Please go read this amazing article on TriStateRacer about my running journey over the years.
Let’s talk gear. I have been fortunate enough to discover a lot of my favorite gear with little trial and error. After 2 1/2 years of running, and over fifty races of varying distances, I have found some great stuff! There are road shoes, trail shoes, hydration vests, fuel belts, gaiters, clothing, and more. I’ll talk about my earliest discovery first; the SPIbelt.
Editor’s Note: This is part two in a three part series.
I spent five years (after diagnosis) in a constant state of panic. I would lose weight and gain energy, only to find myself gaining weight and losing energy months later as my body fought against the medication. I was terrified to go back to that girl that was weak and dying. I was attempting to survive on just a small piece of the puzzle. The doctors had only touched the surface. We just didn’t know it.
Quite by accident, the Fall of 2013 became life changing. This was not due to doctors and tests, but instead, because of a little girl’s tummy ache and a mother’s desperation to live a real life instead of one filled with sickness and fear. I was through surviving my life, it was time to fight to live it. During this time, my 10 year old had been complaining of stomach pains. Tests were revealing nothing. I had a friend that was a celiac tell me that gluten could be the problem. She suggested we cut it out to see what would happen. What did I have to lose? Two things were the catalyst to finding my diagnosis. I began running, and my family went gluten free and organic in an attempt to fix Keely’s tummy.
Going gluten free and organic is neither easy nor cheap. Organic milk was the first change. I had to repeatedly tell the girls that it was healthier because the cows were not given hormone injections to create more milk. I explained how hormones came to us in the milk we drank. One night, while watching TV, a father was telling a friend he did not want his teenage daughter going on a group date. The friend told him to let her have some control over her life. He replied that he knew what was in control at that age – hormones. My youngest immediately spoke up saying, “not if you don’t drink them!” It was hilarious. And though she misunderstood, I knew she was listening as I explained why each change was taking place in our home.
As we all slowly adjusted to eating gluten free and organic, I began learning how to run. A friend had told me about the couch to 5k program and I decided to try it. I’ll never forget my first day out, I could barely run a block. It was so demoralizing. I wanted to give up, but something inside refused to stop. Two weeks later I was run/walking, and by mile 1-1/2, my heels were bleeding. I took off my shoes and limped back to my house. It was a long, painful walk. I remember hoping one of my friends would drive by so I could catch a ride home. I drove to the running store that day and got fitted for my first real pair of running shoes. Then I immediately went back out to finish my run.
At 6 weeks I was outrunning the couch to 5k program and running 6 days a week. I was eating clean, dropping weight, and feeling great. I had just visited my endocrinologist for the quarterly visit. He called me in a panic wanting to know how I felt. What color is your skin? Do you feel energetic? Any sickness? Pain? I was confused, I felt amazing. He had me go to the bathroom to check the whites of my eyes. They were fine. He told me that my blood work had come back showing severe liver damage. I had to come in immediately for a redraw. The results were the same the second time around, but I looked and felt great. He decided to recheck in a week. For months, I went in biweekly for blood work. My numbers progressively got better, leaving my doctor guessing that my body was shocked by all of the changes that had been made.
I lost 36 pounds and ran my first half marathon 3 months after I started running and changed my diet. It was a hilly half, and I finished in 2:33:01. I was thrilled! I was also incredibly sore and swore I would never run a marathon at that point. How little I knew myself then. I ran my first full 7 months later, the Hatfield and McCoy, one of the 15 toughest fulls in the United States. I went on to run my first ultra within the first year of running. It was the First Day of Winter 50k. By then, I was keeping the weight off, and had energy, but I was struggling to keep the weight under control. I was still under the wrong diagnosis.
During this time of change, I was researching everything about celiacs. I joined several groups on Facebook. Thanks to Facebook making suggestions, I discovered a Hashimotos Thyroiditis group. The more I read, the more I realized this could be me! I started getting excited. For the first time in eight years, I may have a real answer.
I took the family off of gluten to see what would happen. Keely did not get sick. Later, we would discover that stress was the cause of Keely’s tummy aches. Surprisingly, I did get sick. Very sick. I decided at that point I had enough leads to go in for more tests. I made an appointment with an endocrinologist at the Cleveland Clinic. I felt it was worth the 5 hour drive to see doctors at one of the top hospitals. I had wasted enough of my life being sick, I was willing to pay any price and drive any distance for my health.
The Cleveland Clinic confirmed my suspicions. After 8 years, I finally had a diagnosis. Though there was a lot going on, I was relieved. I was a celiac, lactose intolerant, and had Hashimotos Thyroiditis. I had already learned some things about my conditions, but there was so much more to learn. I was ready to get started. I could finally begin to heal. It was time to stop surviving and start living.
I started running the October of 2013. I was obsessed with it and was running 6 days a week. I didn’t know anything about running, just that I needed it in my life. Often, my 10 year old daughter Keely would join me on her bike (2-5 miles). She would ride beside me, blaring Pandora from a phone in her basket, and we would talk above the music as we went. Sometimes, I would let her set the pace. She would urge me to go faster to keep up with her, laughing along the way. Those were amazing days. The days life are made of. We both lived for the time that work and school ended, so we could get outside together. Little did I know, by watching my struggle and growth in running, by asking her to join me on my journey, I had planted a seed.
