Running & Reality

I am a runner.

Whether I like to admit it, or if my body even shows it, at the end of the day when the laces are untied, the clothes are in the washer, and I’m mixing up something to drink for the sake of recovery…I am a runner.

It is who I have always been. That is not to say I was an All-Star, All-State, All-Popular athlete in my younger years. It is more perceived as a naturalist. Someone who just needed to run. My parents would have do laps around the house when I was younger, I would entire ‘YMCA Youth Miles’, and when I finally got the point of yelling at my parents in high school…I would lace up and bolt out the door; just to be tracked down via car near some cornfield on the outskirts of town.

I am a runner.

What happens then if you are faced with an internal, unspoken fear of never running again? Nothing proven, no diagnoses, just the gnawing acceptance that shoes, singlets, and socks of your favorite brands may be tossed aside…for dare I say…reality?

It started with a cramp, a panic, a random thought when cruising through the woods on a windy, warm June evening. The idea mutated into a trip to the emergency room, stress tests, an actual doctor, many bills, and being informed that I was on the cusp of a stroke due to my blood pressure. For an individual that rarely, if ever, has medical problems this was an earth-shattering realization of humanity. Add to the panic of transcription error at the hospital, being told that I could be looking at open heart surgery, and to ‘take it easy’, and all of a sudden running was on the back burner.

I was not a runner.

I was just trying to survive.

After new medication, thousands of dollars to our insurance (to be denied because I had taken out another policy that I forgot about), and more trips to more medical places that I care to confess; I was finally given a clean bill of health.

I wore my racing singlet to a stress test, I still made it to yoga throughout the summer, but all of my races, my goals, my mileage…they all took a hit. I got a coach partially for my goals, but also for my safety. Being frail, or at least believe that notion is a horrible sensation to live with.

By the time the school year came around, I was starting my base over from nothing. For the first time in 8 years I missed nearly an entire month of running. That means being trapped with nothing but the thoughts in my head. These ideas of failure, of faulting, of never going back to a place I love.

I am not addicted to running, it is woven into my soul.

As the mileage start to creep up slowly, so too did the aches and pains associated with it. So much so that eventually I could not even lift off my toes. The split times of mileage was getting slower and slower, and I was in more and more pain. One to two days a week with my sports therapists getting needles in my feet to figure out why my ankle was swollen, why I couldn’t lift my feet, and why it was all swelling. Constantly.

My coach looked at all of this, and before I knew it back down went the mileage. I could not physical run because it literally hurt too much to lift my feet. I had no acceleration, could not sprint, I was stuck in one gear 24/7. Of course it may have been a mechanics issue in my foot, so orthotics were looked at. Hundreds of dollars for a body that had already gone through thousands because of things that were beyond ones control. 

I was no longer a runner.

Waves of sadness drowned my soul once again. Mentally I could move, physically my body was finished. Another problem, another issue, another bill, just for a hobby that I depend on than most people will ever know.

A friend, who had dealt with the heart, blood pressure, medical problems with me earlier in the summer recommended that I meet a person they knew that specialized in feet. I was defeated (no pun), and I had no idea what to do next. Ultramarathons were gone, local races were finished, and I had continually taken myself further and further away from the running community. It was not a fault of their own, it was my own disappointment of not being able to move with people that I had worked so hard, internally, on becoming friends with.

When the foot specialist finally looked at my feet, a random Thursday night, they were a mix of fascination and sadness. Fascinating because of what they saw, and sadness of what they knew I was going through. My feet were not only flat, not only had callouses forming where the arches should have been, but also permanently bent inside. They were, as the specialist referred to them as, “high maintenance” feet. However, thankfully with their obsession, they had a plan…

I switched out my shoes. I grabbed my trail shoes. I traveled back 45 minutes to see them. I watched as they ripped out my insole, modified the bottoms each piece, and slid them back into my shoes. It lifted parts of my feet that never lifted, with the instructions that this was going to be my new life if I actually wanted to run the distances I dreamed of.

Sales came at our local running store, and I replaced my daily shoes as well. The schedule from my coach started back at zero due to my feet, and slowly started to creeps it way back towards double digit runs. My body ached daily from the adjustments, chronically exhausted at work due to acclimating to the training, and having to pay attention to each step I took. Literally. Reteaching the body on how to move.

I was slowly, so slowly, becoming a runner.

The days went back, the mileage was bumped up, the training was going smoothly. Finally, after seven months passing since the last time I actually competed in a trail race, I sent my coach a text asking if I could enter one final race for this year. 

I was going to be a runner.

December 8th, 2018; truly by the grace of God, I found myself along the cold pavement of Blowing Springs Park in northwest Arkansas along with hundreds of others. The horn went off, and with my completely overdressed self, I started the process of a three hour run in the woods…for 13.19 miles.

At three hours and twenty minutes I began the silent sobbing of just being able to move. In three hours and twenty two minutes I crossed a frozen finish line. In three hours and twenty three minutes I replayed such an exhausting journey to get to that one moment that I needed so desperately.

I am a runner.

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