As many of you already know: I’m currently forced to hang up my running shoes until further notice. But most of you don’t know why. I was going to wait to share this post until I have more details from my physician, but so many of you have been private messaging me and asking what’s up, so hell. I’ve never been anything but an open book before, why change now?
I’m going to preface this post with two quick explanations as to WHY I’m sharing this information (other than, because that’s what I tend to do).
First, when something medical happens to me, what’s the first thing I do? GOOGLE IT. No, not because I disregard or do not seek the advice of an actual, medical professional (and I always highly recommend that you, too, seek help of a qualified professional). But rather, finding camaraderie in stories from strangers who have been where I am often helps calm me and answer questions I may have. Especially when it’s a situation that is life altering, even if only for a short time. Hearing of other’s struggles help remind us we aren’t alone. Success stories are a source of hope.
Second, I’m sharing because I hope to break taboos when it comes to discussing our bodies. Especially female anatomy. Look, I’m not going to be one who ever starts an introduction to a post with something along the lines of “this is a lady problem, gentlemen you may want to tune back another day”. Nope. Bodies and body parts are not taboo, my friends. Some of us may have different anatomy, sure, but our struggles aren’t anything to be embarrassed or ashamed of. So, men, please DO stick around. Especially if you are a coach to, spouse or friend of, or simply supporter of female runners and athletes. Or hell, just women in general.
Because for many of us, this is a reality we never wanted to face, but have to.
Alright, all of that said, here you go: I’ve unexpectedly suffered what is caused a “pelvic organ prolapse”. Much like a hernia, where your intestines push through a weakness in your abdominal wall, a pelvic organ prolapse is when either your uterus, rectum, or bladder push through a weakness in the muscle and tissue of the vaginal wall.
50% of women suffer from a pelvic organ prolapse to some degree. FIFTY PERCENT. In fact, just today I joined a support group on Facebook for pelvic organ prolapse, and there are over THIRTEEN THOUSAND members.
Surprised you haven’t heard of it before? It’s likely because many women are too embarrassed to seek help, never mind talk about this problem in a public setting. Which I, of course, think is bullshit (not their feelings -that I get. I think it’s bullshit that we encourage women to suffer in silence because it’s something that involves body parts we’ve deemed “private” or “unmentionable”. VAGINAS ARE NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF LADIES! We put our bodies through hell to help continue the human race, and then we are supposed to be silent about the the lingering physical consequences of child birth? Nope. Sorry. Not this woman.) You’d never hear of a runner saying “I’m too ashamed to talk about my ACL tear”. How is this any different?
Now, let’s talk about how a pelvic organ prolapse can happen:
- Pregnancy, labor, and childbirth (this is the most common reason)
- Respiratory problems with a chronic, long-term cough.
- Pelvic organ cancers.
- Surgical removal of the uterus (hysterectomy)
That third one? Chronic cough? That’s what got me. I’m still kind of in shock about it. Yeah, that cold that wouldn’t go away after Sadler’s Creek Stumble 24 hour race.
Now, I’ve put my body through hell in the past: I’ve birthed two babies (including a really big one, who is also responsible for the DR), I’ve run thousands of miles, including two 100+ mile races, a 90 miler, an 84 miler, and a 75 miler (and I’m proud of each one). I exercise almost daily, I lift heavy…I train this body to be strong. And what did my body do in turn? It gave out because of a three week cold when I couldn’t stop coughing.
Go. Freaking. Figure.
Because I’m a science nerd, I actually looked at research articles regarding this topic, and sure enough COUGHING causes more intra-abdominal pressure than even jumping.
Of course, it’s likely that there were weaknesses all along, due to birthing children and years of intense exercise. But still: ugh. Science. You can literally cough your organs out.
But here we are again. I’m not going to give you the full detailed account of how and why, other than on day #1 of the Yeti Vert Challenge, I was dutifully climbing away on the treadmill when I noticed something was very, very amiss. Having a pretty well versed background in human anatomy and physiology (especially when it comes to things such as diastasis recti, weak pelvic floors, and other issues that can affect female athletes), I had a sneaking suspicion as to what was up. A later examination confirmed my suspicions.
The good news, I suppose, is that the coughing is gone. The bad news is that I’m now in running limbo. Absolutely everything I’ve read states that running is only going to make this worse. Because I’m an ass, I went for a run ANYWAY the next night…and I can now confirm. Running makes it worse.
I’m sure you have questions – especially the women who are probably thinking “oh hell, could this happen to me?” Maybe. I’d definitely make sure you read up on pelvic floor health, because as it turns out LONG DISTANCE RUNNING can also weaken the pelvic floor. Frankly, I still have a ton of unanswered questions myself.
. But as for now my status is the following:
- No, it doesn’t hurt.
- Yes, it’s pretty uncomfortable.
- No, I can’t run.
- Yes, I’m absolutely overwhelmed with all of the information, surgery options, etc.
- Yes, I’m really upset with my body, and trying to figure out why stuff like this keeps happening to me.
But more so I’m overwhelmed with the number of people in these support groups who have said they had to stop high impact exercise, even post surgery, forever. While I’m not freaking out at the moment (I promise I’m not. I’ve got my bike, I’m trying to love yoga, I can lift – light weights higher reps, and I have Christmas to look forward to, which I’m really excited about), I will be the first to tell you that running is a huge part of my identity.
HUGE. You guys probably figured that already. It’s more than a hobby. My job (s) , my social circles, hell even a huge part of my marriage are all built around running. Running is my happy place, my emotional therapy, and definitely a source of my purpose in this life.
I can take a few weeks, or a few months off if I need to, and not lose sleep over it. I’ve done it before, and I’ll do it again.
But the thought of simply being DONE with running, just like that? Forever? No chance for a proper goodbye? No one last 100 mile hoorah? Not retiring on MY terms (which if you had asked me, would have been the day I died at 90+ years old)?
It’s definitely heavy. And so I’m trying to not think about it, and instead hoping for the best possible outcome.
Alas, my doctors appointment is the end of January (the earliest they could see me, oye). So I’ve got about 6 weeks to mull this over, research, and hopefully not lose my mind.
Because again, statistically 50% of women will deal with a pelvic organ prolapse in their lifetime, I’m certain that someone reading this has been in my shoes. Ladies – if any of you have successfully returned to running after (or with) POP, I’d love to hear from you.
Thanks for reading, and thanks for letting me share my reality. If I’m quiet about my own training in this space, or if you notice an uptick in me talking about my bicycle…this is why.