I ran yesterday for the first time in a month, for 100 meters. It felt amazing.
Back in early December I went up to Orcas Island, WA, for a 3 day training camp. On the last day of camp I pissed off my right Achilles something fierce. With the injury I was out of commission for a full month.
The month of December was pretty shitty for me in many regards. Not running was a tough challenge in a couple of different ways. First, not being able to run sent me into a panic of sorts, mainly due to the fact that I didn’t know at first when I’d be able to return. Damn it, I was going to lose fitness, gain weight, etc, etc. In terms of upcoming races I had to forgo February’s Orcas Island 100 miler. Taking time off to nurse an injury for this long was not conducive to good fitness heading into my 2nd 100 miler. Yeah, I still could do it, but at what cost? Further injury? It just wasn’t worth it.
Secondly, and more importantly, the lack of endorphins over the month did a number on my sanity. My body is so accustomed to physical training that without it my ability to stay present, mindful, and in the moment, goes out the door. Every day became a struggle as I searched for something to latch onto to help replace said endorphins. I would have bouts of frustration, fear, anger, panic, and anxiety, several times a day. These symptoms induced a pretty bad depressive episode which culminated on Christmas Day.
For Christmas I had plans to go to a friend’s house here in Corvallis. In the morning I talked to both of my parents and spent a bit of time around friends in recovery. Around 11AM that morning I plummeted into a hole. I felt a sense of absolute debilitation. I couldn’t speak to anyone and the thought of being around people was terrifying. Therefore, I cancelled my plans for dinner that evening. For the remainder of the day I turned off my phone and curled up in a ball on the couch, wondering when this episode of depression would pass. It was possibly the worst Christmas I’ve ever had.
Luckily things began to improve from there. The following week I started a rehab program for my Achilles which involved short sessions of pool running. During the second session I found myself smack in the middle of a water aerobics class, training along to Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On (directed at the class over a loudspeaker), shaking my head and managing a laugh as to how this scene might look from the outside. I was humbled to say the least. Even with short 20-25 min pool sessions I noticed that some endorphins started to kick back in, I began to feel more mindful, quiet, and peaceful. It certainly wasn’t the same as logging miles on the trails but it would have to do for the time being. Mornings became good again until around 2:30PM. For some reason right around mid-afternoon I began to get frustrated and anxious again. I could not handle the juxtaposition of the two mood sets.
New Years Eve has been the hardest holiday for me in terms of the process of attempting sobriety. This particular NYE brought back several memories as 10 years ago to the day I had proposed to my then-fiancee. Luckily, to my good fortune, I was able to involve myself with my new world, ultra-running, even though I was injured. For NYE this year I was able to host a 50 kilometer group run in my favorite area to run, the Dunn Forest, just north of Corvallis. Even though I was not able to participate in the event just being out in the woods with friends was such a great way to get out of my own head. I enjoyed every minute of it! Towards the end of the day I didn’t even really think about it being NYE, in fact, I was sound asleep by 8:30PM that night. Ringing in the New Year, introvert style!
Now that there is a light at the end of tunnel in terms of recovering from being injured I am, yet again, processing to the fullest extent what running means to me. Again, I’m reminded that it isn’t all about racing and results for me; running has become the glue to my recovery program. Although dramatic, maybe it is about life or death for me? Running provides a unique sense of balance and an unwavering feeling of calmness and clarity. The pure act of running allows my mind to get a reprieve from itself. For me, once my mind gets going and the squirrel cage starts to rattle, I’m one step closer to taking another drink. And if that happens there is no telling where I would go. A critical take-away for me is that I know there will be other setbacks as I move forward in pursuing my goal of becoming a professional runner. So, in the future how am I going to handle these situations? Rather than obsess about running again, now that I’m closing in on 100% health, it’s probably a smart idea to assess what I can do apart from training. “In times of peace prepare for war.” Guitar? Writing? Both tremendous possibilities.
I’m hoping that by sharing this someone else can relate to the pain of being injured. Yes, I was only out for a month, which in the grand scheme of things is a short amount of time. Many runner friends of mine have been injured for up to year! I cannot even imagine what that would be like. Regardless, I believe it is important for people, runners in this instance, to share their experience and frustration, not only with the injury process, but with life itself. The conversations that I’ve had over the last month with fellow ultra-runners have helped me to maintain a perspective. Through those conversations now I understand that as bad as it may seem there is hope that, this too, shall pass.