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This week, four months after completing the Tor Des Géants, I participated in a Skype interview with Claudine Bosio, a French filmmaker and psychologist. She is making a film titled Le Pays de Marie which looks into the emotional journey behind a Tor Des Géants finish.

Claudine first approached me at the Rifugio Frassati, only 20 km from the finish line.

Rifugio Frassati is a modern building with all the amenities, nestled just below Col Malatra (photo credit: climbandtrek.it)

It was about 2 am. Bruce was indulging in a short nap and I was warming myself by the fire, enjoying a bowl of broth and a mug of hot tea. We had one final ascent left, up 400 m to Col Malatra, before heading down into Courmayeur. It was peaceful in that gorgeous rifugio as other racers slept or quietly prepared for the long-awaited finish. All was done now.

Inside the rifugio, I sat and warmed myself by this pot-bellied stove and chatted with Claudine (photo credit:climbandtrek.it)

As I sat, I was trying to grasp the concept of finishing this beast of a race. I was trying to think beyond my pain, my exhaustion and my deep fatigue, trying to summon some sense of excitement about being a finisher. My sentiments must have been transparent as she sat down near me, camera rolling, and asked a few leading questions. Long before then, my self-consciousness about my spoken French had disappeared so I contentedly babbled answers. It was like a dam being broken as I expressed some of the thoughts I had kept to myself over the past six days. Apparently, our little interview piqued her interest and she sought me out afterwards and asked to record a follow-up interview for her film.

Before this second interview took place, I had asked to have the questions in advance so that I could wrap my mind around the French vocabulary I would need to have at the ready, but Claudine insisted that would take away from the spontaneity of the interview. As a result, during our interview in French this week, I bumbled my way naively through complex emotional analysis, mis-conjugating verbs, being unable to retrieve simple nouns and wondering if I had even understood what she had asked. After the interview concluded, I caught myself thinking of better phrases or expressions that I wished I had said at the time.

So, with 20/20 hindsight, here is how I wish the interview had gone:

– – –

CB – What has life been like since completing the Tor Des Géants?

MG – Life has simply carried on in its usual way. Since we returned at the beginning of a new school year, it was easy to quickly become immersed in work, with little time to reflect on the race.

CB – Looking back on the Tor, how do you feel about finishing it?

MG – I am proud of my finish and content with way that the race played out but I have not had any of the expected feelings of elation or excitement.

CB – What did you anticipate for the finish?

MG – I had heard stories of friends who were completely changed upon finishing. Those who were drunk with elation. Those who wanted to do the race over and over in order to reconstruct or improve upon that jubilation. But I felt none of that. I had simply done what I set out to do. If anything, I was disappointed that I had to shut down part of my receptive brain in order to finish. I was disappointed to have so many holes in my memory and to have been unable to enjoy it.

CB – At the beginning of the race, what did you anticipate?

MG – I pictured myself drinking in the gorgeous views and appreciating the quaint rifugios and hospitable volunteers. I thought I would be moved by the beauty of the Alps and be able to appreciate it. Instead, I thought along the lines of ‘Oh, that’s The Matterhorn? Let’s go’.  Although I expected to struggle and to hurt, I thought those kinds of obstacles would pass. Instead, I was in extreme pain on most downhill sections and in tears of exhaustion at every Life Base. I did not have the ability to absorb the natural beauty around me. I blocked it all out.

CB – Did you have any specific points of struggle?

MG – I intended to abandon the race at Donnas Life Base. Before arriving there, I knew that I did not want to continue because the course was too difficult, too steep, too long for me. I was beaten.

CB – How did you manage to come out of that low point?

MG – Once in the Life Base, I allowed myself to cry, to break down. But then I began to follow the routine we had established – eat, drink, sleep. Deep down I wanted to finish my first 100 miler so I somehow talked myself into achieving this smaller goal. It was enough to get me back out onto the trail. I was able to outsmart myself. It was trickery and it worked.

CB – How did you get past the 100 mile mark?

