Operation Lace Up: An Update

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I’m a bit overdue for an exercise update so I thought I’d better get my act (and a post) together! On June 13th, I restarted a modified Couch to 5K program in an attempt to get myself back into shape after a winter full of illness. (You can read that post here if you missed it). My doctor warned me it would be difficult given what my body had been through this past winter, and he was right.  The first week was a breeze. I only had to run one minute at a time and that was completely doable.  The second week was a bit harder, but not too bad with 90-second running stretches. The third week felt impossible.  I had to run three-minute stretches and for some reason, they were killing me. I would barely make it to the end of the three minutes and when I did, I practically had to stop moving altogether in order to recover. I thought there was no way on earth I’d ever be able to progress to week four which included five minutes of running. It felt much harder than the other two times I’ve gone through the program. I wondered if my running days were over. Then, surprisingly, the next week I was able to do the workout with the five-minute stretches.  And it felt decent! I’m not sure what changed in my body between those two weeks, but I’m grateful it did!

The day of last workout of week four, I was trying to squeeze in a run before a playdate. Due to a series of unfortunate events, we were running late and I needed to get through the run as fast as I could. With that in mind, I decided to run continuously for as long as I could, and I made it a mile and a half! I knew then that I could do the two miles without stopping so I ditched the program, and my next workout ran my two miles.  It was July 13th, exactly one month after beginning the program.  Yay!

I completed the run in 26:38 which is a bit slower than I’d like, so my next goal is to decrease my time to 25 minutes. Since this past week I’ve run at 4.5 mph, my plan is to up that to 4.6 this week, 4.7 next, and hopefully the first week of August, I’ll hit my goal of 4.8 mph which is two miles in 25 minutes.

It’s always discouraging to have health setbacks which require me to start over with my exercise goals. My life with cystic fibrosis will never afford me the opportunity to maintain my health and fitness indefinitely. I know this, yet every time I deal with extended illnesses that hurl me back to a place of weakness, it feels like my hard work has gone down the drain. In reality, that’s not true. The exercise itself is important for my health, but no more important than the ability to show resilience and steadfastness in the face of setbacks–to be able get back up and keep trying. In that sense, my efforts are never wasted, no matter how many times I have to start back at square one. And as an added bonus, working hard and achieving a goal feels great.  Every. Single. Time.

Lace Up Fail & Moving On

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Welp. It’s time for an update, and it’s not exactly the one I was hoping to give you four weeks after I planned to re-instituting Operation Lace Up. Unfortunately, just a few days after my last exercise post, I entered the dreaded adjustment phase and this time it was lengthy and difficult. I spent two weeks feeling awful, and a third recovering from feeling awful. Forget working out, I was just trying to get through each day in one piece. I would cough incessantly for several hours upon waking and experience coughing fits on and off throughout the day. The first week I was chilled unless I took a fever-reducer. I was exhausted, sore and short of breath most of the time. My body felt battered and my emotions were pretty beat-up too.

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This sums up how I felt those three weeks (and it made me laugh!).

Thankfully my health started to turn around physically and emotionally and I was feeling more human last Friday when I headed to the doctor for a routine visit. Even though things were better, I had no idea what to expect after the difficulties of the prior weeks. I was hoping my lung function would be stable and the doctor would have some answers for me about why I keep having so much trouble maintaining the benefits of antibiotic therapy once I’m off.

The good news is that my lung function was stable at 38%. It was a relief to see that number given how ill I had felt the weeks prior. I wouldn’t have been surprised if it were far worse than that. Even through all the sicknesses of this winter, my lung function remained around that 38% which is good since last year it dipped to 32%. The bad news is my doctor didn’t have any explanation as to why I keep having these adjustment periods after treatment. He said my symptoms are not considered common or normal even for CF, at least not to the extent that I’m experiencing them. It was discouraging not to have an answer or even a theory, but that is often what life is like with a disease like cystic fibrosis. Sometimes there are no plausible explanations for why things happen (or don’t happen). There’s not much to do but shrug your shoulders and move on.

Moving on means that now that I’m feeling better, it’s time to get back to that exercise! My doctor warned me that it’s going to be mighty difficult at the beginning given what my body has been through these last months. He told me not to get discouraged and to take it slowly. So I’ve decided to do the modified Couch to 5K again, starting next week.  I know that sounds like procrastination, but this week I’m walking on top of increasing my activity level with Lucas in an effort to ease into this. It’s been nice having the energy to be more active with Lucas again, and although unconventional, it’s still great exercise for me. We’ve been ambling around our neighborhood, visiting our local petting farm, playing with friends, and working together in the yard. Spending time with my boy and basking in the great weather we’ve been having is surely medicine for my body and soul.

