I don't want you to read the title of this post, roll your eyes and think, Oh great, another person who thinks they are a runner. I'm not trying to big-note myself nor am I jumping on the bandwagon about the latest fad to promote health (although I believe a healthy lifestyle is essential). Rather, it's a little about my journey over the past year or so, and how much I have grown.
This time last year, I was on a down from the high that comes after a blood transfusion. Due to severe anaemia (thank you women's problems), I had received two blood transfusions within the space of a year. At first, they made me feel great (there's a reason why blood doping is banned in sport.) But after a while, the all-too familiar fatigue and breathlessness came back whenever I exerted myself. I tried hard to ignore it. I tried to convince myself that I was better and my problem had been fixed. But when you become quite breathless doing a simple thing like reading your child a story...well, that's a clear indication that something is not quite right.
A few months into last year (due to my insistence, and an awesome doctor who listened and was proactive), I found myself sitting in my gynae's office (who just happens to be awesome as well). If you run, you will die, she said quite frankly. There was no umming or ahhing. No softening the blow. Just the facts. As a nurse, I knew the probability of that happening was quite high. (Funny how your body needs blood and oxygen to work, and because mine was in limited supply, my heart was having to pump a heck of a lot harder than it should.) And yet, I felt so discouraged.
How could I not run? Would it be forever? I hoped not. Here was something I enjoyed - something just for me - and I was told I wasn't allowed to do it. Talk about disheartening.
Thankfully, six months down the track, I found myself hitting the road again. (Did I mention my doctors were proactive?!) Those first few days of dragging myself out of bed, finding my rhythm, feeling my legs and learning to breathe again - were hard. Man, they were hard. And many times I wrestled with myself over how easy it would be to just walk. Or not get up at all. But every time my alarm went off at 5am, I'd force myself out of bed because what I wanted for myself was worth far more than rolling over and going back to sleep.
It's been another six months since I was given the 'all-clear'. At times, I still get quite fearful about the thought of dropping dead mid-run. When I exert myself, a part of me wonders if things really are back to normal. To be honest, it has been hard getting my fitness back. Going from fit-ish, to not-so, to nothing...and now gradually regaining it....it's been very hard.
These shoes were made for running. Almost time for a new pair.
Someone once asked me why I run. Well, why not? It's faster than walking, it's something I love (as clichéd and as eye-rolling as that sounds), and it has taught me so much. Through running, I have learned:
1. I am strong. My body is powerful, and watching the changes in it as I've become fitter is amazing. I've learnt to let go of some of my body image issues and celebrate what my body can do, rather than beat myself up about what it can't. I'm not getting any younger, and recovery probably takes a little longer than it did 10 years ago. But the ache from a good run reminds me to be grateful for what my body can do rather than what it looks like in the mirror.
2. I am capable of more than I think I am. I have run faster and further than I thought I would be able to. You see, there's a little voice that follows me around and taunts me. For years, I have listened to it. Believing lies that because I wasn't x, y or z, I wasn't good enough - living with the fear that I didn't measure up or that I couldn't do something. I lived life intimidated by others and let their opinions sway me. But that changed when I let go of people and circumstances and let the truth sink in. That I am valuable. That I am worthy. And that my worth does not come from external applause. Self-belief and self-doubt are powerful things, and the only obstacle to reaching my goals (in life as well as running) is my own doubt.
3. I sweat a lot when I run. Like, a heck of a lot. Oh, and I turn bright red. (Thanks mum and dad for those genes). There's nothing glamorous about that at all. I will certainly never be a poster girl for Lorna Jane when I run. But despite the odour and the glow, working up a sweat feels great, and makes me feel like I've actually worked hard and achieved something.
4. My mind is powerful. The internal conversation every morning when my alarm goes off is ridiculous. You're tired. Don't go. Just sleep. You can go tomorrow. It won't matter. Or, when I run, Just make it to the next corner, then you can walk. It won't matter if you walk. You can run further tomorrow. Take a short cut. It's hard to shut my mind off. It's so easy to convince myself that yes, my legs are sore and walking would be okay. On the other hand, when I convince myself that I need to get out of bed, or I can go further, I will. Yes, my body may fatigue, but my mind will always give up sooner if I don't harness my thoughts.
5. I am suspicious. I guess it comes from watching too many crime shows. When I am out early in the morning, I am on hyper-alert for any odd-looking people. I memorise number plates if I see a car that looks suspicious. And I avoid running in certain areas if they provide the perfect spot for someone to hide and wait.
6. 5am is the best time of day. (Besides 10pm when my head hits the pillow). The world is at its best when it's just waking up. There's something quite surreal about being one of the few people out and about in the neighbourhood while everyone else sleeps. I've lost count of the number of sunrises I've seen. Even if it rains throughout the day, I feel blessed to have seen the sunrise. 5am is quiet, not yet hot and a fantastic way to start the day.
One of the many sunrises I have seen when out for a run.
Starting the day like this really makes my heart sing.
7. To succeed requires time and effort. I am naturally impatient. I want things to happen right now - and it's frustrating when I don't see results straight away. With running, it can take weeks before I notice a change - whether it be in my breathing, my time or something else. This is something I have learnt, and continue to learn and apply to other areas of my life. Everything takes time.
8. I love the silence. There's not much silence in my house during the day. I'm an introvert and I revel in the quiet to fill my tank. Aside from the sound of my breathing and the tunes in my ears, running is bliss for the silence. I also do a lot of thinking and praying (when I'm not looking for suspicious people!) Some of my best ideas are out on the road - it's just a great chance to clear my head and gain some clarity for the day ahead.
9. I need to do it. Running has become necessary for my sanity. It's something I know I can do just for me - leaving my responsibilities and worries behind for a small amount of time each day. If I miss a day (or more), I certainly feel it - my mood lowers and I become a little cranky. Running is my happy place.
10. There are good runs and bad runs. Some days I can run and have what seems like a supernatural ability. Other days, I'm sluggish as I struggle with breathing and every step I take. And that's ok. It's normal. As long as I understand that, and don't listen to the negative self-talk, I can keep going and try again tomorrow. The same goes for everyday life. There are good moments and bad moments. It's how you deal with those times that make the difference.
11. There is always room for improvement. It doesn't matter how many times I've run the same route - I can always do better. There is always room to grow, to push myself and improve.