Say hello to a short visual progression of the glorious early end to my 2015 season at the Spartan Ultra Beast in Tahoe...
Tough Guy repeat. DNF. Hypothermia. If my foil wings only had super powers...
It was my second major disappointment in a month, after hearing in the previous weeks that I would not be Columbia Sportswear's next Director of Toughness.
A blessing in disguise, though? I was secretly running on a foot that was pleading for rest. In less than a month's time, last summer I managed to sprain my ankle 3 times, resulting in subsequent bone growth, a navicular accessory, and an inflamed tendon. This occurred shortly after I felt recovered from Lyme. Not being emotionally ready to take another step back, combined with a bit of stubbornness, were the elements I used to forge on, and I paid the price.
After Spartan, I did not have much of a choice if I wished to train in the future, let alone compete in anything in 2016. I stopped running. I did not stop for a few days, or a few weeks, but I stopped for a few months. With the most important races of the year scratched from my calendar, the Columbia position drifting off into the clouds, and the time away from the trails, I became fixated on my pain, my injury, and everything I did to land on the sideline again. The forbidden phrase of regret, “If I only...”, became a regular in my vocabulary. This is not the way one heals – negativity blocks healing – and if I wanted to heal, I would have to practice what I preach to so many: uncovering the positive and finding balance.
As I watched the U.S. Marathon trials while spinning the other weekend, something came across closed captioning that resonated with me.
“It is a 24 hour job to stay fit and clear of injuries.”
...and when you are hurt? Well, it is a 24 hour job to get healthy.
For the next few months, rehab became my ultra-marathon and my “A” race. The beauty about an ultra is that you have a bit more time to turn things around when they look bleak. During the first 2-3 months of my rehab ultra, my attitude was on an accelerated decline; the unstable condition of my foot led me to believe that surgery was my only option.
“If I only...”
Those thoughts continued to infect my mind and my healing energy. They affected those close to me, my biggest supporters. There is no clear moment that awakened me from the haze of negativity. Even though I fixated my thoughts on the negatives for a while and had my fair share of emotional outbursts, I kept moving forward.
I consistently went to the gym and followed through with the slew of exercises I was taught to realign, stabilize and strengthen my body. I was allowed to cycle and rode outside into December and January, something I had never done before. I found excitement and challenge in a new sport, bouldering. I got back in the pool and racked up miles at a time, building confidence in something that's not my forte. (Nothing says lack of confidence than popping your head out of the water in the first 50m of an Ironman swim and saying to yourself, “How the hell am I not going to drown right now?” Disclosure: I hardly trained for that event, so I was to blame, but now I can assure you that I could swim [a slow] 2.4 miles without the subsequent freak-out.)
Improvements began to show. My mind, my body and my heart started to work in sync. My heart was always there, but was previously overshadowed by the thoughts in my head. Finally, some tangible results. I felt good and I feel even better today.
Rewind to the Spartan Race for a moment. The most interesting part of my race happened post DNF...
After spending considerable time thawing out in the equipment garage of Squaw High Camp, I went on to slowly finish my first of what should have been two laps. I was already technically DQed for receiving help and my body had it for the day. The remaining 5km of the lap was downhill and having changed into dry, warmer clothes thanks to James, I was in good enough condition to casually work my way down. Less than a quarter mile in, I approached a man who was shivering too much for comfort. I pulled out my foil cape, which I turned into a cravat of sorts, and wrapped it around him. He could hardly make out any words at first, but enough to tell me his name, Raniero, and that he was from Italy. We chatted more as we completed each obstacle and Raniero warmed up. He was at the race for redemption. He traveled from Italy to tackle the Ultra Beast, which he did not finish in Vermont in 2014.
I have no clue as to how long it took us to reach the bottom of the mountain, and what would be Raniero's first lap and my last, but it was bittersweet. James greeted us and I sent Raniero on his way. His condition was greatly improved from when I first met him, and as much as I wanted to join him on a second lap, I knew he would be able to conquer it himself. This was his race. To my delight, I woke up the next morning to find out he did.
It's OK to feel down for a little while, but don't let it define you. Push yourself forward, even if it's slowly. I always tell myself when I'm out for a long training session and I'm not feeling it, that in the time I may take an unneeded break, I could be “x” miles/minutes closer to my goal for the day.
It was too easy to focus on everything negative in each of these hurdles, but it is just as easy to pick out the positives:
The Columbia Sportswear interview? I networked with some great like-minded folk and I'm currently consulting on a project for one of them.
The Ultra Beast? Without question, I would have loved to have raced well, but it turned into a much more memorable experience. I made a new friend and witnessed him achieve something he waited a year to try again.
My foot? I feel balanced and in tune with my body. I'm easing my way back into running with more patience than I have ever had before and it's paying off.
Those races I missed? After solidifying my race schedule with my adventure racing team, Off-Course Navigation, as well as other races and adventures, I'm happy to have had the extra rest.
The other detail I left out? Woven into my rehab ultra and daily life, I was presented with a potential opportunity in December for a new survival competition. It proceeded with a lengthy process of interviews over email, phone and video calls. I found them enjoyable, chatting with interesting people along the way and of course, due to the prospect of an unknown challenge in an unknown place none-the less! I had to rearrange some racing plans due to this potential endeavor, but I was comfortable with it because it became my opportunity to come back after Lyme, my sub-par racing season, the Columbia interview and my foot...
I made it into the final round of 10 this February and 6 would make the cut. Not even a week ago, I received the final call... I was not chosen. I told myself not long before that call that I would give myself a short mourning period if it were to not go in my favor. Surprisingly, I was devastated for the shortest amount of time I can remember over an opportunity that I thought about day and night. And in my experience, when I continue to forge ahead after hitting bumps in the road, wonderful new opportunities follow.
There's a silver lining in not being chosen for that competition; a new adventure that's even more exciting. I'm keeping this one to myself for now, so you'll just have to wait a little to see what's next....