From a Hospital Bed to Ultra Trail Races: My Running Story

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There are many different reasons why people start running and stick to it. Some do it for weight loss, some as an endurance training for another sport and some just love to be outside and move. Endurance running is by far the most popular mass sport and millions of runners complete at least one race each year in one of the many distances. Every one of them has a running story to tell and in this post I’ll share mine.

Endurance Youth

I always loved sports, both watching it on TV and doing it. It was just how we were raised and spend our family holidays. In winter we used to go cross-country skiing and in the summer holidays it was all cycling and hiking in the Swiss mountains.

We had our idols too. I admired, and still do, the Norwegian nordic sky team and athletes like Bjørn Dæhlie or Vegart Ulvang. In summer the Tour the France was the main event we followed. It was the early 90s before the Festina scandal and back then as a teenager my excitement for the climbers like Marco Pantani was unbroken despite doping was already an annoying topic.

Of course I tried to copy my role models as good as possible and was always happy doing these endurance sports in the Swiss mountains during school breaks. And having an older brother made sure there was always enough competition.

Diseases

As the passion for sports was still there, my ability to perform these activities suddenly got lost. In the second half of my teenager years my body started to do strange things. Until then I was only aware of mechanical sports injuries like breaking a bone or tear a ligament. Other medical issues like different diseases were just not in my mind. But that changed pretty fast.

I worked at a construction site during school vacations to earn some extra money. Though I wasn’t used to physical work I ended my first week of this job exhausted but could handle it pretty well. On the next morning I felt a severe pain in my left foot when I woke up. I tried to remember if something fell on my foot or any other thing happened to my foot. But I couldn’t come up with anything. The pain became stronger and it seemed pretty odd to me that such pain can occur without any mechanical impact.

A few days later I went to the doctor for the first of countless times in the coming years. After more joints started to show similar symptoms and also my lower back and hip area started to hurt pretty bad. Soon after I got diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a disease with long-term inflammation of joints, spine and other parts of the body.

The coming years were dominated by heavy pain and lots of cortisone with all its side effects. Conducting in any regular sports wasn’t an option for years but I had to accept the situation and I did though it wasn’t easy at all.

Getting Back Up

I was at my low in the fall of 2005 when I was also diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, which added inflammations to the whole digestive tract. I lost 20% of my body weight in about six weeks and wasn’t able to work for over a month. Getting up in the morning and walking the 50 yards to the closest street car station were hard tasks and required much effort.

It was back then when I got prescribed a new type of drug to cure the symptoms of my diseases. It was an infusion that lasted for almost two hours and the doctors said I need to take it once a month. I didn’t expect much from it but the first treatment of this medicine was a complete life changer. The next day after the infusion I woke up and almost all the symptoms were gone. I felt reborn!

It took another three years with some setbacks when it felt safe to say that my health was stable and I could expect it to stay that way. And finally in 2008 lying on a hospital bed getting my infusion my running story began. I thought about getting back to regular sports and I didn’t need much time to decide which sport. I wanted to run a half marathon in 6 months and I wanted to do it in less than two hours.

The First Race

So I started training about two times a week. In the early days I changed between walking and running and my training was finished after about 2 miles. But my endurance increased quickly and I was optimistic to achieve the goal I set myself.

I also started learning and wanted to know how I can increase the probability to finish the half marathon and how I should prepare for it. The internet proofed to be a great resource of information but I also started reading books around the topic. I complemented my running with stretching and some core training and bought running shoes based on my stride and running form.

In September 2008 I lined up at one of the biggest half marathon races in Switzerland the Greifenseelauf. It is a beautiful run around a small lake mostly on trails and with nice views. I was a bit nervous but excited that I’m able to even try to run and finish such an event. I felt well prepared and able to achieve all my goals and came in 1 hour 58 minutes after I heard the starting gun.

Just a month later I ran my second half marathon together with my mom and I was able to run it 10 minutes faster than the first one. Not only the satisfaction of finishing these races but also the process of training and the joy of being outside and move my body completely got me hooked on running.

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Inspiration

After these half marathons in 2008 running stayed an important part of my life. I kept a regular running routine and learned more and more about the sport. Around that time my mother gave me an awesome book that was a great inspiration for my further running career. That book was Chris McDougalls “Born to Run” and I still consider it as one of my favorite books. If you haven’t already read it I’d like to encourage you to get a copy and start reading it right after this blog post 🙂

It was in this book where I first had the thought it might be great to run longer distances than just the 13.1 miles. Not only books and stories from other runners inspired me to run more but also the pure joy of moving around in nature and the notable health benefits. And so after running my fourth half marathon I decided to train for my first marathon.

I chose a course that I knew from one of my half marathons but now I tried to do it twice. I increased my weekly long run, that became my favorite workout, and also my weekly overall mileage. In preparation of this event also stuff like recovery, cross-training, mental preparation and nutrition played a bigger role.

I finished my first marathon in 3 hours and 47 minutes with a smile on my face and an awesome feeling of joy and achievement I’ve never experienced before. With this race I changed my main running distance to the 26.2 miles.

Testing Limits

Running became a major part of my life over the years. I got addicted to being outside and enjoy the pure activity of running in nature. My health is still stable but I know that it could also change quickly. And so it makes sense for me to enjoy everyday I’m able to go out for a nice run. After reading “Born to Run” and several other books about ultra and trail running I felt a strong motivation to test where I can go with my body and what challenges I could tackle.

Also I always preferred running on trails and the idea of running in the mountains was very intriguing. For me trying to run ultra trail races seemed like the logical next step. And so last year I began the transformation to a mountain trail runner. And again I find this new distance and running terrain to be even more joyful than running half marathons and marathons in the flat. I finished both mountain races I participated in and plan to run three 60k runs in the Swiss and French mountains in 2017.

Continuing My Running Story

It’s not that easy to run as much as I want to next to working and other obligations. But the fact that I take the time to run several times a week proves that I really got addicted with running. It’s not a temporary thing for me. Endurance running is more a lifestyle than an ordinary hobby. And so I’m very curious what I will experience with running in the years to come.

Apart from running and find pleasure in it for me personally, I also wanna try to inspire others to start running and help them on that path with the experiences I made over the past decade. And this is where this blog comes in. I wanna reach out to people and convince them that running is an awesome thing to do and can have a huge positive impact on one’s health both physically and mentally.

I’m looking forward to my next decade of running and hope I can share it with some of you!

I got inspired by the running stories of some great athletes and chances are that YOUR story is also an inspiration for me. So if you’d like to share your story with me or let me feature your running story on this blog just drop me a mail at: info@therunningmate.run

Happy running
mikula

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