Nobody said that running that marathon that you signed up for was going to be easy! As you hit the halfway mark your body begins to give you all the different signs that it’s being pushed to its very limits. Your legs begin to cramp and get sore, and your heart and lungs pick up speed in trying to supply your body with the oxygen that it needs. The more you train and prepare your body the less these things will affect you. Ok! So I’m sounding like some type of an expert! I’ve only ever run one so-called marathon in my life and that was a 10k when I was 16. Does that even qualify as a marathon? Lol! I hadn’t prepared at all for the run, and being the (know it all teenager I was), I drank two raw eggs figuring that would give my body the energy it needed.
So how is living with chronic illness compared to that of a marathoner? The relationship is through how you prepare mentally and physically. This might seem like a strange comparison but hopefully, I can outline things well enough that you can see the point I’m trying to make. The more I started comparing the two, the more I started to see similarities between running a marathon and living with a chronic illness. My hope is that you to see the comparison, and in some way take away pieces of it that might help in your own journey.
There are a lot of different ways that a marathon runner prepares for or even runs the race itself. There are three however that I really want to concentrate on in this piece today. Those are incorporating mindfulness strategies, finding a distraction, and building a support network. All three of these areas cross over from running into the world of chronic illness that we live in.
A runner practices what is called mindful running. This is where they connect their breath to their bodies. Don’t ask me about the mechanics involved with this! Although I think I can pretty much figure that out. Lol! When the two are combined performance is increased, injuries are prevented, and the experience of running is enjoyed more. How anyone can find running enjoyable I’ll never understand!!!
So when it comes to chronic illness this same concept of connecting breath to the body is used just for different reasons. In managing my chronic illness I apply mindfulness strategies such as breathing and biofeedback to help manage my symptoms and my pain. These breathing exercises help to regulate my nervous system which is a big part of the problem. They help me decrease flare-ups and help me balance out the other symptoms. In other words, like the runner who’s performance is bettered when they to use breathing techniques my quality of life gets better when I’m using them.
As I mentioned before I don’t have any experience as a runner and probably never will because of my CRPS. However, you don’t have to be all that smart to figure out that there can be physical pain associated with running. Most runners will tell you that they have to find ways to distract themselves from intense physical pain. After doing some research I discovered a runner who encourages his athletes to play a game called “One Shirt at a Time”. The basic idea of the game is to look out in front of you, find a line of runners, and count them. Then you start reeling them in or passing them “one shirt at a time”.
Just like a runner who suffers from physical pain, a person living with CRPS has to manage intense chronic pain. So you need to find ways to distract yourself so that you don’t focus on the pain. This is just another tool in my toolkit that helps me manage chronic illness. For me, that means getting absorbed in a hobby like photography. My love for photography helps me take focus away from the constant pain and try and direct it somewhere else. It doesn’t mean that I will be pain-free. The point is that this is all about mental attitude and the ability to take your mind off of the pain.
Building A Support Network
In both running and living with CRPS building a support network is important. When a person runs a marathon often they have friends and family to help them along the way. They might even be from within the running community that they may belong to. They place themselves at various places along the route and of course, show up at the finish line. The support along the way is a constant encouragement and can be the motivation that a person might need to get them through difficult times or just simply to the end of the marathon.
Like a runner, a person living with CRPS has to build a network of supporters as well. Again, this might be through family, friends, or through the chronic illness community. Even though the support might be shown in a very different way, the principles of encouraging and motivating stay the same. This is yet another tool that is vital if I am going to manage my illness. Whether its support from family or an online community of some type. That help becomes an important part of getting me through those hard moments when things seem next to impossible.
Taking on an illness such as CRPS can very much feel like your running a marathon. There are times where you wonder if you will ever get to the end of the race. Both physically and mentally you push your body to its very limit just as a runner does. As you get further and further down the road on your run your body begins to tire, and your urge to give in can get so much stronger. Using these three simple tools help me keep placing one foot in front of the other. Am I going to reach the end of the marathon? There isn’t a doubt in my mind!