I still fall on my face sometimes…

Ah, Jessie J, you’ve got it so right tonight, I had tears streaming down my face as I listened to your wonderful song.  It gets to the heart of things.

There are confidences I cannot give away whilst blogging, and this makes it so hard to tell the truth.  Suffice it to say it has been a tough day.  One of those days where the dark cloud seemed to follow me around no matter how I tried to blow it away.  There are good reasons for the darkness, reasonable reasons, and yet, how I Hate IT.

So, when I’m sitting at home after finally getting the kids to bed after cooking two separate dinners and waiting for the third one to finish in the oven, well, everything seemed to sort of suck.  I’m too tired to come up with a poetic way to put it.  Everything sucked.

I spent three months renovating my home office so I could have a great place to finally write my masterpiece, but in the renovation, my computer got filled with dust, the internet broke, and I could no longer print to my printer.  In between, I spent a week in New York far-welling my elderly Aunt, a week in Sydney celebrating my 20th wedding anniversary, and lots of time soul-searching.

There is a book in me that is itching to be written.  I’ve started it three times, in three ways, and am now trying to merge them together to make a masterpiece.  What with family, and work, and pets, and laundry, it is so hard to find the time.  I keep falling on my face.

I think we’re doing okay, then a day comes like today, or yesterday, and pulls the rug out from under me, pulls me under like a rip-tide, and I know if I went for a run I’d run way too far to just run away from this black dog at my heels.

Instead, I’m going to breathe and blog, and accept that today was just one day.  I’ve had plenty of bad days, bad weeks, bad months, but I’ve always come through.  The dark I live in today will power my writing in the future.

I still fall on my face sometimes.  But it’s okay.  Because Jessie J does too, and she writes masterpieces that move me to tears.  I’m just going to dust myself off, put on Rachel Platten’s Fight Song, and get on with thinking about my new masterpiece.

Running?  It’s going okay.  But that’s a blog for another day.

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A time to recover.

I’m finding it hard to tell you.  Hard to say.  You’ve known what running means to me.  I haven’t held back in detailing how it heals me, allows me to cope with what life throws at me.  How the woods bring me back to life and give me the room I need to howl out in pain when necessary.  How I feel most myself, most alive, when running free on a wooded trail.

And that’s gone.  All gone, for now.  For three weeks and one day, and for many more days to come.

Until I heal.  Until I can honestly run pain-free.  Because my method of coping in the last 12 months has been so unhealthy.  It has led to me walking in pain every single day, snarling like a bear with a thorn in its paw.  I knew what I was doing was nuts, but I told myself it was my only way of coping.  I was wrong.

After the Roller Coaster Run, I ran twice.  The pain had not changed (funny that!).  Even after I bought a new pair of running shoes.  So I agreed to take two weeks off running.  To allow my plantar faschia and tibialis posterior the time they needed to heal.  To strengthen myself.

So, instead of running 50km a week, here’s what I’ve been doing. Swimming 1k twice a week.  Teaching 3 BodyPump classes.  Doing cardio on the Elliptical Trainer or my bike twice a week.  I’ve been doing lots of calf raises, single-leg squats, and exercises to strengthen gluteus medius and the gluts.  I’ve felt healthier than I have in ages.  I can feel my muscles coming back, the ones that had been eaten away by too much running.

Do I miss it?  I miss my woods and trails with an ache I am unwilling to study too closely.  But I don’t miss every single step hurting.  I don’t miss feeling obsessed and willing to run through injury.  I don’t miss forcing myself out when my body really has had enough.

Running had overtaken me.  Instead of being a cure, it had become an illness, or, at least, a pathway to illness.

So this period of my life is about healing.  Healing mind and body, and coming back strong, stable, and light on my feet.  This is strangely (at times) okay.  I’m playing the piano more, thinking about writing my next novel, and trying to be a little more aware of the sane voice inside my head that says, ”no”.

I know I’ve been quiet since the Roller Coaster Run.  For the first time in a while, that quiet hasn’t been a whitewater.  It has been a calmness.  A centering.  A trying to feel myself again, to hear myself and what my body needs.

In time, I will run free and fast again, but that time is not now.

This is a time to recover.

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Crumbling (that’s the way the cookie)…

I was oh so optimistic.  I was going to “roll with it”, not worry about the Two Bays 28k Trail Run, just build slowly and conservatively, focus on remaining injury-free.  It sounded so good and balanced and wise.

Trouble was, I forgot who I am.

Forgot that if I dangled a goal in front on myself, the little gremlin inside of me wouldn’t let it go quite so easily.  I also forgot the challenges that awaited me during school holidays, and neglected to think how I was going to cope with them.

