A Dead Pancreas, a Stress Fracture, and a Will to Run
On May 19th of this year, I ran a 5K. Actually, let me be more specific: I ran a 5K with a stress fracture.
Of course, this was entirely unbeknownst to me at the time. This was the first 5K I had attempted in a long time, and it was definitely the first race that I was going to be running. I emphasize “running” because up until I got the acceptance e-mail to run the New York City Marathon with Beyond Type Run, I had almost always power-walked.
Without a why
There is nothing wrong with running, of course. I just never thought much about pace or endurance and my overall thought whenever I tried it was something along the lines of, “Why do people do this to themselves?” I simply liked getting out in to nature and moving my body, walking briskly. And I was always happy when I came back with some decent mileage.
I had never been an athlete, merely athletic—active. I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) at the age of 14 and never felt like it would hold me back from anything, at least not on a conscious level. My dad is, in every sense of the word, an athlete. He was a Major League Baseball player, and now a manager. He had a daughter, not a son. There was never any way I could have taken on the “family business,” and I made peace with that without realizing that there was another choice. I pursued the arts instead, which worked out well for me —most days. It’s a sporadic and abstract way of life. I had never known a path that was as routine and regimented as an athlete’s.
It wasn’t until I started to get heavily involved with the type 1 community and began to see incredible T1D athletes sharing their story that I began to believe that bringing athleticism into my life in a real way could be an option for me. And, at my slightly advanced age of 30, I became a newbie runner and decided to run the New York City Marathon on a team comprised entirely of people with useless pancreases.
My mom ran the TCS New York City Marathon back in 2012. She was a complete badass, but she, in fact, had and still has a working pancreas, so something like that was not quite on my wavelength—although I did train with her from time to time and did some of the longer runs. So, I did know that I was capable. I started training even before I got the acceptance e-mail. I worked my way up to about 5 and ½ miles before attempting the fateful 5K.
The race seemed pretty mild—a family-friendly, neighborhood kind of thing. There were a ton of children and people pushing strollers, so I wasn’t super worried. My friend that I met there was going to be doing the 10K and immediately left me in the dust. That was followed by more people doing the 10K, adults doing the 5K, a good handful of ten-year-olds and finally, the stroller pushers. It was humbling. Not to make excuses for my embarrassingly slow pace or anything, but okay, yes—I am going to do exactly that. Because I had begun to feel a sharp pain in my heel about ten minutes into the race.
It took everything in me to make it to the finish line at all, but I did. I mentioned my heel pain to some friends and family in the hours that followed, barely able to put weight on it. The consensus seemed to be plantar fasciitis, which seemed like a reasonable explanation. But I wanted to be sure. Unfortunately, I had plans to meet a friend at Disneyland the following day. The pain was so bad at the airport that I had to request a wheelchair to get to my gate—and wound up on a bright red electric scooter during the three days at Disney.
Long story short—t was not plantar fasciitis, nor a “nerve thing” or mere inflammation, which were a couple of the other possibilities thrown around by people I spoke to. After a week and a half of no improvement, I knew I had to get an MRI, and my high hopes of still being able to run the marathon in November dropped lower and lower. The MRI revealed that it was a stress fracture on the side of my heel.
“So, is the marathon out of the question?” I asked my orthopedist, almost holding my breath. He shook his head immediately. “No,” he assured me. “Not at all.” He continued to explain that it simply needed to heal, and in order to do that, I couldn’t run for approximately four weeks, which would put me a little behind, training-wise, but able to get back in action about three weeks later than my anticipated “official” training start.
Per my doctor’s advice, I would need to wear a walking boot most days—and start training for the marathon in other ways that would still build my endurance and work the same muscles that running does (i.e. stationary bike, elliptical, aqua jogging). Essentially, I would have to listen to my body and adjust my life around its needs. Well… that sounded familiar.
While wearing my walking boot the other day, I nearly fell down a set of stairs in my apartment complex when coming back from taking out the recycling. Currently operating with both a dead pancreas and a crappy foot, I realized that T1D instances like getting a low blood sugar is not totally unlike falling down the stairs in a boot.
Sometimes our bodies just don’t cooperate in the way that we would like them to. They often have their own agendas, and we can’t control it; rather, we can manage it in the best way that we are capable. In my case, I am lucky that I have the tools to manage my type 1 diabetes beautifully… most days. And I am lucky that my foot started feeling much better almost immediately after utilizing the walking boot.
If I would have forced myself to start running again before my foot was healed well enough, I would have absolutely shattered my chances of running the marathon in November. But since I am honoring my body’s need for rest now instead of later, I will be there at the starting line with my fellow T1Ds. Perhaps I won’t be the fastest of the bunch, and maybe I will even power-walk some of it—who knows? But what I do know is that I won’t be getting creamed by ten-year-olds this time, and my super rad Disneyland scooter and stylish walking boot will be far behind me.
I have already figured out a bit about who I am as an athlete, and what my parameters are. I have a feeling that after November 3rd, I will have learned a hell of a lot more.
Alexi Melvin is raising money for Beyond Type 1 through Beyond Type Run—her fundraising will make a real difference in the lives of those living with T1D.