Back when I was diagnosed with vertigo, one of the first things that occurred to me was that it was going to put a massive cramp in my training. For the past three years I ran in the Bluenose Marathon weekend that takes place every May long weekend here in Halifax.
The first year I ran the 5K race. I had been on the cross-country running team back in my high school years, but I hadn’t gone for a single run in over two decades. I trained and learned to embrace hills since the 5K route would lead me up Citadel Hill, and boom, just like that I was hooked all over again.
The second year I took on the 10K race. There wouldn’t be as many hills but it was nerve-wracking nonetheless because it would mean running across the very high and scary bridge TWICE. Well. High and scary for someone like myself who is afraid of heights. I pushed through and discovered it wasn’t all that terrifying after all, and felt like a bad-ass for running farther than I ever had before.
And then last year I pushed even harder to run farther than I had even imagined possible, and I did my very first half-marathon with its whopping 21 km. It was a very amazing experience to go that far and to cross the finish line.
I did have a brief hallucination moment in the hours after that last race where I thought, “hey I should do the FULL marathon next year!” but I came to my senses. I do believe I could do it if i trained properly but I just have very serious lack of faith in my discipline to train the way I would need to. You can half-ass it for shorter distances, but you can’t half-ass training and do 42 km without some damage.
What I did decide to do was run the half again. Although I was happy overall with last year, there were a few things I would have liked to improve upon this year. Of course I would love to get a better time, everyone wants to PR I think, but mostly I wanted to feel a little stronger. I did really well for much of it, getting 15 km in before I needed to take a walk break which coincided with needing to fuel up with some food. It was a little downhill from there though – or rather UPHILL. I trained really well for distance but not so much for hills and if I could have a do-over I would definitely do more uphill runs to better prep myself for the route. I had a really hard time in the last 5K – locals will understand when I say that running up and out of Point Pleasant Park nearly killed me and was much harder than any of the rest of the race.
I usually start running again in late January, early February at the latest. With the vertigo, though, that was an impossibility. I often felt like I could barely walk, let alone go out for long runs (or short ones for that matter). When I ended up having to go off work on short-term disability I started to realize that there was less and less chance that I would be ready for race day.
And I wasn’t wrong. There’s a certain timeline you should follow to prepare for specific race distances and I rapidly ran out of time. I was so incredibly disappointed.
Eventually though, I got over it (although I still expect to be a little bummed on race day). I got to the point where all I wanted was to be able to at least run for me. Running is a great physical activity but for me it’s also a way to brain dump everything that swirls around. I put on my music, yes, but it’s still like a meditation for me. My breathing becomes a consistent match with my pace, and my feet hitting the ground are a steady tick-tock. Every time I’ve gone for a run after a bad day I can barely remember what sucked by the time I get back. Even less-than-stellar runs are good runs; I still distinctly recall the day I mistakenly went on a long run (13 km I think?) with brand new shoes and ended up with a sore knee, a sore shin, a bruised toenail, and a bleeding blister, and I STILL said it was a great run.
I’ve been seeing a great chiropractor for the vertigo because traditional medicine (“cut out salt, watch how much liquid you’re taking in, take these pills 3X/day, and wait it out”) wasn’t doing it for me. Getting chiropractic adjustments helped me more than anything. Last week I went to her office, got a treatment, and on the way home (she’s a friend as well, so I get the bonus of a lift home afterwards!) she told me she thought I was ready to try a run on the weekend.
I was so excited! She advised me to do ten minutes of walking, ten minutes of light running, and ten minutes of walking to see how it goes. I am terrible at following directions, I really am, because I get so hyper when I want to do something. I walked as far as the end of the driveway and then the excitement was too much to deal with and I just started running. I ran about one whole kilometer before I stopped to walk. From there I did “run this block, then walk for a minute, then run to the end of that block, repeat” intervals. I was pretty out of breath because I’m not used to running anymore (last run was October of 2014!) but I felt great anyway.
When I got to the corner of my street, I was so full of adrenaline and emotion that I ended up simultaneously sprinting, laughing, and crying all the way to my front door.
It wasn’t much of a run. I went less than 3.5 km in total; I wanted to do more but didn’t want to push my luck. Still, short as it was, it was an extremely meaningful run for me because at the risk of sounding dramatic, back in early March I honestly started to wonder if I would ever be able to run again and was beginning to worry that the answer was no.
If you start to feel that way about something that you love, there is only one piece of advice I can give you. When you have doubts about your abilities, try as hard as you can to prove yourself wrong.
The day after I was a little sore. My calves were fine but my quads were stiff and angry, and my abs were sore too – it’s easy to forget that you use your core when you run! No regrets though. I was sore, but not sorry.
And I can’t wait to get out there again. I may not be racing in the Bluenose this year, but I’m running dammit, and right now that’s good enough for me.