Conventional exercise will be good medicine for me too, and once I start the Couch to 5K program next week, I should be able to jog two miles without stopping at the end of six weeks.  That’s my revised goal. I’m hoping and praying that regular exercise, good sleep, stability in my health, and some warm, virus-free months will get my lung function headed in the right direction. While I am grateful for that 38%, I don’t want that to be my new baseline.

I headed out for a walk the other day, and what song should pop up in the shuffle but the song Tubthumping by Chumbawamba. You know, “I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never gonna keep me down…” It made me smile because Jaime loaded that song on my iPod years ago as a joke when I was nervously restarting exercise after being leveled by an emergency operation. Never mind that the song is about falling over because you’ve had too much to drink, the refrain fits! Hearing it the other day was a good reminder that I’ve been in similar situations before, knocked down as it were by this disease. And God has always given me the strength to get up again and keep going. It’s going to be hard, but it’s time to dust myself off and move on.

Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking ‘cross the floor
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking out the door

If you want to change your direction
If your time of life is at hand
Well don’t be the rule, be the exception
A good way to start is to stand.

(Who can name that song??) 🙂

Try, Try, Try, Try, Try it Again

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Well, it’s that time again!  I’m off my latest round of antibiotics, feeling mostly better, and I am ready to start working on my fitness.  Did I say ready? Perhaps that’s a stretch. It’s more like I’m to the point where I have no valid excuses to further avoid it. Welcome back Operation Lace Up.

I started testing the waters about a week ago to see where I was at strength-wise. The first day I told myself I’d only go one mile, and alternated walking and jogging every quarter-mile.  That went pretty well. I was able to walk at a 15-minute mile pace and jog at a 12.5-minute mile pace. The next day the sorest part of my body was actually my arms because a few times I leaned pretty heavily on the treadmill handles.  I’m pretty sure that’s cheating but sometimes I have to do it to get through a run!

Later that week I was able to use the same alternating pace to walk/run 1.5 miles.  Then yesterday evening I headed outside for a jog. Mentally, running outside is easier for me. There’s pleasant things to look at and the time passes much more quickly. There are a few challenges, however, such as airborne allergens, hills, and having to talk to people as you pass them. I’m sure it sounds rude to categorize that as a problem, but when your lung function is somewhere around 40%, you don’t have extra breath for conversation during exercise. Sorry neighbors!

When I began, I figured I would try to run a bit longer than the quarter-mile, maybe up to a half-mile. I started to feel stubborn once I got going, however, and decided just to run the whole thing. I managed to get through, but it wasn’t pretty. It felt awful, but I got through the 1.5 miles at a 14-minute mile pace. I should have been proud of myself, but honestly, I was a little upset initially.  It was so hard, and having just come off antibiotics, my lungs are less congested than usual. I was hoping it would feel better than it did. But then I realized I have plenty of things to be happy about.

First, I’m not all the way back to square one in spite of multiple setbacks this winter. After my first bad illness last winter the best I could do at first was walk at 17-minute mile pace.  I’m glad I’m not there. I don’t even think I’m going to need the Couch to 5K program this year. I’ll just build on that 1.5 mile run, slow though it was. Second, I have a new pair of shoes. And I got them for free!  I’m part of a Facebook exercise group for CF women and there I heard about a program through the Rock CF Foundation called Rock CF Kicks Back, where you can apply for a free pair of running shoes to get you started with exercise.  I applied and they sent me an awesome pair of shoes! Thanks guys!

Third, I have my Fitbit this year and that’s motivating. It’ll be fun to see how many miles and steps I can rack up this summer. And fourth, I won’t be doing it alone since Jaime is reinstituting his One for One pledge.  It’s always easier when you’re doing something unpleasant together 😉 Lastly, as I was brooding over my difficult run, I remembered an incident that happened just a few weeks ago. We had just bought Lucas a little orange balance bike. He was so excited!

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Pleased as punch.

One afternoon, I went on a walk with him so he could practice riding it. He’s not generally super persistent when something is challenging, but he’s been trying really hard with this bike. As he was pushing himself along the other day, trying to get the hang of it, he started singing. The songs were from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood which has been a recent favorite cartoon. First he sang, “If something seems hard to do, try it a little bit at a time. Try, try, try, try, try it again…keep trying you’ll get better! Try, try try.” Then he transitioned into, “It helps to say what you’re feeling.”

