2016 started out so well. In January, I was thoroughly enjoying my running. I got myself a shiny new PB at the Staplestown 10k and at the Raheny 5 Mile. If I kept this up, my long-awaited sub 30 5k was looking ever more achievable. In February, things began to slow down. I found it difficult to complete a 5k, often having to adopt a run/walk approach. I felt that I was ‘brewing a bug’, that I had a cold or flu coming over me, but it wouldn’t seem to come to a head. At the start line of the St Patrick’s Festival 5k, I felt great, and told myself that this flat course would be perfect for a 5k PB. However, as soon as I started running it was like my lungs, heart and legs had other ideas and I had to decide just to get around the course. Not to worry, that was the fourth race in the Lord Mayor’s Challenge completed. The final race was a 2- Miler in St Anne’s Park. I encouraged all around me, telling them that we’d all done plenty of 5ks by now, we’d done a 5-Miler, sure a 2-Miler would be no bother to us! Again, as soon as I started off I was in real trouble. I just couldn’t catch my breath! I walked most of the way. Any attempt to move up into any sort of jog left me gasping. I got over the finish line with the tremendous help of the other racers and wondered what on earth was happening. That was on the Saturday.

On the following Tuesday I was diagnosed with Grave’s Disease, sometimes affectionately referred to as ‘The Hijacker’ because it hijacks every function of the body. It involves the thyroid gland which goes into overdrive, thereby having your heart racing, pounding without any exertion on your part. You become very breathless as your lungs try to keep up with your heart. It puts your brain and body on high alert, so you feel as if you can do anything, (that’s why I went to the start line full of optimism!) but as soon as you increase your effort your already racing heart and lungs cannot cope. It also causes muscle weakness, so your legs haven’t the power to keep up either. Suffice to say, by the time I was diagnosed I was very breathless just trying to hold a conversation! I immediately started treatment, which would take a number of weeks to bring the thyroid’s overactivity under control. In the meantime, I was on high doses of beta-blockers to help get my heart rate under control. Unfortunately, my liver didn’t like the medication so it went into overdrive too. We had to stop the medication, so now I was at home waiting for my eyes to pop out of my head (side effect of untreated Grave’s Disease) and for my skin to go yellow (because of the medication’s effect on my liver) while I waited for radio-active iodine treatment. The radioactive iodine had the desired effect, and eventually my thyroid function returned to normal, allowing me to taper off the beta-blockers.

Now I could start my ‘Get back to running’ plan, literally starting with brisk walking for 2k, then picking it up with a couch to 5k approach. As my thryroid levels began to normalise, I was able to do the Kilcock 5k and the Clonee 10k. I did them both on run 5 minutes, walk 2 minutes, and I came last in the Clonee 10k, but I will never forget the sense of achievement I felt that evening. I also enjoyed getting a mile PB at the Irish Runner Paced Miles in Morton Stadium and again in the Phoenix Park.

However, my return to fitness was short-lived as the radio-active iodine continued to take effect and my thyroid effectively stopped functioning. So now I was in what I call a ‘thyroid slump’. All of this was expected, but that only makes it slightly easier to put up with. In a thyroid slump, your body and brain simply cannot get itself into gear. You forget easily, it’s hard to concentrate, you’re irritable and moody (even more than usual ). Your body finds it hard to move, and really, you don’t give a damn. Without any change in your diet, the weight piles on – I put on 5kgs without changing my diet or exercise, and any changes you try to make don’t seem to make any difference. You already feel rotten and putting on weight that you’ve worked well to control doesn’t serve to make you feel any better about yourself. Once the thyroid slump kicks in, it’s time to take Elthroxin. It will be my lifesaver, and I will be on it for life – a small sacrifice for the restoration of normality. Unfortunately, it takes quite a bit of tweaking to get the dose right. So the past few months have been a rollercoaster of too high a dose, making me anxious, unable to sleep, breathless with rapid heart rate, followed by a hypothyroid slump when I find it nigh on impossible to get my brain or body in gear. I don’t even want to talk to people, I couldn’t be bothered, sure what’s the point? – so unlike me. Needless to say, all of this has played havoc with my running plans. I had signed up for so many races last year prior to diagnosis, and was very disappointed to have to miss them. I felt somewhat cheated, because I’ve been working hard on my physical and mental fitness for the past 5 years, and something entirely beyond my control had taken it all out from under me.

