When it Rains, It Poo-rs: Training with Dysentery
I thought I had a relatively difficult challenge on my hands trying to prepare for one of the hardest, most competitive 100 milers in the world while living in a war zone. Apparently the universe thought I was spending a bit too much time training on Easy Street and decided to detour me down Impossible Drive. Alright, maybe I’m being overly dramatic, but after running with, well, the runs for the past 45+ days, I’m a bit ‘drained’ (wahahah…. the jokes on this one are endless).
Yup, I have been training for Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc with amoebic dysentery for weeks on end. Sh!tty.
I haven’t really wanted to blog about my ailments because really, who says diarrhea on a blog? Um, apparently me. Diarrhea. There, I said it again. No point in hiding it.
Some days were alright. I was tired, my legs felt molasses, but I was getting my runs in (while getting my ‘runs’ out). Other days were downright dark. On one of my three-hour treadmill sessions, I had to leave for the toilet every twenty minutes or so. It wasn’t just the annoyance of having to deal with frequent bathroom breaks though. (Let’s face it, women are stereotypically plagued with small bladders so we’re used to having to deal with bathroom stops, particularly at awkward times like during long car rides, fancy social functions, sports games or concerts). It was the constant dehydration, the inability to absorb nutrients, and the insane bloating that really got to me. Despite knowing that I was dropping weight, my stomach just seemed to grow bigger and bigger in size, which actually became really uncomfortable to run with! The belly became such a permanent fixture that my boyfriend, Stuart, and I even named it: Sumo (we were in Japan at the time while I was on R&R, so it seemed appropriate). At first it was funny… we would joke about our petulant little ‘child’ Sumo who was “acting like a little sh!t” or “being really crappy”… but at some point I started to wonder if Sumo was ever going to go away! Don’t believe me? Check him out:
(Attractive, I know)
Finally, after weeks and weeks of dealing with Sumo, I was diagnosed with dysentery last week. Due to travel schedules, missed diagnoses and my own stubbornness at trying to “run through the runs”, I had been sick for quite some time before we figured out what was wrong. Not ideal. Basically, my little amoebas were having little amoeba babies, which had possibly spread to my liver and other organs. GROSS. The UN doc in the compound hooked me up to an IV to start the drug drip and get some fluids into me… Rather than admit that yes, okay, maybe I WAS sick, I cheekily commented how happy I was that I had gotten my four hour training run in the night before my diagnosis. The doc simply shut his mouth and left the room before I had a chance to ask him if I could run again the next day.
I tried to lie there quietly and take my fluids without fuss, but I hit my limit after close to four hours on the drip. I grabbed my IV pole, stepped over a cockroach, and stormed down the corridor of the clinic demanding that someone pull the needle out of my arm before I did it myself.
I’m now over a week into my antibiotics and definitely on the mend, but still not quite there yet. Luckily, my organ scans came back all clear so I think all of the yuckiness I’m still feeling is just from the drugs. I’m actually not sure what is worse – running with dysentery or running on the drugs that kill dysentery… The former gives you insane cramping and diarrhea, the latter gives you gas, diarrhea, nausea and dizziness. I’m pretty sure that with all of the methane I’ve produced over the past little while I’ve single-handedly put a new hole in the ozone lawyer just over Afghanistan….
This certainly isn’t what I was expecting for my UTMB prep. I have had to talk myself through ten minute segments of five-hour runs in the compound. Drag myself out of bed – and off the toilet – multiple times a day just to get my training hours done. And try to ignore the very persuasive devil in my head (or Sumo in my belly) telling me that it would be much more sensible to just try this again next year instead….There have been many tears, the odd tantrum, and a whole lot of self-doubt… I have thrown myself more than a few pity parties (at which Sumo and I have been the only guests). Now that I’m coming out of my slump, I realize that it is time to buck up and stop feeling sorry for myself. Training NEVER goes as well as you hope it will. Sure, I may have dysentery, but my legs aren’t broken. I can still run and I’m still going to try my best, and that is all I can do. Take that, amoebas!!
The important thing is that I remember why I am doing this: to raise awareness and much-needed funds for Women for Afghan Women (WAW) to help them continue with their life-saving and life-changing work here in Afghanistan (and also back in New York with Afghan refugees!!). I’m ashamed to admit that in my darkest moments when it has been just me and Sumo battling into the dusty Afghan wind, I have lost sight of the reason why I am doing this.
Women and girls in Afghanistan face extraordinary challenges on a day-to-day basis. There have been improvements in some areas regarding women’s rights. The Afghan Constitution guarantees equality between men and women (at least on paper), laws have been passed aimed at eliminating violence against women, and females are taking up seats in Parliament. Fab. However, despite these few gains, the situation for many remains seriously abysmal, particularly in the areas outside of Kabul where life is governed much more by tradition than by formal laws. I have been struck at the way in which some women that I have met have been treated not as people, but as property. For instance, in many villages across Afghanistan, it is common for families give away their daughters to others in order to settle disputes between parties. In these situations, it is not uncommon for the receiving family to take out their grievances on the daughter, blaming her for whatever dispute she was meant to settle. Some are beaten, some are forced into prostitution, some are kept as slaves. Other families too poor to keep their daughters at home sell them off to older men when they are barely in their teens or younger, catapulting them into often very dangerous situations (if men ‘buy’ the girls, they own them – expectations are high and disappointments can be fatal). Even in more progressive families where daughters are allowed to attend primary school, the value of education for females once they reach puberty (i.e. the eligible ‘marrying’ stage) is not widely appreciated.
I could go on… but what I really want to focus on are the organizations like WAW that are working non-stop to save these women, support them through whatever situation they may face, and help them strive to a better future. There is so much more I wish I could do, but for now the one tangible thing I know I can do for this organization and for these women is RUN.
Run to raise awareness, run to raise hope, run to raise funds.
Run with the belief that a few extra dollars might make a difference.
Run with the gratitude for the opportunity to have come to Afghanistan.
Run with the hope that I can draw strength from the women I have met.
Run with the knowledge that a little dysentery is really just a micro-challenge in the grand scheme of things.
Run with the dream to finish.
Alright, I may not make it to the end of this race. Sumo and I are in daily discussions about it, but he is still poo-pooing the idea (wahaha, it never ends). But I’m going to have to be dragged off the mountain before I drop out. The hard part is done and now I just need to try to stay health for the next seven days until I hop on that plane to Chamonix….
So, if you are grateful not to have dysentery or if you are glad you don’t have to run 100 miles while climbing the total distance equivalent to the height of Everest next weekend… consider making a donation to Women for Afghan Women? It is tax deductible if you are in the US and it is FULLY reedemable for positive karma credits in any country! Please visit http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/stephanie-case-2/utmb and thanks SO MUCH to all of you who have donated already!! I’m trying to reach $10,000 and I would love your help!
Over the next few days I will try to post a little overview (with photos!) of my random training adventures leading up to the race, including my Afghan Boot Camp in Bamyan, running with ‘roos in Australia, jogging along trails in Japan, and hill training in Hong Kong!