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Singing his little heart out.

It was adorable, and encouraging to see him applying those lessons to his situation. It’s what I need to do too, keep trying and remember that it will get better, even though it feels impossible at the beginning. How am I feeling? A little frustrated, but I don’t need to be back to my optimal fitness level tomorrow.  This is hard to do, but I can do it a little bit at a time. Thanks for the helpful reminders, Lucas.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress!  Maybe by my birthday at the end of June, I’ll be back to running two miles in 25 minutes. That’s my current goal, but it’s subject to modification depending on how things go.

Well, I’m off to lace up my new shoes. I can do this! It’s going to get easier 🙂

Twenty Years

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Jaime and I started dating when we were spring chickens…just 17 years old. The first week in January we celebrated our 20 year anniversary. It’s been 20 years since he worked up the courage to tell me he’d like to hang around with me a little more because he thought I was pretty special.

Twenty years makes me feel ancient!  To ease the pain of aging and to commemorate this grand occasion, Jaime surprised me with a card and a gift.  There were two parts to the gift–first, he made me a CD with songs and included a key as to why he picked those songs. Some of them were selections from 20 years ago. Others were ones we’ve heard together just recently. They all have some meaning for our relationship. My favorite song on the CD is “I’d Pick you Every Time” by Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds.  In the explanation, Jaime said that given the chance to chose me again, he would, and it would be the easiest decision ever. That’s high praise and comforting to hear since my health issues have made life difficult for Jaime on many occasions. I’m glad (and relieved) that he doesn’t regret choosing me!

The next part of the gift was something to help me in my health and exercise goals, a Fitbit! I never realized how much I needed a Fitbit until I got one 🙂  A Fitbit is a fitness tracking device.  My particular model (the Charge HR) tracks how many steps I take in a day, how many miles I walk, how many flights of stairs I climb, how many calories I burn, and how many minutes I’m active in day.  It also records exercise, monitors my heart rate, calculates resting heart rate and let’s me know how long I’ve slept each night and what my sleep quality was like. The sleep quality report is done by tracking restless movement, times I awake in the night, and deducting those minutes from my overall time asleep. It comes with preset goals in all these areas, and you can customize it to be reasonable for your lifestyle. As Lucas would say, it’s super cool.

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My weekly report!

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What my heart was up to that day.

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Exercise record including a map of where I walked.

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A poor (albeit long) night’s sleep when I was sick versus a restful night’s sleep.

Besides all the data (which I love) the best thing about the Fitbit is it has gotten me moving.  I only do intense exercise three days per week as that’s all my time and energy will allow.  But I realized there’s no reason I can’t go for a stroll in the evening while Jaime is putting Lucas to bed, or spend 10 minutes walking on the treadmill even on an “off” day. After a few weeks of doing that, I noticed I was feeling stronger on my exercise days. Exciting!

I’d like to say that grand new heights have been reached, but sadly I got a virus two weeks after getting the Fitbit so I haven’t been able to do as much these past weeks.  When I’m all better, I’m hoping to get back at it and see if the extra movement increases my energy and fitness.  I’m feeling optimistic that it will.

I’ll never be as physically fit as I was 20 years ago when I started my relationship with Jaime, but any improvement would be welcome. Besides, I have it on good authority that he loves me just the way I am.

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Then…

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And now.

 

If At First You Don’t Succeed

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Well, I have been putting off this post for quite some time.

A couple months back I wrote about a promise I made to Betsy. Knowing how much of a drag running had become for her, I pledged to run every day that she ran. It was meant to be an act of solidarity. It was meant to encourage her, to make her feel like she wasn’t the only one drudging through something unpleasant.

“What a good husband!” they said.

“What a noble gesture!” they proclaimed.

Well, I failed.

I started off well enough. It was May, the weather was great, and Betsy was really knocking it out of the park. I was feeling really inspired and motivated by wife’s unrelenting will. She didn’t enjoy it but there she was, out hitting the pavement or revving up the treadmill day after day. And so was I. On occasion I missed a run but I always made it up the next day.

Then came August and the start of the soccer season.

Suddenly I was busy coaching and I started to miss a day here and a day there. Before I knew it I “owed” Betsy four or five runs. She graciously offered me the opportunity to hit the reset button and start over. I declined. I thought I could catch up. I would just go every day the next week and I would be all square. But I didn’t. One week turned into two. And before I knew it I was going to have go running every day for the next two months in order to match Betsy’s total.

