Tri January: You, Me and the Big C presenter Deborah James takes on triathlon challenge

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So, for most people, schools and colleges are up and running again and work has resumed as the 'back-to-normal' routines return in 2019.

However, you might've noticed something going on out there as well - it's the January effect.

Whether you've committed to #Veganuary (like me) or are exercising every day for #RedJanuary, there are plenty of campaigns to catapult you into the new year - and we applaud them.

Even parkrun said they'd had a record-breaking 340,000 runners taking part in the free 5k runs around the world on 5-6 January.

And here's one person's tale...

Deborah James is one of the many thousands trying something new this month - and she has her own personal campaign factored in as well.

You might have already heard of Deborah as part of the You, Me and the Big C podcast team.

The former-deputy-head-teacher-turned-broadcaster is living with stage-four bowel cancer.

In one of the recent podcasts, the team were joined by Dr Liz O'Riordan (who herself has cancer) to discuss the benefits of exercise during treatment and Deborah agreed wholeheartedly that staying active helps her while dealing with her condition.

"I'm absolutely passionate about this," she said. "But I'm never going to do a triathlon."

Now the ears of the folk at British Triathlon must have pricked up, because they persuaded the 37-year-old to get involved in Tri January and help break down the perception of the sport.

"I always thought triathlons were for really fit people - professional athletes or super-fit people," says Deborah.

"So when I met with British Triathlon I was honest, because I wanted to do it. I wanted to dispel the myth."

Doing it your own way

So what was Deborah's biggest fear when agreeing to take on the challenge?

"It was the swimming - but also not knowing how I feel," she says.

"This last week has been good but I've come out of a period over Christmas which was not so good.

"Knowing you've got a whole month to do it helps. It's quite achievable.

"My challenge is getting in a pool and cycling. The whole point is doing it your own way. It's about pushing yourself out of your comfort zone."

For Deborah, getting out of her swimming comfort zone means: "I'm going to do a couple of lengths in the pool."

And the cycling?

"I'm going to do it on my little bike with a basket on the front - or you can even do it in the gym if you want.

"It's all about finding a level that works for you - and knowing even by taking small steps you can really make a difference."

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You, Me & the Big C's Deborah and Lauren on why you should 'Tri January'

'Keeping fit has helped me'

The running part will not be a problem for the Londoner though as it is her go-to method to improve her spirits - both mentally and physically.

"Keeping fit has helped me prepare and recover for numerous major operations over the last few years," she explains. "Also it helps reduce my tiredness and anxiety levels whilst undergoing treatment.

"The reason I run is to improve my lung capacity.

"I've had five operations on my lungs to deal with a tumour [after the cancer spread].

"Sometimes I feel awful - I have to drag myself to do it - but then I feel much better afterwards."

'It improves your quality of life'

And it is the gap in between - when you're in the flow - that's so valuable to Deborah.

"When cancer enters your life there are very few moments where you feel that innocence or freedom," she explains.

"For me, running is the only time in my life that I ever feel free, because all I can focus on, for that moment, is making it through the 5k or 10k, however slowly.

"It clears my mind.

"There's always been a misconception that cancer treatment means you have to wrap in cotton wool and take it easy.

"Actually doing exercise is the thing I want to advocate.

"There's no evidence that it prolongs life - but it improves your quality of life.

"I do it for my mental health."

Deborah James after completing the Royal Parks half marathon (left), running near the Thames with a friend (centre) and with Davina McCall (right)
Deborah after completing the Royal Parks half marathon (left), running near the Thames with a friend (centre) and with Davina McCall (right)

'I'm having to retrain my body'

But there have been complications and side effects as the result of her treatment.

"I had part of my lung removed and part of my bowel removed. You have the nerves and muscles cut through [during the operations] so you have to build up strength.

"I did a half marathon in October after I'd had cyber knife treatment and fractured my tibia, so I haven't run for a while.

"My treatment meant my feet are numb - they're improving, but it will probably be forever. So I have difficulty feeling the way I run.

"I'm having to retrain my body to run in a different way. It's difficult."

Different options

You, Me and the Big C co-presenter Rachael Bland, who died in September 2018, had said swimming was her relief.

"With running I still think, but swimming is that repetitive counting of the laps - that's the only thing that will clear my brain," Rachael revealed in her final podcast with the team.

So I asked Deborah what she thought about the concept of relay triathlons - where one person does each discipline [swimming, cycling, running].

"That would be much better," she says.

"It can be quite scary if you are someone who doesn't like swimming, but it's good to push yourself. I'm going to try and do it.

"Half the battle is turning up and getting your kit on. It doesn't matter what you do - make it work for you."

Family time

Deborah's been making it work by getting her kids Hugo, 11, and Eloise, nine, involved as well.

"I've signed them up and they've got their packs - they're part of the team," she says.

"They've been running with me and we've been tracking it as a family.

"They ran 5K with me at the weekend and there was a picture of my daughter 'killing me' afterwards."

And next?

So what about that 'never-going-to-do-a-triathlon' vow now?

"I'm going to aim - treatment allowing - to do one of the beginners races," she adds.

"GoTri have a mixture and it might be a duathlon [doing two of the three elements].

"But British Triathlon have events that are beginners events.

"The swim is the biggest challenge. I'm going to be the person doing breaststroke at the back."

It's not too late to Tri January - just head over to their website and sign up for a free pack.