Finding “Me” Again by Kellie Gibson

A question people often ask me is “how is your running going?” This is an inevitable question for me to be asked because everyone who knows me knows that I love to run! This has been a particularly difficult question for me to answer in these last 6 months.

You see my love of running began when my husband Wes talked me into running our local 7.5km Fun Run the Edgell Jog back in September 2012. Back then I participated in other sports, and kept myself fit but I was very reluctant to enter.  Confidence is not something that comes to me naturally, in fact I have never been a super confident person and I remember saying things like “No way, I can’t run in public!” and “people will stare at me, how embarrassing I will probably come last!” I remember Wes laughing at me telling me not to be so silly and looking back now I realise just how silly it was! The race was to be held on a Sunday and I remember on the Friday 2 days before the race I mapped out an 8km course and ran just to make sure I could even run that far and of course I could! So I got home and said to Wes “Ok I can run that far, lets register me!”

Off I headed to the start line, I didn’t know what to expect, as I had never done anything like this.  I ran and completed the 7.5km in 36.32 which everyone kept telling me was a great time considering I had never done anything like that before.  I will never forget how I felt after that run, I was on a real high and was very thankful to Wes for pushing me to enter, if I had of continued to protest and not have run, who knows where I would be now…

That run definitely fuelled my love of running and it all started form there.  I started to head out for a run most days, only short distances and I never had a gps watch back then so I never kept track of performances.  3 months after the Edgell Jog once again Wes talked me into my next event, which was to be my first Trail Running event, the Running Wild Wentworth Falls Race.  I entered the 13km Short course and remember being very excited to run on the trails.  This was a lot different to the type of running I had experienced so far and I LOVED it!  I really had begun to love running in general but Trail Running – this was something else!

Glenbrook Marathon (36)

Quite quickly running became a huge part of my life, Wes and I were attending a lot of races, meeting a lot of new people and it was great, I had developed a new confidence and I was genuinely loving life! I got my Garmin in January 2013 and I found that this was even further motivation for me, I had been running purely for enjoyment until this point but found that having stats and seeing major improvements in time and performance just in the space of a month fuelled my passion for running even more, my motivation was through the roof.

I started to set some goals for the year and ticked them off one by one completing my first road 10km in 46:53 in Orange, my first Half in 97:23 in Bathurst and then my first Marathon in 3:46.30 in Mudgee, with many other runs in between. All was on track to complete my first Ultra at Kanangra (50km) which was my major goal for the year, everything so far was a build up to this and had gone to plan and I felt on top of the world!  Unfortunately Kanangra was called off due to bush fires.  Keen to complete my goals for the year I shifted my focus to the only other viable Ultra option on the calendar for 2013 – The Carcoar Cup 60km Ultra, it was an extra 10km than Kanangra but I had a few extra weeks to prepare so I wasn’t overly concerned.

The Lead up to Carcoar didn’t go quite to plan, a puncture wound to my foot, not being able to run for two weeks before the race, still turning up to the start line and a disappointing DNF at 42km, my Ultra in 2013 was not be! I was so disappointed but it couldn’t be changed.

A week after Carcoar I started to feel some throbbing on the top of my 2nd Metatarsal, it was a scarily similar feeling to when I had a stress fracture in the same bone but on my other foot years earlier before I became a runner.  I went off the Physio and it was confirmed that I had what he called a Stress Reaction, which he said was where the bone had become very broken down and brittle but it hadn’t actually cracked yet.  So even though I had dodged a major bullet and didn’t end up with a stress fracture I was devastated that I needed to have 6 weeks off running!

Cross Training it was for 6 weeks! I hit the gym everyday, cycling, elliptical training, rowing, I was keen to keep my fitness up for a smooth transition back to running. 6 weeks of cross training but the pain was still there! To be honest I didn’t enjoy hitting the gym at all, I just wanted to be outside and running, I just didn’t get the same feeling from it that I did from running and I lost a fair bit of motivation and my visits became less frequent.  It ended up being almost 8 weeks before I could start running again.

Being able to finally run again felt great but it was short lived, I ended up with an ITB injury and then Shin Splints, all the issues were happening in the same leg which made it obvious that after my initial injury I had ended up with some biomechanical issues! I kept trying to do too much too soon, I wanted to get back out there and do what I loved so badly!

