With an acute injury or illness, there isn’t the this is your fault judgement that comes with chronic illness. No one says there are demons in your foot if it’s broken. No one says you deserve this. No one says that maybe if you did more yoga, ate kale, or got pregnant, you’d be cured of a broken bone. Rather, the healthcare team sets out with the goal: how do we fix this?
Having a chronic illness is the difference between walking into a doctor’s office and showing that something is visibly broken, versus walking into a doctor’s office with a list of symptoms that are deemed invisible. I’d say the effects of brain fog and pain aren’t invisible, but what do I know, I just live with them.
I’ve talked with quite a few people over the last month about their own endometriosis diagnoses. We’ve talked about what it means, and what they can do, where to find resources. Knowing that I put my story out there for people as a resource, receiving those messages still brings a wave of emotions. I know because I did (do) this to other people in the community too. You reach out to people when the healthcare system fails to give you answers. We’re speaking up at the doctor and being dismissed, so we go to each other.
I had so little information about returning to running after a hysterectomy. If you believe Google, your spine shrinks, you can literally do nothing fun ever again, and you become extremely unattractive overnight. This kind of information is on gynecological websites!! Luckily, I have a knowledgeable pelvic floor physical therapist. She kept me in check—that it would be a long recovery road, but there is no reason I wouldn’t be able to come back stronger.
February running was rough. I was also getting into contortion training, and because I never know my limits, I ended up freaking out my psoas muscles on both sides from overstretching. Every step hurt for most of the month. Every. Single. Step. I was terrified at first, then after figuring out more of what I did to myself (woops) with my orthopedic physical therapist, I accepted that I overdid it and needed to rest. I ran a bit over 60 miles the month of February, going out for short runs to keep moving as I healed. I was told that as long as I felt better after running, this was okay to continue.
March looked much better. Taking it easy worked. I’m so used to never-ending chronic conditions, with little hope. I told a friend in February that I didn’t even know how to address acute injuries anymore after thinking I broke my toe by dropping a glass candle on it (I went to urgent care and it was just badly bruised). The snowiest days overlapped with the worst of the psoas and toe pain, and for a bit I felt like I would have this pain FOREVER. Thank goodness for time. Honestly, I was shocked that rest WORKED.
I felt well enough to time trial the Shamrock 5k on March 13. I had some strong workouts in the bank from January, and 10 months after surgery, I was itching to test myself. I see it as a big moment of personal growth to go out to “race,” knowing it wasn’t going to be a personal record. My run coach, Nick, and I met to warmup, then he paced me. My goal was to go out strong, then keep descending. I managed to do just that on a breezy day on the Carroll Park 800, splitting 7:22, 7:15, 6:57, and 7:11 for the last 0.1. The first 2 miles felt quite controlled, and I fought in the last mile. Having an extremely fast pacer does help, but I had to stay focused on the surprising windy loop without the adrenaline of a race situation.
The in-person Shamrock 5k is notoriously fast. In my age group, the top 3 are all usually under 20 minutes—a virtual prize was not on my mind. Monday after the time trial, I received an email from a colleague that also runs, congratulating me. In a virtual year, I finished third in my age group. I immediately stared minimizing it, saying things like “well this will be the only year I do well at the Shamrock!” Then I stepped back. We are in multiple pandemics. I had major surgery 10 months ago. No matter what, this is an achievement to celebrate during an extremely difficult year. Anyway—as long as I can, I’m working toward faster and consistent running.
Now I’m in the final month of preparing for a half marathon. Again, I am excited and terrified to see what happens, even though I’m thinking of this as a confidence booster before a fall buildup. As I can consistently train because I’m not losing buckets of blood and overcome with full body pain, I keep seeing small improvements every day in pace and recovery. My mindset has changed, therapy is working!
The timing of my last read was perfect too—Meb Keflezighi’s 26 Marathons. He focuses on the training, the process, and running a smart race for the conditions you are in. The joy he feels in running shines throughout the book, and he reminds the reader every page that what matters in running is what you learn about yourself. As races restart and I chase down new goals, I keep thinking about his words: “I learned that giving your best even when you’re not at your best can provide insight into what’s possible when you’re on top of your game.”
Books I’m thinking about/recently read:
- 26 Marathons by Meb Keflezighi
- The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Stay sweaty and glittery. Black Lives Matter.