A week ago tomorrow marks a week since I ran the full Flying Pig Marathon and completed one of the biggest achievements in my 23 years. For me, this was a mental and physical achievement on par with earning my bachelor's degree from college. In a nutshell, I understand this is an achievement for anybody, but I want to write about why this was such an important achievement for me in regards to my CF.
I don't look at my life through the lens that everything I do is an achievement because it inherently includes the obstacles posed by CF as well as normal obstacles, but sometimes, I need to reflect and consider the fact that CF does add unique roadblocks to everything I do.
I've incessantly yammered about how "I never want CF to define me or my ambitions" or "CF is just a 'different' normal and 'normal' doesn't really exist" and yadda yadda yadda. But this marathon pushed me to limits I've never experienced before. Beforehand, I imagined that I could do just about anything for 5 hours. Pain, I thought, would be masked by the intoxicating adrenaline that would fill my brain and blood coursing through my veins. The finish was merely inevitable, I thought for the months before I actually finished. But I went through real, daunting, unbearable pain, fear, and anxiety while running this.
To be sure, a marathon is absolutely an achievement, but it isn't unheard of for people with CF. There are people with CF that have finished Iron Mans, played collegiate sports, become doctors, and there's even a guy who climbed Everest last year. So finishing this doesn't put me in some unprecedented stratosphere of people with CF. But maybe something it does do is present me with an opportunity to write about how I'm not anything particularly special and that anybody can set their sights on a goal and can surpass that goal.
Believe it or not, one of the least difficult parts of running this was my chest. I hardly felt any chest pain and never struggled all that much for breath. The pain in my lower back, calves, heels, and feet were the difficult parts. I experienced cramps, some hyponatremia (reduced sodium levels), and dehydration. Afterwards, I felt a bit discombobulated and an exhaustion I've never experienced before. There were times in the marathon where I could hardly find an ounce of motivation, where it seemed like this was all for nothing, a weird achievement that doesn't really mean anything. I didn't anticipate these mood swings, even though I read about them beforehand. Running a marathon is not just a physical task; it's far more mental than most people would ever believe.
Even seeing the finish line and actually finishing the marathon weren't what I expected them to be. I thought that crossing that finish line would be the most intoxicating feeling in the world, even more so than when I skydived. But the pain I was going through actually overwhelmed that feeling. Don't get me wrong, it was thrilling to finish. But the gratification over the last 6 days has been more of a slow burn where it hits me that I literally ran a full marathon. My two proudest achievements that I've done are running this marathon and completing college. They're two achievements that required every bit of my mental and physical energy – and unlimited support by friends and family, of course – and that I pushed myself through in some of the darkest times of my life.
5 years ago when I graduated high school, I wondered if I'd survive to see my own college graduation. I wondered when my lungs would begin failing me. I wondered when I'd have to consider if I would ever want to go through with a double lung transplant. I know I'm a strong individual, but I'm scared shitless of end-stage CF. I don't want anybody to see me in such a devastated, disoriented, and devoid of life state. I'm proud, so the idea that end-stage CF reduces you to essentially functionless, completely unable to do anything, including and especially breathing on your own. I'm an independent person and the thought of anybody having to take care of me is paralyzing in itself.
But here I am, 5 years later, 23 years old. I'm healthier than I've been in nearly a decade. I've finished a marathon, exactly a year after successfully completing one of the most difficult collegiate curriculums. I'm nearing my two year anniversary on one of the most miraculous CF drugs ever made, a drug that literally partially corrects and potentiates that broken protein that has devastated me for 2.3 decades.
If CF is to be what one day takes me, I know what that will look like. I'm a complicated individual, balancing an ecstatic optimism for my future with a existential dread of what my future could look like.
As I ran this marathon, in those moments where I wondered why I was running it, the last defense for my motivation was remembering why I'm motivated to do anything.
When I posted the picture of me holding the medal to Facebook, someone commented and remarked how I'm a role model to both people with CF and without, even though I never chose to be one. That resonated weirdly with me (obviously it made me feel really good!). I don't look at myself as a role model. As a matter of fact, and if you know me well you know this, I'm probably way too hard on myself most of the time. Many people also commented how impressive it was that I completed the marathon, especially considering I have CF. These comments also evoked some bittersweet emotions from me.
I know that people will always view me in the perspective that I have CF. That's inevitable and that's okay. It's a huge part of my life and it'd be a mistake for me to not use that to my advantage.
If there's anything I want to say about me completing a marathon, it's that us humans are far more capable of feats than we give ourselves credit. Though I look at myself and wish I had run a better time or how I'm going to one-up myself, I'm taking the time to pat myself on the back this time. This was important to me and I finished. I'm going to continue to push myself because it's the only way I know how to live. If people view me as a role model or inspiring, I hope I can use that position wisely. Take the time to believe in yourself and life will reward you wonderfully.