I suppose there were a few somewhat legitimate excuses but in the end they were really just excuses. Exactly the sort of excuses that Betsy can’t afford to make. I’ve gone from feeling like a failure to feeling like a complete loser. In the classic 1990s movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Robin of Locksley’s loyal companion, Azeem, suggests that “there are no perfect men, only perfect intentions.” I guess he has a point.

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It’s hard to argue with a man that carries a sword like that.

So I am getting back on the horse. I suppose I could go on about how I plan to stay on track and how this time will be different but when it comes down to it, actions speak louder than words. And I have to get to running! So I’ll just leave you with the wise words of William Edward Hickson:

‘Tis a lesson you should heed,

Try, try, try again.

If at first you don’t succeed,

Try, try, try again.

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Juuuust kidding!

Taking Heart

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One of the difficult things about living with a chronic condition like cystic fibrosis is that the struggle is never-ending.  It’s not a matter of waiting it out or getting through the next few days. There is no surefire promise that tomorrow will be better. There are bad days, there are better days, but there are no free days.

And so after a difficult year, these past weeks I have found myself in a place of fatigue. I’m not only referring to fatigue in the physical sense, although there has been that too.  The fatigue I’m feeling is a mental weariness that comes from the constant battle and the effort it takes to survive and thrive in spite of the relentlessness of my physical struggles. There are days when I feel I don’t have any fight left in me.

One way this fatigue has manifested itself these past weeks is in my exercise. Several months ago I reached my goal of running two miles in 25 minutes and since then have been working to maintain that time and distance. I’ve struggled physically these past few weeks as the weather has changed and the winds have blown in allergens that have attacked my system. I tried an inhaled antibiotic which caused my asthma to flare uncomfortably and I’ve wrestled with extra congestion and exhaustion. In spite of these symptoms I’ve kept up my running, modifying my workouts on the days when my lungs refused to admit the extra air I needed for the increased activity.

I headed out for a run the other day.  The conditions were perfect. It was sunny, the air was clear and mild, and the fall colors formed a kind of rainbow against the brilliant blue sky. All this beauty I was observing with my eyes as I started my run. But my heart was heavy and remained closed to the splendor around me. All I could focus on was my labored breaths, the strain I felt as my body rebelled against what I was asking it to do. It took me less than two minutes to give up. I knew I should continue on. I knew I should push through. I knew I should persevere. The physical struggle was nothing new, but I couldn’t find mental strength. I stopped, turned around, and headed for home.

As I walked in the door I was greeted by a message from Jaime wishing me luck on my run and offering support. I stared at his message for a few minutes before sighing deeply, putting the phone down and walking back outside. I made myself start again. Just one mile I told myself. I can do one mile.

The same thing happened my very next run. This time I was on the treadmill. I started coughing and rather than jogging through it as I usually do, I got off the treadmill. This happened three times during the first twelve minutes. The third time I sat on the floor and dissolved into tears. I just couldn’t take hold of the strength I needed. I didn’t want to finish. I didn’t want to triumph. I just wanted to quit. I prayed for strength. I gave myself a pep talk. I told myself I could do one more mile, this time no stopping. Just one miserable mile.

Even though I was able to run one mile those days, I didn’t feel a whole lot of satisfaction. It’s hard when I feel I’ve lost the mental fight. I want so badly to be joyful and give my best on the bad days, not only on the better days. But sometimes I fall short.

A line from that song Shirelles sings keeps popping into my head: “Mama said there’ll be days like this, there’ll be days like this, Mama said.” It’s true.  My mom has told me there’ll be days like this. And weeks like this. Sometimes even months like this. Jesus said it too in John 16:33. He said, “In this world you will have trouble.” Some versions say trials and sorrows. It’s not you might have trouble, or if you’re unlucky you will have trials and sorrows, but you will. We all do. Struggle, fatigue, hard days, it’s a part of everyone’s experience. But thankfully that’s not the whole story. First He said, “I have told you these things so that you may have peace in me,” and continued with, “…but take heart, I have overcome the world.”

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Taking heart means receiving courage, or confidence, or comfort from some fact. In this case, my courage, confidence, and comfort comes from the fact that Jesus has overcome the world. He has overcome the ultimate battle over sin, death, and disease. I have trouble, but I have peace. Because He has overcome, He gives me the strength to overcome. That doesn’t mean that I will win every battle every time. There will be days when I give up. But because of Jesus there is a surefire promise that a better tomorrow awaits. Whether my healing comes in this life or the next, one day I will again run, uninhibited, free from this struggle, complete and whole again.

There’s a peace I’ve come to know, though my heart and flesh may fail. There’s an anchor for my soul. I can say ‘It is well.’

