Pete’s got a “Problem”

It doesn’t matter how fit you are, how well you look after yourself and how positively you view life, sometimes stuff just happens to you. When it does you can’t ignore it. It won’t just go away as I found to my own cost.

So I thought I would share my story of what has become affectionately known this year as “Pete’s Problem”. Here goes:

It creeps up on you over time and because its so personal and invisible its something that tends to get ignored. Oh and blokes don’t like to talk about such things either. We might take the piss in the pub about the one in the gang who has to keep going to the loo but its perceived as weakness or a sign of failing masculinity to not be able to hold your beer and control your bladder. So playful mockery is a legitimate bloke reaction and seldom do we stop to ask if they are ok or try to help them to face the truth that there is an issue that shouldn’t be ignored. As I’ve found out to my cost, prostate problems don’t go away on their own.

During the day it tends to be ok. You can normally nip to the loo whenever you need and occasionally things can get critical when there doesn’t seem to be a loo when you need one. But its at night that things start to change. At first you are getting up half way through the night to answer the call of nature and slowly but surely you can find yourself getting up every hour. This is when it really has an impact (even though you don’t realize it) as a full nights sleep becomes a thing of the past. Strangely though your body adjusts to being permanently tired and a part of your brain kicks in to tell you that everything is ok.

Little by little we accept the new normal and we ignore the fact that this new normal isn’t ok.

Then something dramatic happens that changes everything.

For me that dramatic event happened last December when I was meeting up with a few old mates in a pub in London. It was busy, it was great to see them again, we had lots to catch up on and it wasn’t easy or convenient to keep nipping to the loo (and I probably also didn’t want to run the risk of being the butt of the weak bladder jokes). When I did go I found something unusual happened. I couldn’t go at first and then it only came out in a dribble. This was not good. Each time I attempted to leave the loo I knew I needed to go again but thankfully with multiple repeats I emptied my bladder. Shortly after it was time to get the train back up north to Chester and I was now unable to urinate at all even though I was desperate. It felt like I was having contractions for the whole two hour journey. It was so painful. Somehow I got home and my wife suggested a hot bath would ease things and also that I should drink more water to try and flush out whatever was causing the problem. We had no idea that this was the worst thing we could have done at this moment!

We were ignorant about urine retention which is a condition that is caused by the bladder going into spasm and therefore preventing any fluid from leaving the bladder. The only way to deal with it is to have a catheter inserted to drain the bladder and then leave it in there for multiple days to allow the bladder to recover from the trauma. As my contractions got more frequent and more intense we ended up in A&E where I was rushed to the front of the queue to have the catheter procedure which thankfully, brought instant relief.

My prostate was seen as the cause of the problem as an internal inspection suggested that it was large but smooth and therefore probably benign. I was prescribed a drug called tamsulosin to relax the prostate and bladder to minimize the risk of going back into retention. I was told that I’d now need to take this drug indefinitely and whilst this news depressed me at first,as I do not like to feel that my body needs to rely on drugs to function effectively, once I adjusted my way of thinking I realised that it was a simply a tiny daily inconvenience to prevent further significant breakdowns. Over the next few months I had various other tests to check my flow rate and capacity to empty my bladder and whilst I didn’t score perfectly I was seen to be well within the acceptable range and so I continued to take the medication every day and settled into a new normal.

I got back into training hard, the early part of the race season began well and I put the retention episode behind me.

But then it happened again, only this time in the middle of a race.

I was in Sweden competing in my 1st Ironman 70.3 Triathlon and unknowingly went back into retention during the bike leg. I went from feeling that I could soon do with a loo visit to the dark realization that it was too late and I had now tipped over the edge into retention in such a short space of time. Having suffered retention once before I knew deep down what I was facing, but just couldn’t bring myself to confront it during the race and so decided to complete the run in the bizzare hope that my body would miraculously resolve it. I stopped at every aid station over the half marathon distance to try and urinate to relieve my growing discomfort levels. It was futile as I was already in retention. Eventually I crossed the finish line in agony, was put straight into an ambulance and rushed to the local hospital. To the shock of the medical team more than 3 litres of fluid was drained from me ( a normal full bladder is approximately one litre) and so lots of blood tests were quickly carried out. Thankfully, everything came back clear and so I was allowed to return to UK the next day.

