The Heart of A Runner

I struggle with calling myself a runner.  When I talk about races, I prefer to say, “I’m participating” or “I’m racing.”  I feel that saying “I’m running” is misleading.  When other runners ask about my time in a race, they can’t quite hide their surprise at how much time I need to finish.  Many people walk faster than my competition speed.

I struggle with calling myself a runner.  The amount of time I spend running is measured in seconds, not miles.  Sure, the run/walk method is popular and many people use it when training and racing, but I’m pretty sure the majority of them run for at least 50% of their total time or more.  When I do a mile, 25-35% of it is running.

I struggle with calling myself a runner.  I can’t enter many races because I won’t make the time constraint.  Anything requiring less than a 15-minute mile is out, and it’s pretty unlikely that I can even do a 15-minute mile for an extended length of time.

I struggle with calling myself a runner, because running itself is a struggle.  I haven’t been able to run a continuous mile in over 14 years.  Even running for a continuous minute at a 14mph pace is elusive.  It’s not for lack of training; I go to the gym three to four times a week, training to increase my running time.

With 40% lung capacity, I’ve had to accept that what got me running three to five miles at a time 16 years ago is not going to work now.

Even if I no longer have the lungs of a runner, I do have the heart of a runner.  And I’m starting to develop the mind of one, too.  I keep signing up for races even though I’m struggling throughout the race to breathe.  During the entire race I’ll question why I continue to do this to myself, and then turn around and sign up for more races.  When my husband and I make plans to travel somewhere, I check to see if there are any races that would be fun to do in that area.

In September, I participated in the Celtic Classic 5K in Bethlehem, PA.  It was the one-year anniversary of my first race.  My lungs weren’t feeling their best–I always end up on IV antibiotics in the fall.  My pattern in the past has been to wait as long as I can to put off starting treatment.  This year, though, I was looking at my race schedule.  With the Classic on September 26th and the Army Ten Miler (ATM) coming up on October 11th, I wanted to make sure I was well enough on the 11th.  So I decided not to overextend myself during September’s 5K.

I finished the 5K just ten seconds slower than what I had done the year before.  Not bad, considering I was probably going to need IV therapy soon.  And then Sunday happened.  After a day of feeling great and covering eight miles between the race and festival, I crashed.  Hard.  I could barely finish my shower and crawled back into bed.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t my bed–we were at a hotel in Bethlehem.  Ed’s bagpipe band was competing that day (a small aside to brag about my husband:  Ed also ran the 5K and came in 2nd in his age group–so proud of my guy).  While Ed was up and getting ready, I was still under the covers, trying to stay warm.  I told him to go on and I’d meet him there later.  I thought it was one of those “I’m just moving a little slow this morning, and as soon as the acetaminophen kicks in I’ll be fine” episodes.  But a few hours later, even after a nap, barely functional was about all I could muster.  I checked out a little before the noon deadline and called a cab to take me to the pipeband competition.

Monday morning I called my doctor.  Orders were put in, and on Thursday I went to the hospital’s radiology department to get a PICC line (peripherally inserted central catheter).

How do I know I have the heart and mind of a runner?  When they asked me which arm I wanted the PICC line placed in, I said the right.  Almost every other time my choice has been my left arm, because I’m right handed.  This time, though, I needed to have my left arm free.  My left arm is where I wear the armband to hold my cell phone when I run, and with the ATM only ten days away, I needed it to be unobstructed.

I stopped at my parent’s house after the PICC was placed.  I was talking to my parents about the ATM and my dad said, “You’re not going to do the race with the PICC line are you?”

“It’s not in my leg,” was my response.

“Dr. Fitzpatrick [my original pulmonologist from age 17 to my late 20s] used to complain that you didn’t get it—that when you got an IV you just kept on going, but you need to rest.  Rest is important,” dad replied.

“I’ve been resting all week.  I’ll take it easy next week.  I’ll go ten miles on the 11th and then I’ll rest the week after that.”

Yes, I know rest is important to heal.  But I get tired of this disease influencing important things and interrupting my life.  I already “rest” way too much–this disease has its built-in rest periods.  I admit that I waited a little too long to go on IV therapy this time; it’s not an exact science.  I can feel great one day and be flat on my back the next, although that doesn’t happen that often.  I feel like there’s a lot I don’t get accomplished because of this disease.  There’s a high probability that I would be on disability if I didn’t have the flexible, computer-oriented job that I have, which allows me to work from home.

Despite the curveballs this disease throws at me, I refuse to let it smack me head-on.  And even if it does, like it did at the end of September, I won’t stay down.  I completed both a 10-miler and a 10K during seven weeks of IV antibiotic therapy this year.  Take that primary ciliary dyskinesia.

Although I might not have the lungs or speed of a “real runner, my heart and mind–and let’s throw in stubbornness for good measure–are enough to carry me any distance.

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