Wednesday, December 5, 2018

My Streak, My Health, My Choices: Today I choose Freedom

I was not going to share my personal story (and I will not share my private health-related details here) but this is my blog and this is my journal. I also feel that as a running coach, some people do still look at what I do as a guide. Maybe by sharing my decision-making process here, I will help them make their best decisions or maybe even feel better about stopping something when they know their health depends on it. I also need closure and this will give me that.

My Streak will reach 7 years 12/27/18, but I will end it today.  I feel like this decision deserves an entry in my blog. 

When I first started streaking, my goal was to run daily as long as it was not going to make any situation worse. I didn’t want to run on crutches or run down the hospital corridor or run around the airport in my jeans if I could avoid it, just to check a box.  I did well with my streak. Streaking was not hard for me. I have just under an 8-mile per day average of almost 7 years! Owning a treadmill really leaves no excuse.

My goal was to run daily despite feeling “too tired” or “too inconvenienced” or "because weather was too cold" or “because others in my life were too impatient and I didn’t want them to wait on me.” So I managed these obstacles. I would get up early take care of me and inconvenience others less whenever possible. I learned to be assertive about my needs enough to tell my friends and family that I need to run daily. They understood easily that they would have to be patient and give me the 10 minutes at a minimum that needed to achieve my goal.

Streak running became a part of who I am but it never defined me. I didn’t post a lot about it. I didn’t get the T-shirt. I recently asked to remove my name from the registry. 

I just love to run a lot and I have been running since I was 9 years old. Streaking didn’t make me a runner. I don’t really even need to run daily, but running daily helped me run a lot per year and this taught me many lessons.

Why I love my Streak: Early in my Streak Running career, I found that the first 2-3 years changed me for the better as an athlete. It taught me that on those days I was too tired run, I would actually feel a lot better and more energized if I ran. I found that on those days I thought I was too sore after a race, that if I ran 1 slow mile, I recovered 2x as fast. As a result, I was back to training strong several days later. With faster recovery times, I was able to safely do more quality workouts without injury in one training cycle than I could if I needed longer rest between hard runs. As a result, my marathon time went from a 3:38 to a 3:15 early on and eventual down to a 2:55 now.  My ultrarunning improved since I learned that running 60, 80, 100 miles in a week was possible for me.

Streaking helped my body heal faster. I have an autoimmune disorder from chemo that used to send me to the ER 1-2 times per year. My fragile weakened immune system would crash and my body, face, and throat would swell dangerously. My lifestyle did not change much when I started streaking. But after a year of streak running (and building my training volume as a result), I never went back to the ER for autoimmune-related hives again! Sure they came back, but the condition was less severe and much more able to treat at home. Was the cure running daily? Maybe not. It was probably from running more and getting fitter, healthier, stronger, and more resilient.

Streak running helped my mental health. **** Everyone should recognize they need to take care of their mental health as well as their physical health. ****  I do not have a diagnosable condition.  But every single person is susceptible to the impact of stress on their mental functioning and psychological wellness. If you think are you are not, Good Luck to you. Just like how the body gets sick even when you are doing everything right and don't expect it to happen, the mind gets tired and beat down too, especially under stress. I get depressed. Not to the point that I need treatment. To the point that I need to pay attention and take care of myself. I get stressed out. Who doesn't? We all do. It doesn't meas something is wrong with you. It means you are human. Take care of yourself. 

Streaking taught me how to prioritize my need to take care of ME and not put everyone else first. When you learn how to make just 10, 20, 30+ minutes of “me time” for yourself each day, you also learn this discharges stress and makes room for the new stress of the day that will find you. Running daily was my personal time to decompress daily, even if I ran with people. Running often made me 100% able to give my heart and soul to all those who turned to me with their stress and life challenges.  

Remember, my work is split between inpatient mental health rehabilitation and coaching. My job is to help clients overcome their stress, mental health issues, life obstacles, and personal challenges so they can achieve their goals and dreams. I do this as a psychotherapist and as a coach. I sometimes see more adults cry in one month than most see in a lifetime. I often see more violent behavior than most people ever see. I learn of more of my past clients committing suicide than most people will ever know. I work in a volatile, labile, sad and/or dangerous environment and I need to leave my stress at the door when I swipe in. Running always helped me to do that.

Streaking taught me I was stronger than I thought I was as a runner. Streaking taught how to take care of myself first. Streaking helped me learn how to speak up and say "Yes" to myself and my reasonable needs. Streaking helped me to create running goals that were so non-negotiable that my non-running friends and family started to help me find ways to get my runs in no matter where we were or what we were doing. Streaking taught me the tremendous value of decompressing and releasing stress daily through exercise. Streaking made me feel strong. Streaking got me to almost 500 miles in 30 days in 2017. I was a machine. I could run about 16+M per day and not feel tired or beat up. I could jump on my treadmill to watch a TV series and 2.5 hours later walk off with 18+ miles and feel fantastic. Then run the next day, no problem.

The Ending

I always knew I would never run when Streaking would hurt me more. Today is that day.

For the last 5 weeks, I have been dealing with an internal infection that has beaten me down and made running feel miserable, but not impossible. So I ran. 

I have shared that I tore my hamstring, that I have bursitis and a minor glute strain. Funny thing about those injuries is that I could run 1 mile or more even when first injured. I would feel no strain or pain as long as it was slow and I didn’t stress the muscles, tendons, and bursa. Short, flat, slow running, while I tried to heal, did not seem to be hurting me. Yet, 6 months later I am still injured. I think now it is clear that daily running very likely delayed my healing and caused me to lose time as a runner.  

