by Krista Szyszkowski
I started running cross country and track in elementary school when I was inspired by watching my dad run marathons. My four sisters and I would cheer him on from the sidelines and play “Chariots of Fire” as he ran by smiling and waving. Many mornings my dad would drag me out of bed to get an early run in before school and work. These are fond memories now, but I don’t recall being very awake or pleased at the time. To this day whenever I visit I always joke and say that visiting my parents is like going to track camp. I always eat better and train harder whenever I am there. My dad has always been my biggest fan and most encouraging coach. He was there, right beside me, through track meets, stress fractures, heat stroke, my first half marathon finish, my first marathon completion and many half marathons and marathons since. My dad continues to inspire me as he races on, well into his sixties and is always there to run with me even if his training has been nonexistent in the weeks leading up to a race.
2012 has been a year to remember for me! It held so many great and trying memories! But best of all it holds the start to a wonderful new world of health, forever friendships and a deep seeded belief in myself! My year started off with a Boston Qualifying (BQ) Race as my focus. I had always thought of the Boston Marathon with its rich history of triumphs and heartbreaks as the holy grail of marathons. I had a plan, the means to do it and the passion to get there! I thought nothing less than a big truck plowing me down was going to stop me from qualifying for Boston. I logged in the miles, I ran the hills, I pushed myself through dreadful interval training sessions. I never missed a single long run! I was going to get there!
The big truck hit! It came in the form of systemic joint pain and inflammation. Every joint in my body hurt. I would place my foot on the floor in the morning and cringe as I felt the pain in every one of my joints. But I got up and I would get better as the day progressed, as long as I didn’t stop moving. If I sat down for more than about 10 minutes, it was like starting the day anew with the pain and stiffness. I didn’t stop running. That Boston Qualifying race was like a blinking Vegas sign beckoning me to come. So I ran and I suffered. I wasn’t the only one who suffered though. I am a mom of three young children and the wife to an amazingly supportive husband. I would come home from long runs and literally crawl up the stairs to the shower. I would look like an 80 year old great grandma instead of a 37 year old mom the next morning. My patience or to be more precise, lack of anything resembling patience, was turning our happy home into a house with floors of shattered glass. My husband finally told me I had to stop running or I was not going to be able to walk. Those were terrifying words to me! The BQ sign started to fade and I became a desperate animal cornered. I started looking in every corner for a way to get rid of this pain without turning to Western Medicine.
Don’t get me wrong, I know my three children and I would not be alive if it wasn’t for the wonderful doctors who looked after me during my three high blood pressure pregnancies, but Western Medicine or pharmaceuticals to be exact, terrify me. I don’t even take acetaminophen! So the search was on to find some natural way to get rid of the pain and inflammation that plagued me and threatened to steal my running, my sanity! I tried acupuncture, medicinal mushrooms, cutting out night-shade vegetables, and various natural joint formulas. Nothing! The pain remained and I was starting to panic. I started to look in the classifieds for road bikes, as I knew somewhere deep down that I needed to have something to switch to. I bought a bathing suit to start swimming, in case I could do triathlons, as the shorter distance runs were manageable with little pain. But I still ran.
My Boston Qualifying race was at the end of May in Calgary and we were into late April. In the back of my mind a battle was waging. Was there any way I could still run the race or was the pain too much to continue. A family holiday was planned and we headed to Edmonton, to enjoy the West Edmonton Mall with its amazing rides, shopping and water slides. We headed to the water slides. I figured I would be fine as I only had to climb up the stairs and it was always going down stairs that caused me the most pain. We had a blast playing in the wave pool and riding the slides until a freak accident really did put the lights out in my BQ sign!
I was waiting at the bottom of a water slide to catch my six year old daughter, Sophia, who was still quite nervous about landing in the deeper pools. I was off to the side a bit as I was pretty sure she could handle it, and just wanted to be there if she panicked. Without any warning, a 200 lb man came flying out of the slide and landed with his two feet square into my abdomen. I doubled over and managed to hobble my way to the edge of the pool to sit on the stairs. I was quite stunned and not really understanding if I was in pain or not. So I sat for a bit. Nothing really hurt and my son was looking quite concerned, so I got up. We walked over to the wave pool, so I could sit in a lounger and watch him play in the waves. A few minutes later, my husband and daughters appeared. They had no idea that anything was amiss as they had been up at the top when Sophia had decided she wasn’t going down. No one had any way of communicating that to me and they had no way to see that I had been hurt. But I really wasn’t in a lot of pain, so I continued to play with the kids. An hour or so later, my youngest, needed to go to the washroom, so off we went. Being a multitasking Mom and seeing an opportunity to get something done, I went as well. Not to gross anyone out, but the toilet was full of blood.
