Tuesday, December 26, 2017


Starting over. Reset. Been there. Done that.

For example: Accidentally hit the "Yes" in response to "Are you sure you want to delete?" Hate it when that happens! Or, in an intense game of Chutes and Ladders(TM), land on the big slide just a few spaces from the winning space, careening back down the twisty-turny slide to the bottom. Bummer.

Or how about this? Finish yet another ultra with no real difficulties, only to realize in the following days that one leg and knee are jacked up for no good reason. Time to start again. Time to reset.

It's been 51 days since I completed my 20th finish at the Mountain Masochist 50 Miler. There were no falls, slips, or stumbles, as I recall. Just tired legs by the time I reached the finish. However, in the following days--and now weeks--there has been ill-defined pain behind and on the medial side my left knee. I can't really decide where it hurts, but it does, sometimes more than others. I keep thinking it will get better. I've gotten help from a chiropractor who discovered problems with L4, L5, and S1. Hamstring involvement is likely. Some aspects of the injury seem to have improved, but I still can't run for any distance, if at all.

On Christmas Eve's eve my leg felt almost normal. With great joy, I clipped on a light and headed out the door to once again test the waters. Though I coughed and sputtered from the pneumonia I recently acquired (no joke, and confirmed with an x-ray), I made my way up our hilly driveway, through the trees, and turned onto the country road. It was warmer than expected, cloudy, with a sliver of moon yielding silvery shadows. Almost no pain! I thanked God before I allowed my mind to race along to thoughts of which hundred milers I wanted to tackle this year. The feeling was glorious.

Then I completed the first mile and the night turned a deeper shade of dark.

The stupid pain that I can't even pinpoint attacked along the country road. By the time I completed the measly 3.6 miles, my previous elation turned to depression. And when the ache kept me from sleeping, and the morning light provided no relief, the feeling was more like despair. It was not the first time this ever-changing cycle of emotion spun out of control.

I've had set-backs before. Nine metatarsal fractures, a femoral neck fracture, surgery on both feet and an ankle, an avulsion fracture of the tibial aponeurosis, and a variety of other twists and sprains all in the first five years of taking to the trails. But in each case, I knew what was wrong. I was not forced to live in the vacuum of uncertainty, left to wonder if my running days had unceremoniously come to an end.

I'll admit it. These weeks have been so hard. I miss the freedom of escaping into the mountains to see the sun rise as the valley mist dissipates. I yearn to feel the wind blow through my hair as the miles click by, accompanied only by the steady metronomic rhythm of each foot plant.

I hate this. I am a runner but I can hardly run. (Or wait, do I cease to be a runner if I do not run? Sad, if that is the case.) Yes, I know intellectually that my worth is not determined by how far or fast I run, but still, I do not like this. Not one teensy-weensy, ittsy-bittsy bit.

It was cold last night, Christmas day, but I had some thinking to do. With coat, hat, and gloves, I took to the same road as the other night. But this time, I walked briskly, hiked even, holding back my natural inclination to run. I was conscious of form, careful to be as biomechanically sound as humanly possible. I felt discomfort just a tad short of PAIN, albeit bearable. My hope was that I could return home and avoid sleep-robbing pain.

Today the air was once again sharp, wind biting. Hat, coat, gloves again. I headed off on a gravel road with focused attention to form and function. At times my leg felt like it had a mind of its own as I made my way down the familiar mountain. Then up, up, up. I hiked with intensity, having to shed the coat with increasing effort. Rising heart rate with the faster pace satisfied something deep inside.

2018 will mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of my love affair with connecting long distances between mountain points A and B and C. From the time David Horton quipped, "Bet you can't run 50 miles," I ferociously chased competition, training relentlessly and despite injury. My thirst for accomplishment was insatiable. So insatiable, in fact, that for a period of time, I lost perspective about what was most important in life. It did not ruin my marriage or traumatize my kids (I hope), but it didn't help either. Adjustments had to be made if I was to survive intact physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

By God's grace, this quarter century of ultrarunning has held a plethora of challenges, memories to make, and stories to tell. There have been countless goals set, trails traversed, and races run. There has been joy and sadness, tears and triumphs. But maybe now a rest is in order.

It is scary to say this in a public forum, for with it comes accountability. Today I concluded that I need to take a temporary break and reset. Go back to the beginning and start over. I need to look in the mirror and say to that person, "It's okay to not race ultras-at least for a period of time. It's okay to be 'normal.'" (I take no pleasure in being normal!) It is imperative to put my ego back in the box rather than feel like I have something to prove to myself and others. I need a change of pace. I need renewal in body, mind, and spirit.

So this is how I see it play out:
1) I will not race throughout the coming spring season, though I will stay involved with the ultra
2) If my leg does not protest too much, I will predominately take long walks, hike rather than run, praying that healing will come with time.
3) I will be intentional with the slower pace of hiking (compared to running), taking advantage of the extra moments of solitude and introspection.
4) I will work on getting stronger all over by cross-training and strength-training so that when the time comes (assuming it does), I can run far into my 60s (and 70s) protected by that strength.
5) I will put to good use the hours not training and focus on being a better wife, mother, and grandmother, putting pen to paper on the two books in progress, fostering relationships, and expanding opportunities for ministry.

There has been a lot of pressure to perform (mostly self-inflicted) over the last twenty-five years. I'm curious how all this will flesh out. In fact, I have no guarantee the injury is temporary, which would require a vastly different strategy. But until I know, a course adjustment is necessary.

In reality, I need to hit the reset button. I need to breath. I need to recover. I need to re-access and re-energize. I need to reform.

Stay tuned.

A walk in the park and a pink finish line

By the time I finish most races, I've figured out at least the first paragraph of my post-race story. This was one of the few where the ...