Monday, September 28, 2015

Thoughts On My First Trail Race & Fibromyalgia

***This post was written in November 2014.  I just found it in my queue upon returning to revive my blog and decided it was worth publishing even though it is almost a year old.  I am preparing to run this race again this year.***

Approximately six weeks ago, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia.  This diagnosis came after chasing doctors for almost 3 years trying to figure out why my body just decided to hate me after having such a great, healthy year in 2011.  Chronic nausea, dizziness, hair loss, pain, food sensitivities, migraines, and more that can all be attributed to fibromyalgia.  After listening to my story, about how it all went downhill a year after having a marathon PR and completing my first 70.3 triathlon, the doctor told me that I would not likely be running any more marathons and I could maybe set a new goal to walk a 5K.  Uh, what????  Walking 5Ks?  Obviously they are not used to working with athletic types in the fibromyalgia clinic.

So did I settle for walking 5Ks?  Most definitely not.  Just 3 weeks after diagnosis, I walked the half-marathon at the Mankato Marathon.  I love this course, and this was the fourth year in a row for me.  This was the first time walking the distance, and I have to say I'm not eager to do it again.  4 hours is a long time to walk!  Funny to say that, because I have run (and hiked) longer than that, but for some reason it is just different.

My walking-partner-in-crime then convinced me to try my first ever trail race two weeks later.  And did I mention that race was also a half-marathon?  And I'd never run more than 3 miles on trails and only a handful of times?  Oh, and I was headed straight into a fibro-flare starting a few days prior?

The day before the race, I could hardly move.  All-over body pain and fatigue relegated me to the couch most of the afternoon and evening.  Luckily, this doesn't usually hit me until mid-afternoon, and the race was in the morning, so I was counting on any race-day pain to hold off until I was done.  Was there a chance the effort to throw my flare into full-blown status?  Absolutely, but I really have wanted to run these particular trails for several years now, and I had a willing cohort.  I was willing to take the chance.

I went into this race, knowing full well that my first DNF (did not finish) was a real possibility.  I wasn't in shape to run that far on the roads, let alone on a trail.  And a persistent case of plantar fasciitis in my left foot also had the potential to cause real problems.  I was really just happy to be running.  The course was two loops in a figure eight pattern, taking us through the start-finish-aid station area every 3-ish miles.  I knew I would make the first 3mile loop, and I was pretty sure I could make the second.  I planned to reevaluate at that point and see how I felt.  One nice thing about having a drop-out point every three miles is you can make the choice to continue knowing you'll have another opportunity to drop in just another 3 miles if you truly need it.  I have to feel pretty awful to believe that I can't make it another 3 miles.

On the way to the venue on race morning, my willing cohort called to let me know she wouldn't make it.  This race had just become a true battle against myself....

I arrived, picked up my number, chatted briefly with a couple people and then started to mentally prepare for the race.  I just sat by myself and went over the plan... go as far as you can, but drop if you need to.

The race started and I was quickly left behind.  My legs always want to try to follow, but I knew, especially for this race, that I needed to keep my own pace and not give a lick about how anyone else was running.  The race started out flat and gave me a good chance to see how my legs were feeling before hitting the hills.  The course was well marked, but I still managed to miss a turn while inside my head talking myself through.  (I realized it quickly when the trail suddenly became more technical than had been described!)  In general, I walked the uphills and ran the downhills and flats.  But I did need a few more walking breaks than the hills provided as some of the hills were strenuous to walk up!  The double figure-8 course worked out great for getting water, dumping my jacket when it got too hot, and to get some encouragement from the (few) spectators and volunteers.

I would be lying if I said I didn't think about quitting.  In fact, I probably thought about it while walking up just about every hill ;)  Good thing most of the hills were at the farthest points from the aid station/drop point.  Every time I stopped at the aid station to refill my bottle, I just said to myself, "Just another 3, then see how you feel."  Breaking it down that way made it manageable.

One of the best parts about this race?  Running in to finish, dead last, with a bunch of people I didn't even know cheering for me by name.  This wasn't one of those races with your name on the bib, they actually had to make the effort to find out.  Something simple that meant a lot.

I finished.

Holy cow was I sore and tired!  But I FINISHED.

After cooling down and getting something to eat, I returned to my car and thought about that for a while.  And there were tears.  Tears because I was happy I had finished.  Tears because I was mad about my fibro diagnosis.  Tears because I had just proved that doctor wrong.  Tears because I was so damn proud of myself for sticking it out.

(And did I mention I was sore?)

As I hobbled around the next couple days, I was happy for the discomfort.  Why?  Because it wasn't just random fibro pain.

This pain meant I was strong.

This pain meant that I had persevered.

This pain meant that fibromyalgia is not going to take my life from me...