Our Guest Contributor, Ryan Craig is an ER nurse who lives with his fiance in the Casual Running capital of America, Portland Oregon. While he has completed 4 marathons, he truly proves that we all have a First Mile story to share, regardless of when and why we make the decision to run it.
Unlike most Casual Runners, my first mile actually came after I ran not 1, but 3 full marathons.
The last marathon I ran was in Quebec City, Canada about 3 years ago. Back then I was a twenty-something, chubby firefighter/paramedic, living in St. Petersburg, Florida. I was running to lose weight. I was running to distract myself from my life that I despised. Running was my meditation; it was my escape. Four days before that marathon in Quebec, I received a call: a job offer as an ER nurse! My life changed in that moment. The years of full time school + full time work + a part time job finally paid off. My plan to remake my life into something that I enjoyed was coming to fruition. I ran the hell out of that marathon, even though it ended up becoming a half marathon due to the fact that hurricane Irene was making its way into Quebec. After that, my life would be changing towards good, and my need to run marathons was no longer as important.
Two years later, I was a full-time ER nurse in Portland, Oregon living a life that is awesome. I lost 40 pounds after I left the fire service, became vegetarian, entered my 30’s, met the man that would eventually become my fiancé, and spent many of my free days in my Pacific Northwest Wonderland skiing, swimming, hiking, & camping. Life was good.
I decided to start running again, not to escape my life, but to enjoy it. Instead of the flat, straight runs of Florida, I was going off-road and trail running through the thick, green forested hillsides of the metro Portland area. At first, the hills kicked my butt, but they slowly became manageable. Then after a few months of running, my pace began to slow. The hills became more difficult. I vowed to my running group that I would get back to my Army basic training speeds of my early 20’s before my 31st birthday, which was two months away. I tried, but my body only slowed and weakened. Something was wrong.
Within a week I received a phone call that both explained my weakness and would again change my life. I thought that the call would be the routine call by the nurse overseeing a vaccine trial I was in, but this time he was not excited to tell me the results of my routine blood work: they had found HIV antibodies in my blood.
Further testing would confirm: I was HIV positive.
My body was in the initial infection stages and weakened by the overwhelming amount of virus flowing through my veins.
I was devastated. I was scared. I was sick.
The first thing to run through my mind was Tom Hanks in the movie Philadelphia, followed by the memories of end-stage AIDS patients I have cared for in my hospital. Dying of AIDS is a slow and horrific death.
I wasn’t going to let it ruin my life. We all have made poor decisions in our lives and some people get away scot-free, while others pay for it. Luckily, I had just gotten my new health insurance plan that included comprehensive immunodeficiency care. After the initial shock I made the decision to overcome this. I was going to live. I needed to prove to myself that I was in control of my body, not a virus. I was going to get healthy enough to run a marathon again. And in that moment I decided to run my first mile, years after having run my first marathon.
One-and-a-half years later, after struggling to get my strength back, I stood at the finish line of the Portland Marathon holding a medal. I finished. I made a new PR. I was also HIV undetectable (no machine can find the virus in my blood). I made it. I ran my First Mile. I am alive and thriving. And I will continue to do so.
Check back tomorrow for Ryan’s review of the 2014 Portland Marathon.
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