Thursday, January 16, 2014

How Narcolepsy Turned Me Into a Marathon Runner

I ran my first marathon a little over three years ago. I was diagnosed with narcolepsy only a little over two years ago. If it wasn’t for narcolepsy, I probably wouldn’t have become a marathoner. 

Very few people know about narcolepsy; including doctors. So when I asked doctors why I am tired all the time even though I sleep A LOT, I kept getting vague answers like: 

You’re over stressed.

You may be depressed. 

You’re too active.

You’re not active enough. 

I was active. I was a long distance cyclist and picked up running to stay fit during the off season. But I did notice I’d do good with my workouts for the first part of the week but by Wednesday I could barely drag myself out the door, let alone get in a decent workout. 

I thought it was just me not being enthusiastic about working out several days a week, or being over worked, or not having the will power. So, I thought, maybe if I could just be consistent with my workouts; if I could just stick to workouts three times a week, I wouldn’t be tired all the time. After all, you always hear that working out gives you energy. 

But what would motivate me to stick to the plan no matter what? After some thought, I decided I needed to sign up for a marathon. Well, not just sign up for a marathon, but also join a team so I wouldn’t be able to drop out of training unnoticed. So I did. And it worked. 

When you are staring down the barrel of a marathon race, you will not skip your workouts! So even later in the week I would drag myself out the door and run. So it worked to keep me more consistent with my workouts. And when I ran, I felt alert and ‘normal’ for an hour or so afterwards. So that was great! 

But the everyday tiredness persisted. So while training for a marathon gave me temporary relief from the excessive sleepiness, my day to day symptoms were unchanged. 

Finally, I was able to find a doctor that didn't write me off and we found the true reason for my excessive tiredness. But that's a whole other story, which you can find here.

But for now, I'll keep running..... 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Shut Up Already!

A message for all of us and one we should share. Our bodies are amazing with all it can do. We should revere it; rather than revile it. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Why You Should NEVER Cheer "You're lapping everyone on the couch!" to a Back-of-the-Pack Runner.

First and foremost, thank you race spectators who cheer for complete strangers! Especially those of you who are still there at the end when us back-of-the-packers are coming in. It’s quite a let-down to be running a long course only to see pretty much everyone has gone home when you’re still working through the last segment. And honestly, it does so much good to have someone there cheering for you to keep going and shouting other greetings of encouragement to you. It really does help!

But please! Oh please, I beg you do NOT call out ….”You’re beating everyone on the couch!!!!!!!!!!!!”

That ‘cheer’ will shut me down faster than falling on my face! I HATE it! I will even go so far as say it OFFENDS me greatly. I cringe when a well-meaning spectator shouts it at me and I have to smile (with my teeth clinched) and pretend it encouraged me.

It didn’t.


I don’t give a flying fig if I’m faster than a freakin’ couch potato!!!! What’s praise-worthy about that? Oh, you got off your couch today! Hurrah!


Of course, I’m beating those who didn’t try! That’s nothing to be proud of. There’s no challenge in that.

What IS challenging is that I have gone to bed early every weekend. I have declined late night invitations from friends. I’ve passed up good beers and tempting junk food.  Lived a life of basically only the following activities: eat, sleep, work, train; for how ever many weeks it took to train for this particular race. 

I did hill repeats, speed work, long runs, farleks, tempo runs. Balanced training loads to avoid injury and if I didn’t do a good balancing job I may have rehabbed an injury during training and still made it to race day intact. I balanced the demands of work/family/fundraising and still got in my runs. And in my particular case, I have to do it all while trying to manage my narcolepsy.

THAT is praise worthy. Beating someone sitting on a couch is not.

I wonder if this particular phrase started for us back-of the-packers because people see us waddling along at the back of the pack and assume we’re new to running. Maybe they think all of us are doing our first race. Do they see our slower bodies trudging down the course and assume we feel bad that we aren’t in one of the top ten places? Do they assume the ones in the back wish they could beat someone for once? Anyone?

I’ve been running for six or so years. (I forgot when I started running). I have completed three marathons, a century ride, and have lost count of how many metric rides and half marathons I’ve done. This is not my first race. I have been off my couch a very long time. 

I think I get offended when people yell “You’re beating everyone on the couch.” because it makes me feel like that person assumes I’m out of shape because I’m heavy and coming in at the back. It makes me feel like they can’t imagine I’m fit and seasoned and a true athlete.

Even if they are assuming that, can I blame them? What do they know about me except for what they see? And I think many of those spectators aren’t runners themselves. So they may not realize that there are a lot of runners out there that don’t aspire to place in the top ten. That many runners love to run for other reasons that are much more fulfilling for them.

So yeah, I know their hearts are in the right place and I am only bothered due to my own ego-centric weaknesses. But I never claimed to be ‘enlightened’ or objective. Especially in the final miles of a marathon or other long distance course when most runners (even the fast ones) can find themselves feeling a little……fragile.

So well-meaning spectator, please keep cheering on those strangers. ESPECIALLY us in the back! May I offer, however, some alternatives to the couch potato reference? 

How about:

“Good job!” 

“Keep it up!”

“You’re doing great!!”

Yep. It doesn’t take much to encourage this back-of-the-packer.  Just don’t mention the d@mn couch!