Saturday, August 27, 2016

Accepting My New Reality

Imagine you are finishing a race. You're pushing as hard as you can and you know you only have to endure the pain for a few more minutes. The finish line is in sight. All you need to do is push as hard as possible and endure the pain for just a little bit longer, and then relief and glory will come.

But all of a sudden, the finish line disappears and reappears much farther down the road. What you thought was just a few more minutes now has doubled or tripled. You try to stay focused on getting to the new finish line, but you're confused and demotivated because you have to slow down since you used every bit of energy you had on what you thought was the final kick. But you don't give up and you keep moving toward it. . . until it disappears for good. There are still course marshals telling you which way to go, but absolutely zero indication of how much farther it is. 

And then you hear the spectators telling you that it's your own fault that the finish line keeps moving father away. They tell you that if you had slowed down and accepted that you aren't as fast of a runner as you think, then you would have probably finished the race awhile ago. It's because you're pushing too hard that the finish line keeps moving. 

This goes against everything that you are naturally inclined to think and do. You're someone who likes to push herself. You're someone who always gives 100%. You're someone who has goals and dreams and is highly motivated to accomplish them. You can do almost anything you set your mind to.  Typically, if you work hard you get rewarded. But now, when you work hard, you get punished.

I have officially re-named my illness "DSGP: Do Stuff, Get Punished." Let me explain.

I turned a major corner at the beginning of last week. For the first time in 7 weeks, I actually felt like a human being!

  • On Wednesday, August 17th, I walked 1.2 miles around my neighborhood and I had plenty of energy left over. 
  • I did the same thing the next day, and I felt even better and stronger. 
  • On Friday, August 19th, I played it safe and didn't do much of anything. 
  • On Saturday, I still felt healthy and walked 2 miles around my neighborhood. Then, I went to a book signing at a local running store.
  • Sunday morning arrived and I still felt healthy and energized. So I tried to jog. I went to the track and jogged for 8 minutes, walked 2 minutes, jogged 8 minutes. This did not feel challenging or tiring. 

Sunday,  August 21
All of this was very encouraging. I even asked my coach to give me a schedule to follow for the week of August 21st. On Monday, I didn't run or walk, but I did quite a bit of housework: I vacuumed, I cleaned out the pantry, I did laundry, and I did dishes. On Tuesday, I woke up feeling great and so I attempted 3 times (10 minute jog, 2 minute walk). Everything felt pretty good, but I did cut the last jog portion short because my legs started to fatigue. I was still encouraged by this because I ran for 26 minutes and afterwards I felt good.

BUT. . . Wednesday morning came and it was as if a truck had run over me in the middle of the night. My whole body ached. Every movement was a strain. Clearly, jogging 26 minutes--with walk breaks--- at a snail's pace was too much. Even though I thought was almost fully recovered, I was not. The finish line was so close! But I didn't make it there. And now it's out of sight. I have no idea when I will recover. Nobody (not even the doctors) can tell me. But what the doctors can tell me is that it's my fault for making it worse. Sure, I had no way of knowing it was too much because I felt perfectly fine while I was doing these activities, but had I not done them, I would probably be fully recovered by now. DSGP.

I saw an infectious disease specialist yesterday to get some clarity on my symptoms and to make sure it really was mono. He told me that there are about 20 viruses that are very similar to mono, so doctors typically diagnose "mono." There's not point in testing to figure out which virus because there's no cure and treatment (rest) is the same for all of them. He said that my sensation of leg weakness was actually a balance issue caused by inflammation of my inner ears. He performed a few tests and told me that my legs were actually very strong, but when you don't have full balance capability, you feel unstable. I described it like jello. He told me to take an antihistamine for the ear/balance issue and that I needed to rest even when I felt like I didn't need it.

It's much easier to not run when you are physically incapable or when you have an obvious injury.
Friday, August 26
But when you feel energized and healthy enough, but still aren't supposed to run, it's even more of a challenge.

In light of all this, I have decided the best approach is to just forget about running entirely. I'll make no plans and I won't assume that I will be able to run the Indianapolis half. I won't assume that I will be able to run the Turkey Trot. I won't even assume that I will qualify for Boston 2018. This is not negativity, this is realism. This is my new reality.

My sports psychologist told me that the people who are the most mentally strong learn how to accept their new reality. I had been clinging to the idea that I would be able to start running again in September. And I actually don't really know when I will start to run again and because of that it's best to not even think about running period. 100% of my mental energy goes to resting and recovering. For the foreseeable future, there is no running.

