It’s probably no surprise that running is not usually a recommended activity for someone with the frequent injuries and joint issues associated with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. It seems to confuse a lot of people that I can have chronic pain and other EDS symptoms, yet still be able to run. Since I recently started training for my third half-marathon, I thought this would be a good time to explain why I choose to run despite any extra pain it may bring me. Managing EDS is all about balancing my energy and pain levels with my daily activities. Some days running is possible, while other days I have to modify or sit out to recover.
When I run I am the same as every one else. If we cross paths on the trail, you won’t see my scars, the medications I take, the weakened bones or the frequent dislocations. All you’ll see is a fellow runner working to improve their endurance, strength and speed. I love that about running. I can leave the troubles of managing a chronic illness at the door and feel like any other runner.
Although I can leave these troubles, that doesn’t mean I train the same way as a “normal” runner, or that I can ignore symptoms. Due to frequent injury, I often have to start running again from ground zero. I’m in a constant cycle of being “uncleared” and “cleared” to run from my medical team. I have to respect these guidelines (for the most part…but that’s another story) and try my best to avoid running while injured. I also spend more time on post-run recovery than a typical runner in order to protect my joints, my easily knotted muscles and to reduce pain. This recovery process involves lots of icing, TENS unit sessions, heat, elevation, anti-inflammatory medication, compression, icy hot (or similar brand) patches and foam rolling, depending on the site of pain or soreness. It also means I can’t run every day. I can usually manage 2-3 runs per week, but I’ve learned to work around this limitation and fit my race training into my abilities.
Running also gives a purpose to my pain. Soreness after a run is comforting to me because I know exactly what caused it. This might seem like a weird statement, but Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome rarely gives you pain that makes sense. I often don’t know why I hurt. I’ve dislocated joints while sitting on a couch or coloring on the floor, activities that are not supposed to hurt. However, running gives this pain a purpose, which is something other parts of my life cannot do. EDS rarely makes sense, but running always does. Running might cause me more pain than the average runner, but I know my body and understand which pains are dangerous or signal oncoming injury. Running has taught me that I am in control of my body, even on days when it feels like my body controls me.
I firmly believe running has helped me manage my EDS symptoms. It’s helped me strengthen my muscles to support unstable joints. It’s given me the confidence to realize I can do anything I want in this world, no matter the limitations that have been placed on me. It’s also been an incredible outlet for managing stress. There is just something about my legs pounding the pavement that allows me to forget about my life and just run.
I have incredible friends who support me every mile, whether by joining me on long training runs or by helping me during the post-run recovery phase. I’ve also met incredible teammates through MDA Team Momentum, who join me in using our training miles and races to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association and run for those who can’t. Running might be hard for me, but I certainly don’t take any step for granted. I know this ability can be taken from me at any moment, so for now I’ll keep running and using my miles to help this world for as long as I can.