"Yip, yip!" I shout out to nobody but myself. I'm sliding down a slush-covered pitch twisting my arms this way and that to control my slide. Hours of warm sunlight have transformed what was hours ago a frozen, ice-covered trail into a traitorous slush covered beaten track. One wrong step and the razor sharp ice gives way leaving me thigh high in the snow with bloody shins.
"Yip, yip!" I shout out again. My eyes are strobed by the sun being hidden and reintroduced behind tree branches with every step forward I take. Time has started to take on some weird sense of slow motion. I raise my arm and quickly take my eyes off the trail to glance at my GPS watch, careful to quickly get my eyes back on the snow covered trail so as to not lose my footing. Five hours and 10 minutes: 28 miles, it reads.
"Yip, yip!" I shout again. My vision suddenly goes blurry, my heart skips a beat. I begin to run through the mental checklist.
Feet: wet but not too cold and probably a bit blistered, but no real pain.
Ankles: sore from the uneven terrain, but nothing I can't handle.
Lower Leg: shins are cut up from breaking through the snow and scraping against ice, but nothing that isn't superficial.
Knees: right knee is bleeding from a fall I took a few miles back. Left knee has some discomfort but no pain. Yes, the left knee that has limited my activity for nearly eight months, the one that has sent me from doctor to doctor, MRI to Xray to MRI and so forth. The left knee has discomfort, but no pain. I'm going to make it to the finish, my first ultra-marathon in nearly eight months.
"Yip, yip!" I shout again, smiling, wiping tears from eye eyes. I am going to make it.
Running somewhere around mile 16.
The past eight months have been incredibly hard for me. I fell in love with running, but after a particularly grueling 50-mile race it also left me broken. It's been a hard struggle with ups and downs every day. Some weeks I'm able to easily run 60 miles, other weeks I'm stuck with ice packs covering my knee fighting back depression. Somewhere along the road something happened, and happiness and running got intermixed, and at times it seems hard to have one without the other.
I've learned some valuable lessons though in the past eight months.
I've learned to redefine running. When I started running I joined a running club and all I cared about was being faster than those around me, and I was content to run any race that let me show off my newfound speed. I've learned that running is more about adventuring, more about seeing what's just around the corner. I'm more interested in the natural wonders and beauty of the world around us, so I've found the trails to be much more enjoyable. Falling in love with trail running inevitably led to a very valuable lesson, which is to not run by distance or by pace or even by time. To run when the body says run, to walk when the body says walk and never to stress about not completing a "workout." As long as I get out there and take a fresh breath of air and make sure to take a moment to enjoy my surroundings, I can't be disappointed if I run slower or shorter than originally planned.
I've also learned through injury to respect my body more. I get weekly massage and acupuncture, not only for the improved health of my "bum knee" but also to help ward off future ailments. I take supplements, make sure I sleep enough and rest. Leading up to this moment, I had only run two days in the previous three weeks, for a total of 15 miles. Instead I spent time on a rowing machine and a stationary bike, keeping my fitness up but at a low-impact effort. I've come to learn that if you respect your body and take care of it, it will most likely respond and let you do the things that you want from time to time.
Getting some aid before heading out on the final 5K; Photo credit: Otto Lam.
"Yip, yip!" I shout. N.J. Trail Series Frozen Febapple was a day plagued with DNFs (runners term for Did Not Finish) and DDs (runners term for Drop Down to a shorter distance) but for me it marked a happy day on the trails.
"Yip, yip!" I shout again. I am back in the ultra-marathon game!