Springing Forward

Rebecca Donaghue

Rebecca Donaghue copyright 1997

There’s a lot here to catch up on. Unfortunately, in the last few months there hasn’t been too much positive going on in the way of my training and health. But, the small glimmers of positive are being held onto with a tight grasp and no chance of letting go.

To bring you up to speed; eight months ago I was hospitalized for seven days with pulmonary embolisms in both lobes of my lungs. It was my first experience with something legitimately life threatening. Ten days before that, I underwent surgery to remove seven kidney stones from my kidney. And a few weeks before that, I literally had my bags packed and was ready to travel to compete in the 10,000 at the US Outdoor Championships, only to be detoured back to the E.R. to pass another stone and cancel the whole trip. That was the last straw with the stones so I scheduled to have surgery to finally have them removed. After having the surgery I spent four days entirely on the couch recovering, only getting up to ever so painfully use the bathroom. Little did I know that my sedentary ways were helping blood clots travel up into my lungs. I was put on IV blood thinner while in the hospital and after my discharge had to be given shots for a few days at home before going on a pill form of blood thinner for the next six months.

I actually transitioned back into training pretty well. I was on the elliptical for a couple weeks everyday and then gradually phased in running. By the end of September I started to do workouts and by mid October was close to full force training and feeling really good. I was having a really good 5 x 5 minute fartlek workout on the bike path when I suddenly had the weirdest sensation come over my upper quad area into my torso. The only way I can describe it would be as if cement was poured onto me and it started to harden, forcing me to become incredibly rigid, and slowing me way down. It also feels as though my lungs and heart aren’t synced with the firing of my muscles. I finished that workout really slow but still covered 5.5 miles averaging 5:39 pace including the recovery. I was doing workouts of this caliber in 2009 when I set many of my PRs so I was really pumped. I was concerned but kind of blew it off figuring it was a harder workout and maybe I just needed another Power Gel, and or the blood thinner was doing something.

I had the same symptoms a few more times, mostly at the very end of a workout and a few times on a longer maintenance run. I was so focused on how well my training was going and the fact that I was going to race for the first in a Oiselle uniform on Thanksgiving day in the Berwick Run for Diamonds, that I wasn’t thinking much about the weird leg thing that would happen every once in a while. I didn’t even consider it happening in the race. I started the race not really feeling warmed up or fluid like I normally would in the beginning of a race. I just pushed through it thinking how great it would be to have a race in the books. At about 10k my weird leg thing started to come on. I started to stumble because my legs were buckling under me and I remembered my doctor telling me to be careful of hitting my head or cutting myself because I could bleed to death. I tried to muster through it but it didn’t go away. I was forced to drop out when I saw an ambulance sitting next to the road. I was completely baffled as to what was going on and heartbroken because I was in such good shape and wanted to apply it to a race. I had to keep reminding myself that only four months ago I was hospitalized and to cut myself some slack.

I saw my doctor shortly after the race. He ran some tests but nothing came up. I went back to training because I was dead set on doing Boston this year. My symptoms didn’t go away and were happening more and more, I went back to the doctor; they did more tests and nothing. A lot of times on my runs I’d have to just stop and walk back when this happened which was tough to do with the harsh winter we had. I tried everything from putting Vaseline or heat patches on my quads and torso to keep the area warm and stimulated, to running inside on a treadmill out of the cold, but the symptoms kept reoccurring.

My doctor recommended I see a neurologist to see if there’s anything going on in with my nervous system. I had that appointment a couple weeks ago but nothing could be determined until I have an EMG test which will test how my nerves and muscles are functioning. The EMG won’t be until the 29th. Over the course of my running career I’ve had a few falls so there is some concern that I do have an underlying neurological problem that was heightened by the trauma of the pulmonary embolisms and subsequent blood thinner treatment. Next week I’ll have an MRI done of my neck and head and my doctor is currently looking into a more specific test for the potassium, sodium, and magnesium levels in my blood.

I’ve been told by many people that the blood thinner I was on is essentially rat poison, which makes me cringe. I definitely wonder about it throwing off my nutrient levels. My system has always been pretty sensitive to different medications and it usually takes me longer to flush them out of my system. I think after a few months on it, it may have started to take a toll on my body. I also wonder about how my body is absorbing nutrients and how it’s filtering them since I’m prone to kidney stones and since I have almost all of them removed, I still have one in there that the surgeon missed.

But, this week has been a bit of a breakthrough for me. I’ve started taking a liquid calcium, magnesium supplement from the brand NOW. The calcium and magnesium is from citrate which is more absorbable than an oxide form. The calcium supplements I’ve taken for years and years don’t have magnesium and are not in the citrate form. Calcium and magnesium play an important role in cardiovascular and muscle function. I’ve experimented with when to take the supplement and what appears to be working is a dose at bedtime and a dose about 10 minutes before I start a run. It seems to be doing something because I just had 5 days in a row of runs that feel normal, something I haven’t had happen since October. I can’t totally say I’m out of the woods yet, but it’s certainly been nice for my overall well being lately.

Coaching young ladies and being surrounded by their positive energy has really helped get me through some tough times this past fall and winter. We’re well into the spring track season now but we capped off a phenomenal indoor season. Our 4×8 relay qualified for the New Balance Indoor Nationals at the Armory in NYC. We were seeded close to last in the championship section but were happy to have qualified to be there. The ladies ran with so much heart and determination that it gave me goose bumps as I screamed for them. They all ran incredible splits to post a standout time of 9:14.61 and earned All-American honors with their sixth place finish. I loved that they were the underdogs and surprised any doubters, something I’m pretty acquainted with, ha-ha! I am so thankful to have the opportunity to do what I love every day. I strive to inspire these up and coming young female runners and in turn they never fail to inspire me.

4X800 with Oiselle Ts and Crowns

I am always grateful to be surrounded by people who understand my dreams and passions and the lifestyle it demands. I know that panicking in horrible times is not an option and that patience pays off. To be a finely tuned runner, at any level, you have to take value in patience when it comes to your health if you want to do things right. That goes for not just running but everything in life. Staying true to that will make a big difference as I head into this spring season, having goals in racing, coaching, creating art, and most importantly, good health.

If anyone reading this post has any input relating to the symptoms I’ve been having I’d be so grateful to hear from you!

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