I am great in times of emergency, but I must say I did feel a touch concerned by that. I quickly flushed so as not to upset my three year old and we headed back to find my husband and the other two kids. He took one look at me and said “What’s wrong?” I replied, “I think, I need to go to the hospital.” After relaying the events of the 200 lb canon ball, we headed back to our hotel room and made a plan to get me to a hospital without disturbing the kids holiday. I really wasn’t in that much pain. As it happened, there was a hospital just across the street from the mall! Great luck! So I walked into emergency while my husband took the kids to the rides. I don’t think things would have happened quite this way had we not been quite proficient at texting! After a few hours of examination and scans, it was determined that I had a tear in my kidney and that it should heal on its own provided (and here’s the kicker) I refrain from any biking for 2 weeks and any running for at least 4 weeks. What!? Are you nuts! I had a marathon to run in 3 weeks! A Boston Qualifying Marathon! Wow! It now felt like a truck had hit me, thrown it in reverse and backed over me again. It truly was at this moment that the battle waging in my mind was silenced. I would not be running in my Boston Qualifying marathon. The doctor agreed to let me continue on our holiday to Jasper and Banff National Parks as long as I kept to short walks and did not raise my heart rate at all.
So we carried on with the family plans. We returned to Calgary and I tried to run 2 weeks post-accident as I had no pain walking or biking. I made it half way around the track and knew something was not right. So I stopped and made my way back to the spin bike. I made an appointment to see my doctor in Calgary and he informed me that I should not be running for at least 6 weeks. He didn’t specify 6 weeks from the accident or 6 weeks from now, and I didn’t ask. So, I made myself a permanent fixture on the spin bikes at the gym and pedaled like my life depended on it. Shortly before leaving on our family trip, one of my running friends suggested I try some vitamins she was promoting to see if they would help with my systemic joint issues and inflammation, As you may recall, at that time, I had been in the frantic animal state of mind, so of course I was up for trying any natural remedy. During that spin bike phase of my year, my pain disappeared. If fact, it was three weeks after starting the vitamins, that I walked down the stairs at the gym and said out loud “OH MY GOD! I don’t hurt!”. I made my way to the locker room in a bit of a stunned state but put it aside as I had kids to pick up from school and errands to look after.
The next morning, I swung my feet over the end of the bed and put my feet on the ground. I transferred my weight and waited. No pain!? That was June 6th! Every day after that I woke up and took a minute to scan my body for pain. I walked down the stairs and waited for my knees to scream, I did bicep curls and was amazed when my elbows didn’t feel like they wanted to fly off as they howled in pain. Even more than 6 months later, I still walk down the stairs at the gym with a smile on my face and a skip in my step. I have a constant reminder of what I am grateful for. Needless to say, it did not take me long to start researching the rest of the products my running friend was promoting. If the vitamins were this fantastic, the other products deserved some research. My diet was predominantly raw food with no meat or dairy, when I went on the vitamins. So you can imagine, I was very picky about what I put in my body. Most of my friends thought I was extreme and either put me in the nuts pile or on a nutrition pedestal. I really didn’t figure I belonged on either. I ate the way that made me perform and recover the best as an athlete and in a way that kept my body as toxin free as possible.
After scouring the ingredient lists in the back of the catalog and after many product user’s testimonies, I decided to give their nutritional cleanse a try. I had done quite intense cleanses in the past, and I wanted to see if I would have similar results. The results were better! Instead of losing muscle and crashing my metabolism like so many other cleanses, this cleanse gave me optimum nutrients, freed my body of toxins and fat, and allowed me to keep and reveal my lean muscle. The next step was a biggie! I decided to give the whey protein a try. I had been using a plant based protein powder for over a year, with little improvement in my running times or my lean muscle mass. I was wary, because dairy products had never agreed with me, even as a child. But I figured the worst case was I would spend a day in my bathroom and that would be that. So, I gave it a try. I had no adverse stomach issues whatsoever. I continued to use it as I biked and eventually began running and lifting weights again. When I began to run again, I had no real goal in mind. I was unsure if the joint pain and inflammation would stay away or if this was a temporary reprieve. But I started to run more frequently and longer out of habit and for the joy of running again. The year was passing by and I was gaining lean muscle and feeling faster and stronger every day. Within two months I had put on more lean muscle than I ever had before. I knew doing a marathon was out of the question for 2012 at that point, but I started to think that I could easily do the half marathon in the Okanagan in October. For years my family members had been running the marathon, half marathon and kids races as part of our Thanksgiving Holiday, so we were planning to make the trip regardless of whether I raced or not.
