perspective

Plot Twist

Savoring a fried egg sandwich at my bakery post race.

Savoring a fried egg sandwich at my bakery post race.

I've been throughly enjoying my off season. I've been basking in the down time, the lack of structure and enjoyed running when I feel good and taking extra days off when I don't. After a few weeks, I started to have the itch to sign up for more races. But I wasn't sure what to put on my schedule after such an epic win. Winning Leadville felt like the final chapter on a very epic comeback story. Cue the music, roll the credits.

But alas, it was not the end of my comeback story. PLOT TWIST!!!!

Discussing the prognosis with Scott at  Psoas . 

Discussing the prognosis with Scott at Psoas

As I mentioned in my Leadville race report, I throughly expected my foot to hurt during the race. But it didn't. But it has been hurting since about one week before Comrades. After I was diagnosed with having broken my tarsal coalition back in March the day I left for Birdstrike, I was told to expect some arthritis pain where the break was. And so, for the past 7 months, I have dealt with pain. Mostly dull during runs (except when I step on a root!) and very tight making me hobble after the runs. Before Leadville I decided I would check back in with my doctors and see what was up.

Two weeks ago, I went back to Stanford and saw a foot and ankle specialist. He had reviewed my MRI from March and we got a new xray done on my foot. The doctor came in and gave me the biggest plot twist I could imagine: I had been misdiagnosed back in March. I didn't break my tarsal coalition, it is still there and even more crazy, I have a huge fracture in the anterior process of my calcaneus. So I have been training and racing on a massively broken foot. And some people say I am too sensitive (ha!). I thought the pain in my foot was just pain, not injury and I proceeded according to my doctor's advice back in March. Ultimately, I am happy this happened because I wouldn't have had the year I have had they correctly diagnosed me back then.

Having fun with Kara Goucher and the Akron Marathon race team!

Having fun with Kara Goucher and the Akron Marathon race team!

However, now I have to deal with the consequences and have to take steps to keep my foot healthy in the long run. Continuing to run on it indefinitely is not sustainable and would likely result in my running coming to a complete stop at some time in the future. And I don't want that. So instead, I know must have surgery to remove the coalition and fix the fracture.  I am going to be having surgery in mid October and will likely be back on my feet by Christmas, although I know I will ultimately have to be as patient as I need to be in order to heal right. Until surgery, I will be running and binge racing as much as I can to get my kicks. I look forward to finally running pain free again soon and writing another great chapter in my comeback story.

Racing the Akron Half Marathon. Race all the things!!!

Racing the Akron Half Marathon. Race all the things!!!

Redefining self

Married!
Photo credit: John Medinger

I was at the track on Tuesday to take on my first really hard workout since coming back from my injury. The last great (and just plain last) workout I had at the track was in August, so I was feeling pretty intimidated about the 5x1600m at 10k pace with 2 min recovery. I didn't think I could do it, frankly and tried to emotionally prepare myself for it to suck. Nevertheless, I laced up my flats, braved the horrible windy, rainy weather and started running. 

The first lap I was thinking "wow, this is great! I love this! I can do this."
Second lap: "I can't imagine doing this 4.5 more times. How am I going to through this?!?!"
Third lap: "Ok, just make it through this one and I can modify the next one, if I have to. Just hold on."
Fourth lap: "Wheeeeeee, I'm almost done. I can do this, I can do this! Look at me fly."

And so went all 5 intervals. I rocked it. I hit my paces even in the face of a harsh headwind. But even still I had to talk myself through each and every lap. Struggle, fear failure, triumph. When it was over, pure satisfaction. I love these kind of workouts because they scare me, challenge me and push me to knew heights. There is always the possibility of failure in them, but success is always within reach if I really push myself.



This year has been one filled with change. Often times, it has felt like a perpetual track workout where everything involved felt challenging, scared me or ran the risk of complete failure. This year's changes, like these track workouts, is something I have chosen to undertake. I have faced these things knowing that it would be hard, I would fail, I would triumph, I would doubt and would rise.

