Thank you, Carey, for taking the time to share your experiences with us over the past year. Your reflection and honesty has been appreciated by many and we wish you all the best.
I’m familiar with failure; both in failure to achieve a goal and when the body decides to rebel. Although never easy, having to overcome those disappointments heightens your sense of appreciation, completing those mindfulness techniques.
If you missed out on Carey’s earlier blogs, you can check out her first posting here.
I had a great year of running. I ran in the slush, snow, ice, slush again, mud, rain, and sun. I made goals and hit some of them. And, I did lots of adapting. And the adapting part (I will explain later) almost broke my spirit.
I signed up for the Broken Goat 25km trail race last November and started running throughout the winter. There were layers. Running tights. Yak traks. Sweaters. Wool undershirts. Gloves. Mittens. And, there were treats. Hot coffee in a thermos in the truck. A warm cinnamon bun in a cafe post-run. And there were running companions. Two dogs, one with short fur and one with long collie-like fur. Running dates on the snowy trails with old friends and new ones.
I ran on days when I didn’t want to and on days when lacing up my shoes felt easy and joyful. I ran a mile some days just to get my body moving and other days I ran five or more miles.
Then, summer came and my running mojo was squashed. And, it wasn’t summer and its hot, hot, heat that sidelined me. It was me, or rather a surgery and recovery. In early June, I had surgery. And, recovery was long. L-O-N-G long. And, I didn’t like being sidelined. I was angry with my body, even though I knew the surgery was a good thing.
As I spent time at home getting better, time seemed to speed along without me. Race day got closer. A friend messaged to see if I was still planning to crash on her couch the night before the big day. I hadn’t mentioned my surgery to any of my Turtle Pack running friends. I got tired of talking with doctors let alone friends about my slow recovery. I also secretly hoped that I could still run the race – despite the pain I was in.
Denial is a great companion sometimes. As runners, we tell ourselves we can run one mile more. We can make it to that faraway telephone pole before we turn around to go home. When we do we are happy that we ignored that stomach cramp or sore legs. Except this kind of denial wasn’t the healthy push-to-the-end of a run version. It was ego-based denial. At the most base level of ego, I wanted that prize. I wasn’t going to be the first, second, or third place finisher. I just wanted to run the race I had said I was going to do. I didn’t want to fail. But, the thing about getting sidelined is that your body doesn’t have the same “don’t give up” soundtrack that your mind does. The dark, unhealthy side of ego can act like a weirdly shaped shame hat that you place on your own head. You look in the mirror (with the shame hat on, of course) and tell yourself: this is me. Ugh. I am no longer a runner. Shame, shame on me for thinking I was. That’s how shame works. You look in the mirror and you see a version of yourself that you don’t like and then you stop seeing all the good stuff. And, because shame is a sneaky SOB – once it gets into your head it can migrate to your body. Your shoulders droop more; you walk with less vigour, less pep. Everything feels less.
That was how I felt. Low.
The race day loomed closer and I still had this weird guilt about not running. A friend from the Turtle Pack reminded me about the pre-race dinner. I had already paid and part of me thought about skipping and staying home. I didn’t. I went and I was glad. I told volunteers at the registration table that I wasn’t running. I started to feel okay about my DNS (did not start) status. I enjoyed a cider, spaghetti, casear salad, and laughter. My focus shifted from me (and my injured ‘woe is me’ soundtrack) to my friend. I made a point of acknowledging her accomplishments. This was her run. And, I was one of her Turtle Pack. I was present for her.
The following day (after the race), my running friend hosted a BBQ. My partner, daughter, and I arrived with salad and cold ciders. In the backyard, we gathered and celebrated my friend’s run. Another one of the Turtle Pack runners was there and we raised our collective glasses to celebrate everything: the race our fellow Turtle ran, the days we all spent on the roads and trails training, and the time we carved out of the days, weeks, and months for ourselves. I remember our talks about self-care. The majority of Turtle Pack members are mothers and taking solo time to run felt like a win. Self-care no longer seemed like a four-letter word or a prize that was always just out of reach.
It took a gathering (the pre-race dinner and post-race BBQ) to remind me that it isn’t the runs that we complete that define us. It’s how we deal with the days that go sideways. Those runs (the ones we do not start or do not finish) are just one race. One day. The moments that define us are how we deal with everything, not just the good. As I sat and ate a pre-race spaghetti dinner and then toasted friends post-race, I thought less about myself. Maybe, it was never about the one run, the race. Maybe, it was about everything in between.
As I sit now in front of my computer, I can tally up a different set of numbers and reality beyond my non-existent Broken Goat 2017 finishing time. In the past year of running, I ran. I ran on a regular basis. I encouraged others in their running goals and shared my good and bad run days on the Facebook page we created. I helped create community. Friendship and creating community isn’t just about the good shit. You also have to be willing to be vulnerable. To be real.
My training included self-work beyond the trails. In the past year, I joined a group of individuals in a mindfulness course that included meditation work. I started meditating every day. (Today is day 55 of my meditation streak).
This year was a great year. I ran many, many miles and I know I’ll lace up again soon. I have taken off the ego shame hat. I’m still a runner, even during my healing hiatus. For now, my meditation is my training. When I sit (or lie down), I let my mind go and it feels like release. A letting go. It’s just me and my mind slipping down a twisty mountain trail where I can smell hot pine needles and the switchback turns are sweet, sweet, sweet.