A year ago this mum was confined to bed for six weeks with severe pain... now she's all set to take part in next month's Runher
Bangor woman Dawn McEvoy has fibromyalgia but she is determined to live life to the full
What a difference a determined spirit, a little bit of running and a year has made to the quality of Bangor woman Dawn McEvoy's life.
This time last year, the mum-of-one, who suffers from the debilitating condition fibromyalgia, dropped two and a half stone in six weeks as she was confined to bed with agonising pain.
It was a severe flare up which plunged Dawn into despair, convincing her that her future held only more misery as the condition has no cure.
A year on, though, and Dawn says she is like a new woman, feeling fit and eager to tackle her very first 5km run when she takes part in next month's Belfast Telegraph Titanic Runher.
The Bangor mum hopes that her participation in Runher will help get the message out to more sufferers that exercise really can improve the quality of their lives and alleviate symptoms.
She says: "I saw the ad for Runher on Facebook and thought I would give it a go and maybe inspire others to give it a go.
"If I can get one person to try it and they go on to inspire someone else, then that will be wonderful.
"I want to show sufferers that we can get back the hope and strength which fibromyalgia robs us off and we can kick it in the butt."
Fibromyalgia is a long-term condition that causes pain all over the body. Symptoms also include muscle stiffness, fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, difficulty sleeping and poor memory and concentration.
The exact causes are not known, but it is thought to be related to abnormal levels of certain chemicals in the brain and changes in the way the central nervous system processes pain messages carried around the body. It is also suspected that there could be a genetic link.
Seven times more women than men are affected by it.
Dawn's late mother suffered for 20 years with fibromyalgia, so when she developed symptoms in 2012, she recognised them immediately. But she wasn't diagnosed until October 2014.
Dawn (43) and her husband John (44) both work in customer advice for an insurance company and they have a 16-year-old daughter, Carra.
She explains: "It is a very debilitating condition and it affects everyone in different ways, although everyone has similar symptoms.
"I had pain throughout my body, muscle ache, IBS, an unstable bladder and bowel, memory fog - if I don't write things down I don't remember them. I didn't sleep and I had a fuzzy head all day, a bit like trying to function with a bad hangover, only you haven't had anything to drink.
"I also had restless legs and a gluten intolerance.
"It really knocks your self-belief and you lose your identity. You feel like you have become the condition and feel so bad you can't be bothered getting off the sofa. That gets you down and you can go into depression mode."
A turning point for Dawn was after a particularly bad episode this time last year, when she was in so much pain she couldn't get out of bed for six weeks. She couldn't eat and her weight plummeted by two and a half stone.
Despair set in and she decided, for the sake of her family, she needed to try and find a way to improve her condition.
She turned to the internet and found a support group - Fibromyalgia Awareness Bangor, Ards and North Down - which offered hydrotherapy treatment, so she decided to give it a go.
She found a small improvement which greatly lifted her mood and, for the first time, she saw a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel.
A friend then urged her to take part in a boot camp.
Although still in great pain and only able to walk while the other participants ran, she persevered with the camp and again, through small steps, found herself getting stronger and her symptoms easing.
Encouraged by the improvements through exercise, she then started to walk in the evenings and in June of this year her walks turned into gentle runs.
The benefits to her mental and physical health have been so dramatic that there is no stopping her now.
She runs three miles, three times a week, and is thrilled to be taking part in her first Runher. She hopes to follow this with a 10km event, and then build herself up to a half marathon - then possibly a full marathon.
She says: "That flare up this time last year was horrendous. I was in a really dark place and it had robbed me of my self-belief. I was worried that this was all I had to look forward to and I really did get quite down.
"I wanted to buck myself up for my daughter and husband, and I wanted to be able to enjoy life as I could see how it was affecting them as well.
"They did their best to be supportive, but when you make plans and have to cancel at the last minute because you haven't the strength to do something, you can see the disappointment in a 16-year-old, and I didn't want to do that to my daughter.
