How Running Changed Me – Jessica Carranza-Pino – Runner’s World

How Running Changed Me – Jessica Carranza-Pino  Runner’s World

Magdalena, New Mexico
Librarian and Professional Photographer
Time Running:
5 years
Reason for Running:
I began running as a way to get through my grief, and I ended up running as a way to honor and fully appreciate life.

I started running in June 2017 when I was almost 32 years old, a few months before I was diagnosed with epilepsy, but while I was experiencing symptoms. I had begun having seizures a few months before, in April 2017, so I was going through a health crisis and I had no idea what was wrong with me. It felt like the rug had been pulled out from underneath me. I couldn’t work, I had to move out of my home, my kids were worried, and I was in a place where I had lost my sense of self.

When I started running, I had been told that I might have multiple sclerosis and/or a brain malformation. I was even treated for typhoid fever. I was physically and emotionally deteriorating with no real answers as to why this was happening to me. I had a million “what if ” questions going through my mind, and running empowered me when I felt like I had zero control of my life.

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While my doctors were still struggling to determine my diagnosis, I remember very clearly that I took a walk to the end of the dirt driveway to check the mail. I was in bad shape—shaking with tremors. It just so happened that the City of Lakes State Triathlon was in full swing that morning and the racers went by my mailbox.

As I watched people effortlessly ride their bikes past me, I felt sick with jealousy and anger. I couldn’t stand how pathetic I felt I had become. As I turned to walk back to my house, I suddenly had an epiphany—next year, no matter what, I would do that triathlon. I was not going to let my illness make me feel powerless.

A weight lifted up inside of me, and I told my family. I’m not sure what they really thought of my half-baked plan, but they never wavered in being supportive. My partner, who was a cyclist then and is now a triathlete, ended up jumping right in and signed up for the triathlon, too. It’s sweet because even though I was a complete mess, my partner always believed that I was going to be some great athlete, so he got me all this nice gear and taught me how to cycle.

Early in the training, I realized that running was the outlet I never knew I needed. Although I learned to enjoy cycling and swimming, they were especially challenging and required safety precautions. For example, people with epilepsy are at high risk for drowning. When I ran, it came so naturally, like it was something that was always meant for me. I fell in love with the sunshine, fresh air, and the rhythm of my feet pounding the ground. I felt free.

During my training, I was taken to the ER a handful of times and was usually sent home. Then, I decided to go to my primary care physician and she suspected a seizure disorder. I was finally diagnosed with epilepsy in October 2017 after an electroencephalogram (EEG), which measure electrical activity in the brain.

I only tried one seizure medication and my reaction to it was so severe, I just couldn’t do it. Despite medical recommendations and pleas from my family, I simply refused to keep experimenting with drugs. Without my neurologist’s support, I started the keto diet in November 2018. Although it’s quite the fad weight-loss diet now, it was originally developed to treat children with .

Medical keto is not an easy diet and comes with a stigma. When you tell another athlete that you don’t carb load and you also don’t consume much of anything for a long-distance race, it can be confusing for them. Not to mention, going to any kind of gathering with food and feeling rude for not eating can be tough. Bottom line, the diet sucked, but it helped give me my life back and that made it worth it.

On keto, I had a significant reduction of seizures, but it took months of trial and error. Eventually, I made it to a 95% reduction of seizures, which is considered controlled and very successful.

Managing epilepsy is more than just changing your diet, though. I took a radical path to healing. Stress, illness, flashing lights, hormones, and lack of sleep were huge triggers for me. That’s where running played a vital role in keeping me healthy.

In the beginning of my running journey there were so many days that I didn’t feel well, days when I was frustrated with the weakness on my left side, not to mention experiencing fatigue, nausea, and headaches. Then there were days where I felt strong and like I was regaining control of my life. The good days got me through the bad days and eventually, there were hardly ever bad days.

In my first year of running, I clocked miles inconsistently a couple times a week with Machete, my epileptic dog. My partner had brought home the last dog in the shelter to be my running companion on Christmas 2017, without having any idea that Machete also had epilepsy! What a pair we were! We did it together and I wasn’t ever afraid when I had him by my side. Machete has been an incredibly positive influence on me. He’s taught me that there can still be joy and even grace, while having epilepsy.

jessica carranza

Courtesy Jessica Carranza

The year 2017 further proved to be a challenging year, as my brother was struggling with a traumatic brain injury that was progressively getting worse. Just days after his 39th birthday in March 2018, he passed away. I was crushed, and much of my running at that time was stumbling along dirt roads and crying. Yet, running played a huge role in coping with this loss. Losing my sibling at such a young age was something I had never imagined. Running helped.

I was lucky enough to hook up with a local running group, affectionately called The Soco Locos, and got into trail running in the mountains. Running trails opened a whole new incredible world and I knew I was truly in my element!

I run 25 to 30 miles a week right now. I tend to ease up on swimming and cycling after August, so I’m just starting to get back into cross-training again for the new year.

According to the (WHO), there are 50 million people worldwide with epilepsy and many suffer with uncontrollable seizures. When I saw there might be an opportunity for me to advocate and represent my community of epilepsy warriors, I knew I had to step up.

As the daughter of an immigrant, who grew up proud to be Mexican and New Mexican, I’m in this place where I recognize how much representation matters. With the fundraiser, my hope is to do my part to help others.

I think, like most people, I had written running off as some dreadful chore people forced themselves to do. I doubt that I would have ever given running a chance without going through what I did, and for that I am grateful.

Running has allowed me to explore a deep inner strength, confidence, and connection. Running has given me the courage to go back to college, to start my own business, and it allowed me to show up in ways I hadn’t before in my life. It’s influenced how I approach life, my relationship with others, and myself.

Running, in some ways, is my meditation, sometimes it brings me to the moment, and other times it gives me the space to be introspective. I think if everyone had something in their life that made them feel that way, our world would be a better place.

These three tips have made my running journey a success:

1. Find your motivation

Don’t hold your breath waiting for someone else to hype you up. We have a tendency to make up lies that limit our joy. Making a conscious effort to recognize negative self-talk and instead starting to think about good possibilities really helped motivate me.

2. Appreciate where you are right now

We, as a society, are so critical and downright cruel when it comes to our bodies. I personally was so angry at my body for my health issues. If I get to that dark place, I remind myself, not only did my body make two whole beautiful humans, it can also run 36 miles in one stretch! Nothing can take that away from me.

3. Focus on what you can control

What you always have control over is your attitude. It’s true that running is more mental than physical and that’s a beautiful thing because that means you have the power to do it. So don’t be afraid of your power.

Jessica’s Must-Have Gear

: My go-to snack! These are so incredibly delicious. It’s the one and only fuel I take on a long-distance run.

: This helps me regulate my central nervous system and it’s part of my recovery. I take it every night before bed to help with headaches.

: Safety is a huge priority for me. I always feel more secure when I’m wearing these rings.

: I get some mean shin splints without these socks. I would never dream of running without them.

Headshot of Emily Shiffer

Emily Shiffer

Emily Shiffer is a freelance health and wellness writer living in Pennsylvania.