MG – As we hiked out of Donnas, I thought on all the friends, family and supporters who had offered encouragement, trained with me and given me confidence. It pained me to think of disappointing them but I knew that these dear people would understand and embrace me again. More than anything, my motivation came from the waitlisted runners, complete strangers. I remembered the disappointment of being on the waitlist for this race. Knowing that there were about 1500 people who would love to be hiking out of Donnas in my place, I felt immense pressure not to squander this opportunity. It felt pathetic to drop out, having already denied someone else the opportunity of this race. The implications of quitting a race are far-reaching and I believe that setting a goal is an intense commitment. Having reminded myself of this belief, I did not consider abandoning again.

CB – What did you do immediately after the race?

MG – Bruce had to complete his medical studies – running on a treadmill and having CT scans – so I sat in a sunny grass patch near the tourist office and waited for him. I thought that maybe I should be waiting at the finish line and watching other runners finish but I had nothing left. I wanted to do nothing. I was like a deflated balloon. I didn’t even take off my shoes or my backpack while I waited for those couple of hours. Nor did I bother to get the gelato that I had been dreaming of for days!

CB – And now, back at home, do you find that the Tor has changed you?

MG – I suppose I feel like I have proven that I can take on any challenge and tough it out, whether it be a challenge in work, running, health, family or whatever. I know that I can persevere through the worst.

CB – How has completing the Tor changed your friendships?

MG – Nothing has really changed. If anything, I try not to mention doing the Tor because it becomes an obstacle. Occasionally, when someone finds out what I have done, they treat me differently. It intimidates. When talking about this experience, I feel like I am being exclusive or elitist – at least that is the feeling I get from others. But I am perhaps the least elite person around. It is really difficult to have such an enormous accomplishment but to be unable to share it aloud and to have others simply write you off as “that crazy runner”. It has created a loneliness.

CB – Would you like to add anything else?

MG – Bruce and I ran every step together although that was not our plan. It reads like a fairy tale romance. He provided me with enormous strength and encouragement and added forty hours onto his previous best time in order to stay with me.  I benefited from his knowledge of the route and his running expertise. Although I took every step myself, I truly wonder if I could have completed the Tor on my own.

CB – Will you go back for another Tor?

MG – It takes a lot of time to train and travel to Italy so I highly doubt it. But it isn’t out of the realm of possibility. I am interested to see if I could do it alone and if I could do it better than this year. I would like to see if I could manage my time and my sleep in a more strategic way. But it is important to recognize how many people want to do this race and how many people were unsuccessful in the registration process. I need to step aside so that someone new can be given this opportunity.

– – –

Of course, this is not how the interview went. For example, I completely blanked on the word for ‘feet’! But these are the questions as I remember them and the answers I wish I had given. I’ll let you know if and when this movie comes out and we can compare the two realities. Ciao!

 

For many years, I have plateaued at a comfortably fit, but soft, weight. Weight loss has never been a concern of mine. I realise that I am in the minority of women who don’t think twice about a second serving of dessert. (I can just hear you saying “Binny Skitch”!) I admit that I still have clothes in my closet that I wore 15 to 20 years ago and I’m pretty sure my wedding dress would still fit.

But seven months ago, when I suddenly became sick and soon-after treated to surprise intestinal surgery, I predictably lost some weight. As my surgeon said “we cut you open, pumped you up with drugs and starved you for more than a week” so I wasn’t surprised that the scale numbers dipped down about 10 lbs.

But those pounds never came back. As soon as I was given the green light, I ramped up my training, trying to regain my baseline of running fitness for the busy summer race schedule that I had fantasized about during my bed-ridden days. My weight stayed steady at 10 lbs lighter for a few months but recently it has dropped even more (consistent 60km/week might have something to do with it). None of this was alarming until I realised where this weight is coming from.

I have dropped a full bra size. My little As are now AAs! No more Victoria’s Secret for me (since her secret is ‘size-ism’).  I will now have to shop for undergarments on websites like littlewomen.com and ittybittybra.com. Those sites seem like kiddy porn with all those tiny young girls and their tiny double As. I think I’ll settle for my trusty high school training bra instead.

