Every Thanksgiving, I'm grateful for my legs.
I realize that sounds weird, especially since, if you know me, you know I'm not the "gratitude journal" type of girl. Don't get me wrong, I see the value in being conscious of the great things you have in life and not taking them for granted. Hashtag blessed just isn't really my thing.
But I always think about my legs on Thanksgiving, and I always wake up, stretch them, and savor their presence and their strength because one Thanksgiving, almost 10 years ago now, I couldn't.
I was 23, and a couple weeks before Thanksgiving, a blood clot developed behind my right knee, the result of a minor mutation on my blood mixed with birth control pills. Thanks to misdiagnosis and regular dismissal from my healthcare providers, it went undiagnosed until I forced the issue right before the holiday and finally got someone to order an ultrasound.
Because it had gone on so long, by the time it was diagnosed, my lower leg was extremely swollen, any movement of my calf muscles was excruciating, and I couldn't bend my leg at the knee. I ended up on crutches, sliding up and down the steps at my parents' house on my butt.
I haven't forgotten how it felt to have almost no use of my right leg and I give myself a little moment of mindfulness every year on the anniversary of that awful experience. I look down at the twisted vein a few inches above my right ankle shadowed by vague bruising that never goes away, the reminder of the scarring inside of me. If I look closely, I can see that my right calf is always slightly larger than my left with less muscle definition.
But that's not the only time I think about my legs and what they're capable of -- I think about them every time I run, and when my physical therapist mentioned thinking about what running means for me, it made me question why I run at all, especially when recently, it's been a challenge to be able to even do so.
You see, after I had my second surgery for endometriosis this last summer, my surgeon, who is an endo expert, told me to lay off the running for a number of reasons. Running increases inflammation in the body, and endo is an inflammatory disease. Also, it tightens your hamstrings which in turn tightens your pelvic muscles, compounding the pain. Additionally, it takes about a year to truly, fully heal from surgery, and I had two last year.
Of course, I don't like feeling limited by my own body. And I've always been a control freak. What I haven't always been though is a runner.
I hated it. A lot. I hated running track in PE in middle school. My friends and I were always at the back of the pack and I always got shin splints (I was an art kid in high school, not an athlete). When I got into working out as I got older, running was never my activity of choice. I tried it with an ex-boyfriend who was a track and field athlete -- bad choice.
But when my life felt out of control in 2015, for some reason I agreed to run a 10K with my friends in New York. It was slow and the hills in Central Park felt like certain death, so imagine my surprise when I felt totally exhilarated upon crossing the finish line.
From then on, I was hooked. Super hooked. I guess I wanted all the medals. That fall, I ran my first half marathon. Then I ran another. Then back to a 10K and a 10 miler. And then I bit the bullet and went for a full marathon.
When I decided to run the marathon, I was under the misconception that my endo was somewhat "cured." Logically, I knew chronic diseases like endo by definition do not *have* a cure, but after the hell I had been through following my first surgery, I wanted to trust the doctors and believe that at the very least, I was in something like remission. So I committed to dedicating my summer to training for the 2016 Chicago Marathon.
At the time, it was hard to say why I did it. This body is anything BUT aerodynamic, so it's not like I had a prayer of placing. There's no one I felt like I had to compete with, and I've never gotten the "runner's high" that people talk about. I don't *need* it to stay fit, since I participate in a thousand other exercise programs. So why put myself through punishing 18-mile training runs in the August heat and humidity of Baltimore?
This past Sunday, I ran 8 miles in preparation for the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler in D.C. in a couple weeks. It's the longest I've run since last spring before endo surgery #2 and thyroid cancer knocked me out of the game for the rest of 2017. It was gorgeous here in Baltimore -- not a cloud in the sky with the temps just hitting 60 degrees -- a perfect day for a long run. And it helped me answer why I do it.
After a fairly brutal endo flare on Saturday, I probably came as close as I've ever come to that runner's high. I was SO thankful to feel better on Sunday, and I was so happy to be outside running in the sunshine after this miserable winter.
I don't have anything to prove to anyone, and I'll never have skinny runner's legs (#thickthighssavelives), so it's not about looking a certain way. But it *is* a celebration of what my body -- what my legs -- CAN do. The *extreme* pain in my legs after the marathon was worse than the pain I felt from my blood clot, but it also felt soooo good.
A lot of times with endo and more recently for me, with half a bunk thyroid, there's a lot of saying "I can't." I can't face going out tonight. I can't get out of bed. I can't work out today. I can't make myself dinner. I can't argue with the insurance company anymore.
So maybe I am a control freak and it's about overcoming those "can'ts" and mastering my limitations when I CAN. It was really hard all last year having to say "I can't run another race this year" when I was hoping to run another marathon.
But for now, I'm relatively healthy and I'm so thankful for that. For me, running is an expression of that. My legs are fully functioning, and they can carry me anywhere from 8 miles to 26.2 if I want them to.
Past clots, scarred veins, and all.