In July of 2010 my doctor thought I had a stress fracture in my right foot. She ordered me onto crutches and told me no weight bearing activity for three weeks. I made it home from that appointment, called a friend and became hysterical. I don't think she was even able to understand me on the phone. I could barely breathe. The gist of what I was saying "I can't do this. I need to run. I'm not strong enough to handle this."
I'm not strong enough.
I thought I would break, mentally and physically, if I had to take three weeks away from my drug of choice - exercise.
I refused to accept this diagnosis and treatment. I put on my rigid mountaineering boots and hit the stepmill and bike. I figured if my foot wasn't flexing it could heal. July in Portland isn't exactly boiling hot but it isn't cool either. I wore those boots everywhere for 6 weeks. I followed that with a week long canyon trip in Arizona and Utah. Then I ran for the first time in 7 weeks. Three weeks later I ran the Portland marathon.
Fast forward three and a half years. In that amount of time I found my way in to the world of ultra running - 50k, 50 mile, 100k. Six months ago I finished my first 100 mile race. The 100 miler wasn't so much a race as a march to a finish line. 29 hours and 27 minutes after I started in Squaw Valley, I found some energy and "sprinted" across the finish line in Auburn.
While I was overjoyed to have finished my first 100 and cross that historic finish line, I wasn't happy with my time. I felt I showed weakness on the course. Weakness in the face of adversity.
I wasn't strong enough out there.
I had trouble getting out of bed for weeks after the race. I kept expecting myself to bounce back with a bit of rest, even though I didn't allow myself much of it. Two days after the race I was pushing hard through a 5k. Some would call it "punishment cardio." I didn't feel my performance at WS100 was good enough so I was either out there trying to prove something or punish myself for my perceived failure. I dropped out of the Mt. Hood 50 mile race that took place 2 weeks after WS. My legs just didn't have any strength to them. Just a bit more rest I thought, and then I'll be back.
Three weeks later I was emailing the race director and dropping out of the Cascade Crest 100. There was no let up in my fatigue and I didn't have any interest in death-marching my way through another 100. My goal for my next 100 mile attempt was to actually run as much of the course as possible.
To that end, in September 2013 I picked my next race, the Zion 100. I love that area of the country, I have a good friend that lives close to the start, I could easily make the drive to the race and turn it into a mini-vacation. My last time in Zion I didn't have time to hike Angel's Landing or do a real canyoneering trip, both of which I figured I could accomplish on this outing.
I decided to rebuild from scratch. Build a solid training plan to achieve this goal and follow it to the letter. Forget about trying to keep up with everyone else, or do what I thought I should be doing, and try a different approach. Mentally I found it tough. I always felt like I should be doing more, more, more. Yet slowly but surely I was seeing improvement with this approach. I had set benchmarks the first few weeks of training. I couldn't wait for the time to come when I got to test myself against those benchmarks.
And then, just like that, that hopeful feeling and that dream of a solid return to the 100 mile distance was gone.
When the doctor called and told me what I already knew, "you have a stress fracture in your cuboid accompanied with a tendinitis in your peroneal tendon," I felt crushed. For a moment I thought I was going to break down.
"You're not strong enough," I heard in my head.
"But wait a minute. What if I am strong enough? Who is in charge here?"
And just like that, I realized that I was in charge. I could choose to buckle and break in the face of an injury, or I could choose to face recovery the same way I face training and the same way I face a race where everything seems to be going wrong. You put one foot in front of the other and you just keep on moving. Outcomes be damned. You don't quit in the face of an injury just because you know it's going to be hard, just like you don't quit when you are looking up a beast of a hill and know that you are supposed to sprint up it for 20 seconds with everything you have. It's going to hurt like hell, but then it'll be over and in the process you will get stronger. Mentally. Physically. You will get stronger.
What can I do? According to the doctor I can swim. And pool run. Core work. Upper body. Anything that doesn't involve putting weight on my left foot. I guess one legged squats on my right leg are acceptable!
I bought a waterproof iPod to alleviate the boredom of the pool. I got myself a water running belt. I'm hitting the pool daily. I'm trying to laugh at the situation. I can't make my bone heal any faster but I can choose the attitude I bring to recovery.
This time, I choose strength.