My life, my path and who I am is being redefined through these changes.  I got married, moved to a different town and together with my husband, started working on opening our own cafe. My life a year ago had such a different set of priorities, a much lesser sense of complication. Running and training was my highest priority. We lived a simpler life: where shall we go run this weekend, who can join us, what shall we eat after we run? These were the things that fundamentally mattered to us. And the fact of the matter is: they still do.  Running, food and friendship remain the driving forces in our life. But now, our priorities are different.

For me the priority shift does mean redefining how I see myself. Going in to the new year, I have no idea how the opening of our cafe will affect my ability to run and race. Running is a huge part of who both Nathan and I are, but so is opening the cafe, we are passionate about the food we are bringing to our community  and we are all in on making that be a huge success. Just like getting married, just like moving to a new place, it changes things and I am now working to discover what it all means to me, how I see the world and who I am. I don't have the answers yet as to how these challenges and changes affect my life, my priorities and my sense of self. I know that, no matter what, I am pursuing the things that I am passionate about and going after them with vigor. Who I am and who I become through process are exciting to discover.

Lucky few

Injuries are part of the reality of running. We put an extraordinary amount of hurt on ourselves through hard training and it is very hard over time to get it right all of the time and stay healthy. A lot of the runners I know have laundry lists of various injuries, niggles and problems that they have faced over the year. Back when I was a basketball player, I seemed to be constantly battling something- three stress fractures then a debilitating back injury that ultimately forced me to quit playing all together. As a runner, one might assume that I would face similar issues and struggles.

But injuries have not been a big part of my reality over the past 7 years since I ran my first marathon. In the past 5 years, since I started ultrarunning, I have only had one injury that was of real concern and I was back on my feet and running in less than 10 days. I am one of the lucky few.

I am in fact injured right now. I have been diagnosed with retrocalcaneal bursitis, possibly triggered by my epic trail crash two weeks ago that landed me in the ER with stitches in my arm. I may have thrown off my left side and gotten everything out of whack. For the past week, I have been unable to run, unable really even to walk without severe pain and a "hiccup in my giddyup" as someone so cleverly put it.

I have not sat back and done nothing to fix this. I have charged at it with a team of doctors, PT and massage therapists to rid myself of this as quickly and permanently possible. Medicine, ice, rest, taping, massage, ART, graston, stim, ultrasound. If I can't run, I will use that time to heal. Yes it is frustrating, yes I have cried and been a crazy person (sanity was not easy to come by while on the steroids my doctor prescribed). I have been killing myself in workouts in the pool (doing pool running) and dripping with sweat in the garage on my bike trainer. I feel like I am doing everything I can to get better.

I am a bit disappointed that I will likely not be able to run worry free on our wedding day in just 9 days. It is becoming decreasingly likely that I will toe the line in Chicago and go after the low 2:30 I was ready for. And still I feel lucky. This is not old hat for me, this is a new situation for me to be in. I have no idea how long this injury will take to clear up and I am still learning how best to handle it, but I am thankful that I have gone this long without anything quite so serious. 

I look forward to when I can run pain free again and really understand how vital running healthy is to my entire life. For now, I will do my little pool running laps with my floaty and dream about the day I am free again to run for miles and miles and miles.

And to catch you up on everything else.... pictures from all of the madness from the past month!
Our new rental in San Anslemo!

Fun training run at Crystal Springs 20 miler.

Getting licensed to wed.
MHBB coffee purveyor tastings

Breakfast deliciousness in Hopland for Brett & LP's wedding!

The beautiful bride getting ready!

Awww we are so cute

My sister helping with the move by entertaining us.

Leaving the way it came in.

Weirdo.


Our entire lives in a truck

Run ferry run commute

Golden gate in golden light.


Practicing fancy wedding makeup

Kauai for a marathon, 5 days after moving-ugh!

Kalua pork hash with sweet potatoes.

I could stay here forever


Prerace meal

Round two of sweet potatoes!

2nd place x2. Jorge and I after the race (we both were 2nd)

Winner Brett Ely and I receiving our awards

All things consider. Moving, travel debacle, no energy, no taper-
I am really pleased with 2nd place & a 2:49 on a course with 2,000 feet of ascent!



Post-race rewards


Our new favorite past time- BBQ!

Epic trail crash.



