It’s been a little over a week since I finished my first half marathon and to be honest, it’s taken me this long to fully digest the experience. For me, this was more than just a half marathon race, which should be monumental enough, but it was much bigger to me than you may anticipate. Unbeknownst to pretty much everyone, with the exception of family and extremely close friends, I’ve been silently suffering from a rare kidney disease for years that was diagnosed 14 years ago. To make matters worse, in 2009 I was shockingly diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, a chronic pain illness that can be extremely debilitating. For roughly two years after my Fibro diagnosis, I was pretty much out of commission. I was in and out of hospitals, bed rest for most of the time and 25 lbs larger than my current weight. I was seeing some of the best renal and pain specialists in the city and they all unanimously concluded the same thing…that I would not be able to enjoy the active life I once lived and that they would just do what they could to keep me as comfortable as possible aka fill my body with so my pharmaceutical meds that I felt like I was in a coma. I spent majority of my life playing tennis at an international level, therefore being in excruciating pain everyday and hearing that my quality of life would never be the same, lead to a depression. Cue more meds from the docs. It was a mess. In a brief moment of clarity one day, I mustered up the energy to turn on my laptop in bed and started doing some research on how I could treat my condition in a way that was less taxing physically and emotionally than traditional medicine. After a few weeks it was clear it was going to come down to the following; 1) exercise/movement 2) alternative medicine 3) physical and mental therapy and 4) diet change. At this point, exercise felt like an outrageous goal…I couldn’t even walk to the bathroom without being in tears, but I read over and over again that doing at least 30 mins a day would not only stabilize the pain but also release endorphins which would ultimately help with the depression.
This was the birth of my running journey. Running was never something I previous enjoyed. I did it only when it was forced upon me by my tennis coaches and it was never long distances. You are probably wondering why the heck I would pick up distance running then. To be honest, it was easily accessible. I didn’t need a ton of gear to participate, it was something I could do by myself, I could just roll out the door and literally hit the ground running and it got me outside breathing fresh air. I began in June 2012 with humble beginnings – and I mean humble. I am actually crying as I write this. I could not even run around my block, but not once did I let this get me down. My first goal was to run 2K without stopping and once I tackled that I aimed for 5k. By the end of that summer I had gained the stamina and strength to run 10K without stopping. I was shocked and I think my family was too. With them and the help of an amazing well balanced medical team consisting of a Naturopath, Acupuncturist, Osteopath, Chiropractor, Nutritionist, Reiki Specialist, Cognitive Behavioural Therapist, and Pain Specialists, I was starting to feel better than I’ve felt in years. Not only that…I was now hooked to running. Oddly enough I told myself that one day I will be strong enough to run a half marathon but never said it to anyone, a tiny bit afraid people would think I am crazy. Fast forward to July 2014, after taking my training and running to a new level, I was given the opportunity to run in my first half marathon. A Nike Women’s Half Marathon at that…in San Francisco, legit probably just as difficult as running a full marathon because of hilly terrain.
Moments to never forget; pre-race with my tribe and our team making the Run Nike Women banner on the website and #WeRunSF mobile app
I had been running consistently before my #WeRunSF training officially started but I also utilized the amazing support provided by Nike Canada for myself and three other team members; Karen Kwan – Freelance Writer, Marathoner and Founder of Health and Swellness, Justine Iaboni – Features Editor for Kenton Magazine and Founder of Jetset Justine, and Melissa Greer – Digital Editor of Best Health Magazine; which consisted of special runs with Nike pacers, private NTC workouts with Master Trainer Eva Redpath, hydration and nutrition sessions at Greenhouse Juice Co, and I also used the Nike Women’s We Run SF training app that the brand developed specifically for the race. Up until the end of August, I was in a great place in my training until Labour Day weekend when I started to get a piercing sharp pain in my knee on my Saturday long run. Two weeks later I discovered that I developed an IT band injury that also resulted in lateral runner’s knee. The WORST! Thanks to Eva Redpath, I was hooked up with an awesome therapist who understood that not running the race wasn’t an option and between physio, acupuncture, massage, plenty of ice, a foam roller and reducing my runs from six to three days a week allowed me to get to that race in one piece. At this point my only goal should have been to cross that finish line but with my competitive nature, I of course internally set a time for myself to beat that I refused to share with anyone else. My Dad, knowing exactly how I am, sent me about 5 text messages from the night before the race until it was time for me to leave the hotel the next morning, reminding me that this is NOT the Olympics and to just take it easy on myself.
