I am not complaining when I say it’s been a rough couple of months for me. I am just stating a fact. I lost Lytton, re-started a DMT with unexpected side effects, and recently dealt with a training setback. It’s been a test in resilience from October 2019 to February 2020. I think I am passing, but I am still in the middle of it, and I know my perspective may be wrong.
Initially, I planned to make this post about my running. I entered two marathons for 2020: one in March and November. The March marathon would be my first ever, after several years of running multiple half marathons. I made it a goal to qualify for Boston, my college hometown, despite my MS.
Qualifying for Boston is a multi-year goal. I am not fast enough at this point, and I am only able to get myself down to 9:15 minute miles for 3.1 miles. I need to get myself down to 8:09 or faster for 26.2 miles to qualify. The first step is to run a marathon to see if I can even run one, let alone train myself to such speeds.
Granted, training to those speeds wouldn’t be awful even if I never qualify for Boston. It’ll put me into competitive waves with local races, and gives me a healthy fitness goal.
I chose a March marathon for my first because it’s the last of the season, locally, until the fall due to Southern temperatures. It was deeply symbolic because I ran my first half marathon at this race in 2013. It’s also a day before the 2020 Olympic trials. All signs pointed to this being a perfect test run on whether I could even finish a marathon.
But by mid-January, I recognized that I was in the middle of a massive setback, and I needed to listen to my body.
Running as Disease-Modifying Therapy
Before I delve into the first setback, I want to talk a little bit about the importance of running to me. I mention it in passing on the blog because I am of two minds about it. On the one hand, I recognize how fortunate I am to be doing it with MS. I know not everyone has the same freedom of mobility I do. I want to be sensitive to that. On the other hand, I want to show that mobility-impairing diseases, like MS, don’t have to stop you from being physically active.
I try to walk a fine line between being sensitive and promoting healthy living. This year, I wanted to explore what running means to me as I train for a marathon and work towards a balanced life with complementary therapies.
Running is my primary form of managing my MS. It is the umbrella that all my care falls under, whether it’s eating or stress-reduction. I am chasing a goal of getting faster in my races; therefore, I make healthier eating choices to fuel my body appropriately. The act of exercising lowers my stress and gives me meditative moments when I am alone. Running helped get me to a physical space where I think Tecfidera will be more effective.
I credit running for balancing my mental health. I know this isn’t possible for everyone, so I acknowledge my privilege. But once my mental health stabilized, I was able to make other changes in my life that benefited how I managed my MS. It is a form of disease-modifying therapy for me.
And then I experienced my first setback.
Rather than rehashing my Tecfidera post, I will highlight some points I made regarding the medication.
After starting to take the Tecfidera, I noticed my running and stamina started to get sluggish. As one of my running friends called it, my legs were “sticks and mud.” A ten-mile run was no big deal a month earlier. I found myself struggling to make four miles.
I fell behind on my training schedule and would not be ready for a marathon at the beginning of March. I could run it, I could finish it, but I wouldn’t be in the right headspace for it. I wanted my first marathon to be a positive experience so I could take the next step in my training for Boston. There’s never going to be a perfect race, and I wasn’t expecting that. But I knew how demoralizing it would be if I felt undertrained or frustrated by mile ten.
So I decided to make my first marathon the one already planned in November to give myself more time to train and get used to the medication. I was glad I made that decision, but it was a setback.
On Saturday, February 15th, 2020, I went for a run with my regular running group. The plan was to do 6 miles, easy so that I could get more miles in before my race. About a mile in, I found a piece of branch hidden on someone’s driveway.
My right ankle went underneath me, and I heard/felt a pop.
Fortunately, there was a nurse in the group, and he checked me out. It didn’t seem broken, but the pain was overwhelming. Each time I tried to stand up to head back to my car, I experienced nausea and the feeling of blacking out. A Good Samaritan saw the whole thing happen and offered to drive me back to my car so I could make it home.
Once home, yes, I drove with the injured foot, Ash took me to Urgent Care to get an assessment of the damage. Unfortunately, their x-ray machines are basic, and so the doctor diagnosed me with a broken foot/ankle. I did get to see the x-ray, and there was a fracture of sorts, but I needed to see an Orthopedic to get a final diagnosis of the damage done.
They booted me, sent me home with a referral, and so I had to wait until Monday to make an appointment. When the call came through, they triaged me to the Sports Medicine Complex that hosts a local professional team. That was a bit daunting. I felt such imposter syndrome at that point. I wasn’t an athlete, even though my vitals and injury said otherwise.
X-rays with a sophisticated machine, an examination by the Ortho, and my diagnosis was a severe sprain. But that fracture they saw on the first x-ray? I’ve broken this foot three times without realizing it. The Ortho said it was an old injury that healed. I needed to wear the boot for the rest of the week and transition to a brace until healed. When I returned in two weeks to see the Ortho, I would receive the next step in my care.
Oh, and no running half marathons at the beginning of March. It was too close, and I could run the risk of causing further injury if I did. But the Ortho did see me making an annual four-mile race in April if I followed his protocol.
A Test in Resilience
I’ve gone the longest I’ve ever gone between runs because of this new setback. I think the most was five days, but I am looking at two-full weeks before I get the “okay” to put on my running shoes again for even a light jog.
It’s rather depressing, both figuratively and literally. My running helped maintain my mental health and positivity surrounding my MS. When I ran, I was sticking a huge middle finger to the disease. With that gone…Now what?
My mood could decline, and I could lose months of training once I am fit to run again. I could sink into a well of despair and give up on my Boston dreams, given these two setbacks.
If I let that happen.
When I got home from Urgent Care after the initial diagnosis of a broken foot (and the potential for surgery if there was more damage), I researched ways to get my heart rate up. I knew that what worked about running was sustaining a raised heart rate for about thirty minutes. I made Ash blow up the exercise ball we bought while pregnant and looked up some chair exercises on YouTube. It was time to train the long-neglected core and arms.
Next, I maintained a balanced perspective. This sprain was a setback. All athletes face at least one physical setback in their career. When I still thought it was a break, I knew if I kept to whatever regimen outlined by the Ortho, I would be able to run in November. Even if I missed that deadline, all of this was temporary. I would get back to running again. I would finish a marathon.
Never once, even in the darkness of the injury, did I allow me to feel sorry for myself. No one would blame me if I did. I have every right to feel sad, it’s been a rough couple of months. But I knew I would be letting go of my dreams. Was I frustrated? Absolutely. Am I still thinking I could probably push myself to still run in March? You bet.
But am I going to give in to the frustration or go for that run? No.
Instead, I am going to follow Doctor’s orders, find creative ways to exercise, and keep moving forward. All setbacks are temporary to some extent. And if they aren’t, they force us to adapt to find creative solutions. This setback forced me to work on my core and arms; both are important to running, and woefully neglected by me. By doing the PT, I am potentially strengthening the weak ankle into a stronger one.
I’ve also learned a lot about my pain threshold. I knew I could handle pain, but when I learned I’d walked around in the past on a broken foot three times, it showed me that I don’t give up. Now was not the time to give up on my training or my DMT.
I am resilient. It’s not easy, and this is painful in a lot of ways, but I am going to get through it. I will run again and soon, and I will get back on track with my Boston goals. It just might be six months behind my initial timeline.
And that’s okay.
Attention to Chronic Illness Bloggers!
The MS Mommy Blog is looking to collaborate with other chronic illness bloggers for this year. If you have a chronic illness blog and would like an opportunity to tap into the MS Mommy Blog audience, please contact me here. I look forward to hearing from you.
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