I’ve heard, many times before, that accepting chronic illness is much like a grieving process, but I don’t think I really understood what that meant until recently. Before my diagnoses, and to an extent after but before FND last year, I was extremely active. It all started when I spoke with some passengers coming through the station I was working at at the time; they were completing the London to Brighton. When I enquired where their bikes were, they informed me that they were walking it not cycling. In true Lou fashion I spontaneously decided that I could do that and signed up for the next year.
This was the beginning of something I couldn’t even imagine, it was through this event that I would meet some truly inspiring people, discover Obstacle Course Racing (OCR), a sense of community, and an amazing bunch of strong, empowering women in the UK Mudd Queens; my muddy running journey began. My first OCR was Survival of the Fittest in freezing, snowy conditions at Wembley stadium. I fell hard on the concrete many times and, although probably my least favourite race, I was hooked. I loved how free OCR made me feel; you could have an awful week, or receive some really bad news on the way to a race, but while you are out on that course all that matters is the next obstacle, and assisting others on the way. I suppose that translates into a good ethos for life.
To begin with walls were my absolute nemesis, I just couldn’t do them. I remember having a conversation with one of the queens at The Suffering, where I had decided to take on three races in one weekend, we were looking around part of the course the night before day one I was freaking out because there were so many walls!! The next morning we started on the course and I was suddenly able to combat them, they were like ”Can’t do walls huh?” At one point I was running an OCR at least once a month, dragging my long suffering partner out from the warmth of her bed, at ridiculous O’clock in the morning, to stand in a cold, often wet and muddy field. But we both enjoyed it and made some amazing friends along the way.
When I was first diagnosed with Fibro, I was adamant that nothing was going to change. I’m as stubborn as hell and I wouldn’t let this beat me. I remember the second time I ran RRDW, a 20 mile OCR, I was fitter, and stronger, but I knew something wasn’t right. After all the training I still had to walk the last 3 miles, which was very frustrating as I came in around the same time as the year before which meant that, for a while at least, I was on course to smash the previous years time. When I had to slow down OCR and reduce my running I fell into a bit of a depression. I felt that I was losing the person I was, the person who was full of energy, most of the time pretty annoying, wanting to keep moving, never sitting still. Of course I realise now that those are not the traits that make me who I am, I guess I wallowed for a bit, thinking that I was burden to everyone, what was the point. In reality what I needed to do was find a new focus, help my life along in the direction it needed to be heading and appreciate what I have and what I can do. It’s ok to grieve for the more physical, active you, it’s ok to miss the people and the sharing of stories from your runs or workouts, or whatever it is you have had to move on from. It’s a process and one that I feel needs to be embraced.
I look back on these pictures now and realise how little I appreciated my body at that time. I was always striving to do ”better”, whether it was a course time, being able to complete an obstacle unaided, or simply to get stronger. When you are in the middle of something you don’t always realise the gains you have made, whether that be mentally or physically. Now I realise and appreciate how far I had got and the things that my body was able to do. Really the journey now isn’t that different, it’s about recognising how far I have come mentally, about helping those around me who see the impact of these conditions on a daily basis, because I can only imagine the affect it has on them. Ultimately life is about supporting each other, being there, being present and embracing all the moments you have, because you never know what the future may look like.