The long shot

“It’s a long shot and I say why not
If I say forget it I know that I’ll regret it
It’s a long shot just to beat these odds
The chance is we won’t make it
But I know if I don’t take it there’s no chance”
Long shot – Kelly Clarkson

When I was in primary school and early high school I was sporty. I swam and I ran, I was fit, I trained and I cared. When the people with natural talent also started to train, get fit and care I could no longer compete. For a while there I was winning races and setting records, collecting ribbons and trophies.

Middle distance track became my favourite distance. Although 200m was really too short for me I ran a fair few races in my tweens. Before one race Dad gave me some sage advice. He knew that running 200m was much too far for a ten year old to sprint. He advised me to hold back at the start, start powering up a little once I was almost around the bend, and then to keep on ramping up the speed to the finish. I ran my own race and followed Dad’s instructions to the tee. I had a slow start and kept my pace under control for the first third of the race. At the start of the bend I was coming dead last and Dad almost had a heart attack fearing that his coaching would lose me the race. As I started turning out of the bend I kicked it up a gear and passed an athlete or two. Dad’s heart palpitations slowed just a touch. I followed the bend, hugging the contour of my own lane, peering forward to the first flash of the finish line. When the track straightened out I was in the middle of the pack and feeling strong. My arms pumped a little harder, my head lifted a little higher, and my cadence increased as I drew closer to the end. I had energy left in the tank. As I settled into my strong finish, my competitors flagged one by one until they limped across the line, awash in lactic acid. Dad’s plan was realised. I won.

Taking a measured approach to ultimately reap rewards did not test my patience as a kid. Taking a measured approach as an adult reminds me that I have a patience deficit from time to time. The other day I was feeling impatient. I’m hoping to run 10km by the end of this year. I don’t want to run it once in a messy triumph of mind over matter which takes days to recover from. I want to run it regularly, run it easily, enjoy the experience, and be able to do it again and again and again. Truthfully, I could run that far well before the end of this year, and I was getting very excited about the possibility of achieving this goal before June. You see, I’m looking forward to feeling so well, so strong, and so fit that I can run that far all in one go. A whole 10km to fall into my running rhythm: a place where my legs, arms and lungs are working in synchronicity. The perfect intersection of physiology where I am pushing myself just enough but I can still breathe autonomously. A natural pace at which I don’t have to focus all my attention on reassuring my lungs: that the air is full of oxygen, really it is, and they will be ok, they just need to remember to keep exchanging carbon dioxide for oxygen regularly, oh, and if they could not trap superfluous air in my lungs which makes it harder to fit freshly oxygenated air in that would be super helpful. Instead of coaching my lungs, I can have a little look around at kids playing in a sandpit, loved up couples sipping takeaway coffees and strolling with their spoodles, or the wide blue sky and sparkling sun that have tarted themselves up just to remind me how wonderful it is to be alive. I want 10km worth of that feeling soon, and forever.

I was contemplating a program that would get me there in six months. For a moment I thought I could make it work. And maybe I could. If life didn’t throw me a curve ball. But life has a nasty habit of throwing curve balls. For me, curve balls happen just when I think I’ve achieved something. Saving for a holiday and almost there? One of the dogs will need an expensive trip to the vet and burn through the money like we’ve just won the lottery. This particular scenario is playing out in real time. Right on cue. Wisdom tooth feeling ok so that I start to wonder if I really need to get it out? Another infection occurs a couple of days later. No doubt I’d be so close to that 10km mark and sustain an injury, endure a chest infection exacerbation, or have my life comprehensively turned upside down in one way or another. I’d find myself crumpling at the finish like the competitors in my childhood 200m race. I’d be setting myself up for failure and would feel gutted that I didn’t achieve my goal. Instead, I’ve built in extra time, buffers and redundancies so I can confidently achieve my goal and thoroughly celebrate the milestone.

There is a closed Facebook group for women with CF who are interested in all things exercise. If you have a Y chromosome and/or are not enough of mutant, you can’t join. Apologies to the majority of the world’s population. It’s an encouraging forum. We have one huge impediment to fitness in common. We know how hard won our achievements are. We celebrate them unashamedly. We rejoice in other people’s victories vigorously too. Just got out of hospital and only managed to walk to the letterbox? Go girl! Have increased your ability to run from 30 secs at a time to 1 min? Amazing! Chased your child around the play ground and were so shattered you couldn’t do your gym workout? That’s ok. Ran a 5km race for the first time? Woo hoo! YOU’VE RUN A MARATHON?!?! Holy freaking cow! We ask for and receive advice from people who also live with dodgy lungs, a useless pancreas, the ability to dehydrate almost instantly, and a need to consume extra calories to prevent losing weight from increased activity. Our difficulties are normalised: it’s a relief to remember that this getting fit caper is somewhat of an ordeal for reasons in addition to couch-potato-ness. But oh how sweet are the rewards! Together, we are gaining quality and quantity of life. Together, we are taking a long shot for our health, and in spite of our health. Together, we just might beat the odds.

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