After finally rehabbing the injuries properly and some great advice and a program from my running buddy Shan who happens to be an excellent Exercise Physiologist, I was getting back into running properly again in June.  My results started to improve again and I felt like I was getting back to my normal self again – woo hoo, finally!

In July I started my Saturday long runs with Shan again and started training with Peta once a week as well.  Having two people who were faster than me as training partners was so beneficial, I started to get my 10km time down, training was going well and I was building back up again!

In November I had decided to head back to Carcoar to compete in the Half Marathon this time.  I had a great run, far from my best time but a real sign that I was on my way back.  I remember crossing the finish line and I kept running over to Wes who said “um you can stop running now, its over” but I had something exciting to tell him, I had just done my first ever sub 4 minute km in the second last km! I was over the moon, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. Such a bitter sweet day for me, one year on from where it all fell apart exactly one year earlier it was just coming together again!

In the week following Carcoar I had a terrible outbreak of pimples, this had happened to me a year earlier but my Dr had prescribed antibiotics for 6 months and changed my Contraceptive Pill and it went away.  But now it was back, I had a lot of issues dealing with the acne because I had never had it in my life, not even as a teenager. I became really self conscious about it and I just wanted to hide, it really got me down. Back to the Dr I went and I was prescribed a different anti-biotic this time.

Within 3 days of taking my antibiotic if felt so sick and dizzy all the time, I contemplated stopping taking it but I wanted to see if my body got used to it and I was really keen to clear up my acne.  I persisted for a month with it until I had had enough I just couldn’t do it anymore.  While I was taking the antibiotic my performance dropped significantly, my heart rate became really erratic. I was sure once I stopped the medication I would be fine.  A month later, my performance was still terrible, most of my runs were averaging a minute to a minute and a half longer per km than they were in the month before I had started the medication.  It was really getting me down, running became a major frustration for me as opposed to something I enjoyed.  Running didn’t feel like it used to, it became such a struggle.  I persisted in the constant hope that I would find that feeling again of why I loved to run so much!

Many months passed and I kept running but there was no change, I had been back and forward to the Dr, I was still having issues with an erratic heart rate while I was running, feeling more and more fatigued as time went on and eventually finding it hard to even get out of bed.  This made me start to get really depressed and I was finding it hard to function particularly as a mum and with running my own business. It was really starting to impact my whole family.  I had been sent for countless blood tests and each time they kept coming back all clear! It was getting frustrating, each time I had a test done I was hoping they would find something, I got to the point where I didn’t even care what that something might be, I knew that things weren’t right and that if I could just get a answer then I could start the process of getting better. I was sent to the Cardiologist for an Echocardiograph, then an Exercise Stress Test and then I had to wear a Halter Monitor for 24hours and do a 2 hour run while wearing it.  Thankfully all of these tests on my heart came back clear and it was determined that I had a very strong and healthy heart.  While this was such a relief, I was still dealing with all of these issues that were getting progressively worse and left thinking what could it be?!

Finally at the end of March a test was done on my hormone levels and it was determined that my Testosterone levels were at an extreme low. Interestingly they had a result on file from a previous test from a few years ago and my levels had decreased by over 75%, which my Dr described as very alarming.  So from there I was diagnosed with an Endocrine disorder.  After doing my research I realised just how important a role hormones play in our bodies, they basically act as chemical messengers to various parts of our bodies and if the messages aren’t getting sent correctly the whole body suffers and does not function as it should.  Testosterone is primarily a male hormone, women produce this hormone is much smaller amounts but it is still vital for the female body to function efficiently.  The main side effects of having low testosterone are muscle loss and weakness, lack of recovery and adaptations from training, bone weakness, fatigue which is unrivalled by sleep, mood swings and depression. Yep, that sounds like me!  After a bit more research I found that the Contraceptive Pill I had been prescribed is designed to block testosterone and that it was probably not a great option for me so I stopped taking it.

Within 2 weeks of not taking it I would say I went from feeling about 40% to feeling about 70%, which is still not ideal but it made such a massive difference to how I felt in such a short space of time! Getting out of bed was getting easier, the fatigue and brain fog was starting to clear! What a relief! The plan was to have my levels tested again one month after to see if it had made a difference. What good timing, it was now April and time for me to run in the Sky 26er at the Buffalo Stampede. Was I nervous? Yes! Even though I had still been able to train, the intensity and duration to get through an event like this in the manner I would have liked were impossible given my situation!  So I refocused my goals and realised it didn’t matter about what time I did, all that mattered was getting through it, crossing that finish line and getting a bit of confidence back.