However, my hamstring, glute, and bursa are not what will end my streak. I have a PT and we worked together from August through November. I was finally cleared to run hard and race last month. I raced a 5k and it went really well. I won and beat my time goal by a lot. Then I had an MRI two days later (because that is finally when it was scheduled). It showed I was still not 100% healed and I still had all my injuries. So back to PT and I will be fine soon.

The major issue for the last 5 weeks has been an infection which I don’t need to share the full detail of and I won't here. Some issues can and should be respectfully kept private.  

Well, first I tried medication which resulted in systemic hives. Then I tried an out-patient operation to clean out and treat the infection, but it failed miserably. The infection returned 10x worse over the past 16 days. I was getting sicker from it daily. My poor friends got weeks of texts from me bitching about pain while I was desperately looking for any sign of relief. I am sure now that the strong long lasting anti-inflammatory prescribed for my hamstring tear was masking the pain of my infection each day (giving me false hope I was healing when I was not). Each night, when the meds wore off I was in too much pain to sleep.  

I finally made an appointment with my doctor on Tuesday (yesterday). It is a little scary when your doctor actually RUNS out of the office to find an OR "today!" I had no time to plan my life around this and even though I wasn’t immediately dying I know a fever with a large painful infection under the skin that can only be reached in the OR is dangerous and could become septic over time. He would not allow me to wait even one day to schedule this. I asked. He laughed at me and said "No we are doing this today! As soon as I get an open OR!"  

Last night I had a surgery.
It was a small area and a short operation. I was cut open to clear out the infection. I feel better now. The pain meds help.  I was stitched up and had drains put in which will stay in place for 4 months and allow the deep tissue to heal safely. 

Sepsis is dangerous. It can kill people. This was a real risk I faced if I waited too long. I am glad I caught this early enough to avoid that complication. This is why an OR was booked ASAP for me. I had a growing infection inside my body that left me unable to move comfortably and resulted in a fever. Yet, I STILL ran my Mile daily, lke a good Streak Runners should. “Run Through Everything”, right? And how do I feel about that: Like an idiot! 

In hindsight, I should have not run at all. Last Sunday (more than a week ago), I notice the restart of the infection after the first operation. I had a follow up appoint on Friday and my doctor didn’t realize I was infected then. I showed him my symptoms and he felt I was still healing from the first operation. He felt the symptoms were just skin irritation and the chafing from the first wound still draining. He felt it would resolve in a few weeks. 

In the next 4 days, I was in greater and greater amounts of pain. By Tuesday of this week (yesterday, 8 days after I noticed initial growing discomfort), I couldn’t do normal activities of daily living without some pain. Work was hard. Driving was hard. I still did things. I ran.  I ran 7 miles on Monday, the day before my surgery. I have a very high pain tolerance and I don’t really stop for pain. Due to pain at night preventing sleep, yesterday (Tuesday) I called the doctor to tell him I was in a lot of pain. He found time to see me. As I watched him BOLT out of the office to get an OR, I knew today was going to be the day to say Good Bye to my streak. 

How do I feel about this? 100% Fantastic. I am happy. I am ready. I am not running and risking reinfection. 

I have taken off from work, which I never do, to heal. I could force myself to run 1M today if it was very important to me, but it is not. Today I will not do anything that will put pressure on the drains or shift the tiny plastic stent implanted in me that is lined up to drain this infection out of me for the next 4 months. Running 1 mile today will not help my healing. It will not advance my training. I will not help my stress level in any way.  I will not make me feel good about myself. So I refuse. 

Today, Not Streaking Running will be a gift. (And I will not start another one. I never want to feel like I HAVE to run ever again). Not Streaking will offer me my Freedom back. I will give me back control to make smart decisions and not do something just because of a routine at all cost. 

Harmonious-passion is a type of passion that allows us to fold into the fabric of our lives a healthy activity that brings us joy and makes our life better. We are still sad if we can't do what we love, but it is not the end of the world when we need to miss it for good reason. My streak has always been Harmonious for me. I loved that about it.

Obsession-passion is when we do something at all costs, no matter what the consequences to our health and our impact on others will be. Stress is caused by the need to do something compulsively is not pleasurable. Missing one day becomes too emotionally painful. I am not obsessive about my streak. I never have been and I won't start now. 

I don’t need a Streak to make me run. I love to run. I don’t need the Streak to make me a good runner, I know how to train smart. I don’t need a Streak to decompress my stress. If I miss a mile, I can meditate for 5-20 minutes and that works for me just as well. I don’t need to Streak Run everyday to feel strong, fit, and healthy.  I have the gym and I have yoga and both give me the same benefits in a much more well-balanced way.  

I am grateful to have been a Streaker for almost 7 years. It changed me for the better in more ways than it ever harmed me. I don't need to start another one. I won't. I am tired of counting days. I learned all I needed to learn from Streaking during this 7-year journey. 

I want to sincerely thank all who inspired me to become a streak runner, Mark Washburne, Freddie Murolo, Steve Tursi, Jim Merrit, and especially Jim Pearson, who I never spoke to often but when I did he was such a nice man. Pearson's 50 Mile PR, at 5:12 was an American Record and the 3rd Fastest 50M in the world. From a distance, he taught me early on that streak running and record-setting performances are not mutually exclusive.

Today I choose harmony. 
Today I choose to bow out gracefully from my streak, it has been a fun ride. 
Today I choose to heal.  

Today I choose to be free.  

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