I'm a pretty superstitious person. I always try to run on treadmill number 4 at the gym, and it's become my lucky number. I had a lucky hat that I wore at every race for a couple of years, and only retired once I completed Hartford and got my BQ. If I'm talking about how long I've gone without a major running injury, I always punctuate the statement with the phrase "knock on wood."
So as the weeks, and then months (4 and counting), were passing without me having had an episode of exercise-induced anaphylaxis, I didn't mention it to anyone. I was afraid I'd jinx myself.
And when I found out there was a new, significantly smaller epi-pen available, I immediately called my allergist and got one for myself (so much easier to carry while running!), all the while secretly hoping that maybe I'd never need it. Maybe I was going to be one of those lucky people for whom the condition disappears as suddenly and mysteriously as it appeared.
But 5 miles into my 15-mile run yesterday, my luck ran out.
I was scheduled to run 15 miles at an 8:10 pace, and I was having a blast. That's a really nice pace for me, and my body just seems to naturally settle into it, without much effort or concentration, and every time my Garmin beeped, I was so pleased to see that every mile was within seconds of my goal. Consistent pacing is a skill that can be very hard to learn, and something I still sometimes struggle with, so it's always a bonus when it comes easy.
Then as I turned a corner and headed into town, I felt a weird tingling in my hands. They weren't itchy, which is usually the first sign that something's going on - but they felt unusually warm and odd.
I was instantly on alert, but didn't stop right away. I wasn't entirely sure if it was just that I was warming up and needed to take my gloves off.
But then my face started to feel really warm, and my upper lip started to feel funny and swollen. Then a few steps later, I realized I was having trouble catching my breath, and with every step I took, I felt like a car running out of gas - the energy was just seeping out of me, and each step felt slower than the last. And I knew.
This all happened over the course of about a minute, so I had only run another couple hundred yards or so, and I knew that was it. I sat down, popped a Benadryl, called Scott, and hoped that this one wasn't going to be a doozy that would land me in the ER.
Luckily it wasn't - mostly, I think, because I stopped running right away. There have been too many times that I've doubted the symptoms, and brushed them off as just being a result of me overheating or pushing myself too hard - too many times that I've been in denial and hoped that it would just magically stop.
But this time I paid attention to the signals, and I listened, because I reminded myself of how awful I felt the last time this happened, when I ended up having to use my epi-pen and spend the morning in the ER. I remembered how scary it felt - like my body was going completely haywire - and I did not want to feel that way again.
Thankfully I didn't - I spent about 40 minutes laying in bed with severe chills, and my legs and torso covered in big red blotches that never quite developed into hives. Not the greatest way to spend my morning, but it could have been far, far worse.
The worst of it was actually the way I felt afterward, emotionally. A lovely combination of anger and depression that I just couldn't shake. Sadly, I knew the best way to shake it would be to go out for a run. And honestly, I almost did. Once I was feeling better, I wanted so badly to put my sneakers back on and get out there and show my body who's boss. I wanted to pound out the fear and the anger and the sadness the only way I know how.
But just as much as I wanted to do that, as much as I craved the feeling I knew I'd have if I had a great run - I was terrified of how much deeper I'd sink into depression if I didn't have a great run, if the anaphylaxis struck again.
I did go the gym and worked up a good sweat on the elliptical and bike, though. It didn't give me the satisfaction of knowing that I had completed my planned workout, but it did grant me some much-needed stress relief and a shot of some mood-boosting endorphins.
Along with being angry just at the fact of this happening again, I was angry that this meant I was missing a training run. I know that missing a long run isn't a huge deal, and that in the grand scheme of things, it probably won't make a bit of difference in terms of how I do on race day. But I'm very much a type A person, and when I have a plan, I stick to it, and I do not like the way it feels to deviate from that plan, to have that workout not completed.
And I like it even less when deviations from the plan are not of my own choosing; when they're entirely out of my control. And that's really what this all comes down to in the end.
I love the blog Mile Posts. Dorothy Beal is such an inspiration to me - an amazing mom, amazing runner, and an amazing writer, too. She has a motto that I love, but it struck me yesterday that it's one that I can't truly live by - "I Run This Body."
99% of the time, I do feel like I run this body - I feel like I can overcome just about anything. I can train in really bad weather; I can run 13 miles on the treadmill; I can power through intervals at paces that I never imagined I'd be able to run; at the end of a long run, I can find strength that I never knew I had. I can overcome the bad runs, the tough workouts, and the negative thoughts.
But I cannot overcome anaphylaxis. There's no powering through when your body is going completely berserk. There's nothing to do but surrender, and it makes me want to cry to feel so utterly powerless.
When you're in a spot where the thing that makes you feel stronger and healthier than you've ever felt in your life has suddenly made you feel completely vulnerable and terrified - it's an awful, terrible place to be.
So, for at least the next few days, until the memory of this attack fades, this is my new mental battle. To put the fear aside and put my sneakers back on and complete the next workout. To remind myself that for every time this does happen, there's countless other times that it doesn't. To cross my fingers and toes and enlist every other silly superstition I can, in the hopes that it does NOT happen on April 15th.
And to take a deep breath and remember that even though I can't conquer this physically, I can conquer it mentally. I don't have to let it get the best of me, and I won't let it stop me from doing what I love. My runs may be tinged with a little bit of anxiety for the next few days, but rest assured, they will happen.
There will always be that 1% of the time that I don't run this body, but I won't dwell on that - I'll move on and focus on the 99% of the time that I do.