It was now clear to me that my medication was not working sufficiently well to prevent further episodes of retention. I found a new Urology Consultant and embarked on 3 months of intensive investigations to try and understand what was happening and why. I was given additional medication whilst we continued our investigations, the new drug being one that helps to reduce the size of the prostate over time.  But when I learnt that my prostate was “super sized” it did seem that even if these drugs could reduce it over time I would still be left with a monster that could cause retention at any moment of stress. After viewing things as a result of an endoscopy, my Consultant concluded that I was continuously on the edge of going into retention and so we made a decision to have surgery to significantly reduce the size of my prostate. However there was another complication. Increasingly high scores from repeated PSA tests together with some suspicious images from an MRI scan led to a recommendation to have series of biopsy’s taken before making a final decision about surgery.

The risk of cancer seemed to be growing with every test I was having and yet I was still totally confident that my prostate was benign. It was only as I was arriving at the hospital for the biopsy operation that it dawned on me that I could have cancer. I did my best to put this thought to the back of my mind, but have to admit that I was suddenly very scared and the next 5 days before I got the results back were pretty difficult. Thankfully all 30 biopsies were clear and I have to say that I have never been so relieved in my life to hear this news. I was now able to proceed with the operation to reduce the prostate.

A few weeks later I went back under anaesthestic and had 50 grams of tissue removed. 24 hours later I was allowed home and delighted to be catheter-less and no longer requiring any of the previous medication. The next three weeks were difficult and uncomfortable as the body was beginning to heal but slowly things started to settle down. At first, urinating was very painful, far too frequent, often blood stained and triggered intense nerve pains all down the backs of my legs, but as the healing progressed these symptoms eased. One month on, I now feel as though my bladder is much more relaxed, the nerves around my whole core area have recovered and I’m sleeping so much better than I can remember for years. My brain has taken a while to adjust to not needing to wake frequently through the night but I’m now enjoying unbroken sleep which feels like such a treat.

I’ve now had my post op flow tests which are showing that I’m able to fully empty my bladder again and am urinating  like an Olympian! The decision to have surgery was absolutely the right thing for me to do and I’m hopeful that this will have incremental performance benefits for me next year (as well as obviously eradicating the danger of further retention).

My Consultant has given me the green light to begin some very light exercise and you won’t be surprised to learn that I have taken him at his word. I have loved getting out for a gentle jog, raising my heart rate a bit and sensing the blood pumping around the body again. I should be fully healed and ready to resume proper training on December 1st. 2017 is going to be a great year.

So why am I sharing all this personal stuff that some might find awkward or embarrassing ? Well, its simply to help you to avoid what I’ve been through or worse, given that Prostate Cancer is the most common cancer in men and one in eight of us will get it in their lifetime. I know that I am lucky that my prostate is benign.

If you are experiencing any problems urinating whether that’s to do with reduced flow, increased frequency, sudden urges then don’t be shy or embarrassed and don’t ignore it as it will only get progressively worse. Go and see your GP and get checked out. The earlier you do it, the better chance you’ve got of avoiding what I’ve been through and I can categorically confirm that you do not want to experience this if you can possibly help it.

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2016 Race Year Review

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2016 has certainly been a year of highs and lows, but I’m relieved to finish the season with a strong performance and an encouraging result.

March

My race year began on a cold March morning with a Sprint Duathlon at Oulton Park, a favorite venue of mine. The Erdinger arm warmers certainly came in handy !

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This undulating circuit produces fast times and now that this event was draft legal the bike leg was even quicker than usual.

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I treated the race as a training session and was pleased with my finish position of 3rd in AG in a time of 69:56.

My next race was a week later with the Liverpool half marathon, again a great opportunity to test my run legs. As you can see I was delighted to run a new personal best time of 85:03. This got me very excited about my prospects for the season.

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Into April and it was the Windsor Duathlon that also doubled up as the British Championship. The race was a logistical disaster with competitors being held up on the bike course and after crossing the finish line in 2nd place in my AG I was later relegated to 4th place. I was not happy, despite the smiles!

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Working hard on the 1st run

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All smiles despite the result!

May saw my first international race of the year, a superb trip to Denmark for the European Long Course Duathlon Championships in Copenhagen. This was my 1st time racing at this distance and so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect and how strong the competition might be.

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Making new friends

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Despite carrying a niggling injury which forced me to take it easy on the 1st run, I was delighted to finish 3rd and pick up a bronze medal in a time of 2:56:43 over the 10k/60k/10k course.

At the end of May I had my first triathlon of the season at the Erdinger sponsored Nottingham Big Tri.

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I was delighted with my swim improvements and grabbed 4th place in the AG in a time of 66:59 and had a chance to celebrate with my son.

