My name is Jo Gifford – designer, writer, blogger, novice runner and endo warrior. I have chronic endometriosis and chronic fatigue; I live in a body that is hugely challenged by pain and exhaustion, so this post is from my humble perspective of training with a chronic illness.
Endometriosis is a condition which affects one in ten women, so it is likely that most people reading this will know of someone who lives with it. Effectively, the womb lining cells also grow elsewhere in the pelvic cavity of a woman with endometriosis, and bleed throughout the month. The internal bleeding causes scar tissue, adhesions and inflammation. In short, my insides are all stuck together and it hurts like hell.
Endo affects my life in many ways – coping with pain and the associated fatigue is a balancing act between knowing when to push forward and brave it, or when to let my body rest.
I was chosen last year by that delicious creature (Spikes & Heels creator) Bangs and a Bun to be part of a phenomenal group of women, Team Bangs on the Run 2 and with their support I ran my very first ever half marathon in September 2011. This feat remains one of the proudest moments of my life so far, as when I crossed the line after 13.1 miles I knew that the condition which has kept me in bed so often over the years did not stop me from being a champion in my own world on that day.
I am currently training for my second one in October, alongside a 40k bike ride in September, all to raise money for Endometriosis UK.
Training for a run with a chronic illness is tricky; my schedule might say I am due for an 8 mile run today yet my body says I am good for nothing except bed, Redbush tea and painkillers. I need to choose my moments carefully, and have learned to listen more acutely to my body – as such I make a terrible training partner. I have heard many runners say “you never feel worse for going out for a run”, but in my scenario it’s very often that case that I could feel an awful lot worse if I go for a run when my pain or energy just isn’t up to it. A run can knock me out for a week if my energy is depleted, and as a self employed mum of twin toddlers, I just can’t afford to do that. I have to plan my runs around other factors of life – for example, I know that if I am able to do a longer run, say 8, 9 10 miles, that if the chronic fatigue kicks in after the exertion ( usually a day or two later), that I will need to make sure I have help on hand to look after my children, to be able to work, to carry on with daily activities.
I have learned to train with the knowledge that on the actual race day I might not be able to get to the race venue, let alone run it, which is psychologically tough. Last year I was booked onto a 10k run in London with a dear friend, but on the day I simply couldn’t move, let alone get on the train to go and run 6 miles. The very next day I went out there and ran the same distance – it all depends on the lottery of endometriosis and when it chooses to flare up.
For me, training with a chronically pained and ill body is all about the journey. I find that I need a race or event to keep me focused on putting my trainers on, and for every run or bike session that I am out there, I feel like I have won. Running helps my mind, it combats the dark depression that can take hold if I am housebound, and on the days when I am able to clock up some mileage those endorphins are the best pain relief on the market.
What I found as part of Team Bangs 2 was that the days of enforced rest in bed became less frustrating as I knew that soon it would pass and I would be out there again feeling strong, fit, and capable. Chronic illness takes so much away from me but the determination to succeed is a fire it just can’t douse yet.
I have bought yoga into my training mix now, and combine cardio with yoga classes which really rejuvenate me in body and mind. I had to have 6 months out from exercise when I followed a particularly harsh treatment for endo last Autumn, so now I am slowly building my miles back up to aim for my next half and 40k bike ride. As always I know I might not get there, but my focus on the event and doing the best I can is all I can ask of myself.
Until we can find a cure or better management for my condition I will probably always struggle with balance, and I doubt I will be able to stick to a training plan to the letter. But, I persevere and make my own way through it and I long for those moments of glorious fulfilment when I achieve a distance I never thought I could do.
I would dearly love to run a marathon one day, and to inspire others with endo and chronic pain to get out there and exercise when they can; exercise is essential for all of us for body and mind, and I am damned if a simple thing like my body sticking itself together on the inside is going to stop me from enjoying it.
Do you train with a chronic illness? What strategies do you have in place to help?
Wishing you health and pretty trainers,