due to the fact that I suffered a stroke to the left hemisphere of my brain, the neuron synapses connecting the right side of my body had got muddled up. This is what we call a stroke. I clearly remember him standing over me telling me that he could not be certain if my movement would ever fully return. I cried a lot. To not know if I was going to walk, move or even just hug someone, in the same way, was the most horrible reality I have ever had to swallow. It was that night, however, that I felt something so deep in my sleep. I was heavily medicated to help with the brain pain, so you could say I may have been high on drugs. Literally. I would be telling myself “It’s okay, you will make life happen, even if you are in a wheelchair”. That’s just the type of person I am, if I wasn’t able to walk, I would still do my best to live a great life. Because, at least, I was breathing.
It was in short succession, that days passed, and I was met by a physio whose job it was to try and help me regain the movement on the right side of my body. At this point, I had managed to get a lot of feeling back in my right arm. This was because I needed to use it a lot more, so the brain quickly relearned what it needed to. I needed to be able to feed myself, to move around in the bed I was bound to, so after a few days my right arm had kind of got back to normal. My leg, however, was still stiff and felt like dragging a wooden log that was hanging off my pelvis.
Overall, I spent five weeks in hospital in Budapest. The first two in an intensive care unit, where their focus was to stabilise me and keep me alive. The final three weeks were spent in a private unit, where I was allowed to try to move more. There was a moment that really changed everything for me in those first two weeks. It was after this night where I felt I had this deep acceptance of how my life may look if I couldn’t move. Maybe I could play wheelchair basketball? That was actually a thought I had. The next day, my father visited. My father lives away from me, so I only really see him every few years. It was a beautiful moment to see him there, above my hospital bed. He knew about everything that happened to me and so he said a few words that would change the course of my recovery.
He lay both his hands on my right leg. He said, “Leythy, I know right now this may be hard for you to do. I want you in every moment you can, to close your eyes and dream your wildest dreams”. I really didn’t know what he meant but he went to explain. “I want you to close your eyes, and imagine yourself doing all the things you love to do with your body. Running, swimming, climbing, walking, cycling…everything you loved to do and hope to do, I want you to see, feel it, embody the experience and know you will do these things once again”.
Every night, I lay and stared at the bright lights on the ceiling, closed my eyes and imagined. Every day, more feeling returned to my legs, my arms, my body. I now know there are studies showing that when you vividly imagine something, you kind of trick your brain into believing it is happening, therefore rewiring the brain. Once I moved out of the intensive care unit, I used a wheelchair for a few days, then I slowly transitioned to crutches. Every day, I held these visions in mind, feeling and knowing I would do all that I love again. In the space of a few weeks, I had gone from being bed-bound to a wheelchair to crutches to kind of limping. Laying in a hospital bed, you have a lot of thinking time. During this time, I would motivate myself and say “You know what, you are going to move again. One day you are going to do an Ironman”. This seemed extremely ridiculous because at this point it took every inch of energy to even make my way 5 metres across the room to make it to the toilet without falling over. But somewhere, within me, I knew that I would not only get back to full mobility but go far beyond my previous physical capabilities.
If you’re slowly getting to know me, you may be realising that I have a force far higher than I can imagine which guides my life. An energy that flows through me, a healing force, that moves me to become the best me I can be. I am not extraordinary, I am just a big believer that I can become extraordinary, and that is enough to drive my life to heights that I can’t even imagine yet. I felt in this blog, I wanted to share with you more of what I went through and why for me this Ironman conquest is a journey of me connecting deeper to this gift of mobility that I have been given. Because, why not? Why not see what is capable when you leave fear at the door, leave behind the past and let go of everything that does not serve you. After all, they say you only live once, this is incorrect, you live every day, you only die once. I got another chance, so let’s see how far I can go.
So here we are, I have decided to do a 70.3 Ironman, on October 11th in Luxembourg. If you haven’t had the chance to read my first blog where I explain why and what I am doing, you can read it here. The question I am looking to answer during this blog is how the heck do you train for a 7-hour event? This 7-hour endurance event will consist of a 1.9km swim followed by a 90km cycle and then end with a 20km run. All one after each other, baring in mind that I must transition, change and keep fueled this entire time.
