Tuesday, 13 September 2016

HG, running and me by Claire

Running a marathon takes a lot of training.  But it also needs strength, determination and a strong self belief.    So what happens to a runner who is so ill in her pregnancies that she loses all that strength and self belief?

Between 2002 and 2008 I ran 8 marathons.  I loved the distance, and really believed that any physical challenge was just mind over matter.  Mental toughness was something I excelled at, and totally took for granted.

I fully intended to continue running during pregnancy. In my first pregnancy at the first sign of what I naively termed ‘morning sickness’ I went for a run – I’d read that exercise helps ease sickness.  I found myself plodding around a so-called easy route, throwing up in bushes.  I gave up after about 3 of these runs, feeling like a huge failure. 

My pregnancy was a miserable experience.  I was nauseous 24/7, and the nausea kept me awake for about 22 of those hours, every day for months.  I was sick or retching dozens of times every day – and although in this pregnancy I was never hospitalised,  eating was hugely difficult, work was a living nightmare and running was a distant dream.  I missed it so much.

My second pregnancy was even tougher, I was hospitalised 3 times and tried 7 different anti-emetic drugs before I was able to function at all.  I missed 8 months of my daughter’s life while I lay bedbound, dehydrated and lonely.  Those nausea and vomit ridden months of my second pregnancy passed very slowly.  I missed my normal life and once again running was a distant memory.


I was suffering from Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) a severe and potentially life threatening form of pregnancy sickness which affects around 1-2% of women.

After both pregnancies I desperately tried to get back into running – but after months of complete inactivity my once strong muscles had wasted and my confidence was ruined.  I was scared of the body that had made me so ill. I was also left with horrible memories and a deep emetophobia and terror of getting ill again which made pushing myself whilst running virtually impossible.

I had tried to run a marathon in 2011 when my first daughter was 15 months old – I struggled to train properly and then succumbed to a sickness bug the night before the race. Angry that sickness was stopping me again I tried to run anyway but had to stop at 19 miles, shattered and mentally broken. Lying in a St John’s Ambulance tent was a deep low for me, and this ‘failure’ destroyed any remaining confidence I had. For a very very long time I doubted that I would ever attempt another marathon.

I realised when my youngest daughter was about 18 months old that I had to learn to enjoy my running again.  I couldn’t get over HG and all the phobias and hang ups it had left me with without learning to push my body.  I had to rebuild the strength I once had.  She is 3 ½ now and I have got myself to the point where I can run races and enjoy them.  I’m still an awful lot slower than I want to be, than I used to be, but I am improving, and enjoying the process.  It’s a really big step for me.  


An even bigger step has been entering another marathon.  I haven't chosen an easy option! The Snowdonia Marathon is a stunning 26.2 mile course which follows a loop on the roads around Wales’s highest peak.   With over 1000 feet of climbing it’s one of the toughest road marathons there is but I’ve trained there as much as I can and I am happy to be starting the next chapter of my marathon running in such a beautiful place.


I am running for Pregnancy Sickness Support  (PSS) because the work they do is inspirational.  The charity is run on a shoestring, but with more passion than you could imagine.  I rang the helpline when I was at my lowest ebb, and received evidence-based information about medication options which I was able to use to advocate for myself when hospitalised.  I joined the online support group where I met – for the first time – people who actually understood how hard an HG pregnancy is, that it is not something you can ‘think positive’ through, that you are not being a wimp over a bit of sickness, that you have fought so very hard to have your children and that it is an insult to say you are not grateful for them.  I am so grateful for my children, but it has taken me years to come to terms with how hard it was to bring them into the world.  PSS has helped me feel normal throughout that time.


I have volunteered for PSS for 3 years now, providing 1-2-1 peer support to sufferers, moderating on their forum, presenting to Health Professionals, and I even presented at the charity's most recent conference this year.  The charity only employs one person, everyone else involved is a volunteer, and they get no central funding, it is all donations.  So every penny you give makes a huge difference to women at an incredibly scary and lonely time.   

If you would like to sponsor me and support this fantastic charity, my fundraising page is here. Thank you.

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