Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Running Mindlessly (Kayla)

I went for a run today for the first time in ages, inspired by Kayla Montgomery (link to article and video). I did some short sprints as I can't tolerate exercise, heat, or being upright for long due to orthostatic intolerance. I was surprised to be able to run this afternoon because this morning when I ran errands I was in bad shape. I have been having neuropathic symptoms since last May and my mobility is suffering. I had tremors this a.m. and could not feel my legs. I was dragging my feet sideways, and leaning down onto my cart. My body felt as if it was about to give out. My lungs felt so shallow, as the lack of oxygen over time diminishes organ function.

But after a long nap, in a momentary fit of inspiration, I decided to take the doggy on a short run before I could change my mind. I was always a fast runner at short distances, and today I remembered why I loved to run. Despite (because of?!) the terror of going fast while your brain is short-circuiting, running is absolute joy and freedom.

When Kayla runs, signals between her brain and body are increasingly blocked, such that she can't feel the pain in her legs that distance runners typically have to overcome. The numbness in her legs becomes an asset, helping her overcome the MS symptoms that are working against her at the same time.

With orthostatic intolerance, blood settles in the lower body, leaving the upper body and brain deficient. It was probably an advantage to have the extra blood/oxygen in my legs. The difficulty comes in staying focused enough to stay between the lines and finish the race while your cognitive function rapidly wanes. In Kayla's case, she had to give up soccer for a sport where she can "lock in" her movement, keeping track of just a few factors. Each race is a race against time; you want to finish the race before you pass out or give out. It is counterintuitive if you think about it. The important thing is not to think about it.

I was fascinated with the video footage of Kayla Montgomery finishing a race. You can see her struggle at the end; her gate becomes jerky, her eyes go blank. At each finish she collapses and seems to lose consciousness. Her limbs stiffen and spasm uncontrollably. After crossing the finish line, her coach and team members gather to "catch" her, breaking her momentum while she careens out of control. They lift her and carry her horizontally; she seems to float above them, limp and bereft. She dies each time – only to emerge miraculously from her stupor a short while later once her body temperature cools. I was inspired by her to stop worrying about what happens afterward and what people might think, and to trust that we will recover if we are meant to. Recovery is out of our control, but the will to run is not.

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