However, I also determined that in a year’s time I would look back on this illness episode as a glitch. Through all of this, running (in the loosest possible definition) has been essential. As soon as I started to walk any distance, I walked the Castletown parkrun and kept coming back every week. I decided that parkrun and my athletics club training were compulsory. I didn’t give myself a choice. Otherwise, I could have come up with too many reasons why I shouldn’t go. parkrun and my athletics club training have provided the discipline I needed to keep getting out there. Far from a sub 30 5k, it was taking me up to 50 minutes to complete my parkrun, but every week I saw some improvement. Similarly, my athletics club training made me get out there on a Wednesday night to do intervals or hills. The club is so supportive of me, knowing that I’m doing my best at my own pace. I also signed up for a Facebook-based challenge for December called the Sanity Clause. The challenge was to get at least 30 minutes exercise per day – it was so good for me that I’ve continued it through January and intend to keep it going. For the moment, I’ve stopped looking for a sub 30 5k, I don’t even look for a PB. I focus on ‘post-illness PBs’. That way, I can continue to motivate myself and see that I am improving. If I keep looking at my past PBs and how I’m nowhere near them, I’ll just get disheartened and that won’t do me any good. Anyway, regardless of my finishing times, I’m working on my physical and mental fitness, and that’s what it’s all about for me. So this all sounds like a pretty miserable running year. Far from it! I completed all 5 races in the Lord Mayor’s Challenge, earning a beautiful medal. I was delighted to be well enough to attend the reception at City Hall and was proud and privileged to receive the Spirit of the Lord Mayor’s Challenge Award.

In June, I was surprised and delighted to receive a lovely medal from Griffeen parkrun as I was in second place for the person who most volunteered in the previous year. In July I got to meet Sonia O’Sullivan and Catherina McKiernan at the Irish Runner Paced Miles in Morton Stadium, where I got a Mile PB. In October, I ran in my club colours and, for my efforts, I am the 2016 Kildare County Cross Country Champion in my age category. I have a medal that I will always cherish to prove it.

At the end of October, I ran my 100th parkrun in Castletown. To say that this was a highlight is such an understatement. I was then chosen as Castletown’s parkrunner of the month and went on to be selected as National parkrunner of the month. Also in October, I had the privilege of volunteering at Dublin City Marathon where had the pleasure of meeting over 19,000 legends, and got a lovely volunteer’s medal for my efforts. Our athletics club ran a winter league of 3k and I found my times improving with each race.

So, I start 2017 in a thyroid slump again, which is why it has taken me until 23rd January to write this! parkrun continues to give me the motivation to keep on keeping on. I’m volunteering as an Operation Transformation Ambassador so that I’m not tempted to stay in bed on a Saturday morning. I’m following a Daily Plank Challenge with the Lust For Life facebook page to try to improve my overall strength and fitness. The Lord Mayor’s Challenge is giving me the impetus to increase my distances, in the hope of running the Raheny 5 Mile. This is usually my favourite distance, but I don’t feel ready for it this year. However, we continue to tweak my Elthroxin dose and I’m beginning to feel that I’m returning to some normality. I’m looking forward to running the races that I had to miss last year, especially Terenure 5 Mile, Longford Canal Run, Carton 6k Trail Run, Donadea 10k and, of course, my local Le Cheile 5k. But I’m hesitant to book anything too far in advance – I won’t be taking my running fitness for granted again. I can’t wait to add to my bling collection….. !!