It was one of the questions that I asked at the consultation, although not nearly the most important one, so it was closer to the end. How long until I could start running again?
Running was the beginning of my physical transition. I knew I wasn’t happy with my body. I didn’t know enough to call it gender dysphoria back then, but I was sure that I wanted to change my body to be something other than the lump that it had evolved into being while I didn’t give a shit about it for years.
It wasn’t that I was unhealthy — I could walk pretty much any distance you would ask, and go up stairs without any problems. I never had high cholesterol or blood pressure. I was a healthy fat person before I started running. I combined a diet with some exercise and lost 140 pounds over a couple years. Most of that exercise was running.
Walking outside for an hour for exercise and thinking time turned into some running, then I was running the whole time. Then it was off to the races. Quite literally. I ran a few 5k to start and then started training for half marathons because why not? I had the training time and running a distance like that is an accomplishment. I ended up running three half marathons, and a handful more 5k and 10k races. When I moved to San Francisco, I signed up for Bay to Breakers as a fun race, and it was my first race as a woman, one month into HRT and the day after I started living full-time as a woman.
After HRT, my running suffered a bit. Partially it was because of the very happy physical changes happening my body, but if I’m serious it was more about how I suddenly had a social life. Running is a mostly solitary activity for me, about seven hours of just being alone when I was at steady-state. I became much more of a social animal, and the time that I had set aside for running went to the wayside. I found some time and got back to around 20 miles a week before surgery. I ran 5 miles on the Sunday before surgery.
Six weeks, my surgeon told me. You can resume running, slowly and carefully, six weeks after your surgery. Walking was prescribed for parts of recovery, but only about 30 minutes a day, and it was slow going at first. Once I stopped being in the bed all the time, I also kind of stopped intentionally walking around each day too. When six weeks came around, I emailed again and double-checked and got the go-ahead to start.
I put on my running outfit, with slight differences based on happily not having to hide unwelcome bits. I put sunscreen on and started my route, the same one that I had run a few hundred times before. It was fine for the first few hundred yards, but then I could notice that I was getting tired, in a way that I would normally be tired at the end of a run. I was breathing heavy when I hit the half mile mark and stopped to walk. This was not going to be easy. I started again and finished the mile: 10:08 and I was basically spent.
The next day I went out again, ran the easiest course I could think of, and ended up with a 9:28, which is below my steady-state pace for a half marathon. This is not going to be easy. I ran another easy mile in a similar time the next day, but it wasn’t easy — at the end of these miles I was having to push hard to get to the end. I resigned myself to a long training to get back to where I was before and walked home.
It feels like something else is happening though, more than just recovery from six weeks off, I think. I’ve taken time off before, even a couple of weeks, and recovery wasn’t this bad. When I get into the shower to rinse off after I get lightheaded, and have to rush myself out before I start feeling worse.
About a week after surgery, I got really worried about my blood pressure. Sometimes I couldn’t stand up without seeing stars. I bought a blood pressure monitor and started taking stats. Sometimes it was worryingly low. I figured it was something about the surgery and I would recover it over time. Now I’m worried that it won’t be the case, and I’ll have to do something else.
I’ve gone out a couple times since then and I feel like I might be improving, but it’s slow going, and I have the same loopy shower that I got before. I sat on the toilet and cried while I worried about whether I can run. I do that a lot nowadays.
This anxiety is all too much of the new normal. I feel like I’m being smothered by it sometimes. I can’t know whether some new worrying thing is something to be concerned about. It could be that this will go away with time. Alternately it could be just something that I need to learn to live with. I could see a doctor about it, because it might be some complication that needs to be looked at.
Even if everything is something I need to live with forever.. It’s easily worth it. Nobody said it was easy. No one ever said it would be this hard.
I’m going back to the start.