Running Has Always Felt Like Moving Meditation
Guest post written by Ranger Ready brand ambassador Elyse Mickalonis. She is a former broadcast journalist turned yoga instructor, runner, and Lyme disease warrior. Follow her Lyme recovery journey and road back to running @yogabyelyse.
The sun was low and a late summer golden light kissed trees and houses as we drove toward the hospital. My heart beat out of control, and I wondered if we would make it. As we drove past the Charles River, Tim said, “Look at the river. Look how beautiful it is. I can’t wait for us to go paddling again.” I looked and held my chest. I reminded myself to take slow, deep breaths, like the ones I teach in yoga. I was scared, but I knew panicking would not help. I needed to slow my thoughts and my heart. I focused on Tim’s hand in mine, the Charles, and the folks I could see paddling.
It was August of 2020. I just had an amazing summer spent outside hiking and teaching standup paddle boarding yoga with SUP YO Adventures. I was also training for my third marathon. Originally, I signed up to run the Chicago Marathon, on behalf of TEAM PAWS Chicago, but was given the option to defer due to the pandemic. I deferred my race to 2022, not knowing what 2021 would hold. Since I already began marathon training, I switched gears and trained in the humid New England summer for another fall race — the virtual Wineglass Marathon.
Each week, I would run before work and incorporate high intensity interval training sessions outside. I savored those mornings before work where I could indulge in fresh air and see the world as it woke up. My VO2 Max increased, and my endurance was the best I remember it ever being. My miles got faster and my body stronger. I was 145 pounds of muscle. I felt invincible, and then, I didn’t.
It started with what felt like allergies. A pressure poked at the back of my eyes and behind my ears. I took allergy medicine and hoped it would clear up. One night, I woke up drenched in sweat and my heart racing. I figured, maybe I had too many blankets on for the summer heat and rolled back to sleep.
Then fatigue set in. I had just run a half marathon as part of my training cycle, so I assumed I was burning myself out and cut back a little on my runs. My miles got slower, and I couldn’t seem to get enough sleep.
On Monday, August 17th, I woke up and got a short workout in before heading to the office. I had my morning coffee and took on the day. Around 5PM, I was sitting at my desk when my Apple watch alerted me that my heart rate jumped up to 180. I felt a pounding within my chest and stood up to get some air. I nearly collapsed as I tried to breathe and move my legs. I felt faint. My colleagues sat me down and gave me aspirin, water, and some crackers. They called my partner Tim to pick me up.
And this is where we left off. Driving toward the hospital, the Charles to our right and the unknown ahead of us. Long story short, when I was taken into the ER, they gave me fluids and told me I may have had too much coffee or dehydrated myself. After all, they had other patients to see with COVID. They sent me home after five hours with my heart rate elevated above 100. For perspective, my normal resting heart rate is anywhere between 55 and 65 beats per minute.
Then began the struggle many Lyme patients face. Doctor after doctor proclaimed all my tests were normal and I must just be overworked, stressed, or dehydrated, but my symptoms worsened. Over the course of weeks, I experienced tremors, the inability to regulate my body temperature, GI issues, flushing, neck and joint pain, insomnia, tachycardia (rapid heart rate), tingling in my extremities, brain fog, headaches, eye twitching and more.
I didn’t have the energy to run let alone walk. I stopped teaching yoga classes. My heart broke, but my mission was to find someone who could figure out what was going on. I lost more than 20 pounds. No matter how much I ate, the weight wouldn’t stay on me.
Everyone urged me to get tested for Lyme disease, but each doctor I spoke to didn’t see a need as I did not display the classic bullseye rash. Finally, at the end of October, I found a Lyme literate medical doctor. He ordered bloodwork and let me know it would take at least four weeks to get results. In November, my results came in — I tested positive for Lyme disease and tick-borne relapsing fever. The latter is what caused my cardiac symptoms. I began an intense treatment of antibiotics and supplements. The food I put in my body changed too — I was following an inflammatory diet. I got infusions and rested. At first, I felt worse, but then, slowly, I started feeling better. My mind started to clear. I could sleep through the night, I practiced gentle yoga, I started to walk more, hike more, jog and run. This April, I ran my first mile, post Lyme diagnosis, and I cried. I felt as if I had just completed my third marathon. I was alive and able to enjoy the things I loved again. In May 2021, I ran the virtual Lyme Warrior 5K in honor of Lyme Disease Awareness Month.
Now, I’m even more cautious when I’m spending time outside. I always thought I was careful, but having Lyme disease has taught me just how careful I need to be. I never saw the tick that bit me, nor did I have the classic bullseye rash. That’s why I love using Ranger Ready Repellent. It provides me the protection I need to know that I’m safe from vector-borne diseases while enjoying the outdoors. Their body-worn Picaridin 20% repellent provides 12 hours of protection from ticks and mosquitoes, and comes in a variety of great scents. Additionally, I use their Permethrin 0.5% clothing-worn repellent to treat my clothes and shoes before runs, hikes or outdoor yoga. It protects for 40 days or five washes.
For me, running has always felt like a moving meditation. I love the feeling of warming up, breathing and covering miles while losing myself in nature. I feel more like myself when my feet pound the pavement. I love the challenge of seeing what my body can do and seeing how far it can take me.
As I increase my mileage this year and prepare my body to take on long runs ahead of next year’s Chicago Marathon, I know that no matter how I do in next year’s race, I’ve already seen what my body can do and how far it can take me — because it fought so hard to keep my alive. Being able to train for and later run Chicago…we’ll that’s just a cherry on top.
Elyse is running the 2022 Chicago Marathon on behalf of TEAM PAWS Chicago. She is passionate about helping rescue animals, like her beagle Clark, have a fighting chance. Click here to help Elyse run and fundraise for the Chicago 2022 marathon.