“Set yourself a goal, no matter how big or small it is”: taking on a physical fundraising challenge with migraine
By: Andrea Quinn, Senior Communications Officer
What you might not know is that many of those who take on these challenges for The Migraine Trust are people that live with migraine themselves.
We caught up with two of our fantastic fundraisers, Natalie and Jenny, who each ran the Royal Parks Half Marathon to talk about the unique challenges of taking on physical fundraising activities with migraine.
Could you tell us a bit about your experience of migraine?
Jenny: I have suffered from chronic migraine since I was 14. Initially, they weren’t diagnosed as migraines, but after many trips to the GP and occasional visits to A&E, I eventually received a diagnosis and began trying different medications. This was a long, tedious process, weighing up the pros and cons of each medication. While no medication has ever truly stopped my migraine, some have helped a bit, but this often comes with side effects. Once I eventually found something that worked for me, I felt such a huge relief. It felt like I could start getting my life back, albeit somewhat hindered by migraine still.
Natalie: I remember having (what I now know of as) migraine attacks throughout secondary school and being completely confused as to what the pain, sickness and blurred vision was caused by. At first people thought it was stress related, but once I got the diagnosis, and began to learn how to manage my migraine, it all started to make more sense! As migraine is so unpredictable, it often means I have to cancel or miss out on plans last minute. At the same time, I try to make plans around the likelihood of a migraine. Work wise, I am thankful to be able to flex my hours around attacks and to work in a supportive environment where reasonable adjustments are in place and would always look for that in an employer or job role.
What made you decide to take on a physical challenge to fundraise for people with migraine?
Natalie: I’m not a natural runner but doing a half marathon has always been on the bucket list. And one way of motivating me to train and get around on the day was the knowledge that I’m doing it for such a worthy cause!
Jenny: Before I got migraine attacks, I was always very active, competing at high levels in swimming and netball. When you have to deal with something as unpredictable as chronic migraine, I found myself needing structure again. I wanted to feel like I was in control of it and not let it control me. This structure for me came in the form of training for a half marathon.
“I had to listen to my body”
Migraine presented its own challenge for Natalie whilst training for the Royal Parks half marathon!
What challenges did you face when preparing or training for your fundraising challenge while also navigating life with migraines?
Jenny: I definitely got swept up in viral running videos I saw online but was anxious about how this would look for someone with chronic migraine. As I mentioned before, my migraines can be quite unpredictable. While I can expect to get a couple of migraine attacks each week, I find it difficult to predict how severe this will be and how long it will take me to recover. There are often days where even lifting my head off the pillow is too difficult, so the thought of running a half marathon was pretty nerve-racking!
Natalie: One of the things I struggled with was following a training plan, as they tended to be very prescriptive in terms of length of runs or day or the week – whereas I had to listen to my body to decide what type of run, if any, I would be able to manage that day. I personally found this quite frustrating as I had to manage my determination to follow a training plan to get ready for the race, whilst at the same time not making myself unwell in the short term.
Did you have to make any changes to your training, for example, scheduling around lower pain or symptom days?
Jenny: Each week, I aimed to do three runs and one gym session; however, I never put pressure on myself to stick to this. I knew that if I pushed it too much on the days when I had worse symptoms, that would impact the days when I’d typically have lower pain. I prioritised my long runs as they, for me, were the most important part of my training. I really enjoyed trying new activities throughout my training too. On days that I was able to work out but maybe wanted something lower impact, I began to do yoga and Pilates. I gradually began to find activities I could do that wouldn’t worsen my symptoms but still gave the same satisfaction as a different activity.
Natalie: I would plan to do my longest runs on a weekend or days I knew I had no plans in the evening, so that I could safeguard time for lying in a dark room if needed! Also, I tended to run on evenings as to minimise the impact on the day if a migraine did start to develop due to the run. Thankfully on the day of the half marathon I didn’t feel any symptoms until after the event and medication/sheer determination would have been my back up plan if I was to!
“Take it one day at a time and don’t rush the process”
Both Jenny and Natalie took on the Royal Parks Half Marathon to raise money for people living with migraine.
Are you glad you took on your challenge? What advice would you give to someone interested in doing a more physical challenge but who is worried about the impact on their migraine?
Natalie: There is no denying it has been a huge challenge – and has definitely lead to many a migraine along the way, especially in the warmer months and on longer runs. However, I’ve definitely felt the benefit of getting into running more regularly and am proud of going from struggling to run 3km to running 21km for the half marathon.
Jenny: Since getting chronic migraine, I have become much better at listening to my own body. Take it one day at a time and don’t rush the process. Find an activity that is lower impact for your body and set yourself a goal, no matter how big or small it is, but be prepared to adapt.
Altogether, Jenny and Natalie raised an incredible total of £2,670 for The Migraine Trust by running the Royal Parks half marathon! You can find out more about the range of exciting challenge events you can get involved in here.