To a novice runner, ten miles is a long distance. Perhaps it even seems insurmountable. To a marathon runner, ten miles is a “short” training run. As the runner gains fitness and experience, longer distances become easier to complete. The challenge then may shift to running faster or running even longer. At this point in my TBI recovery, 1 mile is a short run. I found out today that “short” is a matter of perspective.
It started as a routine run; my favorite park, a familiar five mile loop. The weather was nice for late winter. It was a warm day, about 56 degrees, and overcast. It was a nice break from temperatures below freezing with brisk breezes biting at any exposed skin. All went well, I enjoyed seeing the creek, flooded and muddy with early spring runoff. The birds were singing for mates and defending territory. It was quiet and peaceful. Until the wheels came off with a mile left.
It started as a sparkly flashing light in my vision. It was actually almost pretty, if it weren’t that I knew what it meant. It was an aura. I was about to be visited by the migraine fairy. Fairy? Maybe ogre is a better choice of words. I had a decision to make. And, no matter what I decided, I was in for a painful experience.
It takes me about 9 minutes to run a mile, depending on hills, weather, and what type of workout I am doing. Some runs call for a faster pace. Walking, I can cover the distance in around 15-18 minutes. After an aura sets in, I have about 15-20 minutes until the onset of pain. The choice: do I run in an attempt to get to my car, and more importantly, the Maxalt in the car before the pain hits? It’s a gamble. Physical activity makes migraines worse. Being an Idiot (seriously, I am part of the Idiots Running Club), I chose to run. However, I did slow my pace slightly.
It wasn’t the right choice. The migraine hit with a vengeance about two minutes after my aura started. It was a new record! My pain has never arrived so fast! At least I set some sort of record today. The pain was like a heated ice pick being driven into my left eye and temple, throbbing with every strike of the “hammer.” And every strike of my foot on the trail. I came to an abrupt stop in the trail, clamping my hand to my head in a useless attempt to stave off the pain. I dropped to my knees and gave my breakfast back to the earth. That wasn’t a good sign. I slowly get to my feet and walk toward the car.
Now, I have the same decision again. I have a little over a half-mile to get to the car. Do I run or walk? Can I run? Being a true Idiot, and a slow learner, I again try to run. Notice, if you will, the word “try.” Every step, my brain throbs, my stomach heaves, my had clamps uselessly on my head, trying to hold my brain in my skull. After a shambling run, I stop again. I physically cannot run. So, walking it is.
I slowly plow along, stopping briefly to offer some nutrition to the plants on the side of the trail. The sound of rapidly flowing water I so enjoyed on the way out was now a torturous din, triggering the migraine to new depths of agony. Maybe I should crawl?
After what seems an eternity of suffering, I see my car. Oh yeah. Sweet relief in sight. Maxalt is such a helpful drug for my migraines. I finally reach my car and dig into my “emergency kit” that holds my rescue inhaler, Maxalt, some Dramamine, and an anti-nausea medication. Fortunately, the Maxalt is a “melt-away,” no water needed. I dry swallow the anti-nausea medication.
Now, another decision. It takes about 30 minutes for the Maxalt to work. Do I drive in this amount of pain? I wanted to get home, to my quiet bed and an ice pack, more than anything. I pry my hand away from my head. I can’t see out of my left eye. Well, no. I shouldn’t drive. I climb in my car, crack the windows to allow some airflow. I take my dark, “blackout” sunglasses from their holder and pop them on. I recline my seat and close my eyes, waiting to ride out the worst of the pain.
Thirty minutes later, my watch alarm rings- an obnoxiously loud chirp. I crack my eyes open. I can see but the throbbing is still there. Good enough. I bring the seat up and head for home. I made it safely. First thing, more Maxalt, some hydrocodone, another anti-nausea pill, taken with a few swigs of Gatorade. I climbed into bed with my ice pack. Brigid curled up next to me, purring softly. I fell into a deep sleep. When I woke almost four hours later, the pain had retreated. It was still there, a shadow ready to strike again, but there was no throbbing.
I never knew a mile was so long. This purgatory made the last exhausting mile of a marathon seem like a walk in the park. Yes, life is all about perspective.