Sunday, 19 December 2010

How I started running, part 2

As I recounted in a blog post before, my running "career" was interrupted seconds after it was born. Any endurance sports were off limits, because they were dangerous to my health. Basketball was fine, especially if one considered how tragically bad I was at it. Shooting hoops with my friends once a week didn't make me very athletic. What put a stop to any sports for a long time was a visit to the doctor when I was 17.

I was there to get a check-up. My mom worked in a hospital, so it was common when I was growing up to go for a check-up. The doctor heard some heart murmur and prescribed a cardiogram. That showed I had mitral valve prolapse. It sounded very scary. The doctor told me that exercise was bad for people with this heart condition. Run a metre and I'd drop dead. Eat a piece of chocolate and I'd drop dead. Drink coffee and I'd drop dead. Anything that made my pulse increase would make me drop dead. I didn't want to drop dead. I wondered if we'd have to install an elevator in our house, so that I wouldn't have to walk up the flight of stairs to my room.

Unsurprisingly, we sought a second opinion. Heart matters are not to be messed with. The second doctor painted a slightly different picture. Exercise, chocolate and coffee were not off-limits, if done in moderation. This condition, he said, was a common one. In fact, one in four women have it, and most go through their lives without even noticing.

I breathed a sigh of relief. At that point in my life I wasn't very interested in sports, but it was still scary to think that I had a dangerous heart condition. I stayed away from sports, just in case.

Fast forward a few years later, and I was a university student in England, making new friends, getting introduced to new things. My good friend Maria and I got into wall climbing, and went jogging together a couple of times. She was however much better than me, and I struggled to keep up. So I soon gave up running, but not for long. A couple of years later I entered my first Race for Life, a charity fun run to raise money for cancer research. I carefully followed a training schedule, starting with 1 minute run, 1 minute walk and working up to a half-hour. It was hard work for my exercise-starved body.

I did a couple more fun runs over the next years, and got really hooked on exercise. Cycling, walking, dancing, gym...I tried many things over the years, and running took second place to everything else, mostly because it felt so difficult. When we moved to Sweden, I noticed how almost everyone here exercised. It was a way of life, to cycle to work or walk in the evenings, as natural as eating. I started running again, careful not to exert myself too much. My stamina had apparently improved, because suddenly I could enjoy running and manage 5 km without stopping!

A new heart test showed that my condition, had it ever truly existed, was no longer there. The new doctor, an expert cardiologist, told me that mitral valve prolapse was a much disputed condition, that science progress and recent research showed that MVP was more often than not a misdiagnosis. He said that my heart looked very healthy and gave me the all-clear to exercise. And boy did I. I felt like all these years I'd denied myself a vital life component. Like I'd been holding back, afraid to exert myself, afraid to let the endorphins rush through my body, afraid that I'd drop dead.

Now my body is back in its natural state. It gets to exercise. We're not meant to spend our lives in front of a computer or TV screen, or sitting in an office. Unless there is a serious medical condition, we're meant to be active. I am thankful for every healthy, injury-free minute I get to do it.

Today: wall climbing after a week's break.

No comments:

Post a Comment