A few days before the race it was announced that the course was going to be longer due to the need to change the route due to fire damage.  It went from 26km with 1555m elevation gain and loss to 32km with over 2000m elevation gain and loss! This made me more nervous but I was ever so keen to rise to the challenge to prove to myself that I could do this! I entered the race with the Mantra “This is going to make you strong again” I had to repeat this to myself so many times throughout the 5 hours and 12 minutes that it took me to complete the course, whenever I felt the slightest bit of pain or doubt I said to myself “This is going to make you strong again” and it shifted my focus. I have never entered a race with a mantra before, I had heard a lot of talk amongst other runners about race mantras and knowing this was going to be the toughest thing I had ever pursued in running I decided to give it a try. Did it work? Yes, it did! I think having such an emotional ride to the start line of this race allowed me to come up with a mantra that meant so much to me and I truly believe that the mental focus this gave me is what allowed me to finish so strong. Its amazing how you can be hurting so much but also be enjoying it so much at the same time, I was just really happy being out there doing what I love.  Being mentally strong during racing is one thing I have always struggled with and I think I really turned a corner that day!

Kel Buffalo

To be honest my recovery has been very slow since the Stampede, I fell into a bit of a heap the week after which shows that even though I am feeling better it is going to take a while for me to get back to where I need to be and I really need to be wary of doing too much too soon. But I would not change a thing, running in the Stampede was such a valuable experience for me, I learnt a lot about myself on that run. After months of believing that I couldn’t do things like that anymore, I gained the confidence that it really is possible that I can challenge myself to whatever I set my mind to and that being mentally strong can make such a difference in a tough situation.  I am sure I will be able to draw on this experience in future races.

Last week I came across a book which was on pre-order and was actually released only yesterday (26th April) “Healing The Grumpy Athlete”.  The book is written by Triathlon Coach Katee Pedicini who has been through a very similar situation to me.  Only a few pages into the book it had me in tears.  Katee wrote “In an attempt to fill the gaps of my life I found triathlon. I found identi­ty, I found confidence, I found joy, I found me.   So off I went filling the gaps of my life with hard arse training ses­sions and equally brutal races. I now had identity, confidence, joy and a sense of self – BUT, eventually I was robbed.  I was robbed of energy, vitality and motivation. My oestrogen was pulled one way and testosterone the other. My body responded with a hormonal mess of pimple break­outs, weight gain and endless tears.” As I read this tears rolled down my face, I was a sobbing mess! If you changed all of the triathlon references to running it was like Katee had found the perfect words to sum up my experience.

It has been a very emotional journey for me, one that I have largely kept to myself except for a few people that I knew I could trust.  I didn’t want to put it out there and use it as an excuse for bad performances. I think these days particularly on social media people put a lot of pressure on themselves and make excuses for bad performances, some are more legitimate than others but many use health as an excuse for missing the podium or for a goal not achieved, I didn’t want to look like another one of those but as a result I felt quite isolated in my experience.  My main reason for writing this is as a part of the healing process, I feel that my experience has taken so much out of me physically and emotionally and I am now ready to take it head on. Sometimes getting it all out is great therapy! I have only scratched the surface Katee’s book but believe that it will greatly assist me and further motivate me to overcome my issues.  A quote taken from the book will be my main motivation and I will remember this every time things get tough “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but building the new.” – Socrates. And that is exactly what I will be doing for the rest of the year, recovering and building the new. No time goals, no pressure just finding that balance and enjoying running again! I know that this experience will make me a much stronger person in the long run.

Lastly I would like to say what a caring and patient man I married, he has been there through every step of the mess that has been this last 6 months. He has been there through all the tears, the mood swings, the melt downs, the absent mindedness, and brain fog, he has picked me up every time I became unmotivated and helped me stay on track, he took over so many responsibilities with the kids that I became unable to cope with at times. He could have walked away so many times but he stuck by me every step of the way and I am forever grateful for this. I would also like to thank Shan for being an amazing friend, you were always there to listen and I thank you so much for all your support, its always the tough times that reveal true friends!

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