Prologue

As I finally sat down to write this reflection exactly one month post my first marathon, I genuinely struggled with my overall goal of this piece. I first reflected on my 2019 athletic accomplishments—

  • Snagging 1st place in the open division of the Bonefrog Endurance Challenge in Talladega
  • Fundraising for the EPD Foundation and setting a course record at my hometown urban course in the SWAT Challenge
  • Earning my Spartan Trifecta in a span of two weeks, finishing the Beast with a mild concussion and the Sprint dressed as my favorite video game character
  • Surviving my first road marathon #TheThingsIDoforStickers

I am so proud, and absolutely will brag about them over drinks during the holidays. But why am I so proud, you may ask? Let me tell you how I gave myself earned the nickname of the Kentucky Mule and what it means to fight physiology.

Kentucky Mule, Really?

Yes, really. The Kentucky part is easy—that’s where I call home. A mule is generally considered a working breed suited for enduring extremes. The other side is that mules are considered to be stubborn; these animals are actually very intelligent, as it turns out. I picked the name for the stubbornness because once I set my mind to something I’m not likely to quit. During the first half of my year of endurance, I balanced earning my Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science from WKU in the spring, passed my ACSM Exercise Physiologist certification, held full-time and part-time jobs congruently, and bore my own grueling training regimen for the Bonefrog race. I set a stupid amount of goals at the same time, hence, Kentucky Mule.

Thanks, dad, for the whole brick sh*thouse thing.

Running the Brick Sh*thouse

This body is not built for endurance. My formal running training is nonexistent, and it is expressly apparent that the Type II muscle fiber type dominance is strong in this one. One of my in-laws said I looked like a character from her son’s video games over our Thanksgiving feast a couple of weeks ago to which I blushed before grinning ear to ear. Plainly, I am not meant for endurance. Naturally, like so many of you reading right now, when someone or something suggests I can’t or shouldn’t do this or that, laser focus kicks in to prove that wrong.

But as much as I’d like to claim it my only fight with physiology, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention another battle. It’s one that I’ve been exceedingly private about since diagnosis nearly 12 years ago. Obviously, I still struggle to discuss it as it’s taken me this long in this writing to get to my real point. Here goes nothing. My name is Hillary, and I have Crohn’s disease.

Taking the Devil by the Horns

I flippantly call my condition “The Devil,” and I felt a slave to it for several years. I was controlled by fear of the unknown and how my symptoms may ruin a situation. Physiologically, my body constantly fought inflammation. Some days I felt great, but others were lesser so. With a wildly unpredictable condition, everyday activities like meals and working out were dictated by The Devil. Beyond this, traveling felt insurmountable. Social gatherings were trying. I even avoided jobs because of the unpredictability of The Devil–BGPD, now you know *officially* why I never left the dispatch room to become an officer. And don’t even get me started on my relationship with food. Fluctuating from excessive abstinence during early diagnosis to absolute gorging during my first taste of remission created a volatile relationship with food that remains [less] a struggle even today. So what was the turning point, and just how does this come back to OCR you may ask? Enter 2016—the year I committed to training for my first Spartan Race. That is when I took The Devil by the horns.

Training for the race pushed me to challenge many a threshold from lactate to fuel tolerance. My mindset evolved from victim to victor with each tiny triumph in my pursuit. Just as in OCR my mantra surpassing each small training goal became, “That felt great. How can I take this further?” I garnered control and confidence every day during those 8 months. Yep, I dedicated 8 whole months to the training to account for any mishaps or setbacks The Devil might throw my way. And, yes, this is a method continued to employ when writing my programs for the Bonefrog Endurance race and the BG Marathon this year. So when race day, August 20, 2016, rolled around, I hopped the wall to enter the corral a completely new person. No longer was I fixated on my condition, I was focused on destroying the course that laid ahead. And that was just the beginning…

First fire jump ever

Laying All My Sh*t Bare

Flash forward to 2019. My case is relatively mild and well-controlled almost 12 years in. If you did the math before, yeah, it took 8 years to start feeling in control which means I’m just a measly 3 years in. While modern medicine stakes majority claim on my relative remission, I unabashedly claim the rest. My confidence was jump-started when I committed to that first race. With that came a heightened dedication to exercise and nutrition. Enter my formal return to university education with my study in exercise science focusing on physiology and sports nutrition. Thus circles back to those athletic and personal accolades I will be bragging about this holiday season. I am so, so proud of my transformation from victim to victor and celebrate every single accomplishment along the way. And I think my message to readers is right there—be unashamedly proud of what YOU conquer. Regardless of whether you’re fighting physiology like me, reflect on what made your achievement so special. Embrace it, and yeah, you have my permission to brag a little bit.

Yeah, THAT video game character. Photo courtesy Luis Battistini

Author’s note: This piece was incredibly difficult yet also cathartic to write. I am sincerely grateful for anyone who stuck with my rather wordy article. If you have questions for me regarding my journey, contact me directly at nerdragefit@gmail.com. Please, if you’re struggling with your own devil, seek the help you deserve.

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