These past few months and weeks I have rapidly descended into full-blown headache hell. After having an unbelievably fantastic year with my chronic pain, since September I’m struggling more and more each week. I’m at the point now where my headache is incapacitating at least part of every day, if not all day.
Here’s the maddening part: I could have prevented this.
Two things happened in September that led to the decline. 1) After I finished Run Rabbit Run, I developed neuropathy in my feet and could hardly tolerate wearing shoes let alone a run or even a hike, and 2) After accepting a book deal, I started working with my editor and there were many weeks I stayed at my computer the entire day. Plus other projects have kept me at my desk, too. (I realize this is status quo for most people, and I’m lucky for me it doesn’t have to be with rare exception.)
At first the headache only worsened a little. But that was enough to make going for a run that much harder, so I went even less often. The headache in turn worsened…
I went from averaging 40 – 50 miles a week to a fraction of that. Last week I logged three.
I went from a constant stream of magic, headache-curing endorphins to hardly any at all.
How many times do I have to descend into this cycle before I learn?
This week marked 14 years since I developed meningitis, the onset of this chronic headache. Last year I was doing awesome and thus the anniversary didn’t bring as many feelings as it has in the past. This year as I’m in the midst of this struggle, it’s harder not to grieve for a pain-free body. Feeling sad or sorry for myself doesn’t help.
I’ve tried all sorts of mental tricks to get myself out the door to run more. Last week I decided to register for another 100-miler next year, thinking surely that will push me to hit the trail starting immediately (I had been planning on waiting until 2017). Nope. I think somewhere deep down I know I have plenty of time to train and turn this around before next September. I’ve done a 100 miles once, and baring any injuries, I have a decent shot of doing it again without too much work until spring.
Finally yesterday I remembered there’s a race I’ve wanted to do in Ouray, in the San Juan Mountains – my favorite mountains, mountains I love like none other. It’s a viciously hard race, the hardest I’d ever attempt: 22,000 feet of vertical gain over 50 miles. To finish within the 24 hour cutoff, I will have to become far, far stronger. I only have seven months, so the works gotta start now.
Suddenly, I found the motivation I needed.
But still. Do I need to explain how hard it is to go for a run with a migraine, or a headache as bad as a migraine? Last night it felt like each individual hair was being ripped from my head. This morning was almost as bad. I made it out of bed and to the couch and planned to stay there, defeated (as if I don’t have things to do today).
A friend messaged me, “How are you feeling?” She lives in New York and though we’ve never met in person, we have a strange trans-continental connection.
“I’ll go for a run if you do,” she wrote. “I’m putting on running clothes. First step. You?”
“Fuck. Okay. Me too.”
I made it one step at a time to the gym (Find clothes. Put on shoes. Fill water bottle…) I told myself all I had to do was just get on the treadmill and go a mile, and if it was too horrendous I could quit. I turned my music up as loud as I could stand so I couldn’t hear my headache, set the treadmill to an easy jog, and fantasized about running in the San Juans. I imagined the smell of the pine trees as I climbed, the view from the summits, and the strength in my quads as I ran the descents. I could almost put myself there in the beauty of those hills and then in the triumph of the finish.
The pounding of each step hurt. Of course it did. But by the second mile the pain eased a little, and by the time I was done, a little more.
My headache still isn’t great as a write this, but it’s better than earlier. No matter what happens with it between now and tomorrow morning, I know what I need to do: I need to go for a run every day until I break this cycle. Even if it takes a few weeks. I need to get my mileage back up and I need to go for longs days in the mountains, winter or not. (At least the hills are even more beautiful snow covered.)
I’ll be holding onto my memory of the San Juan mountains and the hope that I can pull out of this in time to get stronger for that race.