The start of 2014 was very exciting for me.
Back in early October, when I returned from our honeymoon in Disney, I decided that I wanted to try running so that someday, I could run one of the Disney race events they have every year. I had been taking a good dose of prednisone (20mg) and figured if I ever was going to try running again, this would be the time. I had attempted running a few years ago for a month or two and had to stop because of my joints. In addition to the desire to run through Disney, I was also inspired by two online friends I had met, Lucy and Heidi, who both also have Sjögren's and have either participated in races, or were planning on doing so.
As I have blogged before, I took the running thing seriously, especially because of my joint, fatigue, and respiratory issues. I read a lot of books, magazines, and online articles about strengthening exercises and I made sure I did regular yoga and Pilates classes, which greatly helped my running and overall health. Sometime in October, I started the Jeff Galloway Easy 5K training program. I highly recommend it if you are a new runner. It is a run/walk program that gradually builds up your stamina and endurance. I found the run/walk concept (I do a 1min./1 min. ratio) to be much less daunting than trying to run an entire distance. I also started regularly using a foam roller for my muscles, which has helped me physically in so many ways besides in terms of my running.
My goal was to run a 5K on January 1st; a race called Gordy's First Race in Westfield, Massachusetts. I figured it was a good way to start the New Year and yet, gave me enough time to complete the entire Jeff Galloway program. The bottom line is, I don't know how hard running is for everyone else, but it is very difficult for me and I wanted to make sure I was well-prepared. I also knew that by January, my prednisone dose would be significantly less and that fact worried me a little bit.
|Getting race ready!|
New Year's Day was the day of the race. I was doing OK from a physical standpoint, but sleep was hard to come by the night before; not an unusual thing for me unfortunately. And the closer we got to Westfield, the more nervous I became. What on earth did I think I was doing?? A 5K race is not meant for an overweight 40-something year old with severe autoimmune issues. Or so I thought. My husband and I drove to Westfield, got our race bib numbers, and spent some time warming up by jogging/walking for a few minutes. My brother, Dennis, also was running the race with us. By this point, I was hyped up on adrenaline.
|Pre-race: my husband, me, and my brother.|
I have to say, there is nothing like the atmosphere of a race. I would guess that there were about 200 runners present; some were doing a 5K and some a 10K. I thought it would be better to start at the back of the pack because I am so slow and because I do a combination of running and walking. I told my husband and brother that I wanted them to not worry about running with me and see how well they could do, since they are both in much better physical shape than I am in. It was pretty cool that I then heard someone shouting my name. I looked over at the spectators and there was my mom who had showed up to cheer me on!
Off we went and within about a minute or two, the ENTIRE pack was way ahead of me, except for two women behind me. I suspected that this might happen because I had checked last year's results and most of these runners appeared to be very fast! I tried to stay focused on my breathing and my stride, but all of a sudden I was faced with one of several hills that occurred the first half of the race. Although I had looked at a course map beforehand, I was surprised by the incline.
This is where I panicked a bit and totally lost focus.
I actually considered turning around I was so panicked.
The problem with panic is that is increases your heart rate and breathing, which for someone like me, who already struggles with that, it makes things a lot worse. It did not help that the temperature was about eighteen degrees and I was running into the wind. That's what happens when you sign up for a January race in New England!!
As I tackled the hills,I found myself needing to do much shorter intervals of running/walking then in my training runs. I had done a little bit of hill running in my three months of training, but apparently not enough. Then I saw some people standing outside their homes on the race route. And I saw the traffic cops. They were cheering me on. Here I was running by myself (I kind of regretted that!), with nobody around me because I was so behind everyone else, and they were all cheering me on. It helped, a lot. I tried to settle myself down and decided that no matter what happened, I was finishing this race. I worked so hard for this. This was MY race; not anyone else's. I was only in competition with myself.
Because the race was up and back, people started to run towards me on their way back to the finish line. I was not even halfway yet, not even close. I saw my brother run past me and then my husband. He had my asthma inhaler on him and I thought it might help if I took another hit. That was a HUGE mistake. What was I thinking?? All it did was jack up my heart rate some more and didn't help my breathing. Live and learn.
My husband then decided, against my protests, to do the rest of the race at my side. He wasn't taking no for an answer. I felt bad because he could have finished well, but to be honest, he was a huge help. As we hit the halfway mark and turned around, other runners would race past us. It was probably obvious that I was struggling, but several of them yelled out words of encouragement to me as the sped past us.
"You're doing great!"
"You can do it!"
It was simply amazing. Let me tell you, if you are a good runner, are experienced at races, and see someone like me struggling, yell something out to them. NEVER underestimate the power of a few words. You never know the challenges someone else is facing when they are attempting to do something like this. So to all those strangers who rooted for me, thank you. I am forever grateful.
Not too long after we started back towards the finish line, I realized that I forgot to check my watch to see what my pace was. This was the whole point of wearing one; that's how out-of-sorts I was compared to my training runs! I looked down and realized that I was running a 14-15 minute mile, which was even better than I expected, especially with those hills. I was doing fine if I stopped comparing myself to everyone else. I also came to realize that the two women who were behind me when we started never turned around, which meant that they were doing the 10K and I would probably come in last for the 5K. I put that out of my head and just concentrated on one foot in front of the other.
I knew the finish line was coming and it was important to me to finish strong, but my lungs were on fire. And I mean fire!! My legs held up pretty good, but those lungs...geez. The traffic cops kept cheering us on. The elite runners kept shouting words of encouragement. My husband kept reminding me what I was supposed to do, like breathe. We rounded the corner that led into the front of the school where the finish line was. I knew that I was overdoing it and probably wasn't getting enough oxygen at this point, but I saw the finish clock all lit up and the banner. I saw my mother and brother at the finish line and honestly, I would drop to the ground at this point before I would stop running.
My goal was to do the race in under 50 minutes. My official time was 45:13. By far, my best time ever, by several minutes.
I will admit, I wasn't feeling too hot, but I walked around, drank a ton of water. I don't have any other races to compare this to, but I thought Gordy's Race was very well run. There was plenty of pizza, hot chocolate, and water afterwards, although since I was starting a new eating plan to help with my autoimmune issues, it was just water for me. We waited around for the race people to post the final results to see if I indeed came in last like I suspected.
I did not come in last. I came in second to last.
Guess who came in last?
|One of the worst photos of me ever taken. But look at my husband's expression!|
I was so focused on trying to finish without passing out that I didn't realize when we crossed the finish line, he had put me in front of himself; just so I wouldn't be last. Honestly, it wouldn't have mattered to me at that point. I was so proud to just finish. But the gesture was so unbelievably touching that when I was posting a Facebook update from the car on the way home, I started bawling like a baby. He's my biggest fan. My biggest champion.
I woke up the next morning feeling different about myself, mentally. The physical effects were still lingering a little, mostly the asthma stuff because really, asthmatics probably should not be running in cold temps like that. But mentally, that was a different story. I felt like I had accomplished something huge. Something that some people told me I would never be able to do. And I did it. Who knows what else I might be able to accomplish physically over the next six months or so. Maybe a longer race. Maybe a faster race. Maybe I can get off prednisone. Maybe I can go back to work.
Running this race, with all those other athletes, made me feel like more than my illness. Instead of cursing my body for what it can't do, I could feel proud of it for what it can do.