Jesus has overcome, and the grave is overwhelmed. The victory is won. He has risen from the dead.

And I will rise, when He calls my name. No more sorrow, no more pain. I will rise, on eagles wings, before my God, fall on my knees, and rise.  And I will rise.

Lyrics from “I Will Rise” by Chris Tomlin

Unchanged

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About a week ago, Jaime published a post entitled Never Give In. He was excited for me because I’d just accomplished my goal of running two miles in 25 minutes.  He called me resilient.  He called me tenacious. High praise, indeed.

A week out I’m feeling anything but resilient and tenacious.  I guess you could say I’ve been knocked down. I had a routine pulmonary appointment several days ago and I was hoping to see my FEV1 rise up.  It had fallen to 32 during a severe, extended illness this past winter, but was coming back up and had landed at 42 at my appointment two months ago.  I have learned to moderate my expectations because my FEV1 scores don’t move easily, not in the right direction, anyway. The running goals I set were part of my endeavor to regain lung function as I continued to heal from the illnesses of this past winter. I wasn’t expecting a giant gain but was hoping for a few positive points to show me I’d been successful.

I ended up getting 42 again. My score was unchanged. There was zero improvement. At first I talked myself into feeling okay about it. I know the number is less important than how I’m feeling, and I’ve been healthy and strong this summer. But sure enough, as the hours passed, discouragement settled in.  I worked hard. Really hard. I wanted a better score.

My doctor was surprised that I hadn’t made any gains as well, especially since everything else during the exam looked great. He decided to order an echocardiogram to see how my heart is doing. Because of how well I am functioning, he didn’t expect to see anything concerning. A positive result would confirm our suspicion that I’m healthier than my FEV1 would indicate. I thought for certain things would look good.

But we were both wrong. Although my heart muscle is performing well, the pulmonary artery which supplies blood to the lungs was under greater pressure than either of us expected. This indicates that my heart is working extra hard to push blood through the arteries in my lungs, most likely because those arteries have narrowed or are blocked in some way. This negative report was incredibly disappointing. Knocked down.

I gave my treadmill a long, hard stare before I got on it the other day. There was a large part of me that wished to wallow in self-pity, take a few weeks off, cry some crocodile tears over the fact that my efforts didn’t pay off in the way I wanted them to. But that would be giving in. My heart definitely wasn’t in it, but I mounted the beast and banged out those two miles. I did it again two days later. I have to do what I can. I have to try.

I feel insecure right now. A FEV1 score at the lower end of the moderate obstructive range…a pulmonary artery under too much pressure. These are not comforting thoughts. These test results aren’t written in stone…it is still possible for my lung function to rise and the pressure in the pulmonary artery to subside. But there is nothing additional that I can do to facilitate these changes.

With that in mind, I must return to the true source of my hope. It is not in myself or my efforts. It is not in my doctor’s expertise. It is not in my therapies, my treatments, or in my ability to avoid germs. It is the hope I have that my life is held in the loving hands of my Savior, and that He has a purpose and a plan for me.

Several verses surfaced in my mind after I got that disappointing call from my doctor.  One was 2 Chronicles 16:9 which says:

The eyes of the Lord run to and fro across the whole earth to show himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.

Another was from 2 Timothy 1 (verse 7):

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love and of a sound mind.

Another was Isaiah 54:10-11:

For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from you, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, says the Lord who has mercy on you. Oh you afflicted one, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay your stones with fair colors, and lay your foundations with sapphires.

Sapphires always remind me of my sister Sheri.  She was born and died in the month of September. The sapphire was her birth stone–both the start of her life on earth and the start of her new life in heaven. Her existence was marked by struggle but she never shrank back from the challenges that came her way. The result was a life and legacy full of meaning and beauty. A sapphire is a fitting stone for her. Along with their stunning beauty, sapphires are incredibly strong. The only stone harder than a sapphire is a diamond which the hardest mineral on earth.

It’s helpful to have Sheri’s example when I hit these bumps in the road. She was sapphire-strong because she accepted the strength God gave her and I, too, can take hold of that strength. I can claim it as my own even when I feel angry and defeated–even on the days when I’d like nothing better than to throw in the towel and let someone else be resilient and tenacious. I can hold fast to my faith and to the promises in God’s word–promises of peace, comfort, kindness, and love. He has shown himself strong on my behalf over and over. I don’t know what the future holds and whether God will restore health to my heart and my lungs. They may remain unchanged. But the promises of God are unwavering and ever-present.

They, too, are unchanged.