So I told my dad I was going to run the half and that although I had not put in my usual number of long runs, I was feeling so strong that I wanted to race it and come in 10 minutes faster than my previous personal record (PR) time. My dad had been struggling with a foot injury and had not been running much at the time so I was expecting this would be a solo race for me. As we got closer to the race day, I found out that my dad was back running and that he was hoping, fingers crossed, to join me in the race. Perfect! I couldn’t possibly fail now! The
Thanksgiving weekend arrived and we jumped in our vehicle and made our long cross mountain trek to Kelowna and my parent’s home. I was confident but nervous about the time goal I had set for myself. I knew that my nutrition was solid and that I felt stronger, faster and healthier, but the test always comes on race day. Unexpected events can make a race go sideways in a hurry. My dad and I headed down to the start well before the rest of the family was ready. The plan was that my husband, kids and mom would be along the route at a couple spots and then at the finish to cheer us in. We were a smaller contingent than in past years as my younger sister’s family had had to stay home to attend a funeral but it was a beautiful crisp Fall day and I was excited to get started. We were positioned in the start farther up than I had ever been before and it was tough not to feel a bit intimidated by the other runners, but soon the runners positive energy and raw anticipation was all I felt as the gun went off. We took off at a pace I was familiar running, but not one I had ever sustained for the whole half marathon distance before. When we came upon our family or support crew, as I like to call them, at the 3 mile mark, I was feeling strong and happy. I waved at the kids and ran on!
My dad and I continued on pace and I was thrilled to find that I was having no joint pain and that my decade long nemesis, my right IT band, was not acting up as well. So far so good. I felt great other than being a little out of breath and having this nagging voice in my head questioning whether I could really keep this pace up right to the end. We came across the family again at 9 miles. I got rid of my phone and jacket, as I had been carrying it in my hand to track our pace with the running application I was using. I have always found that the further into a race I got, the less things I want to deal with. There comes a point in a race when all I can handle dealing with is putting one foot in front of the other and nothing else. And at 9 miles, I was already finding holding the phone to be more annoying than it was worth. I knew I needed to stay focused to get to the finish in the time I had set for myself.
The next time I would see my husband, mom and kids would be at the finish, so it was up to my dad and I to stay motivated and focused from that point on. My dad has never been a talker, but it always amazed me how at the end of every race I have completed with him by my side, he has always spent the last few miles producing a constant banter of encouraging words, useful tips or just distracting stories to keep me going. This race was no different, except when we had a little less than 2 miles left to go, he asked me what I had left in the tank. I was stumped by the question. I really didn’t know if I could go faster and make it in or if I was already at my max speed to finish. I had never ran that fast for that long before. So he told me we were going to make our goal time no matter what, but that I should shorten my stride, pick up the pace and see what I could really do. So that is what I attempted to do. It wasn’t easy and I remember thinking, this is way too hard to finish at this pace. But my dad chatted on and we kept moving closer to the finish. As we hit the park with the finish line in sight, my dad said now don’t you dare let anyone pass you! And where I found that extra gear, I have no idea, but off we flew and when we came over the finish and into the finishing area, I had to grab my dad’s shoulder to stay upright. It was done! We had done it! I had done it! I looked at my watch and realized, I had taken 12 minutes off my previous PR in the half marathon! Not only was I running pain free, but my athletic performance had improved in a very measurable way!
Now my running friend Angela has a business partner, as I am fully committed to promoting these all natural nutritional products! 2012 will be forever remembered as the year I found a way to truly help people with their health, their athletic performance and their dreams! I am excited to be be able to help everyone I interact with to regain their health and be the best they can be physically at any age! And 2013 looks to be an even more exciting year on the racing front for me as well, as I once again have my eye on a Boston Qualifying race in Edmonton in August. I also have a half marathon scheduled where I plan to take another 8 minutes off my PR and two other marathons, the 1st annual Banff Marathon in June and finishing the year once again with the Okanagan Marathon at Thanksgiving with my family! I am hoping my dad will be able to race the Boston Qualifying marathon with me and be with me once again as I fulfill a life-long dream of running in the Boston Marathon in 2014!