31 December 2015

No really, this time, I swear.

All this year I have repeated myself, each time thinking I was saying something new. I wrote the same blog post multiple times without realizing it until after I hit “publish.” I mourned my body's changes over and over again. I said I needed to accept it, but I couldn't. Then I said it again, surprising myself with the slow realization that I'd said it before.

Yes, I am about to do it again.

In broad strokes, here is the story of my 2015. I tried fighting MS. I tried an extreme diet that might have helped but I could not live with it. I tried mind over matter; believing that I didn’t have MS or that I could will it away. I tried meditating; I tried supplements, I tried medication. My MS got worse. Maybe I failed, or maybe it didn’t matter what I did because MS is a medical disease and not a spiritual condition, a choice, or an imaginary friend.

So I gave up, which is to say I accepted everything. This does not mean I lie in bed all day and eat ice cream. It means I am changing the story I tell myself. It means doing what I can, when I can. It means moving beyond the repetitive cycle of mourning and denying. It means celebrating unconventional victories.

One of my goals for 2015 was to run 10 miles without encountering the MS symptoms that affect my legs. It’s now December 31st and I can only run 3 miles if I don't take walking breaks. But I did figure out how to cover 8 miles; I run three-quarters of each mile and walk the rest, then repeat. I also learned how to change my stride in the later miles of a run so that I don’t trip and fall. These are victories, but only if I accept them as such.

I’m looking forward to 2016 because the practice of accepting has given me confidence. I’m not as scared as I was. I am not finished with the work of accepting, because things will continue to change, but now I know I can do it. Next year will not be about learning to cope with life; it will be about living.

07 December 2015

Antelope Canyon Training, Week 1

I don’t know what I’m doing. Mechanically, I know what I’m doing. I am running, sort of. I am on a training run and I am training for a half marathon. The race is in two months. I won’t be able to run all of it, but I hope I can run at least half of it.

I don’t want to let my thinking dictate or influence my reality. I think that’s possible, like “You are what you eat,” only “You are what you think.” I should say: I may not be able to run the whole thing. My thoughts push and pull between acceptance and inevitability, realism and hope. When you have a disease that people say is incurable, you have these conversations with yourself.

This is what I think during the last mile of every run: I really don’t want to fall. I feel like I am going to fall. I focus on picking up my feet.

Here’s how it is when I run. For the first mile or two, everything feels normal. A flash of hope that this run will be like running used to be, despite the widely accepted belief about my condition: that things only get worse, never better. But pretty soon, my legs get tired and uncoordinated. My feet slap down on the ground, gently at first, then with more gravity. Below the waist, things feel increasingly out of my control. My legs are not numb, but they are not my legs. Soon my toes hit the ground first instead of my heels. I start walking and running in intervals. I walk because I might trip if I keep running. I don’t like to fall. It feels like failing.

When I’m done with my run, I sit for a few minutes and when I get up, I walk like a toddler who is just getting used to being vertical. And then, in a few more minutes, my legs are mine again.

This week was my first week of training for the half marathon. I ran four times; three 3-mile runs (I ran all of these), and one 5-mile run during which I walked about three-quarters of a mile. I did the 3-milers on subsequent days; the first one was great, the second one was a little harder, and the third run on the third day was very slow but I managed to run the whole time. On the 5-miler, I walked a little bit at miles 2 and 3, then about half a mile up a hill. (Once I get tired I don’t try to run uphill because it rapidly increases how tired I get and therefore how far I can go.) It was a good week of training, even if it doesn’t look like the training I used to do.

I think I’m proud that I’m still running, but sometimes I feel foolish. I wonder if running is not meant for me anymore and if I should accept that more gracefully, but I value perseverance and positivity too. I’m not ready to stop running, but it’s difficult to take myself seriously as a runner now. Maybe this is what every aging runner encounters when she slows down. Maybe I shouldn’t give it so much power. I still want to run, so I do. That should be all that matters.

20 August 2015


I just got home from Birdcamp! It was a lot of fun. I know there will be tons of detailed blog posts about it, so I'll just mention a few highlights:
  • I did an 8-mile long run (/walk) in beautiful Leavenworth, Washington. This is a pretty long run for me these days!
  • I stayed with my wonderful roommates from last year, Kim and Ayesha. I am so lucky to have met these ladies last year and even luckier that we all wanted to room together again.
  • We floated down the Wenatchee River, which was beautiful and relaxing. 
  • I took my phone swimming. It drowned. I lost all my pictures.
  • I got to spend time with 99 amazing women who love running as much as I do. 
  • It was inspiring, satisfying, and extremely well-organized (ahem, Lesko). 
  • Meditation with Bree of Jasyoga was super satisfying, and it planted the seeds of my little Birdcamp revolution.

I could list 50 more cool things, but Birdcamp is way more than the sum of all these great moments. It is a magical place where dreams can grow without shame or fear. It's a place where you can pry yourself open and not be afraid of what you will find.

I loved the discussion we had about goal setting with Adrienne Langelier and Lauren Fleshman. I used to love setting running goals, but ever since my running has been affected by MS, I haven't wanted to set goals. I still can't run more than about 4 miles without breaks, and I've been stubbornly vacillating between hoping I can run again like I did a few years ago and considering quitting altogether. 

I've been thinking of my running-related MS symptoms to be different from other "normal people" injuries. Like a good drama queen, I've been convinced that my situation is so much worse than a broken foot. But MS has a lot in common with typical running injuries. I am currently unable to run as far or as often as I want to. I am slower than I want to be. The future of my running career is uncertain. On the other hand, a big difference between having MS and a more traditional injury is that nothing hurts, which is a good thing. And I can't make it worse by running.

It seems like I should approach this like any other injured runner would. So here are the goals I set at Birdcamp.

1. Do what I can do
I will find a run/walk cadence that allows me to complete my February half marathon. At camp, I started experimenting. I ran 10 minutes and walked 1. That seemed totally doable until a giant hill kicked my ass. So I will keep experimenting until I figure this out, and at the same time, I will put together a reasonable training plan.

Maybe I won't recover from this injury, but let's consider the alternatives. I could quit running. Um, no. Not until I really can't run anymore. I could stubbornly keep trying to run as if I'm not injured, but that's not really an option. When my legs stop working, I physically can't keep running. It is better to focus on what I can do right now, today, this week, for the next few weeks, and adjust if necessary.

2. Stay positive and hopeful about the future
I often say (cause I'm a drama queen) that I have an "incurable, degenerative brain disease." You can see why I don't do well at parties. But I don't actually believe that it has to get worse, and most of the time, I believe it could get better. I'm not even always convinced it's "incurable." I believe that staying positive is a huge factor in health outcomes, so I will keep hope alive in my mind and in my heart. I will focus on what I can do, not what I can't.

At Birdcamp, I thought a lot about my relationship with running. Me and running, we've been at a standoff, standing petulantly with our arms crossed, refusing to look each other in the eye. I've been angry at my new limitations, and I believed by accepted them, I'd lose something. But now I can see that was wrong. There is no harm in accepting what *is*. If suddenly someday I recover from my "injury" and can run more or faster, that will be great. And even if not, accepting my self puts me on a better path.

This is why I love Oiselle and the VolĂ©e. It's so much more than a group of women who wear the same clothes. It's a safe place to find out who you are and what you're capable of. At Birdcamp, I stopped being angry about where I am with running. I realized that I have a massive opportunity to grow as a runner and as a person, and I should take it.