To Run or Not to Run

This wkd I was due to “race”- it has been a year since I last decided to test my lungs and don my racing shoes.

For those of you who know me well, will understand how hard this is- Two and a half years ago, out of nowhere, my running became compromised- after a lot of tests, I was diagnosed with the autoimmune condition, Sarcoidosis. Basically this means my immune system is attacking itself and in my case affecting my lungs; I had developed a small amount of scar tissue within my lungs. I was informed that best case scenario I would go into remission within 2 years, worst case I would need on going treatment with steroids for a more chronic condition. I was told to keep running but perhaps reduce my 60 mile week by at least half if not more.

This was devastating- not only because running has always been my release, as well as my way to socialise but, it was also something that I was pretty good at- I’m no elite athlete, but I did ok so to a degree, I guess I allowed it to define me.

For those of you who are runners, you will understand the huge adjustment this has meant. However, worse than reducing my mileage, what has been harder still is the knowledge that there was absolutely nothing I can do to make myself feel better. There is no “cure” for autoimmune conditions, regardless of all the nonsense we are exposed to with regards to changing diets and eating certain types of food, there really is no evidence that any of this works. Instead, I have had to learn to manage my symptoms and expectations. In the past I thought nothing of setting the alarm for 5.45am and heading out the door for a 6-8 mile run before work and life took over. However not only has sarcoidosis stripped me of my lung function, it has also brought with it a constant malaise- my muscles ache some days even after just doing 30 minutes of yoga and on some days fatigue like I have never known.
Outwardly I still look healthy and because I am stubborn I have refused to let this illness get in the way of my life- many of you will know my love of mountains and seen pictures of me running happily on the trails- however what you don’t see, because social media masks it so well, is how long it takes me to recover and how much slower I am getting up a steep climb- like I said- I have had to learn to manage my expectations.

While my condition is by no means the worst it can be- in fact initially, I looked liked one of the few individuals where it would pass and resolve itself. Over the first 18 months of my diagnosis, my lung function remained around 80% and my consultant was positive- while this was still below par for me it was on the very cusp of normal parameters; meaning that for some people, who are not as physically active as me, this would actually be a normal status- thus it was acceptable.
However this year things have taken a turn for the worse and my last two lung function tests have shown a significant deterioration to the point where my consultant is now concerned.

How did it get so bad I hear you ask?
Did you not realise?

In reality I knew that I wasn’t feeling amazing- I have constantly felt a mix between the burn you experience after running really hard, or like I have a chest infection brewing, even after only jogging for 30 minutes.
However my mind would not let me believe or accept that this could be related to being physical unwell- I put it down to work and life stress- how could my body be letting me down when I follow as many aspects of healthy living as I can?
I don’t smoke and never have; I drink very little alcohol; I eat well and I exercise regularly- nowhere near as much as I would like but still enough.

So back to racing this wkd- my aim was to get around the exmoor trail half. When I signed up several months ago I knew it would be a challenge- madness that it was only 3 years ago that I had a podium finish at my first 50 mile race! And now I was nervous about whether I would be able to get around a fraction of that distance. However with just a few days to go, I have had to seriously think about whether this is the right time for me to race or not.
On the one hand I don’t want this condition to dictate what I can and can’t do; I want to once again not only feel part of the wider running community but also my immediate friendship circle- so many of my close bonds with people has been developed over our love of exploring trails. If I don’t run then how will they perceive me? will i be considered weak or a failure if I don’t turn up to the start line?
On the other hand, only I know how physically rubbish I feel- I’m pig headed and determined- that’s Capricorn’s for you- and so have insisted on trying to push through. Im not going to lie, some days I genuinely feel good- running provides me with that release and freedom it always has. However more often, around 75% of the time, the opposite is true, I’ve come back from runs feeling worse than when I left the house.

So why am I choosing to share this with you now? I guess since talking to friends about my options for this wkd’s race, I’ve realised that I’m not alone; many of us sign up for races, some of us even start them but half way round know it’s just not our day and we are unlikely to get the outcome we had hoped for. There is a pressure that every race needs to be a positive experience- on social media we rarely hear when things go wrong. And yet we are human- we can’t be in a good place physically and mentally all the time- it is important to remember that life is transitional. So where we are on one day, is not necessarily where we will be on another. What happens one one day does not define your future. I have a huge respect for runners and athletes who are true to themselves- my friends Robbie Britton, Natalie White, Holly Rush and Eloise Du Luart, to name just a few, all phenomenal athletes but also so good at being open and honest. When a race is not going to plan- even with the best preparation in the world, some may push on regardless but these individuals have learnt to accept that there is little value in stressing the body on a day when it’s not going to happen. Best to cap it when you can, restore energy and rebuild ready for the next.

I have always believed that instead of treating failure as a negative, it is just another experience to learn from.

For me race day is not going to happen this wkd- in all honesty, I do feel a bit defeatist not even starting- however at any given time,
“ only we can know what is going on for ourselves.”
And right now my body is working hard everyday, without me putting my trainers on- racing this wkd would actually be more like a punishment. It has taken me a long time to understand this and get to this point- the runners natural instinct is to always push regardless. However I’m starting to learn that for longevity, listening to your body and providing it with the compassion is deserves is a far better win.