The human body is a clever machine. It can function on very little, it can adapt and it can rebalance. That’s why I have learned to love and appreciate mine exactly as it is.
Over the past few years I have struggled with chronic severe anaemia which not only stops me from doing the hobbies I love, but stops me from feeling like myself at all. At it’s worst, I could sleep for most of the day and when I am awake, it’s like I live in a cloud. The smallest tasks feel like a chore and anxiety fills my brain because there simply isn’t enough oxygen in there to think straight. The first few bouts of this, brought with it depression and an unbalanced drive to just get back out exercising to be “normal” but pushing through something like this isn’t good or necessary.
The most recent incident peaked right as I arrived in Turkey to run the longest race I’d have ever attempted in Cappadocia for the Ultra Trail World Tour…great timing is a call from your GP two days before to say your bloods were concerning – a HBV of 8.2 and ferritin of 2. Foolish or not, I still lined up to start but the first two (gentle) uphill miles made me feel like I was moving backwards, gasping for air and by the time I finally reached Dan at 7km my hands were blue, feet tingling and I could barely move. I didn’t even have the energy to feel as crushed as I did. I simply curled up and went to sleep. It sounds over the top but it feels like the life had been sapped out of me. Anaemia is not even a slow process any more, my body has learned to cope pretty well until it drops off a cliff. I had worked so hard to get to this start line, it seemed so unfair.
Every single person faces things they find hard, battles with their body or mind and barriers that stop them doing what they really want. From riding this rollercoaster for a few years I’ve learned to step back, take a breath and appreciate the hard work my body has been trying to do. I know I have to let it heal and rest to come back strong enough. With each round of anaemia comes a stronger sense of self and confidence in the person I am. Yes, I can run fast and yes, I am strong but to be the happiest AND best athlete I can be takes the courage to truly listen to my body. There have been so many times I’ve desperately wanted to run and race but my body has screamed to stop. I’ve put myself into that cave and believe me, it wasn’t worth the consequences.
All of this experience and knowledge gives me what I see as a super power. I can know how far my body can dig and I can love my body even when it says no. The next phase of this journey has to be fixing it. I’m trying every small change I can; eating food the moment I finish running, bi-monthly blood tests, testing exclusions in diet, increasing food intake, more water, less exercise in my commute to work. There is no point training for something if I can’t actually make it feeling amazing at the start line. As a coach myself, I wondered if these issues made me invalid because I’m not the living epitome of the perfect athlete but actually, I think it makes me a better coach. I know that training for a race isn’t all in the physical activity we do or the mental training to cope with race day but a balance of all aspects of life. Most people aren’t able to dedicate most of their week to training and resting because we have jobs, families and other commitments. It’s all about balancing. Everyone has their own plates to keep spinning.
I could sit around and complain or mope about missing races but in these down times, the universe is probably telling me to appreciate some of the other parts of life. We aren’t just runners, we are human beings. Let’s be the happiest ones we can be. I have some big running plans for 2020 and I 100% plan to see them through with a healthy body and a huge smile on my face.