Until you’ve been a runner, you’ll never know how vastly different your life can become just by being one. You’ll never understand the feelings of joy, love and immense satisfaction that running can bring to your life. And until you’ve been a runner who can’t run, you’ll never understand how lost one can feel it without it.
When I started running nearly five years ago I was lost. I had zero motivation, no purpose in life, and no idea what direction my life was heading in. Running gave me hope. It gave me purpose. It taught me that no matter what life were to throw my way, I was capable of anything. Running has seen me through both the best, and worst times of my life. Aside from my major foot surgeries last year, in the time since I became a runner, I never went more than 5 or 6 days without logging miles. I ran as if my life depended on it, and it some ways, it did. My equilibrium was always just right with running in my life. Without it? Things got messy.
Last year when I underwent foot surgery, I had mentally prepared for an extended period of time off my feet and out of my running sneaks. It was certainly messy, and really hard, but I always knew that at the end of the tunnel was a light. That light came in the form of a return to running with a bonus: healthy, pain-free, feet. I got through it, and I was determined to come back stronger, faster and better than ever. And comeback I did, even signing up for the 2016 Long Island half marathon, which was to take place on the morning of my 26th birthday. I knew the training would challenge me. I was a runner whose longest run had only been around 8 miles. I was also a runner who despised speed training, which is a necessary component of any decent training plan, and essential for building endurance. Even so, I was ready for the challenge, and I took every single run seriously.
My training runs, especially my Saturday morning long runs, were like appointments with myself that I could not cancel, even if it meant missing Friday night happy hours in favor of an early bedtime. I rocked through most runs, and I could literally taste the finish line as I watched my running progress right before my eyes. I was getting faster, running further and every day I was one step closer to completing 13.1 miles. I never imagined that I would soon watch all of my training, hard work, and progress slip through my fingers right before my very eyes.
As I sit here writing this, I have to stop to wipe away my tears. Just as I had to wipe away my tears yesterday afternoon, as I passed a man running along my favorite route. Call me crazy, overly sensitive, or emotional, but it is the truth. I am lost without running. I need it in my life. I need it in order to be who I am. Without it I am not truly, completely me.
In the weeks leading up to the half I started to get extremely fatigued after long runs, which I thought was normal, as this was my first time completing double digit runs. No amount of water, refueling, or rest would take away the fatigue, but I just chalked it up as part of the process, and on with the plan I went. Two weeks before the race, I completed the 13 in training, but just barely. Looking back I should have sensed then that something was really wrong. On that last long run, I literally had to will myself to keep going. I kept putting one foot in front of the other and begged my body not to collapse. I made it home, and though I was on a high from having just run 13 miles, I was exhausted and curious as to why my pace had begun to get worse instead of better. It was odd, but I still didn’t think anything of it. Days before the race I became really ill. I had an extremely high fever and could not get out of bed. In fact, the only time I left the house in 3 days was to complete one of my last training runs, a nine miler, with a 103 degree fever. Knowing what I know now, I am grateful to be alive today.
With the race looming in the distance, I finally saw my doctor on Friday as I was still sick. I was devastated when he pulled me from running, but after a few hours of tears I immediately began researching other upcoming half marathons. As I was already trained and in peak condition, or so I thought, I figured I would let this virus run it’s course- pun intended ;), and finally get my finisher medal. I waited it out as my fever subsided, and slowly I began running again. However things had progressed and were even worse. I was still extremely fatigued and could no longer successfully complete runs. After a four mile run in early May I nearly fainted on the sidewalk and crawled my way home. A week later, two miles at the track with my mom was impossible. I couldn’t understand what was going on. How had I gone from double digit long runs to single digit runs becoming unbearable? Even more worrisome were the heart palpitations, dizziness and shortness of breath I was experiencing in my everyday life, making simple activities unbearable. I knew something was wrong, but it felt like no one was listening to me.
After I fainted one Saturday afternoon, which caused me to miss my joint birthday celebration with one of my best friends, I was determined to figure out what was happening to me. Why was my strong, healthy body betraying me and falling apart? What could I do to fix it? My primary care doctor found nothing wrong with me, but I still was intent on figuring this all out. After all, this was my BODY. Only I knew the pain I was in and the fear I felt daily. One morning in mid-May I thought I was having a heart attack after rushing up the steps to catch the subway. I clutched my chest in pain, and put sunglasses over my eyes on the crowded, dark, C train so that the other passengers wouldn’t see my tears.
Finally, in late May I saw a cardiologist who diagnosed me with myocarditis. I was stunned that I, an otherwise healthy, strong, distance runner, had a problem with my heart. I had never before heard of myocarditis, and I was shocked to learn that the disease, which involves fluid and inflammation around the heart, often strikes young people like myself and can be fatal. I felt lucky to be alive, and blessed to have a mild case that did not require surgery and would resolve itself. I took the medicine I was told and waited it out patiently. I hated resting. I despised knowing I could not run for six whole weeks, but I was relieved to have an answer to all this, and I felt vindicated in my quest for answers. In July I was excited to learn that the fluid around my heart had drained and the inflammation was down.
The excitement was short lived as though I had a burst of energy and felt good for a couple of weeks, I soon felt lousy again, and never felt like I had truly recovered. In August I was again diagnosed with inflammation, this time pericarditis, which involves the pericardium, which surrounds the heart. Today I am still recovering, and next week I will start a new medication that should help me feel better and prevent another relapse. I am resting as much as I can. I miss my old life. I miss the carefree me. I miss the me that felt good, the me that enjoyed life, the me that didn’t worry about doing things and going out because I might feel sick, but most importantly I miss the runner in me. Without running I am not ‘me.’ Every day brings new challenges for me and some days are just really hard. I try to be strong, I try not to cry too often, and I try to look towards the future. This too shall pass. That I know for sure. It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when, and I can assure you when it does, I will cross a finish line. Somewhere, somehow, a piece of the runner pie will be mine. I’ll finally have that finisher medal in my hand, and when I do, it will be sweeter for everything that I have had to overcome.