"I read that exercise was good for the condition, and yet your body feels so sore and tired that exercise is the last thing you feel like doing - but I knew I needed to try something.
"I tried the hydrotherapy first and I had a wonderful sleep after. It just felt a bit better.
"My friend who runs Tribal Fitness was doing a five-week fitness course in May this year and had one place left, and urged me to give it a go.
"In the beginning it was really painful and when everyone else was running all I could do was walk, but it did inspire me to keep going.
"Then I started to walk round our block at home in the evenings and I started to notice small differences, and that I had more energy.
"Then in June, one of the walks turned into a run and I have been running ever since - I haven't looked back.
"It has given me such a feeling of achievement. I am sleeping and eating better, and I feel that I am able to manage my condition which has given me back my self confidence."
Since starting to exercise just a few months ago, Dawn hasn't had any of the severe flare ups which used to knock her off her feet.
She has been able to reduce the medication she was taking to control her pain and, as a result, says her head feels much clearer each day.
All of this also had an immense impact on her mental health and instead of despair, she now looks to the future with hope.
In fact, Dawn has been so encouraged by the transformation to the quality of her life that she now wants to inspire others and has set up her own Facebook page - Fibro Cat - "Fighting illness by running and overcoming - and by doing so inspire others to kick fibromyalgia's butt."
She says: "I want people to know we are warriors and we are strong and we won't let fibromyalgia rule us, and we can cope with what it throws at us.
"It has been small steps but they have made all the difference. Every day I get up is painful but, before I exercised, I had the muscular pain which people would have felt after they had done a lot of exercise, now exercise is reducing that for me.
"When I first started exercise I would have come home and sat in the bath and had a little cry because I was in so much pain, but I made myself go on trying with baby steps as, for me, any improvement was fantastic.
"I still go to the boot camps and recently I broke my ankle and had to stop it for six weeks when I started to feel my fibromyalgia symptoms beginning to flare up again.
"My headaches were coming back and for the first time in my life I couldn't wait to get back to exercising again."
Dawn had hoped to do Titanic Runher to raise funds for the Bangor support group, but her broken ankle has prevented that.
Even though her ankle is still healing, she is determined to do the race and hopes to run all 5km.
It is only the start for this inspirational woman who adds: "I can't wait to do Runher. I have friends who did the Coastal Runher and loved it.
"They said the atmosphere was wonderful. To me, women can be such a great support group to each other and I think it is fantastic that Runher celebrates that.
"I didn't get the chance to organise sponsorship this time, as I had hoped, but after Runher I hope to build myself up to a 10km run and then maybe a half marathon and raise some money, as it would be nice to give something back to the Bangor support group.
"It can be hard for people with fibromyalgia to even get a diagnosis because there is no known cause and no tangible test.
"However, I would urge anyone who is suffering to go to their doctor and ask if it could be fibromyalgia as some doctors won't recognise it.
"I hope that the difference running has made to my life might encourage even one person with fibromyalgia and show them that you can take control."
Week eight: our nutritionist Majella Farrell brings her advice all together
What you eat on the days leading up to an event or on event day itself can impact directly on how you perform.
At this stage you have sorted out your healthy foods to incorporate in your daily diet. Main meals should consist of wholesome proteins, which serve to help your body maintain and build muscle as well as repair itself after training. So salmon, turkey, veggie burgers, Quorn, eggs, nuts and seeds, which are excellent sources of protein, should be included in your diet.
Alongside the proteins you need fresh veggies. If you fancy chips, try sweet potato fries instead as they are a better treat alternative.
Carbohydrates in the form of rice, pasta, couscous, quinoa and breads can be added. Don't ramp up your fibre intake at this stage as suddenly going to a high fibre diet can cause stomach and bowel cramps during race practice and on race day.
The fibre from your fresh fruit and vegetables should be sufficient. If, however, you are experiencing upsets such as constipation you need to have soluble fibre such as oat, ie, porridge oats added to soups and protein shakes, and remember adequate hydration is vital, so drink sufficient water.
