There’s been some talk about exercise and chronic illness in the last few weeks. Before the fundraiser officially kicks off this Saturday, September 1st, our PR Director & Pact Blog Editor Samantha has some tips for exercising safely!
With the virtual run fundraiser coming up, I wanted to take some time to talk about exercise and chronic illness. I will always consider myself a runner; even on the days I’m unable to, due to whatever illness decides to flare that day. I remember my first run. It was over three years ago. I was still learning how to manage life with gastroparesis. (Plus, I’d never been a runner so there’s that) I had decided I wanted more, and I pushed myself a little more. I didn’t push hard, I went slow and steady. Slowly but surely I got myself moving; and my body responded positively. Don’t get me wrong. The recovery was painful as hell. I was in a lot of pain during, and after. There were many days I didn’t want to, and a lot of days I walked more than I ran. Did I give up? HELL NO. I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy, and I knew that I couldn’t get mad when I wasn’t able to do something as fast as a healthy person.
I’ve been running on and off for three years. While I’ll forever consider myself a runner, my health has certainly taken it from me more often than I’d like. There were many days I had to accept that I just couldn’t do it; my body just wasn’t able even though mentally it was all I wanted. The summer of 2016 I was at my best. I was at a ten minute mile, which given my health conditions, I was really happy with. I could eat a bit better. While this isn’t the case for everyone, I feel that my digestion truly benefits from being active, especially running. I was up at the crack of dawn at least five days a week to run. It was pure hell some days. Some days I hit snooze too many times. Some days, I said forget it! and slept in. It never got easier. I did my best to listen to my body. Running actually really helped me develop a good relationship with my body. I learned when to push, when to slow down, and when to stop. Admittedly, I’m still learning how to not push too hard, but hey, I’m human.
I post a lot about my running journey on my blog. I realize when I’m out and about, and manage to get myself on the trail, I’m having a decent day. But that’s not always the case. Just because I can do things some days, doesn’t mean everything is okay, or that I’m not sick anymore. It’s a struggle for me every time. I’ve had more than one person ask me “how do you do it?” and honestly, I don’t know. I just do.What I do know is that there is no feeling like finishing a run, especially when I didn’t think I could. I prove myself wrong every run that I don’t think I can finish. Just because you may not be a runner, or able to do consistent physical activity doesn’t mean you’re not capable of amazing things. We are all on different paths, and anyone who is fighting chronic illness is a WARRIOR.
So here’s my advice.
Start small. Don’t expect to do what you could prior to illness. If you want to run, start walking. Walking is one of the best forms of exercise, and a great place to start; even if you don’t go that far.
Let someone know what you’re doing. I NEVER go out for a run or walk without letting somewhere know when I’m leaving, where I’m going, and when I’m done. While it’s good for general safety, it’s also important for someone to know in case anything happens. If I pass out, and I haven’t checked in, my mom knows where I am to call for help if I can’t. This is also why I wear bright colors when I’m outdoors. I’m pretty sure someone would question the bright orange lump on the ground!
Have a plan. Don’t just jump in. Test your limits a bit first. Like I mentioned above, if you want to run, find a plan to help you get started. There are a lot of resources online, or you can start one yourself.
TRACK EVERYTHING. And I mean everything! How you felt, where you went, how far, what you ate, how you recovered, etc. I can tell you from experience there were so many days that I felt like I sucked, and nothing was changing, and I wasn’t getting better or stronger. I look back on where I was a few weeks ago, and instantly, I saw progress. Sometimes our heads can mess with us, and seeing it down on paper, (or an app) is a fantastic way to remind yourself how freaking amazing you are! And if you’re anything like me, you’ll bring those progress sheets to show your doctor with a huge grin on your face.
Find what fuel you need. Many runners, especially on long runs need fuel. With GP, and similar diseases, fueling your body is one of the most difficult things to do. If you’re not getting enough nutrition, expelling too much energy can be dangerous. If it’s hot out, and you’re likely to sweat a lot but can’t handle liquids, it may be best to call it a rest day. It’s a lot of trial and error for me to figure out what worked. I used to run first thing in the morning before I attempted any food or drink. I actually didn’t drink much, but would swish water around in my mouth and spit it back out. It was the only way I could get through it. I’ve also run while hooked up to hydration in a backpack! Now, I need to have something to eat prior to any exercise. I usually wait about 45 minutes after before starting. Adapting to what you need is key!
And the most important thing, find what you love. If you HATE to run, you don’t have to make yourself do it. Studies show that people are more likely to stick to an exercise routine when they love what they do. Like to dance? Try zumba! Like to lift? Pick things up and put them down! Like cardio? Run! Like to hike? Do it! Do what makes your heart feel good, because I can promise you, it will help take you further than you ever thought possible.
Don’t forget, our Virtual 5K/10K race starts on 9/1! You have 16 whole days to complete your mileage! Do it where you feel most comfortable and safe. It’s not about how fast you get to the finish! It’s about doing what YOU can, and we’re really excited to have you join us. I’ll be doing the race on 9/15; let me know if you are too and we can cheer each other on! Sign up at www.moremilesraces.com