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I have cleared the schedule, hung up the shoes and found a new pastime. 2019 will be remembered as the year that ultras went on the back burner.

Last spring and summer, my running struggled along as I battled twinges and tweaks and resulting low motivation. My achilles injury forced me to forgo a bunch of races and it was really difficult to get the proper training in for my ‘A race’ of the season, the Mighty Quail 100 km. In the end, I got it done but I lost something along the way – the desire to push through.

For me, running long distances requires strong focus on a specific end point – usually a certain finish line – and that focus will pull me through the long hours of training. I really love being out in the forest, deep in the lesser known trails, reminding myself to eat and drink and watch my footing as I go. There is a purity and ease as I clock the kms but that ultimate race goal is truly what gets me out the door.

I have always been one to take time off from running once daylight savings ends but, last fall, I took it to the level of hibernation. I had no desire to run in the snow or rain, nor solo or with the group. Instead I read, became a homebody and allowed myself to get soft around the edges and it has been fabulous. I got a new-to-me mountain bike and have been learning to rip up the trails (a little). I ride purely for fun and usually in a group. There is no goal except perhaps to end the ride without any new bruises.

Last night, B and I were talking about his upcoming Tor de Glaciers race – a 450 km loop of the Italian alps in Sept 2019 – and reminiscing about our Tor de Geants race five years ago. I found myself wishing aloud (again) that I could have a re-do of that event. I believe I could have done it better. B was quick to suggest a number of other 100 mile and 200 mile races which would allow me to prove myself to myself.

As I scrolled through event pages, looking for an ultra race that would fit in my 2020 fixed summer holiday, I had to laugh at myself. Here I was, searching for that goal race, ready to click the ‘register’ button, despite the fact that I haven’t laced up my running shoes for weeks. But perhaps this summer of rest and relaxation has worked its magic. I knew I needed some time off – not to consider quitting for good but simply to come back with a thirst for that next finish line.DSCN0370

 

 

In 1998, I ran my first marathon and since then I have been consistently running longer and longer distances, taking very few breaks from running over those 20 years.

Where will this lead me?

This year has been no different. My running schedule includes all six races in the Vancouver Island Trail Series, the Marathon Shuffle, The Cumby, Kusam Klimb, Cedar 24 hour and The Mighty Quail. But it suddenly looks like none of those plans will be realized.

About two months ago, a series of unfortunate incidents began and have hobbled me. It started with an off-leash dog attack from behind, which tore up my hand, rattled my confidence in running alone and made me suspicious of all other trail users.

Next (and most significantly) I strained my Achilles tendon during a trail run. While crossing a bike bridge, my heel strike was in-between two boards which were fairly far apart. Although my toes landed on the bridge and took some of the weight, my heel dropped into the empty space and hyper-extended the tendon.

And then, while working around the yard, attempting to attach the flat-bed trailer onto the car, I missed the hitch and dropped the trailer onto my foot – the same foot, of course. My middle toe took the brunt of the impact, swelled up and turned blue. For a few days, I could not fit my foot into my running shoes. I don’t think I broke it but it is still swollen many weeks later.

WTF indeed! Why is this happening to me?!

I started seeking therapies. Chinese acupuncture helped me with a tight Achilles about 15 years ago so I sought out a local acupuncturist. I also found a physiotherapist who treated me with ultrasound and IMS and gave me a series of stretches and strengthening exercises to do. Between treatments, I still ran but I throttled back both in time and in distance and I stuck to less technical trails.

The final blow was during a warm-up run for The Cumby race. I stubbed the toe of my good leg against a root and landed with my full weight on my tender leg. Instantly, my calf exploded in pain, in the exact place where an IMS needle had been inserted the day before. Numbness took over my foot and my calf became immobile, rigid in full spasm. I was in tears from shock, pain and a deep understanding that I was now officially injured. It took over 45 minutes to drag myself back to town.

After more ice, more stretching, more therapies and even another gentle plod or two, I have finally come to the conclusion that I have to allow myself time to heal. Continual pursuit of my running goals is hampering the healing process.

But, as I sit here typing on a gorgeous Victoria Day long weekend, my mind subconsciously flits to the trails I might like to hit this afternoon. I have to keep reminding myself that I won’t be running today or for the foreseeable future.

Running takes me to some beautiful places.

Running lets me see some amazing things.

Running is a habit that I don’t want to break. Twenty solid years of training for long distances has had a positive impact my work schedule, my leisure time, our marriage, our diet, our holidays and every other aspect of daily life. It will be a big adjustment that I am so reluctant to make.

Surely there is a silver lining somewhere out there.

So …. anyone wants to go riding?

This will heal me (as soon as I learn how!)

And so will they.

When I was young, my family was a skiing family. My parents moved to this part of the world primarily due to a love for skiing. Each year, we downhill skied almost every weekend that the ski lifts operated. For more than a decade of weekends, our winter days were spent carving turns on the hill and our evenings were filled with board games, reading and early nights.

