Marianna Slivnitskaya has found that volunteering at parkrun is providing her with a welcome dose of positivity, as she takes on the debilitating symptoms of Long Covid.
Sometimes I wonder how I lived before I started running. How did I keep myself sane and fit, how did I make decisions, how did I manage to dream, to plan things, to feel true confidence. All of this is currently unimaginable as my running, my joy and my way of thinking has been taken away over the last 17 months by the cruel Long Covid.
I am aware that this pandemic has been hard for many, as I’ve heard first hand when scanning parkrunners’ barcodes at our local Bedford parkrun and having chats with the parkrunners coming through.
I was hit right at the beginning, during the first wave in March 2020 when no official testing was in operation and when my only symptom, loss of taste and smell, had not even been identified as a common indicator. I had a very mild case and continued running feeling lucky, young and very fit, after all we were told that Covid only affects those who are older and vulnerable.
At the time, I was mostly running with my friends who were training for the London Marathon, long distances but I loved it. I never struggled with motivation, closing the door behind me to go for a run always made me feel excited and happy. I completed 100 Bedford parkruns and a number of half marathons and only had one rule, ‘Do a new half marathon every six months and never repeat the ones I’d already done.’ I liked the adventure, the feel of a new race with an unknown route, the thrill I felt planning it all and staying somewhere near the race start line the night before. I loved the feeling afterwards, they call it ‘runners high,’ this is when I feel most confident, free and just know that there is nothing in this life I can’t handle.
My symptoms started a few months after the initial Covid infection. I started to notice that I was getting a little breathless while running but I ignored it. Being a busy, active mum means that we are used to pushing through not feeling 100%. But the breathlessness persisted and one day in June, after another long run, I woke up with sharp chest pain and breathlessness. I could barely walk. I was referred to Bedford Hospital acute admissions unit, where cardiac tests did not show any abnormalities. Long Covid was not mentioned and no suggestion of how to diagnose or manage the symptoms of it had yet been made. It was too soon, Covid was still a mystery.
After that scary episode, it felt like I entered periods of relapse and remission, like living with a chronic illness. Most days I experience bad chest pain, breathlessness, palpitations, my heart rate spiking after any exertion, my body seemed constantly stuck in a fight or flight mode. On bad days I am so tired I can barely make myself something to eat or brush my teeth standing up. I have mobility issues and often struggle to walk so I need to use a scooter to lean on.
I am not able to stand in a queue as I feel dizzy and faint. I can’t stand chatting to someone if I meet them during the walk. I can’t plan anything as the bad days come randomly. I have very little medical support, although I have tried so many different treatments and had so many tests. My mental health is also affected and I often wonder how long I can carry on like this. It’s been 17 months and the rollercoaster ride continues with no end in sight.
On better days, I try to get back to some form of exercise following the rehabilitation programme with support from my amazing personal trainer and a friend who truly went above and beyond, helping me to figure out this new condition. Thanks to her, I’ve felt some progress since last Christmas when I couldn’t even walk between two benches in Bedford Park and was offered a wheelchair as a solution for all my problems. I can now go for longer walks, swim, do gentle workouts and even tried paddle boarding this summer.
With the right pacing and taking things really slowly I can perform everyday tasks, but I have a long way to go to get back to where I want to be. I feel like I have lost my identity and I can’t run, I’ve attempted it but each time I’ve been hit with a relapse.
When Bedford parkrun resumed in July I made myself a promise, to be there every Saturday as a volunteer. Seeing people of all abilities and ages taking part gives me that ‘runners high’ I am craving. I see cancer survivors, people much older than me and complete beginners, and it gives me hope that I will be able to complete 5k again one day. They say all you have to do for success is to stand up just one more time than you fall, this is exactly my plan, I will continue trying to get back to doing a 5k again and again, until I can.
I often dream about that day when I will run a 5K, with my running friends Karen, Denise and Larissa. That will be a start, I will then be able to increase the distance and take it to 10K then a half marathon and then I will do the London Marathon to celebrate my 50th birthday. I have a good few years to get there! Until then, Bedford parkrun will have another volunteer who always smiles and we all always need those!
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