It’s time. I’ve stretched. I’ve rolled out every inch of my being on the foam roller. I’ve hydrated. I’ve eaten. I’ve got anything else I need ready. Here begins one of the best parts of my day. Time to lace up the two most beautiful running shoes before me that help carry my entire body. They feel every movement, every pause, every tempo and every pain that flows through my body with each step. I grab my phone, my watch, my cycling jacket, my buff and ball cap. As I begin, I take in the deepest breath. It’s as if I can feel my breath go to the center of my soul now. I exhale slowly. ‘Thank you for this life, for every step and for every breath I am given’ I whisper under my breath. I soon find my rhythm. I find my peace. I find exactly where I want to be. As I begin another journey, I find my lips forming into the biggest smile as joy fills my heart. Let’s do this.
A dear friend the other day referred to me as a “runner.” It’s quite funny. I never thought I’d ever hear that word be associated with me, let alone consider myself one. Growing up, I didn’t exercise. I didn’t participate in sports. I hated PE class with a passion. I was slow, always coughing, embarrassed for my cough, and known as “little Michelle.” I was teased at times by classmates for my size and lack of physical strength. Nobody wanted me on their team and honestly I didn’t blame them. I remember my freshman year in high school having to complete a mile for our final. I thought I might die. I didn’t want to do it. I finished last. I loathed every moment of that mile. I despised anything exercise related. I just wanted to play piano, read books, write stories, sing in the church choir and be with my friends and family. In college, the trend continued. I focused on piano, the organ, studied for my classes, my major, sang in Concert Choir and prayed I stayed healthy enough to graduate, earn my degree and enter adulthood.
A few years after finishing college (1999) I joined a small, local gym in the town I lived in at the time. I tried running for the first “actual” time. I still felt resentment towards it. We were not going to be friends. I discovered yoga and weights, and loved both. Soon I began riding a mountain/hybrid bike. So much easier than running! That became my focus: ride my bike, yoga, and weights. I remember completing a 25 mile ride. It felt so good! My lungs and body awakened. I wanted more of that feeling. I was 24 years old and little did I know this awakening was soon to be a huge part of my life that was missing.
Jump to 2011. Social media. I actually joined that world in 2008. I became friends with others who lived with CF doing all these amazing fitness-related accomplishments. I was in awe! My constant inspirations. Runners, riders, power lifters, yoga teachers, triathletes. I wanted to jump on the band wagon. I tried running again with a new determination. Walking and running intervals. I kept putting one foot in front of the other and a willingness to keep going. My motivation: if my friends can do this while also living with CF, so can I. A beloved friend of mine challenged me to start running 100 miles a month. She and I did this, miles away from each other, for 6 months. She also had CF. She was my biggest cheerleader to run for these lungs. We encouraged each other daily. I miss her dearly. I carry her in my heart every day.
It wasn’t a stroll in the park when I began. I wanted to give up so many times when my lungs were screaming at me to stop. But with each step, I discovered what I needed. A sense of normalcy. To breathe a bit easier. To feel strong! It became this magnificent escape allowing me to forget in those minutes and miles that I live with cystic fibrosis. With each cough and spit, I would smile and think to myself “Yeah, that’s right… you don’t live in my lungs anymore you bastard. Take that CF!” As I endured the pain, the courage, the powerful relief it provided me, I knew I didn’t want to stop. Who had I become? I just wanted to keep going. It’s never been about losing weight, winning that race, or to impress anyone. I aim only to impress my lungs. I wanted to make them as tough as possible. With each step and breath, I wanted to add life to my days.
Present day. I love running. It is forever my outlet. I love how freeing it is for my mind, body, lungs (literally!) and heart. It is pure therapy for my soul. I’ve found myself running longer distances. Distances I never ever imagined I was capable of. I find refreshment in how far I can push my body, my lungs and my legs. I love a challenge. Challenges bring self satisfaction in overcoming obstacles and digging deep within yourself as your eyes remain on your goal. I had a short episode where I didn’t run, I took a break. I permitted life to take over. Mental health took a dive. Lung function took a dive. I paid for it with the ramifications of my inactivity. I refuse to allow that to happen ever again. My life depends on it. My lungs depend on it. The overall benefits of running are limitless. It helps fight heart disease and diabetes, maintain proper blood pressure, boost confidence, fight depression, strengthen your core, reduce bone/ muscle deterioration, and overall keep a person healthy. I know it has contributed to me still being alive in my 40’s, living with Cystic Fibrosis and having my original lungs.
Even though I’m soon to start month #2 on Trikafta, my exercise regime continues. I am feeling a different kind of energy and vigor during my workouts. I truly hope for long-term stability in where I am. I will certainly take it and my gratitude cup will continue to overflow. I’ve had many emotional break downs. All from the fact that since Trikafta, running feels easier. Working out feels easier. I am breathing easier. It’s amazing. I just want to run faster, workout harder, jump higher, climb mountains and throw big objects. Not necessarily in that order. My legs and body are having difficulty keeping up with my lungs. How is this happening, again? Is this maybe my new normal? I learned this past week I’ve to pace myself. I over-stressed my sacrum (where I have degenerative arthritis). It’s vital I pace myself in everything, to slow down a bit. Wait, what? This leaves me baffled because for me, my “pace” has always been mediocre to slow to just finishing even if I have to crawl. Finishing is winning, by the way. No matter what the pace.
All I’ve ever known is what I’ve only known. I’ve kept going despite the decline in my lung function, pain in my left lower lung from scar tissue and just a few months ago needing 3 weeks of IV antibiotics for an exacerbation. Pain nourishes courage. Never forget that. During the toughest times, my desire to never stop only multiplies. I know I will still feel pain. I will still struggle. And I will keep going. This is my health, my life. With each run, ride, training…I find myself again. I find a purpose, an inner peace with each breath, with every drop of sweat….I find what life means, what life is, and that you can do anything you put your mind to.
It is a thrilling thought to see where Trikafta may take me. I’m trying to not be overly optimistic. It’s still overwhelming emotionally at times to accurately articulate the feelings I feel when it comes to all of this. Registered running events are already written in stone and on the tablet of my heart for 2020. No matter where I find myself, running / exercise is my constant source of life affirmation and contentment. As long I have breath in my lungs, I will keep going. I feel a renewed spirit since Trikafta. I want to shout from the mountain tops my joy and gratitude. And please, will someone come along and pinch me?
Here is a little something I wish to share. I wrote this many months ago (pre-Trikafta) immediately following a run. When feelings flood my soul, I must write.
When nothing makes sense, I run.
When things are crumbling around me, I run.
When I can’t stand the noise of life anymore, I run.
When anger enters my mind, I run.
When fuck yous are everywhere, I run.
When sadness fills my soul, I run.
When I want to feel normal, I run.
I run to release.
I run to feel free.
I run to believe.
I run to be me.
I run to be strong.
I run to replace wrong.
I run for my lungs.
I run for my life.
The path turns to gold with every step.
No more noise.
Only joy in my breath.
My heart races.
My soul smiles.
I soak it in.
All is well again.
I am alive.