June

A week later and we are off to Spain for the World Duathlon Championships.

I had high hopes of winning a medal here and was determined to improve on my 4th place from last year.

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All set for a great race!

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The race did not go to plan and after a huge crash on the bike at 60kph, which left me shocked, battered and bruised I somehow managed to pick myself up and not only finish the race, but finished in 8th place. I was very proud of the determination I showed that day.

IMG_0067An unplanned stay in the medical tent after the finish line.

I then a few weeks of enforced rest to recover from the crash, before having a fun team triathlon at Cholmondely Castle near home in Cheshire.

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I was a bit anxious pre race, before testing out my body again!

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Together with my son and his girlfriend we won the team event over half iron distance. As you can see we are pretty pleased with ourselves!

Into July and I had a great race in Chatsworth Tri, after a kit malfunction, where I finished 2nd in AG in a time of 79:34.

I was feeling good again and ready for the next big challenge.

The following week it was back into Europe again for my debut at 70.3 distance in Jonkoping in Sweden. This was a beautiful venue for such a huge step up in my development as a triathlete. Frustratingly, the race didn’t go to plan. I was taken ill during the race, but was determined to finish and struggled through to the end to claim my finishers medal in 5:57:13.

2016-07-09 08.27.24Excited the day before my 70.3 debut

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Anxiously clutching my Erdinger water bottle before the swim start

img_0236Just about to head out on the run. Little did i know what was just around the corner, as 200m further on I was vomitting and went into retention

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Proudly holding my hard earned finisher medal on the hospital bed

After crossing the finish line I was put straight into an ambulance and rushed to the local hospital.

Much of the rest of the summer was spent in and out of hospitals having tests to find the reason for my body breaking down so dramatically during the 70.3 race. I continued to train throughout, albeit with the worry that my body might let me down again. I was determined to finish my season on a high.

The national relay championships at Nottingham in August became a fun distraction from all the tests I was going through. Racing as part of the Erdinger Alkoholfrei team was really cool and we put in a good display.

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Here we are celebrating a great team effort!

This race gave me the boost I needed ahead of my final race which was always planned as my “A” race of the year, The European Middle Distance Triathlon Championships in Austria.

After all my health scares over the summer I was so excited going into the race and really wanted to enjoy it. I adjusted my goals for the race to reflect everything that i had been through and set myself the challenge of ensuring that I reached the finish line healthy, that I appreciated just how lucky I was to be there and that I simply enjoyed the processes of swim, bike and run. If I did this the result would take care of itself.

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The venue was magical, the conditions were almost perfect (it was too hot for a Brit!) and I loved every moment of the race.

img_0367Swim start went smoothly and I came out of the water really happy with what I’d done

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Here I am working hard on the bike leg. It was the most spectacular course I’ve ever raced.

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Looking strong on the run

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Not long to go now!

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One final sprint for the line.

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On the day I could not have done any better and was delighted with my performance. I finished 7th in my AG and just missed out on breaking the 5 hour barrier with a time of 5:02:34.
That 5 hour barrier gives me something to aim at next season.

Its been a tough year. The highs have been winning another European Championship medal for the third year in a row, setting new PB’s in the water and over half marathon, plus finishing the season so positively in Austria.

The lows have been crashes on the bike, the body breakdown in Sweden and then a summer of hospital visits. After my final race I went back into hospital for an operation to deal with my health problem and allow me to come back even stronger next season.

Thanks so much to all my family and friends for their love and encouragement everyday, to my Coach, Annie Emmerson for believing in me and rolling with all the challenges of the year and to Erdinger Alkoholfrei for all the support they have given me throughout the season.

Summary of Results

06/03   Oulton Park Duathlon                             3rd AG     1:09.56

13/03    Liverpool Half Marathon                       4th AG     1:25:03

03/04   Windsor Duathlon ( GB Champs)       4th AG     2:16:28

08/05    European Long Duathlon Champs    3rd AG    2:56:43

28/05    Nottingham Triathlon                           4th AG    1:06:59

05/06    World Duathlon Champs, Spain        8th AG    2:20:18

12/06     Leeds Triathlon                                       Injured, did not race

26/06    Cholmondely Tri                                     1st team 4:28:58

03/07    Chatsworth Tri                                        2nd AG     1:19:34

10/07    Jonkoping 70.3                                        17th AG    5:57:13

27/08    Nottingham Relays                                3rd team  3:30:21

04/09   European Middle Dist Tri Champs    7th AG      5:02:34