On race day I realized I made a rookie mistake…with all the excitement in the city, sight seeing with Karen, media team meals, time spent in Union Square at the Nike Women’s Expo Tent and our 3 mile shake out run by the Golden Gate Bridge, we had no time to drive through the route. I knew from the map and the time lapsed video on the Run Nike Women Facebook page that it was going to be primarily uphill but had no idea how ridiculously steep they were going to be. On a positive note though, we couldn’t have asked for better run weather. It was 16 degrees (celcius), extremely foggy for over half of the race, which sucked because I couldn’t take in the scenery but at least the sun wasn’t blazing down on me and a few km’s into the race a cool mist started to fall on the runners. I swear, it was like having a personal assistant spraying me with Evian Facial Spray. Even with these ideal circumstances, it didn’t make up for the hills we were facing. Please take note that none of these photos are actually taken on hills – probably because the photogs themselves didn’t want to make the trek. I was blessed to have my running bestie Karen beside me the entire way. For my first race, it was kind of awesome to have a seasoned marathoner to help keep my pace and guide me through the thousands of runners. This lady knows what she’s doing…although she did run this race after running a full marathon in Chicago a week before, which made her sanity questionable. Karen convinced me that this run was just for fun for her and that she had not studied the course either and mid race she pulled out a sheet of paper that appeared to be a crib sheet of some sort with scribbled handwriting. For the remainder of the race I was convinced she had a route cheat sheet that she was hiding from me…turned out it was just her pace band to help her run a personal best, so our friendship has remained in tact and all was forgiven 😉
I had no pace band for myself and had not gone through the course beforehand but I did have the Nike+ Running app, Nike+ SportsWatch GPS, Karen, plus the bands, cheerleaders and fans along the way for motivation. However, when I got to mile 10 I didn’t think I could go any further. I swear that hill was almost a mile long. My left leg was falling apart by that time, I was really fatigued and possibly was hitting a wall. It hurt. A lot. Climbing mountains; emotionally, mentally and physically was exhausting. I wanted to stop. I wanted the pain to go away…it didn’t but somehow I kept going. I thought of everything it took for me to get to this point. All of the pain, suffering and hardship I endured over the last 14 years. I thought of all of YOU. The kind words of encouragement each of you have said to me. The belief all of you had in me. Believe me when I say it took me up that final hill. When I crossed that finish line and was asked, “How do you feel?” all I could them the finish line crew was that I was thankful. I immediately checked the time on my app, which I knew was not entirely accurate but I was pleased to know that I had beat my goal time. My goal was to finish in two hours and I completed my first hilly half in 1:52:31 minutes. In out of 25,000 runners I came in 1,165 and placed in the top 4% in my age division. That was good enough for me but to be then rewarded with a gorgeous piece of jewellery from Tiffany & Co to commemorate the achievement was just the cherry on top of an already amazing sundae. My eyes still water and I get goosebumps when I think of it. This sport has played a role in saving me and has brought so much joy into my life. I have met so many phenomenal people through this journey from all over the world and developed a strong bond with the three ladies I shared this half marathon experience with. I hope by opening up about my health issues, it will motivate some of you to lace up and start running. If I could overcome my challenges, you can too. It was a tough road and only those who were along for the ride could marginally understand but some how I persevered…hence why I have the word “perseverance” tattooed on the inside of my right wrist. As a constant reminder of how far I have come. In the next few months I will continue to share more about my path to good health as I am sure it will be beneficial to you whether you’re faced with an illness or not. Reinvention is real. Start today. Own the pen to the story you’re writing!
Photography courtesy of Nike US, Alexander Liang of Kenton Magazine and my Instagram account
I would like to say a special thank you to the Nike Canada team; Claire Rankine, Danielle Gibson, Josh Graham for this opportunity, Eva Redpath, Nike NYC Running Coach Chris Bennett, all the Pacers, my boys from the Queen West Run Club who always push me to keep up with them, the supportive people at Vitamin Water and my medical team – you all have played an integral role in my training. Last but not least, my friends, family and strangers who have been my personal cheer squad every step of the way. One half marathon down…and plenty more to go!