“I have a migraine. I think I’ll go for a run,” said no one, ever.

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.

From the summit of Redcloud Peak, in the San Juans, the same range where this race is held.
From the summit of Redcloud Peak, in the San Juans, the same range where this race is held. Do I want to go there next August to attempt this race? Yes, please!


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.

17 thoughts on ““I have a migraine. I think I’ll go for a run,” said no one, ever.

  1. I did not know that meningitis could lead to a chronic migraine situation. Man, are our bodies ever crazy complicated things! Soooo complicated. I hope you’re feeling tops again in time for the rest of the holidays!

  2. Lynn, great article. Any challenge you have you can overcome. Think carefully. Plan carefully. We have have great days. We all have semi decent days. We all have really horrible days. We can Either say fuck it and let pain and the Devil get the better of us or we can face our challenges with dignity and overcome them. What do you say? By the way I have a Half Marathon for January and March. Much Love. Your Global Hero Brother.

  3. Lynn I’m s sorry you are feeling so awful and so excited that you are starting to pull yourself out of it. Had the feeling things weren’t going well with you when we all met. I’ll be cheering you on every day. Good to be here in Hawaii, where it is pretty chilly most days in mornings and evenings. Should have brought more warm clothes for Maui’s high country. Keep at it Lynn. We all love you. Anne

    From: Lynn K Hall <comment-reply@wordpress.com> Reply-To: Lynn K Hall <comment+caw27u02kwprk4h-i9sttf@comment.wordpress.com> Date: Friday, December 18, 2015 at 12:13 PM To: “AMAHONEY@DU.EDU” <AMAHONEY@DU.EDU> Subject: [New post] “I have a migraine. I think I’ll go for a run,” said no one, ever.

    Lynn K Hall posted: “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 inc”

  4. You are an inspiration to me too! I thought about you often on my AZT trek and I am blown away by you and all of the other badass women doing badass things in the outdoor community right now. While I cannot even begin to compare to the obstacle of chronic pain that you face and rise above every day, I really relate to the mental challenge of achieving something great and then….then what??? It sounds like you’ve got the ‘what’ figured out and I hope to follow in your footsteps. Also, maybe I can follow in your footsteps literally – need another pacer for your next 100? 🙂

  5. You too, huh? And right before Run Rabbit? That would freak me out. You are right, I need to put an asterisk next to “running helps my headache.” The caveat is that I have to be extra careful to take care of myself. Dehydration is a killer.

  6. Meg, I know, you are right. We can only control so much. And yeah, sometimes there isn’t anything we can do. I hope you are doing okay, and that having family in town means having help. I’m looking forward to catching up with you. I think about you every day.

  7. I definitely find solace in that I’ve been here before. My therapist always says, “it’ll shift.” Eventually it does. Here for you too, my friend.

  8. Ugh. So sorry to hear! Oddly, in the last couple of years of ultramarathon training, my migraines have come back! But, I’m quite sure it’s entirely related to hydration levels… With all the training, I’m more susceptible to getting dehydrated, especially with coffee all day. The last one I had shortly after RRR was horrific. Anyway. Get after it.

  9. I needed this today! You’re right, feeling sorry for yourself (i.e. myself) doesn’t help. I’m glad you are back running this week and feel even the tinniest bit of relief. We have to remind ourselves that there are the bad times, even if they last for months, and the good times will come again, even if it doesn’t seem like it now. And don’t blame yourself for this flare-up – chronic pain is not your fault, and while it seems like we can do so much to try and control it the reality is that we can’t always. Hindsight is 20/20, and it’s too easy to look back now and be frustrated. Learn from it yes, but stay positive like you always do 🙂 You’ll be ready for Ouray for sure

  10. Ohhh Lynn, I am so moved by this post. Day to day pain and motivation are intertwined and the fact that you’re aware of the “cure” is a huge achievement in itself. And perhaps find solace in “you’ve been here before” and always bounce back. Go easy on the self shaming–you’re doing great, as you are. Sending love from New York 😉 and I’m happy to check in with you in the same manner– it motivates me too!! We all need friends to boost us. Here for you always.

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