“So you said you’re allergic to exercise, Mary??”
“And this has happened before??”
“Yes. Twice.”
“And what did the doctors do to you when it happened before?”
“Just epinephrine and Benadryl. Then steroids afterward.”
“Did they admit you overnight?”

Mind you—this conversation is happening as my face is looking like this:

The run leading up to my third anaphylactic attack was nothing more than ordinary. It had been 3-4 days since I had gotten on the road, and when I woke up Friday morning, I was ready to go. Prior to the run, I had been struggling with a sinus infection…then life got in the way of running, and I hadn’t taken so many days off since May’s marathon. FML. 

I set off on an out-and-back run, anticipating doing only 40-50 minutes. Even though the weather was perfect—mid-70s and cool—nothing about the run felt good. I was tired and I felt sluggish; I could tell I was coming back from being sick.

In my mind, I thought, “Ok, just get through this. First run back, then training for your next half starts next week and things’ll be up from there.” 

When I’m not training, I don’t wear my Garmin, so I have no idea what my pace was during the run; only that it felt slow. At the turnaround point, I decided to do 50 minutes as opposed to 40 (small victories) and it wasn’t until 45 minutes that things started feeling funny.

“Crap,” I thought. “It’s happening. I’m blowing up.” I was close to home, so the only thing I could do at that point was turn on a really energetic pump-up song (Nicki Minaj, duh), run home as fast as I could, and get to the hospital ASAP.

Allow me to backtrack. I have a condition called Exercised Induced Anaphylaxis, or EIA. I was diagnosed with EIA at the age of 18, after returning from an easy 60-minute run and experiencing anaphylactic shock where my face blew up like a balloon and my throat started closing up. You know how some kids are allergic to peanuts and bee stings and they need to carry Epi pens and benedryl to quell their allergic attack? Yeah. I have that; only it’s caused by exercise.

Most cases of EIA are caused by exercise AND something else, whether it’s food, temperature, or a drug. (For example, one of my allergists once told me about a patient who only experienced anaphylactic attacks when he ate McDonalds prior to exercise.) The problem with my strain of EIA is that there has been zero conclusive evidence of what triggers my attacks besides exercise itself. Yes, ladies and gentlemen…I have the most rare type of EIA. It’s an honor and a privilege, really.

“Wait. So you’re allergic to exercise, yet you still do it?” 

Well. Yes.

I apologize in advance for sounding arrogant; however, I’ve found that the only people who understand my rationale are athletes, like myself. As athletes, we work out HUNDREDS-even thousands-of times…everyday…sometimes, twice a day. We have goals. We have dreams. We love being healthy and we strive for that adrenaline rush during a race or a competition. We’ve met best friends through training, and I’ve never heard anyone bitch about finishing a workout.

On a personal level: I am a runner. I have successfully completed 3 marathons, qualified for the Boston Marathon, run a handful more half marathons, won a local 5k once, and even placed third in my age group during a sprint triathlon several years back. I was a Division 1 rower in college, and had dreams of going sub-elite in my post-collegiate career.

My allergy has been something I have lived with since 2005 with only a little limitation. I’ll be damned if I stop achieving my athletic goals now.

Since ‘05, I have been to the ER three times because of full-blown anaphylactic shock. The last time was in 2009, when I looked like this:image

I will reluctantly admit that my attacks have been getting worse each time; however, I am confident that as long as I’m careful, I can still pursue my active lifestyle. In between the ER visits, I occasionally develop hives or moderate facial swelling after a tough workout: 
-But these flare-ups can be resolved with some Benadryl and rest.

Unfortunately, I needed more than just Benedryl and rest last Friday when I went to the ER. But you know what? I made it. I’m okay. And I’ve had some kick-ass runs since then to prove that something like this won’t get me down for long. 

*Stay tuned for PART 2*