The Fall of 2015 Keely turned 12. One day she comes home from school and announces that she has joined the cross country team. Practice is that evening and she asks me to run with her. I’m thrilled! Plus, Keely is asthmatic and has not been running, so I want to be able to monitor her. Though it was her first practice, it was well into the second week of practice for the team. It was also hill day.
The first thing you need to know is that West Virginia has hills. It lies in the Appalachian Mountain Range. The second thing to know is the cross country coach had found a good one.
By the time the team had ran to the hill, Keely was struggling. It was a hot, humid day. Standing at the foot of the hill was daunting, but we started up. Keely started complaining about her asthma part of the way up. I told her we could walk the rest, and the top was near. I couldn’t have been more wrong. A turn in the road proved we were not even halfway up yet. She panicked. I talked her down and she completed the loop, only to discover she had to repeat it again.
Keeky had finished most of the second loop and was in tears. She told me that she couldn’t do this, she wanted to quit. I do not believe in quitting (my kids know this), but I also was not sure about her competing at this level with asthma. It was an unknown to me. The protective mother in me came out and I said something my children have never heard. I told her it was okay to quit. She burst into hysterics at that point and told me she couldn’t quit, her team needed her to compete as a team. She couldn’t let the team down and she was stuck doing what was right although she hated it and it was all my fault. I looked at her surprised and said- I didn’t even know there was a cross country team until two hours ago, how is this my fault? She looked at me and said she wanted to run distance like me and make me proud. My heart melted.
I had raised a child that knew the difference of right and wrong. That knew what a team stood for and how teamwork worked. She was tough, stubborn, and kind. I was in awe of her at that moment. Here she stood, hot, sweaty, scared, and beaten… yet she refused to fall. She would go the distance. I told her I loved her no matter what she chose and I would always be proud of her. I said that running is hard, it doesn’t get easier, you just get tougher. I hugged her. She took a moment to compose herself, looked at me, and said, “lets finish this.” So we did.
Keely continued to go to practice. I continued to run with her every day for those first weeks, then I let her fly. I started dropping her off and letting her grow on her own. Her coach was amazing. At her first meet, I ran almost as much as she did, going from point to point, letting her know how much further she had to go and what her times were. I continued to do that for any meet I could run at. She grew stronger and faster. More importantly, she was enjoying it.
One day after a meet, the coach told the team about a night trail run for that evening. It was a Halloween run, done in the dark (using headlamps), with people jumping out on the trail. There were 3 and 7 mile options. He was running it as well as several of her teammates. Keely was intrigued. Though it had been raining all day and was cold, we decided to go.
Keely was excited as we got ready in matching zombie themed running gear. She said happily, “Most moms take their girls shopping at the mall or to get pedicures. Not my mom. My mom takes me running in the woods at night in the rain and mud!” I loved it! She was going to get a small taste of my world.
Editor’s Note: This is part one in a three part series.
It was 2008, and the girl staring back in the mirror was a stranger. At 5’3″, my size 0, 110lb frame was long gone, replaced by an obese, size 14, 178lb body. I could no longer deny it. Hiding from cameras so my embarrassment could not be immortalized would not change the way I looked. In fact, it would only leave my loved ones with no physical memories of me if I died. How did this happen?
I do not know how I got here. I exercised regularly. We did not eat out a lot. Desserts and sugary items were not normal in our home. Being the parent of a Juvenile Diabetic, you learn to eat healthy quickly. When did I get so out of control? I discovered there was a real problem the month I was getting ready to go to Key West for my wedding anniversary. For 2 months I had been seeing a personal trainer 3 times a week. I was mountain biking on the weekends, and going to the gym on my own 2 other days a week. No weight was being lost. The weekend before Key West, my husband and I did a fast and a cleanse. He lost over 10lbs. I did not lose an ounce. There was definitely something wrong with me.
I went to the doctor with my concerns and the testing began immediately. It would be over 1 1/2 years before a semi diagnosis and some sense of normalcy would return to my life. During this time, my body began shutting down and my marriage began failing. Although we did not know it at the time, I was in serious physical trouble.
There was so much wrong with me that the doctor didn’t know where to begin. I underwent every test imaginable (or so I thought). They would figure out the answer to one thing, only to discover something even more sinister was wrong with me. There seemed to be no end to the sickness, no solution to the problem.
I began sleeping 20 hours a day. I couldn’t do simple tasks like dressing myself or loading the dishwasher. These activities would leave me breathless and weak for at least 30 minutes. I could not even feed myself cereal. The effort it took to get the spoon from the bowl to my mouth required too much energy. My hand would shake so much from the strain that the spoon would be empty by the time it reached my mouth. I would even fall asleep while sitting on the couch talking to people. I was sleeping so much because it was the only way my heart could sustain my body. I went on a heart monitor to watch for signs of heart failure. My body could not maintain itself unless I was asleep.
I became depressed and desperate for a way to end this nightmarish way of “living”. This was not how life was supposed to be. I couldn’t take care of my kids, husband, or myself. What I would discover years later was that I had multiple endocrine diseases. The one that was causing most of my mysery (which wouldn’t be diagnosed until 2014) was Hashimotos Thyroiditus. This disease will actually kill you if left untreated and unchecked.