This has been a hard year. Divorce, starting a new job, moving twice, gaining 20 pounds, trying to find and stay true to who I am. It’s been a bit of a marathon.. Lots of hills, tears, sweat and battling nearly every part of my being. Physically it’s tough, trying to find my path to loving myself and keeping my body healthy. Mentally, keeping my head in the game and having a progressive mindset to keep going. Emotionally, well that’s a gamble any given day. I consistently feel like I don’t belong in this world, like there just isn’t space for me and it’s a daily battle to try to figure out exactly where I fit. Because of all this, I decided that one thing would be in my control this year and I would choose to do something hard. I chose Triple Lakes 40k.
I started training really early for this race. It’s not that I’m new to running but along with a lot of other things, I had given it up. I knew I could do this and I knew it would be hard but I was ready and willing to put in the work. I had plenty of training runs that made me want to give up and several that were really good for my soul. One particular 10 mile run made me feel really strong and capable and I felt encouraged to keep going. And then… It was a Saturday, shortly after a round of bad storms in the Kansas City area and I found myself running along Blue River and dodging obstacles that had been washed over the pathway. About 9 miles into my 14 mile run, I started to get an annoying pain in the outside of my left knee. Like most stubborn runners, I decided to ignore it and keep pushing. Rainey joined me for the last 4 miles and it turned into more of a hike than a run as the knee pain worsened. I was sure it was just overworked and nothing serious so I took a few days off, made a couple of visits to True Health to see my chiropractor and kept trying to run. Unfortunately, the pain continued and stopped my runs at about 1-2 miles in. I again, stubbornly decided that I just needed to rest it and I took to biking instead of running while I started counting down the last few weeks until the race. After several more visits to the chiropractor, acupuncture, foam rolling, and alternate cardio, the Dr broke the news that he deemed it highly unlikely that I would be physically capable of finishing my race. I went through a roller coaster of emotions when he told me that but I’m persistent and I was determined that I was at least going to try.
The plane landed in North Carolina and there was obviously no turning back at that point. We spent the next day enjoying food and family and then made a trip out to the trail head to see where the race would begin the next day. I was so nervous that I was nauseous. The trail was beautiful, the encouragement from my friends and another runner we met at the trail head was great but in spite of my determination, that fear lingered. I knew this would be hard and I knew I needed to prove something to myself. I’ve never been a quitter and this was going to be my moment this year. I needed to prove that I wasn’t going to fail at everything. I needed to feel strong and capable. I needed every mile to run away the pain and confusion and guilt that has plagued my every decision this year. I needed this race. I had worked so hard and race day was finally happening.
We woke up early on race day, had some breakfast, geared up and headed for the start line. I was surprisingly much less nervous that morning than I had been all week and I took that as a good sign. Everything happened so fast once we arrived at the start. It seemed like a matter of minutes and the race had already begun. We started up hill and on pavement instead of trail so Rainey and I decided we would stick with a nice power hike until we found some dirt. It took us over a mile to find that dirt but when we did, we were ready and took off! The trail was gorgeous and we immediately fell into conversation and began to enjoy our time in the woods. Somewhere between mile 2 and 3, the pain in my knee started. The discouragement threatened to overwhelm me but I pushed it aside and decided it was going to be fine. If it didn’t get any worse, I could still finish. A couple of miles later the pain in my knee was still there and I was starting to feel like my shoes were rubbing on both heels. I had worn those exact socks and shoes for most of my runs and to this day have no idea why I had this issue. We met our crew at mile 8 and I changed shoes but the damage had already been done. I had huge blisters on the back of my heels and my knee was not letting up. We made it another 3 miles to the next aid station and that is where I believe I made my first mistake. I decided to try putting bandaids over the blisters and while adjusting the bandage on my left heal managed to rip the skin entirely off the blister. I wasn’t ready to let this stop me. I walked a few steps, adjusted my shoe and walked a few more. I tried Rainey’s shoe, still in pain. I finally settled on wearing my shoe like an elementary kid and smashed the heal down in the back and kept going.
Somewhere around mile 12 the reality of how I was feeling began to really hit. I could lie and tell you that I was tough. I could tell you I was angry and pissed. I could tell you it wasn’t fair and blame everything under the sun. I could also tell you the truth. I cried. My heart broke as the waves of emotion and the reality that I wouldn’t be able to finish, hit me like a brick wall. I felt like a failure. I had worked so hard for that finish line moment and now I wasn’t going to get that moment. Why did this keep happening? I felt like I had experienced so much failure already this year, didn’t I deserve one moment of success? My marriage had failed. I had failed my fitness plan. I felt like I had failed my children and my parents and my friends because so often I had been a wreck over the past year. My heart was breaking and I was crashing through the stages of grief over and over again and yet, I kept putting one foot in front of the other. Several times I encouraged Rainey to go on and finish without me but because she is the best human ever, she stuck with me. We had now made it 13 miles and we were still at least 2 miles from the next aid station where our crew was waiting.
Those last two miles were brutal. Dave and Reed (our crew) hiked in with ice and a wrap for my knee. Rainey and I said an emotional good-bye, we loaded her up with fuel from my pack and she took off to finish the race. It took me 49 minutes to go the last mile to the aid station. Multiple times, I had to stop half way down a hill and cry in pain. I couldn’t stop though, I wouldn’t. My knee hurt, my heels hurt and now I had a sharp pain in the outside of my right foot but somewhere deep down, I knew that I had to walk out of those woods on my own two feet.
I made it out and was ushered into the car. The tears continued to flow as we drove to the finish line to watch and wait for Rainey to finish the race. Every time someone came running in and was awarded that medal and the congrats of finishing the race, a fresh batch of tears would spill down my cheeks. This was hard. Life was hard. But.. I knew I had done my best, regardless of the outcome.
The rest of that day and the following day was an emotional and at times hilarious journey of me trying to walk, being ushered through the airport in a wheelchair and passing the time in flight by watching Star Wars with Dave. We made it home, I put my feet up and officially started my post-race healing journey. The insane amount of love and encouragement that I have gotten from my friends, family and co-workers has been so beautiful. This was only one race, one year of my life, one more challenge that I would face, even if it didn’t turn out like I had hoped. This is a single page, not the entire book and there’s no way I’m giving up now.
As I write this, I’m sitting at home with my ugly knee brace on, watching football and trying to listen to my body’s cry for rest. My LCL sprain will heal, just like my heart is healing and even if I never find that exact place in life where I “fit” or even if I never finish a 25 mile race (I will!!! :), I know this isn’t the end and these failures, such as they are will not define me. I’m letting go… I didn’t fail to run 25 miles, I ran 15. I didn’t fail my marriage, I spent over a decade of my life loving fiercely and learning so much. I’m not failing my children, I hope I’m inspiring them to love themselves and try hard things. I have people in my life who will love me no matter what and I know my journey is nowhere near the end. It’s just beginning and it will be a great adventure.