All stitched up. Thanks Healdsburg Hospital!

Sarah's bachelorette party!

Therapeutic shoes for my ankle injury

Nathan's epic trail crash one week after mine.

Getting stitched up in the KP San Rafael ER.

His and Hers suture removal kits!

Strong is the new skinny

The other day someone I know referred to another runner as "Skeletor". They were not using this characterization as a compliment or referencing what Skeletor, He-man's arch nemesis, actually looks like:

They were using it to characterize a sickly, overly skinny, depleted, unhealthy look- much like a skeleton:


When this characterization was made and concerns voiced, I noticed an interesting and somewhat alarming emotion flicker across my consciousness: envy. For the briefest moment, I felt like being described that way (to my face) would be a compliment, a reflection of how hard I have been working in training. I immediately pulled myself up short. I wanted to slap myself around for even thinking such a thing. I had just finished up a killer good workout with 14 miles at marathon pace. During that run, I wasn't worrying that I should weigh less, I was powering along with strength, speed and levity. Why did that comment make feel self-conscious and envious? I knew I needed to seriously meditate on that question and not let an unhealthy attitude slide.

I have thought about it for several days now and have come to the conclusion that that thought comes from the crossroads where racing weight and body image collide. I have written about racing weight before, but I felt more thought was necessary because I am, in fact, at my "racing weight" (i.e. the weight at which I have run my fastest this year) and yet the comment still burrowed into my psyche.

Leading up to the Olympic Trials, I have been covering every detail, leaving nothing to chance and training like it is my job.  I've been absolutely devoted to the pursuit of my goals, working harder than ever and also managing to not become neurotic or overzealous. I am on what Nathan calls the "no fun diet", which is not a diet to lose weight mind you, but a diet to optimize my training and negotiate the pitfalls of having many dietary special needs. The diet also encourages having the right fuel at the right time and ensures that I have enough but not too much. I am doing all the right things to make sure my body is healthy, happy and able to do the incredibly hard work it needs to. 

The reality is, in order to lose any additional weight, I would have to be severely restrictive with my diet while trying to train at the highest and most intense level I have ever done. It would be unhealthy and I in turn, would become unhealthy and unable to do the work. Or get injured. Or get sick.

Running is a sport that prizes lightness and low body weight. It is not a sport that necessarily prizes positive body image or body confidence. The pursuit of race weight often takes on as much importance as the pursuit of the running goal itself. That is seriously out of whack. Getting to a certain weight won't inherently make you a better runner. In fact, racing weight should simply be a by product of hard training and a healthy diet. You have to fuel yourself to go fast, to do the work, to recover and make it to the start line healthy and ready to rumble. You shouldn't be trying to manipulate or dominating your body into doing something it doesn't want to, you should be cultivating it to encourage the growth and improvements. Being a "skeletor" is not something to be envied, it should be avoided at all costs. If you look unhealthy, it is likely that you are. I would never want to sabotage the efforts I make in training by depriving my body of the necessary fuel to hone it into the machine I want it to be. 

The comment, in hindsight, made me realize that I was still sub-consciously using weight as a yard stick of which to measure my progress by. I incorrectly thought that because I am working so hard that naturally I would become lighter. I gave that standard way to much credit. It stopped me from using comparative workout times as my standard of progress or seeing that my routine dropping of running partners was a sign that I am fit. Because, I am fit. That is for sure. 


I realized, upon reflection, that what needs work is my perspective, my body image and confidence. I have long struggled seeing myself "as a runner" since I have a completely different body type than your average female elite runner. According to a recent study, I am in fact 8 inches taller than my average competitor. I feel like Andre the giant lining up next to them. I should instead not compare myself to them. My hard work and dedication should instead fill me with confidence and empower me. 

I made a decision through this whole meditation. I am throwing out the old paradigm. I am making a choice to stop judging myself by the wrong measure. As my sister said recently, "perhaps I need to start embracing my body as powerful (and capable) instead of always worrying about how much I weigh". Being strong and healthy and capable are the proper values, these are the yardsticks. Strong is the new skinny. That is, the thing to be valued, pursued and held up as the ultimate motivator. 