I’m going to break it down, but firstly I am going to say thank you to Mark Davies, who is an ex-GB Ironman who has educated me on this process and has helped guide me to create a plan that I can work towards and execute.
An Ironman training plan is broken down into 3 separate parts. The BASE phase, followed by the BUILD phase and then you finish with the TAPER phase, leading up to race day. As we are around 90 days out from race day, the phases are separated into 1-month segments, give or take a week or so. Now to explain how each part is broken down, it really does make a lot of sense especially if you have experience doing sporting events! If you haven’t done any event, I hope it helps you further understand what is required, to do such a feat.
This phase can be one of the toughest phases to get through. It is in this phase where you truly work out if you can complete the distances required to complete an Ironman 70.3. The base phase is all about getting the miles on the legs, miles on the bike and miles in the water. So in this phase, my main focus is to complete the distances, feel good once they are done and also be aiming to be in a zone 2 heart rate. So what is Zone 2? There are 5 zones we have with our heart rate. Starting at Zone 1, which is where you probably are at right now whilst reading this, all the way up to Zone 5 which is full exertion. You want to train in Zone 2 & 3 during the base phase. The reason being, this is when you are training the Aerobic zone which is for endurance and activities roughly over 90 minutes. It is vital to be training in this zone because you are training your system to work for long hours under pressure without burning out and experiencing intense fatigue. This is so important, and one of the biggest pieces of advice I have been given as you need to endure your training your body to go for hours.
As explained, the next month for me is all about getting the miles in and training in the aerobic zone. Each week we are going to be increasing the distances slightly in order to get used to longer distances over a longer period of time. Until eventually in the final week of this initial base phase period, we are conquering the full distances. Then, to top of this period, we will then do a trial run of the Ironman 70.3. It is going to look something like this;
Monday: 1.9km Swim
Tuesday: 12.5km Run
Wednesday: 50km Cycle
Thursday: Mobility & Strength
Friday: 80km Cycle + 10km Run
Monday: 2km Swim
Tuesday: 15km Run
Wednesday: 55km Cycle
Thursday: Mobility & Strength
Friday: 85km Cycle + 15km Run
Monday: 2.4km Swim
Tuesday: 20km Run
Wednesday: 60km Cycle
Thursday: Mobility & Strength
Friday: 90km Cycle + 20km Run
Monday: 2.4km Swim
Tuesday: 22.5km Run
Wednesday: 65km Cycle
Thursday: Mobility & Strength
Friday: 30km Cycle & 5km Run
Sunday: Practice 70.3 (1.9km Swim, 90 Km Cycle, 20Km Run)
It is so important that the only focus over the next month is distance and heart rate! Of course, we will be watching the clock, however, it is vital that we keep the heart rate low and just focus on the distances. The goal at the end of this 4-week cycle is to be able to complete the full distances within a day.
Once we have accomplished this mission, we will then look at the BUILD phase. Briefly, as I will do a longer article on this closer to the time, the BUILD phase is when we start to focus on timings. We spend the following 30–45 days on increasing the speeds we are operating at, really turning up the gear with performance and output. Then finally, the TAPER phase is when we reduce all distances in order to give our body the rest it needs, which will be the 2 weeks leading up to the event. This is where we are really focused on light training, mobility and nutrition (which is a whole other world for another article!)
So there you have it, a brief insight into the different stages of this Ironman training journey. I will dive deeper into the BUILD and TAPER phases closer to the time, as right now, it is all about that 100% focus on the BASE phase and getting the miles on the legs, miles on the bike and miles in the water.
This journey of learning more and more about my body, my mind and also my capabilities has been exciting so far. I am looking forward to seeing how it will all evolve and as I learn how to train faster, recover faster, become stronger and therefore be able to connect with myself deeper.
At the end of the day, this is not about the destination of an Ironman. This is about the Journey to peak health performance, a journey to further understand my own human capabilities and share this with the world.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this today, it means the world to me. If you would like you can Follow My Instagram page for daily updates on training, my work/life balance and behind the scenes of becoming an IRONMAN #anythingispossible.