Due to some health issues, I haven't run since December 6, 2012. For this gal, that's something akin to a crack addict going a week without a hit. Running is my mental health. It is my sanity. It keeps me grounded, focused, and feeling strong. It makes me a better mother. BUT I haven't been able to run.
I've had this persistent cough for about a year - off and on with bronchitis and upper respiratory infections - fun stuff for a runner! Somehow, I still managed 6 half marathons in 2012 - mostly with the help of inhalers, Advil Cold & Sinus, and sheer stubbornness. By late November, however, I was finding myself coughing more and more frequently - by December 1 (the goal race for the 5k and Learn-to-Run clinics I was coaching), I could barely breathe. On December 6, I ran for the last time - our celebration run where I was sucking wind the entire 3k.
Over Christmas, things got worse and by the new year, I couldn't walk from my car to my office without stopping twice to take a break.
Every time I had to stop, brace myself against a wall, and pause to catch my breath, I felt like I was dying a little inside. How was I ever going to run again? I had been training to run the Hypothermic Half Marathon on February 17 before I got so sick but now I wasn't even going to be able to volunteer for the event.
On February 11, I was scheduled to be the guest speaker at the latest 5k clinic at the Running Room. My BRF Roxanne (http://runningrox.tumblr.com/) is the coach for this clinic and she had asked me to come and speak about motivation.
Normally, this is a topic I would feel very comfortable with but now? How could I talk about motivation to new runners when I couldn't even lace up my sneakers without getting breathless? Nevertheless, I had made a promise and I would be there.
Out of relentless optimism, I packed my running gear "just in case" I felt strong enough to go on their post-clinic training run with them. Not sure how I was going to approach my talk, I packed up a bunch of Miss Moon's duplo (giant lego) in 5 colours and built a pyramid-like shape to represent Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Always fond of visuals, I needed something to help me focus on the topic at hand.
When I got there, I spoke about life-changing decisions and how they ultimately led to my life as a runner. It was the first time I had spoken in this type of forum about some of the challenges I had faced and there were a few tears. After I finished, I knew I wanted to run with this group of kind, compassionate, and generous new runners.
The first few strides felt great, I thought I was going to feel awesome. I didn't. BUT I am stubborn and proud and I wasn't about to let anyone see how much pain I was in, how difficult it was for me to breath and how much I just wanted to cry.
After the run, I high-fived everyone, smiled, and stretched with the group but I was dying inside. I had chest pains, my lungs hurt, my body was betraying me and I cried all the way home.
My first run in over 2 months had been an abject failure. Or so I thought.
Just 2 weeks earlier, the latest half-marathon training clinic at the Running Room had started. In my earlier (pre-illness) plans, I intended to register for the clinic and train at the 2 hour pace. I especially wanted to take this clinic as it is being coached by my friend, Armand Doucet (http://www.fightingcancerwithironwill.com/).
I missed the first clinic night but attended the second without committing to registering. I went in my street clothes and listened to the speaker then went home convinced I wouldn't be able to participate.
After my painful run with the 5k clinic, I was certain that I was finished with running. But somehow, somewhere deep inside me a light flickered then came to life. What was my life like before I started running? How had running enriched it? I needed to run.
I e-mailed Armand. Did he still need a pace coach for the 2 hour 30 min pace group? I offered to lead the group. Even if I can't meet my own goals, maybe I can help someone else meet theirs.
Valentine's Day came on clinic day this year. Armand announced the pace group leaders - my name was among them. I was committed to leading the 2h30 group for Sunday's long slow run of 9k.
What had I done?
Sunday morning arrived - the day I had been planning to run in the Hypo Half. I so wanted to be running in that event as it had been my very first half-marathon a year earlier. Around 6:45 I got up and made coffee, looked outside at the messy weather and started planning my excuses. All the reasons I was going to e-mail Armand and tell him I couldn't run.
By 8 am, I had my butt in gear and started getting dressed. What had once been a ritual of second nature now seemed foreign, unfamiliar.
As I headed for run club, I wondered if I would be able to do it - how could I pretend to lead a group when I had no confidence in my own ability to make it past 1k? I was absolutely terrified.
Gilles called out the groups and then it was time to go. It was just Sarah and me for the 2h30 group - everyone else was either running in the Hypo, volunteering or had chosen not to brave the icy roads.
We started to run. One foot in front of the other. Air in, air out. Head up. Hips forward. One kilometre, then two, then three. With every step, I said goodbye.
With each beep of my Garmin telling me to take a walk break, I felt stronger. More alive.
All the fear, the negativity, the anxiety were fading away. I was letting go.
It had been so easy to let those emotions govern me but I was taking charge and freeing myself to be the person, the runner, I once was.
Anyone who has been in a bad relationship knows how hard it is to break up - the difficulty of breaking free from that state of inertia that holds you in a direction you know you don't want to go but feel helpless to change.
Well, on February 17, I said goodbye. And though breaking up is hard to do, though the status quo is so often easier than change, I did change. I did let go of negative self-talk and self-doubt. I broke up with my fear and anxiety and doubt. I broke free from inertia.
On Sunday, February 17, I took my life back.
Is my health at 100%? Not yet but it will be. Am I going to run my half-marathon at the 2 hour pace? No, but I might just help someone else meet their goal of 2h30.
Today, my quads are sore - a good sore, my wonky knee is KT'd up, and my lungs are a little tired but I am SMILING.
I am smiling because I am free.