Monday, July 5, 2010

Pushing through

I am not a natural athlete. Even as a teenager, when I was probably in the best shape of my life, I didn't enjoy sports. I lacked coordination, endurance, talent, motivation -- pretty much everything necessary for success or even enjoyment of most athletic endeavors. My brother was a terror on the football field and my best friend was a star on our high school's cross-country team, and while I was happy to cheer them on from the sidelines, quietly envious of their skill and discipline, I had no actual desire to join them in the ranks of real athletes. When forced to run around the track in high school P.E. class I would drag myself along grudgingly, walking the straights and lurching through the curves in a half-jog, hand clutching the stitch in my side, hating every minute of it.

Twenty-five years, two kids and one fibromyalgia diagnosis later and I am running and loving it. Go figure!

It's easy for me to remember when I first felt the love because it only happened a couple of months ago. I was running on the treadmill and feeling the burn. My shins were sore, my hips were on fire, my left knee felt wonky and I had a weird twinge in the arch of my right foot. I wanted to fall back to a walk, but I had promised myself that I'd run for a certain distance before doing that and I wasn't quite there yet.

So, I pushed through. I kept going even though I wanted to quit. I can't honestly say I had ever done that before with any physical activity (barring childbirth, not that I had much choice there). As strange as this sounds, I'm not sure I even realized it was an option. But this time it was a deliberate choice: my brain threw up a wall, and I decided to crash through it. What I found on the other side was that feeling I've heard athletes refer to so many times -- the second wind, the zone, the endorphin rush. It's a feeling difficult to describe to anyone who hasn't felt it, but it was positively drug-like and I was an instant addict. For the first time I wasn't running because I wanted to be active in my old age, because I wanted to be healthy, because I wanted to prove something to myself -- I was running because it felt amazing!

In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that in hindsight it might not have been the best idea crashing through that wall. One of the things fibromyalgia does is magnify the body's pain signals. It also distorts sensory input, telling the body it's in pain when it really isn't. When I first started running, I had no way of knowing whether any pain I felt was the start of an injury or just my central nervous system playing tricks on me. I told myself that real runners pushed through the pain. No pain, no gain, right? They wouldn't say it if it wasn't true! How was I ever going to become a real runner if I stopped every time I felt a twinge?

So I pushed through, and even though I got invited to the endorphin party as a reward, I'm convinced that was the beginning stage of my knee injury. I continued to run on it every day, pushing past the persistent pain signals my body was sending, and weakened my knee to the point that one short trail run was enough to finish it off. Whoops!

I've since become a lot more sensible about pushing through pain. It's still hard for me to tell whether the pain I feel is due to an impending injury or just some random fibro misfire that will disappear as mysteriously as it began, but now when I run and my brain tells me to slow down or stop I do a body check: does anything hurt? Is it a sharp pain or a dull pain? Is it really pain or just fatigue/soreness? No more second-guessing -- if it hurts, I slow down. If I'm just sore or tired, I go a little bit further in pursuit of that elusive but oh-so-addictive runner's high.

I'm not quite there yet, and the going is a lot slower than I'd like, but I can tell I'm making definite progress toward my ultimate goal: no (by which I mean a manageable level of normal-for-me) pain, all gain!

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