I am trying to come up with perks (excuse the pun) for my new-found svelteness. If nothing else, it makes the search for a hydration backpack all the easier since I no longer have to figure out whether the chest strap goes over or under!

Should the strap go under to lift up??

photo credit: Karen Chow

Or up above?

photo credit: Karen Chow

Or right over top to add extra support?

photo credit: Karen Chow

Or way up high, like a necklace?

 

Or “I’ve Been Here Before”

I recently came across this little gem which I wrote on paper in 2008, after I had an operation. Now five years later, I find myself in the exact same situation, having just come out of an unexpected surgery which will lay me flat for a few months. I find the message here very motivating. If I was able to summon up the courage to set the goal of a 50 miler back then, surely I can do it again. Enjoy!

“You will require eight weeks off to recover from this surgery,” my doctor told me. “Eight weeks with no work, no lifting and no exertion.” It felt as if a heavy fog had rolled into the examination room while I tried to absorb this latest piece of information. It was surprising enough that I was a candidate for surgery, but unbelievable that I would be out of commission for such a long time. This was going to impact every aspect of my life.

“You understand that this means no running either,” she added emphatically, giving me a knowing smile.

On all accounts, I am a healthy person, living a healthy lifestyle. I eat my greens, recycle as much as possible and run just enough to allow me to truthfully call myself a runner. Cutting running out of my regime was not going to kill me but I knew I would miss it. Although I regularly met up with friends early on weekend morning to run in the rain and frost, my purpose was to socialize, always looking forward to warming up with the apres-run coffee.

It's the social life that keeps me truckin'.

It’s the social life that keeps me truckin’.

Luckily, my surgery was scheduled for the middle of November, just after the clocks fell back one hour. I often look at the end of daylight savings as the beginning of winter hibernation, so it was fitting to begin my recovery then. I followed doctors’ orders to the letter and did close to nothing for eight full weeks. As time went by, I was granted permission to go on short walks in the neighbourhood but, in all honesty, those walks wiped me out. I spent hours wondering if I would ever be back to normal again.

On the seventh of January, I had my last appointment with my surgeon. Officially, I was healed, fixed, recovered and was given my life back. It was thrill to simply go back to work. I even enjoyed shovelling snow day after day. There had been so many little things that had fallen to the wayside during my recovery.

But, what about running? I was so hesitant to begin training again. I know how hard it is to get past the one hour mark, after taking a break from running. I know that hill climbing is the first skill lost when not practised. I need a  concrete, attainable goal to help me get back into the groove. But I also want a challenge to work towards that will take me far beyond the level of fitness I had before.

My sights are set on the STORMY 50 mile ultramarathon in Squamish, BC. A fifty miler is a substantial goal and I will have to work hard to achieve it. I have run on those fabulous mountain bike trails many times and I know that their beauty will offer needed distraction during some of the gruelling times. I am keen on supporting a local race and racing alongside some of my training buddies. I also know that the race director puts her heart and soul into making this run a destination event.

In my preparation for the fifty miler, I plan on working up to the Scorched Sole 50 km race in Kelowna, BC. Again, this grassroots race is put on by a dedicated team of acclaimed runners who know exactly what racers need to succeed. I look forward to the help and motivation they will provide at the 25 km mark as they send you off for another loop of Okanagan Mountain Park.

I am looking forward to spending a lot of time on my feet and literally running away from my surgery.

I have run away from surgery before. I can do it again.

I have run away from surgery before. I can do it again.

Addendum: In 2009, I built myself back into fitness and achieved both goals. I completed the Scorched Sole 50 km in 5 hr 30 min. I went on to set a PR of 10 hr 4 min at STORMY 50 miler later that summer.

STORMY - 200m to go.  It ain't gonna be pretty.

It ain’t gonna be pretty

But it will feel good when it's over!

But it will feel good when it’s over!

The Happy Wanderer

My Paths on Strava

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