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The Hardest Thing I have Ever Done

It is quiet.  The air is still. I hear a soft pounding in my chest and my feet on the asphalt.  My heart reminds me of the task at hand: kee...

Friday, April 14, 2017

20 Days to Eugene

In 20 days, whether I am ready or not, I will line up with thousands of my closest friends down at Hayward Field, and we will start that 26.2 mile thing we do.  Just showing up is an amazing feat.  This is especially true for me this year.  In January of this year, just a few months ago, I was hit by the most debilitating exacerbation of my MS disease course.  Now, about 10 weeks later, I am back on injections for the first time in years, I have continual buzzing my lower extremities, and I've developed an intermittent phenomena of phantom smells, like smoke and sour milk.

And yet, I still run.

I used to think that I had a finite number of running steps in me, that the more I ran, the sooner I would run out of those steps. And yet, I would still run.

I am reminded that people with MS tire easily, that extra stress can trigger exacerbations, that I ought to take it easy.  And yet, I still run.

If you've read any of this blog you've probably picked up on this theme.

So, imagine what happened when I woke up one morning in January with my feet numb up to my shins.  If you guessed "went running" you win the prize.  Two days later, when that numbness had grown up to my torso and I hadn't felt my feet in days, I still went out for a run.  By then, I wasn't just running for the sake of exercise or the freedom I felt in that joyful action.  By then, I was running on fear.  As long as my feet kept hitting the pavement, I wouldn't have to feel my emotions, as if I could mask my fear by the pounding I felt in my feet, even if all I could do was imagine that feeling. The pounding was gone.  Only a dull thrum reverberated from where my feet struck the ground.  This quickened my heart rate and ruined my pace anyway.  By mile three, it also reduced me to snotty, wailing sobs of panic.

I knew I had to do something.  The thought occurred to me that there was a real chance I could hurt myself if I continued to run with numb feet, and because I was now also an emotion wreck, I finally called the neurologist.  The doc ordered an MRI on my cervical and thoracic spinal sections.  She also sent me for skulls X-rays and started me on steroids.  The MRI results came in; for the first time in over ten years, my MS was active, and active in a terrible location, a very narrow portion of my brain stem that connects my head to the rest of my lower body.  (I would like to use expletives here, but I will refrain.)  The active lesion was essentially strangling my lower body.

The intravenous steroids and antibiotics wreaked havoc on me.  I started back at yoga, back at meditation, back at walking.  I pined away for my long runs.  The plans for Eugene in May seemed to grow more distant.  The hope to compete with my team for the Hood To Coast in August slipped away like the feeling in my toes.  I was at an all time low.

At the lowest point of this entire ordeal, I went to the movies with my friend Stephanie.  You might have read about Steph from earlier posts, too.  She and I ran my very first 13.1 together some years ago now.  She has been along this crazy ride with me for most of it and there isn't anything I would imagine keeping from her . . . expect, this?  I decided to show up early to the movies (has my husband drop me off like I was s middle school kid), but I felt embarrassed about how I was walking and I didn't want Stephanie to see me that way.  What's worse, Steph mentioned she was bringing a friend, a woman who usually places in most distance runs we see her compete in, and I really didn't want this lady to see me shuffling, hobbling up and down the stairs, maybe even falling.  Also, we were going to La La Land, full of dancing.  Dancing.  What the hell was I thinking?  I didn;t even know if I would ever walk normally again and I was going to see a movie about dancing with two runners?! Well, like I said, I showed up early, go seats right in the middle of the theater, then settled in.  I made sure I had visited the bathroom because I would not be able to climb out over people.  Steph arrived and she had Colleen in tow.  They were very warm and asked how I was feeling.  Of course, I minimized my response.  As the movie played, I found myself emotional at the dance steps, I found myself afraid of the ending because I would have to get up and move down the stairs with people watching, and I found myself angry.  Yep, I felt mad that this exacerbation had come on when it did and in the way that it had, like my MS should have been exceptional.  When the movie got over, I just sat.  I told Steph I had to wait until our aisle was clear and so we all sat patiently.  Then, I got up and used the backs of seats and hand rails, to graciously guide myself down and out of the theater.  Steph gave me a ride home because my doctor had suggested I not drive.  When we got to my house, Steph offered to help me up my front steps.  I declined, so stubborn and proud.

Once inside, I collapsed with grief.

Fast forward a month and Steph and I are running with Neal Benson, of our Hood to Coast team.  We are coming up on ten miles, a distance I never thought I see again.  I was so overcome with emotion that I had to sprint to the end to keep from bawling.

Fast forward another few weeks and I was running a 17 mile stretch, solo at the second half with Neal filling in for Joe (Coach) at the half way point.  I had texted Neal and told him not to wait for me at the end.  He responded, "not a chance."  Then, he ran out to meet me at mile 16 because I was struggling.

Forward to the 19 mile run and I felt strong.  I allowed myself some time to walk.  I allowed myself some time to stumble.  I thought a lot about how my Yoga teacher says, "how can you do less?"  and I tried to do less.  It was a good run.

This weekend will be 21 miles, and now we are 20 days to Eugene.

I am day-to-day . . .

But aren't we all?  I mean, really, if I am just polishing the timebomb of Multiple Sclerosis, aren't I just day-to-day every day?  Nothing has changed because I had an exacerbation in January.  This is the way it was before that event and it is the way it will continue to be until there is a cure.  And so I will run when I can, walked when I can, and maybe even dance when I can too.  And it is the same for you, who could eat a poisonous mushroom or slip on a banana peel or contract polio.  Well, you can't contract polio, but you get it, right?

At my lowest point, feeling sorry for myself, I said to my husband, "I never wanted to be the fucking ABC Afterschool Special.  I just want to go out and run sometimes and have a semi-normal life."  He assured me that I didn't need to be anything to anyone and that it would all be okay no matter how it turned out.  And here we are . . . 20 days to Eugene: the most important run of my running career so far.