Last weekend I had a decent long run. Decent means I ran all the hills and stopped only for a traffic light. That I felt okay afterwards. It was nowhere near a record run for me in terms of speed or distance, but it was my longest run in many, many months. And it was hard-won.
Last weekend, also, I discovered that since I began keeping track of my miles almost three years ago I have run more than 2300 miles. My serious running friends have covered that distance much faster, and probably many times over, but I am quite proud of the number. It, too, was hard-won.
Because 2013—I spent most of the year not getting enough air.
The first half of the year was marked by repeated cases of bronchitis, and me pushing myself—running, working, pushing-through, despite how I felt. I’ve had asthma since I was very young, and this is what I’m used to: you get a cold, it invariably settles in your lungs, makes you cough and wheeze. But life doesn’t stop for a cold, you just deal with it. I was simply never very athletic.
But then, life, and many years. A decision at 39 to make running part of my fight for health. The realization, as I got help for my children’s allergies and asthma, that I could get help for my own, as well. I discovered what normal lung function felt like. It was beautiful. I had no idea.
So I ran. A friend challenged me to run a half-marathon with her and it sounded so unlike me I had to try. I heard about a trail half-marathon later in the year and it sounded crazy so I wanted to do that, too.
All those miles—there were a lot of difficult ones, but they were so good.
And then that first half of 2013. All the sickness. All of April and May, never a breath that brought quite enough air. I cut back on my running. I tried to get more rest. It was discouraging.
The last race I ran in was June 9th, 2013. A 10 mile race that I almost didn’t do because of my bad cough and because I was so discouraged I didn’t believe I could run 10 miles anymore. The night before, a friend texted me: another anonymous friend had registered me for the race, hoping I would be encouraged. I was. I ran. And it felt horrible, but I finished, and even brought home a medal. (One of the perks of living in a small town and showing up for small races is that you can finish 17th out of 19 but still bring home a silver because there were only three women in your age group. Pretty nice for someone who had never been very athletic.)
I woke up early the next morning sicker than I’ve ever been. Shaking uncontrollably, feverish, hands and feet pale and numb. Never enough air. Somewhere around 6:30 I woke Husband up to tell him I was going to the ER because I didn’t want to wait for a clinic to open in the afternoon. Looking back now, I realize how disconnected I felt from my body. I was surprised to be seen immediately when I told the receptionist at the front desk I was having trouble breathing. I was surprised when the nurse mentioned pneumonia, (“a raging case of pneumonia,” I believe were his exact words) and even more surprised when he asked me how I felt about being hospitalized.
The doctor made it clear he could hospitalize me but allowed me to go home. I spent most of the next 10 days in bed. Even with all the medication I was on, getting up to walk to the next room left me breathless, and when I spoke I had to pause every two or three words for air.
Recovery was long, but I eventually started running again, very slowly and only bits at a time. I let go of all my goals for the year except one: I wanted to run the trail half-marathon in October. It would be slow, less than I’d done the year before in every way, but I wanted to at least finish.
But no. In August, bronchitis. In September, bronchitis again. Followed by bad colds in October and November that held on for 2 or 3 weeks, each.
I spent the second half of 2013 trying to recover. Lungs tight, never a full breath. I monitored my sleep more closely, doled out my energy more carefully. Mostly I tried to find a way to attend to my family, my teaching, and my writing. If I felt a little like I disappeared when I got sick, I also felt like I disappeared while trying to get better. If I’ve spent most of my life dogged by the feeling that I was failing, that feeling has intensified over the last year.
It was months before I felt completely myself inside my body, months before my lungs felt my own again. A year later I cannot run the way I could. I’ve lost count of how many times I started over, because once I stopped getting sick I started hurting myself: a fall—extremely glamorous, really—while rollerskating with my girls, a strained quad, unresolved pain from before I got sick. And allergies have been so bad this spring that again for the last month my lungs have felt constantly tight. But Saturday I ran farther than I’ve run in 9 months. And then that discovery of how many miles I’ve logged in the 3-months-shy-of-3-years that I have been running. Slogging away at something does not feel like anything but slogging, but it still gets you someplace. Maybe I can leave discouragement behind for a while.
So this is what 2300 miles looks like—part of it victorious, part of it halting, labored, slowly accumulated. Half and half, now, in terms of time. I could tell you that’s what I expected, but no—I expected the sweat and long steep hills and the sheer discipline of it to be enough. What matters is that the miles accumulated, and this number I now get to hold on to has some heft to it. It makes me believe in change. It tells me I’m not done with this yet.