This is one of the very few photos from those by-gone days before handheld devices. Me and Sandy hamming it up near the Roundhouse on Whislter - circa 1978

This is one of the very few photos from those by-gone days before handheld devices. Me and Sandy hamming it up near the Roundhouse on Whistler – circa 1978

One night at dinner, I proudly proclaimed that I had skied hard all day and had not fallen once. I still remember being taken aback by my dad’s abrupt response:

That just means that you weren’t trying.

Even at nine years old, or whatever impressionable age I was, those words hit hard and sunk in. I guess I had been fishing for praise but his words were a reminder that pushing yourself is the only way to improve. Not working hard was not praise-worthy. His demand for work ethic even flowed into leisure pursuits.

I am no longer a skier but I carry Dad’s message with me when I run. To me, running is my version of play. I play in the forest as often as I can. I take my play seriously and I work hard when I play. That can mean that I sign up for challenging races and work hard towards being ready to toe the line. It can mean that I refuse to walk a hill or that I push my pace faster.  And this week, it meant that I ran fast, tripped on a root and fell down hard and fast during a casual solo run.

With the wind knocked out of me and severely bruised ribs, I lay at the side of the trail, gazing up at the trees and tried to figure out how I came to be reclining in the moss. I thought about Dad.

Well, Dad, I guess I am improving.

 

 

So there we were, flying down a sweet, single track trail called Blue Collar, laughing and chattering away as we dipped and dodged around trees.

The sweet single track of Blue Collar with Jerry, Steve, Farley and Todd (photo credit: Todd Gallagher)

The sweet single track of Blue Collar with Jerry, Steve, Farley and Todd (photo credit: Todd Gallagher)

After a 4 km climb, we were soaking up the descent. I always think that my eye muscles will be the most fatigued muscles after a speedy descent as I try to anticipate each footfall and negotiate all those roots and rocks. These shorter, mid-week runs with friends are probably my favourites. There is no pressure to put in long hours; the purpose is simply to enjoy being out after a day of work.

We reached the reservoir and the flat, gravel service road that runs around its perimeter. As usual on the boring flats, my focus waned and I began chattering away to Farley, our group’s loyal trail dog. Next thing you know, I caught my trailing toe on an embedded rock and I was flying through the air, Superman-style. I almost saved myself from the fall, managing to get three or four more quick steps in as an attempt to recover my balance, but alas …

The full impact of my fall went onto the top of my right hand, near my pinky finger. Since I was holding a hand-held water bottle, my fingers wrapped under my hand so the knuckles of my right hand slid and scraped through the rough gravel. I lay on the side of the road with my eyes closed and tried to assess the damage. Still with my eyes closed, I decided it was nothing more than a bad scrape. When Steve and Todd came back to where I lay, I realized that I was holding my injured hand so tightly that they couldn’t see what had happened. As soon as Todd peeled my left hand off of my right, Steve said,

“It looks okay. Just a couple of stitches.”

Before I even had time to take a peek or disagree, Todd had removed his sweaty running shirt and bound up my injured hand with it.  With MacGyver-like finesse, he used my hand-held water bottle strap and cinched his shirt tight against my hand.

Ingenious and resourceful bandaging was in place within moments of my fall.

Ingenious and resourceful bandaging was in place within moments of my fall.

Together we walked the remaining 4 km back to the trailhead and they kept me amused with stories and jokes. Todd followed me as I drove my car (automatic!) and made sure that I went directly to the hospital. Not only did he pay for my parking, but he also escorted me into ER, sat with me in triage and coerced his work colleagues to take extra good care of me. Only after I was settled in, waiting for an examination, did he heed my request to leave.

When the ER doctor gave the okay, I unwrapped my scraped hand and finally saw the extent of the damage. A sharp rock had gouged a flap across that pinky knuckle and filled it with dirt and grit.

Some of that grey is dirt but some is bruising starting to show its colours.

Some of that grey is dirt but some is bruising starting to show its colours.

Gruesome gash filled with grit.

Gruesome gash filled with grit.

I had a few x-rays, which thankfully showed no broken bones, had a good wire-brush scrub (with freezing thankfully) and then was sewn back together with 10 stitches. I didn’t tell the doctor of Steve’s pending bet of 3 stitches until she had finished her work. The pinky knuckle  was the hardest hit, requiring 5 stitches and the next 2 knuckles shared the rest.

This day #2 pic shows the 10 stitches and the nasty swelling.

This day #2 pic shows the 10 stitches and the nasty swelling.

Yesterday, day #2, the rest of my body felt like I had been in a bar fight, with a sore shoulder, knee and elbow. I unwrapped the bandage and found that my hand was unrecognizable with the swelling. My knuckles are blackish purple and the skin of my hand is stretched to its limits. I have very little mobility in those two last fingers and the throbbing forces me to keep it elevated.

Chubby Knuckles!

Chubby Knuckles!

How lucky I am to have friends who don’t hesitate for a moment in this kind of situation? To literally be given the shirt off his sweaty back is a gift I’ll not forget.

It is perfect running weather today so I think I’ll head out onto the trails. I wonder if my running buddies are free.

The Happy Wanderer

My Paths on Strava

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