There are no guarantees in life. Literally one hour before my first symptom struck me, I posted this to Boston Bound's Facebook page:

"I'm happy to have logged 1,236 injury-free miles in the first half of the year."

I never took my health for granted. I was thankful for every pain-free, injury-free, illness-free day that I was given. And I was given three full years of health. Which is more than many people get and it's what enabled me to attain such a high level of fitness. Maybe I will get there again, maybe I won't. The point is, I really can't afford to think about it and it's not helpful to think about it. I'm accepting my new reality.

My new reality is that it's impossible for me to know how much activity is too much until 24 hours later. And by "activity" I mean simple things like doing the dishes, going to the grocery store, doing laundry. Just because I feel well enough to do "xyz" it doesn't mean that I am well enough. My weekend plans include coloring in an adult coloring book. Having sat up straight to type this blog post has already exhausted me. Please excuse any typos!


  1. Hang in there!! This isn't even close but in the winter I started running and training for my first 26.2 and for a second I was getting faster and faster. Then injury struck at the end of the cycle and I started thinking is this the universe saying I shouldn't be doing this?? Then I started again this summer and stuff was going well and then something about the heat just broke me down. All of a sudden every run felt like a drag. I couldn't finish long runs. Just mentally hated how I felt physically and started telling doesnt matter. Just do the best you can. That's all you can do. I hope someday it turns around again but who knows?? I just really appreciate your honesty. Melts my heart. Thanks.

    1. Sorry to hear about your struggles, Tiffany. You're right-- we can only do our best.

  2. Elizabeth... you have inspired so many people with your book and your journey to Boston. You had so many obstacles to overcome to get there and you did, and this will be another thing you have to overcome to eventually get back there, to get back to where you were before, and to ultimately be a BETTER runner than before you got sick.

    Last year I ran a half marathon and the female winner was a lady who was struck by a car when running and almost died. She was struck by the car in 2013, and in 2015, she won a half marathon (granted it was not a major race, but she still won with an outstanding time). I had a two hour drive home and a long time to think about why I train and run 6 days a week, and the reason is because someday, I will be ill or injured and cannot run, but the fact that I did run will be what helps me stay mentally strong and recover and eventually get back.

    I guess what I'm saying is, you wrote the book but your story is far from over- this is another chapter. Take the recovery a day at a time, don't stress about running right now. Just know that your running and training prepare you for a race but also to deal with life. And you will.

    1. Thank you for such a thoughtful comment, Amy. That story is really inspirational and I hope to make that kind of comeback. I've heard of people taking a year or more off and coming back faster/stronger. At my age, it's difficult to imagine that can be me, but I am not ruling it out. Anyway, I really do appreciate your words of support and encouragement. You're definitely right about this being another chapter, it's a bit scary that I really don't know how it will read!

  3. I'm so sorry to hear this! But as a medical provider, I hate to see you lying there on the couch. There has to be a better answer than what you've been told. It just doesn't make sense to me. Yes, there are other viruses that cause symptoms similar to mono but we don't call them all "mono". It's weird that you felt so well and then had that relapse. The inner ear thing makes sense for your jelly feeling but the fatigue doesn't fit. Sorry, just playing armchair quarterback over here because I hate seeing you sidelined like this!

    If this is truly a "mono" type illness, I'd expect you to be recovered in 6-8 weeks. So don't give up hope for the Turkey Trot. Maybe you won't be able to race it, but you'll be able to run it and that might feel ok!

    1. The doctor didn't say that I should be on the couch, but he did say I need to take things much slower than I had been. I Googled "Post Viral Fatigue" and that was clearly a mistake. Most websites talk about that lasting for years on end. The doctor did say he thought I would make a full recovery, as I did in 2012, but that it might take "awhile". As for 6-8 weeks, I might have been fully recovered if I didn't attempt to run or walk as far. I was feeling so close to 100%, and I have no idea how much time I cost myself by doing "things" when I felt better. Anyway, thanks for your support and perspective. It is appreciated.

  4. Have you ever had other symptoms of vertigo? my mom struggled with vertigo several years ago. the inner ear part of your story sounded like what she went through. anyways, thinking of you and your recovery. your mental strength is inspiring!

  5. Oh man this truly sucks. You are doing everything to the letter and following all the rules but this illness is just a bitch. I truly hope you start feeling better soon because it just isn't fair. You're too nice and too talented a runner. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, they say. At least you will be one hell of a mentally strong individual by the end of this x