Bend or Break, free

Embracing failure without acknowledging the real hurt and fear that it can cause, or the complex journey that underlies rising strong, is gold-plating grit. To strip failure of its real emotional consequences is to scrub the concepts of grit and resilience of the very qualities that make them both so important — toughness, doggedness, and perseverance.
— Brene Brown

Another day, another Brene Brown quote. While in the middle of being face down in the arena, reckoning, rumbling like I currently am, there is not a day that passes that I don't read and re-read passages from Brown's book Rising Strong. I can't say that March has gotten much better in the last few weeks, in fact, arguably it has just continued its slow descent towards my limits, like a boulder rolling down hill. There have been many moments in which I have faced yet another situation or thing and pondered, is this the thing that will finally break me? Is this the thing that will find my limits? Is thing the thing that I will not be able to bear? But time and time again, I've survived, found that I can bend and stretch and be elastic far beyond what I thought I could be. I've held on to the tiniest sliver of belief in my own resilience and whispered, "Just hold on. Don't lose yourself. Not to this thing, not to this person, not to this situation".

It may sound ugly, or dark, but I am not saying it to provoke, I am saying it to be real. When Brown talks about gold-plating grit, she says, "Rarely do we see wounds that are in the process of healing. I'm not sure if it's because we feel too much shame to let anyone see a process as intimate as overcoming hurt, or if its because even when we muster the courage to share our still-incomplete healing, people reflexively look away". We like the survival tales after the battle is done, we show off our scars like badges of honor, our brains get giddy with the completion of the story. But the middle? The middle is messy and uncomfortable. Vulnerability- real vulnerability- and human failing and being a crappy version of ourself is scary and ugly.

This month has thrown so much at me and I have bent and bent and bent. Sometimes I feel like gumby, as I snap back and find grace and poise and badassery to handle something when the day before I could barely make it through the day. At a certain point, you just stop counting the minutes you've been barely keeping your head above water and resolve that there is no limit to how long you will continue to furiously paddle to stay afloat. There is a certain point when you stop trying to fix it; fix yourself, fix your feelings, fix your situation and just lean into uncertainty, the grief or the darkness. You bend, because there is absolutely no other choice.

But the reality is. Things break. And this month, I did. Literally. In the on going saga of my foot injury over the last 6 months, there has been a great deal of ambiguity, pain, set backs and disappointments. After Caumsett 50km, I felt exceptionally good physically. I felt like I was getting to a place of durability again and physical resilience. My initial two runs after Caumsett felt great, but I woke up the Thursday morning that I left for Bird Strike/ The Speed Project and while making my early morning coffee something popped in my foot. Snapped actually. It was unlike any pain I'd experienced in my months of injury, but hoped/begged the universe that it was just some "old" lady creaking and it was nothing. I went for my run with my friend Maddy anyways. And it was terrible. Everything hurt. I couldn't even figure out what hurt. But I got on my flight and headed to LA anyways. Hoping for a hail mary from some cosmic force that would render me perfectly capable for the 60+ miles I had in front of me. I even saw a very good PT in LA, who assured me, "well its not a muscle! Your muscles feel amazing". And off we went into the desert, taped up 110 different ways and doped up on ibuprofen. Naturally, that was not a long lasting strategy. 

10 days later, after I finally had regained my strength from epically bad food poisoning and not eating for 5 days, I finally was able to venture out on a little run. I had gone to the doctor the day before because even after all the rest, I was still not able to run or even walk normally. They ordered an MRI and mentioned that it also seemed like there might be some plantar fasciitis going on. So I started mobilizing my foot and viola, running!

Back in November, I had seen the same orthopedist and the team at Stanford had discovered that I have something called a tarsal coalition. Basically, my calcaneus and my navicular bone have a bridge between them. It could be genetic, could have developed over time, could be made of bone, cartilage or strong fibrous tissue. Either way, it was fine as long as my foot was compensating for it, but in the fall, when I overstressed my foot/ankle with too much vertical, the compensation pattern was blown. The ortho said I would continually suffer from issues until I had it surgically removed. So naturally, I got 150 more opinions and didn't get the surgery. Especially a surgery such as this that doesn't seem to have the greatest surgical outcomes, I was not keen to go that route. And through diligent and slow rehab, things got better and I was up and running and racing! Take that tarsal coalition!

I wanted the issue in my foot to be some straight forward plantar fasciitis. Seemed like it would be nice for a change to have a problem with a name instead of the vague and nebulous injury I had been recovering from. And my foot seemed be, mostly, responding to treatment for such. I got the MRI anyways to make sure my "new" foot didn't have a stress fracture or arthritis or some other terrible thing going on. Just in case.  

By the time I heard from my doctor on Friday, I had run a good 40 miles, mostly pain free, through the week, although it was "weird" feeling- aka sometimes weak feeling, sometimes just different feeling. I don't really know what I was expecting, ok maybe I was expecting the worst given my rough month wearing me down, but I wasn't expecting what she said. My tarsal coalition was gone. It had broken/dissolved. That morning, the day I left for Bird Strike, that intense pain was my tarsal coalition snapping. And apparently, this was good news. No more threat of surgery, no need to immobilize my foot (after all, we don't want it to heal). It meant the coalition was likely fibrous instead of bone and I was cleared to run. The only caveat is that I now possessed a new foot- two separate bones instead of one and thus, everything in my foot is different: proceed with caution, let pain be your guide. I broke and it set me free. But at the same time, the way forward is so unclear. One day I am busting out 21 miles without pain and a few days later, I am not even a quarter mile into a run when bone pain comes on so swift and intensely it makes me want to vomit in the bushes. There is also no real precedent for me to base expectations on, this is uncommon enough that I have not had a single doctor, practitioner or body worker who has seen it before. I'm sure it has happened, but perhaps not to someone who is about to go race a 56km and a marathon (albeit not at peak capacity) in 2 weeks. 

This month has broken me but only literally. But mostly just bent me, wounded me. Pushed me and stretched my elasticity. For my foot, my heart and for my head, there is no perfect and clear way forward. There will be days of extraordinary pain, there will be doubts, there will be joy, there will be tears. All of it. There will be all of it. In running, we celebrate the middle miles, the hard sloggy miles, we scream "get ugly". We celebrate the ugly in running. Why not the ugly in life? Where is our cheer squad for that? I'm not going to gold plate grit anymore, I'm not going to only wait for the story to be perfect. I'm going to scream and cheer my brains out for anyone and everyone who is knee deep in it. Bending, breaking, rising, and just MF-ing surviving, that to me is true strength.