The nagging question that I can’t seem to shake, that is probably on the tip of more than a few tongues: So if I can currently only run 1-2 miles without stopping, what the hell have I been doing all year?
In my defense, it certainly feels like I am working out all the time. I have continued to run 2-3 miles, 3-4 days a week, except when ill, which accounted for about 2 months of my year. I did, however, basically stop timing myself and tried to feel the strength in my stride and focus on finding the elusive leveling off of my breathing. The closest I’ve come to either is by listening to my thundering stomp on the pavement as I go careening downhill. I ran a 5K race with my son. And another with my husband. Neither of those really counted though, because I ended up walking the vast majority of both. The former because my son became convinced 50 feet into the race that his feet were in fact broken, that his untimely death by dehydration was imminent, and that complaining was his one true form of communication. In the latter race I was sick with bronchitis and was down to only one partially functional lung. My success in that race was in spotting the cameramen early enough to summon a triumphant “I can run!” look for the photos. I ran a third race by myself, but no one was there to witness my glory. It was the Hot Chocolate 5K, and I managed to run the whole thing without stopping, with my best times ever. Apparently, I can run for chocolate. I ate a whole bowl of chocolate fondue afterwards. By myself. Matter of fact, I was kind of glad my kids and husband stayed home.
After the BolderBoulder last year, I also decided to start cross-training. I had read specifically about the positive effects it can have on running endurance. I took up swimming. When I started, I could only breathe toward the right and swim 8-10 leftward listing laps, but I was able to survive a sprint triathlon by the end of August. I borrowed my husband’s bike and conquered my fear of swim caps to earn the title of “IronGirl.”
I finished in the bottom third, but actually had fun and only got kicked in the head once. I was probably more of an “AluminumGirl,” but it’s too late to rephrase my title. I’ve finally earned some bragging rights over my two half marathon sisters, and no one is touching that medal! I continue to swim 2-3 days per week and I can currently swim a full mile. I also finally mastered my breathing technique one day long after my triathlon, and I can now breathe to both sides. On days when I can’t drag myself to the gym, I continue to do my Jillian workouts 3-4 days per week.
After 6 months of adhering to my rigorous, new and improved workout regimen, in September of last year, I waltzed into my cardiologist’s office hopeful he’d decrease some of my meds and give me a glowing report reflective of my hard work. While he was duly impressed with my racing efforts and just plain stunned by my triathlon success, the meeting did not play out exactly as I had hoped. I showed him the nagging swelling in my legs and asked if maybe that could be due to the vast improvement in my heart function, and that perhaps I was now over medicated? He informed me that unfortunately, the size of my heart had not changed over the last 6 months and that my valve was still leaking as much as the previous time. Ouch. That stung a bit. He tried to get me to refocus on the undeniable positive changes in my endurance and tolerance to activity. He emphasized the fact that at least I was stable and not worse, and that further surgery for the time being was completely off the table. He told me I’d never be normal and that I (and my family) had a tendency toward “weirdness.” I had to laugh at that one, because he’d obviously gotten to know us quite well. He claimed to have meant it in terms of familial heart function, but I have to wonder. To make the visit worse, there was no chance of reducing my meds, and he even added one to help my swelling. I left his office feeling downtrodden and more than a little defeated.
But that’s when I tend to excel. I am an optimist on most days and it didn’t take me long to rebound. I have accomplished an enormous amount over the last year, and the fact is that no one, not even my cardiologist, knows what the future holds for my heart. I have learned not to ever let someone put a limit on my recovery. Motivated by the knowledge that my heart is a muscle, and muscles can be strengthened, I continue on my quest to do anything in my power to make my heart stronger. There is so much about my heart and health that is beyond my control, but I can control my workouts. I will keep tackling new adventures and pushing myself to limits unknown. I may get to a point when this is as good as it gets, but I’m not ready to say that I’m there. At the same time, if it never gets better than this, I’m good with that. For now, it’s another race. My BolderBoulder take two. Time to have at it and see what this body can do. I am wiser and far more prepared than last year. I’m feeling the need for speed! Bring it Boulder!