August 2013 Scott Buchanan
CF Workout Warrior
August 2013
Scott Buchanan

Athlete Name: Scott Buchanan

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Living with Cystic Fibrosis is a bit like having a monkey on your back.  Those long arms draped around your shoulders and neck. He’s a wiley old devil; helping himself to your lunch, always making noise, sometimes tugging on your hair or poking you in the eye. As you age together he demands more attention and time to appease. And he just keeps putting on weight – even after you’ve stopped growing. Over time he gets heavy and threatens to choke you off.

What’s worse, sometimes the little punk starts talking smack. Tries to get in your head. Play on your insecurities telling you what’s the point of working hard, you won’t even get the chance to do anything important. You might as well just pack it in, he says. Most of the time you ignore him, but other times you can’t help but ponder these choice words. Its inevitable. The monkey affects how you feel and how you think.

And unlike most monkeys that come to rest on your back, this is not one you can ever shake off. You are the monkey, and the monkey is you.

Such is the dynamic of living with chronic disease. You must learn to live with the beast that is inseparable from you. The best strategy is to get to know the thing and accept it as part of who you are. Pay close attention to its personality – its temperament and particularities. Know the enemy and know the self. Do not provoke, but do not be afraid to fight back when provoked. The most efficient evolutionary strategy: tit for tat.

All that is grand. Important for placing one’s existence in context. Useful for life’s reflective moments. But what about the waking in the middle of the night alone, coughing blood, on the verge of medical bankruptcy moments? All the mental clarity of all the Buddhas isn’t enough to help get you back on your game during times like these – experiences that are all too familiar among those living with disease.

These difficult episodes call for pragmatism and an effective response. All the practical wisdom that I have accumulated in 30 years of living with disease distills down to the following: keep going.

Momentum is the product of mass and velocity. One must remain kinetic in order to sustain his or her functionality. Hesitation or delay may be met with grave consequences. You must keep going.

Having a tough day? Health getting you down? Unsure about the future? Feeling like you can’t get the motor running? Do your meds and get moving. The only option is to power through, get past the tough times, and come out on the other side in a better place as a stronger individual.

This resolve requires both a mental and physical response. There is broad consensus that physical exercise is essential in combating CF. In other words, get out there and run around. Of course, the level of intensity will vary depending on the severity of the disease, but by making exercise in some form a routine part of your life you can start to shut that monkey up.

I began training for the New York City marathon in April in the hopes that doing so would help to quiet my own monkey. I have been very fortunate in that my hospitalizations have been few and far between over the years. But in the winter and early spring of this year I was beginning to feel the weight of CF and considering a hospital stay for IV antibiotics. The average day was filled with more coughing and my PFTs were down at the doctor’s office. The milestone birthday of 30 had me thinking on a time frame usually reserved for life’s big decisions.  There I was, three decades in, reflecting on how fortunate I had been to that point, but wanting so much more from life in the years to come. If I was to prevent CF from gaining ground – prevent that monkey from bulking up – I was going to have to step up my efforts in combating the disease.

The most rewarding part of training thus far is observing progress. Not just in an anecdotal way (less coughing, sleeping better), but by meticulous logging of miles run and pace I have been able to observe my capacity for exercise increase significantly along the way.  I’m currently running approximately 20 miles per week to go along with additional cross training such as biking and surfing. My average per mile pace has fallen by more than one minute, this despite the fact that my runs are now much longer than when I started.

The marathon is about two months away. Twenty miles per week isn’t such a bad place to be at this point, but its not going to cut the mustard for a run that requires you run 26 in a morning. The increased training to come will be a challenge, but it will also be an opportunity. An opportunity to earn a banana or two with every double digit mileage run that I record in my spreadsheet. Earn those bananas and shut that monkey up. An opportunity amid the pain of exertion to practice the mantra of successful CF management- to just keep going.

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