My first race back after transplant was a local one mile race, three and a half months after the op - a whole year ago now! I'd never raced a mile before and was blissfully unaware of how much pain I was about to enter for four hundred and forty three loooong seconds. Even so I was crazy nervous about the race, scared at how my body might react, and overwhelmed to be running with so many people again. Thankfully my biggest supporter, Paul, was right by my side.
My memory is shocking and yet I remember that race so clearly. I started faster than I intended and for a third of a mile I held it...and I thought 'yes, YES, I'm going to do this, I'm stronger than I thought!' But the mile is a cruel distance and though I pushed every fibre in my legs to keep turning over and grimaced through the unbelievable hurt (which was exactly that, un-bloody-believable), my pace dropped unceremoniously and the my time clocked in at 7:23.
I remember that familiar feeling of suddenly being unable to swallow, choking on deep breaths to try and stop the tears. It's easy to look back now and think - but you did it, your first race post op! You raced hard, you didn't give up, you finished! But at the time what was hitting me was the realisation of just how extraordinarily far I had to go to get back to normal, and it was soul destroying.
It was in moments like these (or being truthful I should say it is in moments like these because they get fewer, but they still creep in) that I couldn't fathom how and why this unexpected, unexplained, horrible thing had happened to me. I looked around at all the other runners, patting each other on the backs, comparing times and experiences - just as I used to do back when everything was normal and life was something I happily took for granted.
But running was something that I had ached for from my hospital bed and I wanted it back, so I learned what I needed to from the mile. I took core exercise more seriously, focussed on looking after my whole body rather than just getting angry at my heavy legs, and bit by tiny bit, running came back to me.
It seemed only fitting that I enter the very same mile race one year on and it couldn't have been more different. This year it was just another race, the second that week even - I couldn't have imagined ever being that casual about a race again! It hurt every bit as much as last time, as it should, but I felt in control. I crossed the line smiling and casually compared times with my fellow club mates as we congratulated each other. I'd achieved a sub 6 minute mile. I was once again one of those normal runners I'd longed to be a year ago, running care free. I could see the other me looking over at us, embarrassed by her time and with tears in her eyes, and I couldn't quite believe how much difference a year makes. Last year I wouldn't let myself even dare to dream I could get back to this.
I know I was relentlessly hard on myself during recovery, but I think that was probably the right thing for me, not giving myself too much time to question or to dwell. If you're in a similar place, that may well be the right thing for you too, or it might not be right at all. Recover at your pace, we're all so different and there's no right method. What I will say though, is remember to look back as often as you can to remind yourself how far you've come. I was blown away by how different this race was for me in just one small year. The changes we experience are so minute that we barely notice them day to day, I really needed to do this race, to give myself an enormous cuddle and high five. I feel very proud of myself and I don't tend to say that very often.
Photos last year and this year - this year I took the race so casually I didn't even pose for a pic - how wonderful it is to be able to take such an event so nonchalantly! Having said that, there's not really a moment in my life that I don't feel overwhelmingly grateful for. Grateful that I get to be here and live the life I want to live, be strong and healthy enough to do it all. I'll never really be a runner like I was before, because thankfully I no longer take a thing for granted. And that's the real reason I race twice in a week, because right now I can, and who knows how long I'll have that for. #runbecauseyoucan
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