Everything is Connected

I like writing blog posts about wonderful races and wild running adventures. Who can blame me? Writing about these experiences allows me to relive running through beautiful, inspiring places and to take pride in my accomplishments. As I know all too well, though, this is only one part of running. Sometimes there is pain, and frustration, and moments when all your positive momentum comes grinding to a halt. I call this "a blog about running and life" - and so, I feel that my posts should reflect the reality that there are always highs and lows in both. 


The last time I ran uninjured, 6 weeks ago.
Pic: Hilary Matheson
6 weeks post Gorge 100k, and I have finally come to terms with the fact that I am injured. I took 2 1/2 weeks completely off running after the race, and have been trying to "ease" back into it since - with persistent pain in my hip/groin. For those who may have read my glowing blog post about Gorge, I mention that hip pain flaring up at the turnaround point. Which means I ran on it for 50k. The irony is not lost on me that the dogged stubbornness and tolerance for pushing through pain that helps so much in ultra running can be your worst enemy when you are dealing with an injury. If I am completely honest with myself, I have not given my body the time it needs to heal, not really; instead, I have been convincing myself that the pain is getting better, that "motion is lotion", and that if I just keep slowly and consistently working away at coming back to running, my injury will heal.

This is not how healing works.

Healing works by listening to your body. By being honest with yourself about what it needs, and giving it that. And by letting go of that incessant drive to propel yourself forward without veering off course: sometimes (and I know this, I really do!), the only way to get to where you want to go is to stop, take stock, and re-route. 


All smiles during Chuckanut 50k. Pic: Glenn Tachiyama
Like most runners, I am goal-driven, and this year I signed up for quite a few races, anticipating a great season after a strong start with the Chuckanut 50k in March and Gorge in April. The main reason I kept stubbornly trying to build my running back up earlier than I should have was because I had registered for the Sun Mountain 50k race, which is this coming weekend. I finally let go of that - and a little bit of the pressure I put on myself lessened. I took a hard look at my race calendar, and distilled it down to what really matters to me, which is the Squamish 50 in August. I let go of everything else. I want to be fit and healthy for that race - and am now, finally, willing to do what it takes for that to happen. 


So, what will it take? I have, according to best guesses from my doctor, physio, and osteopath, iliopsoas muscle strains on both sides, one slightly worse than the other. This injury is seemingly connected in a complex way to the bilateral mastectomy surgery I had 18 months ago, which over time has caused incremental adjustments in my chest muscles and diaphragm, which has resulted in my psoas and hip being constantly pulled. I first felt some hint of these issues in April last year, when I was suddenly plagued with mysterious sciatic/hamstring pain. A week of rehab and rest seemed to do the trick, and I was off and running again - but the internal pulling never went away, and was essentially a ticking time bomb in my body. Eventually, and somewhat unsurprisingly, I threw the whole system completely over the edge by running 100k - and the bomb went off. 

A strain first and foremost requires rest - which I have been telling myself I was doing, but in retrospect of course haven't been diligent enough about. Sure, I have been diligent about doing hip stabilizing and core strengthening exercises, and yoga, and hip flexor stretching, and foam rolling...but rest? Not my strong suit. To be fair to myself, my physio kept telling me that going for short runs wasn't going to make it worse, and that a little pain while healing is to be expected - but this week my doctor finally said the words that I dreaded, but desperately needed to hear: no running. No running for 3-4 weeks. Stay diligent with the other stuff, yes. But do. not. run.


No shortage of trails to power hike around here.
Pic: Tiff Phillips
It seems like such a ridiculous thing to be so upset about. It's only running, after all - and yet I have gone completely through the 5 stages of grief over this injury. It is frankly a relief to finally reach the acceptance stage, and to be able to move forward in a positive way. I can still hike, as long as my hip doesn't stiffen up afterward. So far, so good on that front. I consider power hiking to be my weakness in ultras - I am stronger on runnable courses, and on steep sections that call for power hiking I tend to lose focus and just kind of... walk. So I am now reframing this as an opportunity to practice something that I am not great at. It still gets me onto my beloved trails every day, with the added bonus that I feel I am still working toward something. 

A couple days ago I was hiking up a steep hill in Squamish, battling feelings of frustration, doubt, and figuratively wondering where to go from here (apparently I was still in the depression stage of grief...). At that moment, I literally saw an arrow chalked into the ground in front of me, which was left over from last month's Squamish 50 orientation run. Clearly, the universe felt I needed a really obvious sign to remind me of my main goal (side note: we also clearly could really use some rain). I paused, laughed out loud, wiped a tear away, breathed my thanks, and kept climbing. Onward and upward, carefully and mindfully paying attention - and I will reach those highs again.
Pointing me toward my goal.

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