In 7 days, I am running a marathon. 26.2 miles. My first. An endeavor I have been working towards for months. I’ve been visualizing this finish line for years, and am excited to finally make it happen. When picturing this moment, however, never once was I crossing I finish line in the manner I will be next weekend.
I will be crossing the finish line in Chicago with the support of two forearm crutches. And I am okay with this.
A little background: I started using forearm crutches (the SMARTcrutch Junior) for long walks or extended periods of standing this summer as a way to lessen the pain in my spine. I’ve got chronic (but stable) stress fractures in my spine and juvenile degenerative disc disease throughout. Simply put, my spine is about 50 years older than I am. I use forearm crutches to relieve the downward pressure/forces acting on my spine, which has helped more than any other intervention I’ve tried.
Running was always an activity that caused me the least back pain. Although the forces on the spine seem to be greater when running, for some reason the constant motion and engagement of muscles never aggravated my spine pain. Until earlier this month. Randomly and without reason (as is common with EDS), my spine pain increased dramatically after mile 11 on training runs. My coaches and I tried altering every little thing we could to try to reduce this pain. Everything from using KT tape, my back brace, stretching every 5 miles, switching my pain medication schedule, altering my run/walk intervals etc. We tried switching anything that could have possibly been contributing to the pain. All to no avail.
I knew something was going to need to change if I was going to reach my goal of completing this marathon within the time limit. I was already registered as an “Athlete with a Disability”, which allowed me to start earlier and avoid having to stand around in the start corral before the race. So I knew I had the resources available to me to make this marathon happen. While running the Chicago Half Marathon last weekend (part of my training), my solution came to me. Yet again, around mile 11 my spine pain increased, but this time all I could think was “I wish I had my crutch out here with me.” Other runs I had just been focused on the misery of the pain, but now I was thinking of solutions. I knew that simply taking off even a fraction of the weight on my spine would make a difference in my pain.
I finished that race in quite a bit of pain, and knew deep down my crutches were going to be a race day companion. Initially, I tried to fight this realization so I could protect my “ideal” picture of the race. However, there was always that rumbling inside that knew the truth. After going back and forth with myself and my coaches, I finally committed to the decision to use forearm crutches in the race. [with medical clearance]
I placed an order with a medical supply company for a sturdier pair of forearm crutches and modified them for running, using materials my OT had suggested. After taking them out for my first run, I knew I had made the right choice. My pace didn’t suffer, my posture was much improved and my spine felt great. I’ll be using only one crutch for the first 14 miles and then will be picking up the second crutch at my MDA Team Momentum cheer station to finish the second half of the race with both forearm crutches.
After processing this change, I realized the switch to use forearm crutches during my race is an opportunity for freedom, not sadness. I am still covering the distance. My legs are still carrying me the miles. It will still be a challenge. And best of all, I’ll still get to use my miles to honor my heroes fighting muscle disease as a member of MDA Team Momentum.
I’ve dreamed of this finish line since the moment I woke up from my first major surgery four years ago. EDS may knock me down, but I’ll always adapt and overcome. Using forearm crutches to run this marathon gives me the freedom to enjoy the race. They give me the power to rise above EDS and take control of my life. There is nothing sad in that. Yes, my marathon will look different than I first imagined, but I’ve found freedom in realizing this is okay. Change is okay. And that, my friends, is a powerful statement to embrace.