As I am writing this, I realize many of us are taking a break from running that we did not plan to take due to the Coronavirus or Covid-19. However, I started a break back in the late fall after I finished Grindstone 100 in early October and waited until after Christmas to really get back to things.
Not just a runner
Let me share with you why I decided to take a break and some thoughts I now have after trying to get back in shape. If you know me or have followed me for any period of time, you might be asking, “Why would you take a break?” My ultrasignup account shows that I completed some amazing races over the last couple of years, all of which I have thoroughly enjoyed. But just like you, I’m more than just a recreational runner, I’m a wife, mom, sister, daughter, friend to many, employee and so much more. Our lives are made up of so many parts, and honestly when real life hits hard, running is not at the top of my priority list. So, for the last year and half my family has been dealing with many life struggles that have not only been difficult to navigate through but have added an incredible amount of stress to my daily life.
Hellbender 100 Finish
It began when one of my daughters got married and after a magical wedding, their relationship quickly fell apart. We then began our journey through deep waters we had never tread before. The heartbreak and stress of that relationship ending took a serious toll on me just as I was about to go run UTMB. I had trained so hard for months and was able for the time to push everything down and move forward. Just a few months after UTMB I developed issues with my Piriformis. Trying to quickly resolve that issue, my coach at the time and I developed a plan to work through it with PT, strength training, deep massages and even dry needling, all of which got me through my next big race at the Hellbender 100. I could feel my Piriformis was not completely healed although it was much better and considerably improved.
I had several other big 100s left on my 2019 calendar and continued to move forward, still continuing to work on my piriformis and manage the ever-present stress that tugged at my heart as well. Then the unthinkable came crashing into my life. First, my biological mother who had been estranged from all three of her children for over 16 years, suddenly “surfaced” with major health issues and was unable to take care of herself in any way. My younger sister, who lived in the immediate area jumped in to try and help her, even though we both felt very distant and unsure about what that would look like. My sister, in her generosity, which frankly I didn’t feel at that moment, promised to help her get moved into a permanent assisted living facility. Our biological mother had suffered a massive stroke after a hip surgery and was paralyzed on one side, unable to speak well, walk, feed herself or care for herself in any way.
Some of my summer running fun at Lake Tahoe
Just when it seemed like my sister had it all under control, her husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and passed away 10 days later. While I rushed to my sister’s side to help her, one thing that ended up on my to-do list was my biological mother’s care which included finding a place for her to live, dealing with her condo and belongings, and transitioning her into what was now her “new” reality as well as my sister’s. My biological mother was someone I distanced myself from when I was in my late teens because of her physical and emotional abuse. I maintained a relationship with her on a limited bases until she pushed all of her children away 16 years prior. Emotionally I had never dealt with her or my feelings regarding her. The moment I first saw her, a shell of a person, helpless and sitting in a wheelchair looking like no one that I knew, I realized that inside I was still very much afraid of her. Maybe not so frightened that she could reach out and hurt me physically but very much afraid that she was still verbally able to harm me.
The unbelievable amount of stress mounted as I was in Washington, away from my husband and immediate family, and trying to assist my sister with her husband’s final arrangements and taking over the details with our biological mother. When I did come home, I went on with my training and a summer of races that seemed to help me hold it all together. Then I got the call from my sister, who’s plate was full coping with her new reality, taking care of her immediate family, making major life decisions and grieving over the loss of her husband, that she was tapping out. Our biological mother had soon turned difficult to deal with, and I needed to now step in and take over completely from across the country.
Grindstone before my much needed break
I had run my big summer races and last on my schedule was Grindstone 100. I knew I was struggling to even get totally excited about it but I had planned it a year ago, knew I wanted to run it, and felt so close. Emotionally, I knew I was done as well. After finishing Grindstone, I told my coach I needed a break. I had been using a coach for 3 years and have loved it, but knew I didn’t want the stress of a schedule or being accountable at the time. After pacing at Pinhoti 100 the first weekend in November, I needed to go back out to Washington to handle things in person. What became the next most difficult thing for me was the clearing out of my biological mother’s condo. I had grown up with a completely different person in many ways, and what she had become in the past 16 years was unbelievable and something I was not able to process. She had become a hoarder on an extreme level and her condo was not safe to enter without a hazmat suit and face mask, and I was tasked to retrieve items before it was sold in “as is” condition. How I made it through that without completely falling apart was simply by the Grace of God, my family supporting me, friends by my side and some laughter. It brought back a childhood of memories I did not want to revisit or process.
There you go, I needed a break. The stress had mounted to a point that was affecting me on so many levels. My job gets very busy between Thanksgiving and Christmas and I saw this as a perfect time to take that break from running and reevaluate things after the first of the year.
My racing calendar for 2020 had already started to take shape, as I got into the Lavaredo Lottery and began making plans to run it along with a few other races. Lavaredo was on my bucket list after doing UTMB, and I knew I needed to get back to training after the holidays. That would not be quite as easy as I was expecting. I had taken a much needed mental break and cut way back on my running. I also put on several pounds thinking that it would be easy to drop it all in the new year and get back to my normal lifestyle. As a final gift to my already difficult time, I had slammed into menopause like a train wreck when all the stress started, making getting my personal health back under control one more hurdle.
Climbing my way back and enjoying the views more than ever!
Bring on a good challenge! If we didn’t like a little struggle and adversity, we wouldn’t be strong ultra runners. It’s not always pretty, but always worth it. So do I regret taking a break? It’s certainly not as easy to just get your fitness back as we like to think, and of course I’m not a young 30 or 40-year old either. The thing about ultra running, or even running in general, it’s all a journey. Life is a journey. Sometimes we have to run to keep our sanity. Other times we can’t run due to injury and for me, I found a time that I mentally had to step back. Now as with everyone of us, we are finding a forced break due to a global pandemic. Who would have ever predicted this? After spending the last three months working my way back, I do know that we will all make it back, wherever back is. We will be more creative to stay active in the meantime and possibly do more strength training and core work. It may require a little more effort on our part, but I think we will also find a whole new appreciation for what we enjoy. The mountains will be more beautiful than ever! The views from the top of the climb may be the rewards we had never appreciated before! The sights and sounds around us will be seen and heard brand new. We won’t take for granted a single starting line again, and possibly not celebrate a finish line quite the same.
I’m not afraid and we are not alone!