My body is an amazing, powerful, strong machine and as I head into the last 23 days of training for the biggest racing stage of my life, I want to make sure I am doing everything to support that machine, continue to get stronger and faster, and to stay healthy. If anything, this whole conversation (in my head), has made me re-examine what my guiding values and beliefs are when it comes to my body and self-confidence and get my head on right. I love what my body can do. That is my yardstick. That is my value.

Life is like a trail race


Bestest Everest and I at SD100 (photo: Brett Rivers)

Life is like a trail race.

When I ran Vermont 100 in 2008, the course was marked quite well. Every "respectable" interval there was a flag or, better yet, a "confidence marker" which was a large yellow pie plate with a giant C on it. Flags and marking in a trail race are our life line to success. Yes, knowing the course helps, but in the end we rely on these tiny little markers to get us where we want to go. 

I followed the markers quite successfully for the majority of the race. However, at one important and not obvious intersection we (I was with pacer JB by this point) missed a marker due to some distraction (racers on horseback asking for directions) and blazed right past a crucial turn. We realized our error in less than a mile and retraced our steps back to where we had gotten off course. I lost a few minutes, but in the end, the mis-direction just provided me with a necessary shot of adrenaline to change up the pace of the later miles of a 100 miler and more importantly, made me be more cognizant of my surroundings and keeping myself present.

In life, we go along our path, living our lives, make our way and look for little markers along the way to know we are going the right direction. A reassuring word from a friend, a pat on the back, a reassurance, a feeling; our "confidence markers" can come in all shapes and forms.

In life, just like trail racing, we sometimes go off track. We take a wrong turn or go down a path that isn't the way we truly want to go. We lose the markers and go into uncharted territory.
When you make a wrong turn, correct it then don't look back.
UROC 100k (photo: Running Times)

But just like in trail racing, we have a choice to stop, look at a map, turn around and go back to where we got off track. Sure, it means took a little extra time getting there, but we make it there, maybe a little worse for the wear or a little wiser, but we make it there. 

Other times, we choose to keep moving forward, even when we haven't seen a marker in a long time. We keep pressing forward in faith that we know the way and are self-reliant for reassurance. I've climbed mountains this way, literally (hello Hardrock) and metaphorically. It is hugely empowering to proceed into uncertainty like this and finally be rewarded with a marker, a weigh station, a sign you are going the right way. 

We can be not so lucky when we move forward in faith. Sometimes we end up cutting the course, ending up at a dead end or other such disasters. It is then that we can choose to either change our goals or find our way back. No matter what path we choose, there is always a way to find a way back, to be true to ourselves and our journey.

I realize that this year has been a lesson in finding and losing, changing and rediscovering, my own path as a runner. At the end of last year, I decided that I wanted to focus all of my attention on being the best runner I could be and make a go at qualifying for the Olympic Trials. I was all in. I made my qualifier in my second attempt in a horrible weather day at the LA Marathon. This was a huge confidence marker along the way. My goal was not just to qualify but to be prepared to be my best come the Trials in January 2012. But somewhere along the way, I took a wrong turn. I started doubting myself, I started to question my goals, I let other's expectations permeate into my brain. I went down a path, ignoring the signs that I was getting away from where I wanted to go and plunged headlong down the mountain.

I just realized I was off course. I was going the wrong way. Sure the path I was heading down was a suitable path, totally acceptable and safe. But it was not where I wanted to head. No, I set my sights on being the best I could be and I don't want to relinquish that. I don't want to settle, I want to make my once in a lifetime experience (because making the Olympic Trials could be once in a lifetime!), magical. That is where I want my path to go for now. I lost that dream, that goal for a while. I pushed it aside because I was scared. I let it move to the back burner because I wasn't respecting myself as a multifaceted runner.

But that is where I want to go. I finally stopped going the wrong way, I realized I was off course and I corrected my path. The Trials are in just over two months and I plan on doing everything in my power to be as prepared as I can be on that day. I finally see the signs that that is the right way for me to go right now, that that path is the one that is true for me in the immediate future. From there, I am sure I will dream other dreams, pursue other paths and be lost and found all over again. But for now, I see the signs and I know I am going the right way. And I can't wait to see where this path will take me.