Imagine for a minute that you are a very dedicated recreational runner. You wake up at Oh-dark thirty to run. You run in all weather. When other people bow out because of rain, you put on the running shoes that are dedicated to rainy days. You fit your running into your schedule, or maybe, you schedule your life around your run.
Whichever it is, running is something that you use as part as your identity, and, when out at parties or social events, if people ask what you do, you struggle between your occupation and the statement, “I’m a runner”.
That is me.
I love my run. I have blogged about it, written about in magazines, studied it in the wealth of information available in Pubmed, and written an 18 page paper about it in my recent endeavor to obtain a Bachelors degree. I volunteer. I lead. I coach. I sit on the sidelines during injury and recover, and then I build back to my run when I can.
Last spring my being was struck down with pneumonia and other strange illnesses. It was an entire year ago. I did rounds of antibiotics, steroids, ER visits, breathing treatments, and inhalers. I was assured by my primary care physician that in a few months I would be back to the health of a normal human, and after a few more months I would be back on the run like the “old days”.
A year after I was told that, I was not “back”.
When I run, I do not have enough air to be comfortable.
So, I sat down and talked with a friend who is a medical Doctor, and what she said really startled me. I had one of those “Oh shit. Is this really my life?” moments. All my ideas of how my run and I would continue into our old age were completely false. My dreams of happily ever after were dashed, and I felt my identity slowly deflating like a leaking balloon. After our conversation I went to my Doctor for a second opinion.
That was a bit like choosing to pay a $25 co-pay to get kicked in the face on a Tuesday morning.
My physician started out using big medical terms that I was only a little familiar with, like alveoli and atelectasis. By the end of the conversation we had moved into very familiar words like scar tissue and disappointment.
I was a little angry.
That bitch. How dare she! Doesn’t she know that I am a runner?
“No one is going to tell me I will never get my full lung function back. I will prove her wrong.” So I pushed myself into some speed work and hill training. I obsessed over the splits in my watch, willing them to get faster each week. They didn’t.
From there, I moved into denial. “If I keep training, I can get it back. If I try a new medication, the inflammation will go away. If I race a 5K. If I....”
So, I kept training, and the people I run with ran with me. They listened to the sounds of my airway narrowing as we ran. They heard me struggle. They looped back to pick me up like the good running partners they are, but they could not help me run faster.
My lactic threshold is low when I run. I can't clear the acid from my body via my respiratory system, so I become acidic fast. I can't get enough oxygen into my cells to fuel them, so I become acidic fast.
Together this is bad.
The struggling, the heaviness of my breath, the pain in my accessory muscles all remained. I even gave up foods that cause inflammation, to run faster. There are those who would call that bargaining.
Currently I’m hovering between acceptance and depression. My identity as a runner has always been tied to my ability to get better. I knew that all I had to do was improve by XYZ amount of time over XYZ number of years, and I would be a Boston Qualifier. I have won a few races, but that wasn’t where the glory is for me. I wanted to shave about 23 seconds off my 5K, 38 seconds off my 8K, and 65 seconds off my 10K. I always believed that if I trained well, ate smart, and was focused on realistic goals, I could do it.
Only, I am being told that I need to accept that not only might that never happen, I may never even match those personal bests again. I have likely peaked.
So why do all this if I can’t ever achieve my goals?
Why get up at four-something in the morning to meet my running group? Why have three pairs of shoes floating around the house at all times incase of rain or trail running? What am I ever going to get out of this, if I can’t get faster?
Still, this morning, I got up at four-something. I fumbled around in the dark for a pair of pink Brooks and a running skirt. It was so humid that my freakishly amazing t-shirt stuck to my damp skin as soon as I pulled it on. I left my watch sitting on my dresser. I don’t need it. There will be no examining splits or data, because if I’m never going to get faster, I don’t need to worry about that right now. I need to be present in the body that I have, and be thankful for all it does for me.
So, today could not be about speed. Todays run was about putting in the miles for my fall marathon. I don’t know how to train without a “Break 4 hours” goal, but for the moment, I am just going to lay down the miles the best way I can, and savor the run.
And get a third opinion. Just in case.