I’ve always believed that the only path to being the strongest runner is through running. After a disappointing unfinished race last month, I have been reflecting on what this sport means to me and how I can be my best runner. While I have come up with more questions than answers, I feel that the meaning of all of this effort will continue to show itself to me in time.
I threw myself into the ultrarunning world about a year ago and became fixated on running further and faster, with no thought to how I would feel about not meeting my goals. I rode the wave of strong race finishes all the way through this spring. Going into Ice Age 50 Mile I felt like nothing could go wrong and I should race as hard as I wanted to. My athletic image of myself was shattered when I decided to leave the race at mile 37 with debilitating hip and knee pain. I was so upset by how upset I was. Why did this sport mean so much to me?
My reaction to the failed race was to see a full spectrum of practitioners and find a quick fix for my injury. I was treated by a chiropractor, alignment yoga specialist, sports medicine MD, and a physical therapist who performed an analysis of my running form. All of these experts helped me in different ways. The interesting overlap was that I needed to make permanent changes to my routine in addition to my short-term recovery plan. Some of my assignments were to sleep more, reduce stress in my life, wear a temporary brace to restrict the movement of my pelvis (IT belt), perform several pelvic and core stabilizing exercises and to STOP running. This was the real challenge – to stop running for two weeks. Unthinkable, unacceptable, inconceivable. But I did it! – well almost. I didn’t run for 13 days. And when I came back, I did it slowly. First 4 miles, then 6, and up from there. Somewhere in this pause from running, I found a clarity that helped me loosen my grip on running. I learned that if took a more subtle approach to the sport, I wouldn’t be hurt emotionally if races didn’t turn out. And if I didn’t have such a rigid expectation about my outcomes then maybe I would be injured less often.
A month after I dropped out of Ice Age, I took 2nd place at Blue Mound 20k. This race is not a distance that I feel is a focus of mine, but the event had huge personal importance to me. 4 years ago It was my first trail race and to place 2nd after hitting such a low point a few weeks earlier was pretty awesome. After that race I fell into a gentle training routine leading up to my next race in two weeks – Dances with Dirt 50 Mile. I’m a little worried about the race. Most of my team of experts has mixed reactions to my race plan. I have been strongly cautioned not to continue running if I am changing my stride or have significant pain. How would I feel if I dropped out of another ultramarathon? I don’t know, but I’m willing to find out.
Sports are so vain. They are our culturally acceptable way of flexing our egos, as if to shout hey everyone, I’m better than you! But they are also an important exercise in humility, not only by losing sometimes, but by pushing ourselves to the brink of our physical abilities and surviving to talk about it. My weekly routine now includes not only running but yoga, an earlier bedtime, self massage, heat training in a sauna, Pilates, and plenty of downtime without thinking about running. My life has so much balance and beauty with running. I can continue to push myself in this sport as long as I don’t let it ruin my personal happiness.