Welp, I did it.
I ran — and finished — the New York City Marathon. Since getting into running a few years ago, this was my second marathon. I ran the Chicago Marathon in 2016 and wanted to run another in 2017, but my second endo surgery and a thyroidectomy later in the year sidelined me.
Last November, when my cancerous thyroid was making me want to sleep 14 hours every night, I felt major FOMO watching the NYC Marathon on Instagram. I REALLY wanted to be there running it.
So when the opportunity came around to apply to run for the Endometriosis Foundation team, I applied right away. And then when the EFA team accepted me, I swear to god, I felt my uterus cringe.
In addition to being both my ticket and my motivation to run the marathon, endo was truly my ever-present running partner through training and the race — sometimes for the good, and sometimes not so much.
Training was like a microcosm of my life with endo; even if the disease isn’t affecting me physically, it’s always lurking in the corner of my mind. Here are some reflections on how endo was with me on every training run and every step of the race.
It kept me motivated. In 2015, endo turned me into a shell of myself in more ways than one. A year later, when I wrote about how the disease turned my life upside down, quite a few friends and members of my family told me they had no idea that I had been going through that. That’s because, like many chronic illnesses, endo is invisible. Since my first period some 20+ years ago, I’ve learned how to play through the pain every month, and with the exception of the closest people in my life, no one knew about the physical, mental, and emotional toll because I didn’t talk about it. Why talk about it when it was my “normal?”
Back then I would not have been able to train and run a marathon. I know there are literally millions of women and girls out there who are barely able to to get through day-to-day life, much less run a marathon, and remembering that kept me motivated throughout the toughest training runs. And knowing that dozens of friends, family, and acquaintances donated to help support the Endo Found in my name pushed me through the race’s toughest spots.
Because of endo, I’ve been through worse. Don’t get me wrong — running a marathon is NOT easy. And NYC with its hills and bridges made for a much tougher course than flat Chicago. Even though the first eight or so miles flew by thanks to the awesome Brooklyn crowds and my jolt of adrenaline, about halfway through, I was no longer able to truthfully tell myself “this is easy.” By the time I hit the Queensboro Bridge around Mile 16, a roughly mile-long uphill climb, I was thinking, “well, I could just fling myself over the side…”
By that time, every muscle in my body ached and every step felt excruciating. I was slowing down and I still had over 10 miles to go. But then I remembered that I’ve been through MUCH worse pain than that — endometriosis pain. And endometriosis pain has no set end point. Endo teaches you resilience, and I knew I had been through worse pain than the brutal NYC course could put me through.
I felt guilty for training and then running the race. Those who know me well know that guilt has and always is a struggle for me. I’ve always worked out a lot and I always work out hard. So hearing multiple members of my healthcare team tell me to take it down a notch has never been an easy thing for me to hear — or listen to.
So when I told my pelvic floor physical therapist that I had committed to running the race and she reminded me of the ways extensive running could set me back, I felt guilty and ashamed. I know that running tightens your hamstrings and other muscles that support your pelvis, and I know that it also increases inflammation in the body. Both of these processes do no favors for a body experiencing endo.
This is why I decided this would be my last marathon. I couldn’t train for a marathon and cycle sync because if a long run fell during my period, it was hard to take the prescribed rest and find a way to make up the miles. When I got to the race start, saw the Verrazano Bridge ahead, and thought to myself “I want to do this again,” of course I felt guilty all over again.
However, understanding my endo and my body meant I forced myself to take incredibly good care of myself while I trained. When I ran Chicago, I worked out like a crazy person. We’re talking four runs a week; spin, kickboxing, and lifting twice a week; and yoga one day a week. What can I say? After the year I had in 2015, feeling so out of control of my own body, I was determined to override my limitations and do everything I felt like I had missed out on.
Now I know a lot more about endo and the way my body works. And after that conversation with my PT, I understood that my biggest priority had to be finding balance. That’s really not easy to do when you’re training for a marathon. There is just no way you can run 20 miles on a Sunday and frankly do anything else. But I did my best to “partner” with my body. This meant regular acupuncture, massage, Epsom salt baths, cryo and oxygen therapy, and you guessed it — rest.
When I did slip up though, I felt guilty all over again. Stretching my glutes, hips, and hamstrings for about 16 minutes at a time is part of my daily routine since I started PT (whether I run that day or not). This helps keep my pelvic muscles from literally spasming from pain (compounding the pain). When I started training in earnest, this became crucial to my self-care routine along with yoga at least once a week. But if I ever missed a day, it was hard not to beat myself up for not doing everything I was “supposed” to. In fact…
I fell off the antiinflammatory bandwagon…hard. If you’re a runner, you know that at the height of your training, you get ravenous. Or at least I do. I wanted to eat everything in sight. And even though I didn’t go crazy and eat junk food on the regular, my body definitely needs carbs for a good long run, and cutting out bread wasn’t working for me.
One chronic disease + another chronic disease + marathon training = hardcore fatigue. Nothing compares to the fatigue I experienced prior to having half my thyroid removed. But training for a marathon on top of having endo and half of an already-underachieving thyroid made for some pretty extreme exhaustion. If you didn’t hear from me for a couple months leading up to the marathon, now you know why — I was busy just trying to stay awake past 8 p.m.
Endo changed my body and training for the marathon forced me to come to terms with that. I feel healthy and healed but two years after I ran Chicago, I am two years older with two more surgeries’ worth of scars and I am just not as fast as I was (which was never fast to begin with). It was really hard to accept the fact that even on my best days, I have limitations that are not under my control.
I struggled with self-doubt in a way I hadn’t experienced when I trained for Chicago even though then I didn’t even know if I *could* do it, because I hadn’t ever done it before at all. Then, I was constantly improving, constantly setting distance and pace personal records. After being sidelined for a year, I couldn’t get back to where I was, no matter how hard I trained, and I felt real fear and panic several times while training that I wouldn’t be able to finish the race. Training for NYC was as emotionally and mentally challenging as it was physically challenging.
Ultimately, the community of endo warriors I’ve found inspired me, encouraged me, and made finishing the marathon overwhelmingly rewarding. One of the best silver linings about having endo is the amazing resilient community I found, both IRL and on the internet. Hearing from sisters I’ve met through the Baltimore Flow, Endo Warriors, the Cramped Style Instagram, and other places made the race incredibly touching and meaningful, and I am so thankful for that.
When you have endometriosis, it is never out of your daily thoughts, even on your best days. Training and running the NYC Marathon was no different, but overcoming it and literally doing it for my sisters made it so worthwhile and an experience I’ll have forever.
Now when I have terrible cramps, I can tell myself it’s nothing. If I ran the NYC Marathon, I can get through anything.