Use isotonic drinks only during or after exercise time - not as your frequent drinks during the day.
Keep snacks tasty, varied and nutritious - oat cakes with peanut butter, crisp breads with banana and a little local honey. Smoothies - milk, Soya or hazelnut milk, then add mango, banana and seeds (flaxseed, chia seeds) as these little powerhouses really ramp up the protein vitamin and mineral levels.
Alkalising the body is the latest important proven health trend - use coconut water (a terrific alkaliser) as your basic smoothie ingredient and add your choice of vegetables and/or fruit seeds, nuts and oats, and add natural yogurt to our diet.
Trainer Melissa Eccles explains how hip thrusts can be beneficial
Key muscles targeted: Glutes.
Hip thrusts are a great progression from the glute bridges we did on the Swiss ball a few weeks ago. In this exercise, we use a bench to move the hips through a greater range of motion, making our glutes and hamstrings work harder to extend the hip.
Progression: Once you've mastered the glute bridges on the Swiss ball, I recommend performing the hip thrust exercise with both feet on the floor before progressing onto one leg. Performing the thrusting movement with one leg off the floor makes it tougher for the remaining leg to extend the hip. It also requires a lot of control and strength from your core to stabilise your torso throughout the movement.
Sets: Three sets of 12-15 repetitions.
Starting Position: Rest your upper back across the edge of a bench. Be careful not to slide up and down the bench.
Your bum should almost be touching the floor. With both feet firmly on the floor and
hip width apart - lift one foot off.
Movement: Thrust the hip up towards the ceiling, focusing on using the glute to push the hip up and driving through heel is key. Your aim to reach full hip extension, so if you have a mirror, you want to see your thigh parallel to the ground. Your shin should be fairly vertical to the ground when you reach full extension, creating a 90 degree angle with the leg. Once you've extended your hip as far as possible, reverse the motion to return to the starting position with your bum almost touching the floor.
Protect yourself from injuries in training
As this year's Runher event approaches, many of Northern Ireland's ladies will be at the peak of their 5 or 10k training, which unfortunately is when the likelihood of running based injuries occur.
To help you cross that finish line with injuries kept to a minimum, Apex Clinic owner and director of physiotherapy, Rebecca Nelson (below) shares her top tips for protecting yourself from injury while running.
1) Choose your surfaces carefully
As running is a high impact sport, reduce your chance of injury by mixing up your training on a variety of softer surfaces such as grass, woodland trails, sand or a treadmill. Our shoes can only ever absorb some of the shock of running on hard surfaces.
2) Take action fast
Never ignore a niggle - the earlier you seek help for an injury from a physio, the better.
3) Stretching is key
Typically, we recommend that the longer the distance covered, the more time should be spent stretching your muscles post-run, and before you set off. Always remember the importance of warming up before you begin, as warming up cold muscles also reduces the risk of injury.
All you need to know for pack collection
Belfast Telegraph Runher Titanic Quarter is just around the corner. Pack collection will be hosted by our event organisers Pure Running (opposite Inst school) from October 1-3.
There will also be an opportunity to pick up your pack on race day (Sunday, October 4) at Titanic Quarter in the T13 Urban Sports Academy and Shared Cultural Space just off the Queen's Road opposite the Drawing Offices.
What do I need to bring to pick up my pack?
Please bring along the email confirmation you received when signing up online. If you signed up via paper entry this will not apply, so please bring along some form of identification. If you cannot find your email confirmation, don't worry. Please bring your ID to verify your entry.
Can I pick up my friend's pack?
Pack collection can get very busy, so we encourage you to pick up any packs belonging to your friends and family.
I'm running as part of a team, who picks up my pack?
You can pick up your pack individually, but we encourage you to pick up multiple packs for your team. If you would like to email us with the packs you will be picking up, we are more than happy to put them together for you in advance. To arrange this please email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: BelTel Runher Pack Collection.