So, a week or so after my last blog, when I posted on Facebook asking my friends in the Dandenongs Trail Running Group for advice, I was really seeking permission.  Permission to up the distances further than was wise, to close my eyes to potential dangers, and to try to make that elusive race.  To give myself something great to look forward to.

And like all (insane) runners, I took the advice that most suited what I wanted to hear, and tried a quick 13k.  (Someone had said if I could run 21k, I’d be able to complete 28k.  I kept hearing that in my mind.  It was almost a subconscious thing.)  The day I went for the 13k run, I told my husband I wasn’t sure if I was going to run 8, 10 or 12k.  But we all knew what I was going to do, didn’t we?

Not 21, that was out of reach at the time.  But 13?  That was just over the bridge, to the end of the concrete path by the Barwon River.  It wouldn’t even take me up onto the Bluff.  A short, little 13k.  And if I didn’t admit out loud or to myself that that is what I was up to, I could ignore the dangers.  Stick my head in the sand.

Oh, it felt good at the time.  It felt wonderful.  To nail that distance after so many weeks in recovery.  To come alive again to the runner within.

The punchline?  Well, you can guess the punchline.  Two days later, my right heel started to niggle.  Of course, I stopped running straight away and iced it, rested for a week.

Yeah, right.  I did one of those “it feels better after a little bit, so it must be okay” things.  Because Two Bays (that I was so calm about) was still impending.  I kept noting “right heel pain” in my training diary, until it was so constant that I stopped even writing it down.  And yet, I hadn’t pulled out of Two Bays yet.

I ran and it hurt; I ran and it hurt.

It was school holidays; the gyms were closed; my kids got ill with a terrible flu, and then got well, and then got monstrously irritable.  I was quickly losing my mind being at home.  I ran to stay sane, even though I knew I was doing damage, even though every single step hurt.  Sometimes I cried as I ran because of the pain in my foot and the pain in my gut for the way life was going.  It sounds melodramatic here, but at a deep level, my soul was howling for the pain to stop, and I was stopping it the only way I could.

Finally, two weeks later, I saw the physio, who knew me well enough not to tell me to stop running.  He gave me advice and ultrasound, and I kept on running.  The gyms opened again, and I began the slow process of rebuilding my foot and glut strength.  It began to hurt (a little) less to run, except the pain had now shifted to my right ankle and left Achilles.  I continue physio and trying to improve and staying sane and driving my family nuts.

It makes me sigh to think how little I have learned in my 49 years.  Except at least I know why I am doing this, why I have done this.  To cope.  Because life can be so painful, the downs like the plummet off a cliff without a parachute, unexpected and scary, and sometimes the only way I can catch an updraft to save myself is by running, even if it hurts.  Because it hurts less in my heart and soul then, even if my foot hurts more.

The Roller Coaster Run is coming up.  I’ve managed to run 18 of the 21 kilometer course at Mount Dandenong, my usual training ground.  It hasn’t been pretty.  But there was this exceptional moment.

I had climbed the Dodd’s Track section of the run, run uphill to School Track, and had begun a lovely descent through (possibly snakey) long grass.  I hadn’t been here for at least a year.  There is a clearing part-way down this trail that I call my soul-place.  I don’t know why, but it takes my breath away.  It is like my cathedral, and I had been so long away.  So long, that I’d forgotten exactly where the clearing was.

Suddenly I was there!

I came to a sudden halt, and my eyes filled.  This place I’d dreamed of (I always see it in my mind as filled with wild horses) – I was there.  Alone.  The sky was the bluest of blues.  The gum trees bordered the clearing and made it feel magical and safe.  I was there!  After surgery; after being unable to walk around the block alone; despite all the turbulence and pain and tears of the last year; despite my foot hurting.  I was there.  Home.

 

My soul place

My soul place

I stood still and soaked up the moment, twirled in a circle with my arms overhead.

In the midst of recovery, of physio and rehab and pain and icing, of trying on every one of the seventeen pairs of trail shoes I have and finding running hurts in all of them, I hold onto that moment.

Because running is about joy.

It is my religion and my cathedral and it saves my life and makes the tougher moments bearable.

It is the clearest pathway I know to peace of mind.

Back in the club!

No, I didn’t die.  It’s just that for the past six weeks, I’ve felt too bad and sad and miserable to blog.  I didn’t have positive things to say, and I had to focus every bit of energy on healing from the voluntary surgery that knocked the wind from my sails.

Instead of running my usual 50km weeks, for the last six weeks I could only walk.  My pace started at a slow, painful 16 minutes per kilometer a week after varicose vein surgery.  I know, because I strapped on my Garmin and used it to record every painful step.  Walking the dog (which I couldn’t do for 2 weeks) counted; making my way to Hampton Street and back – that really counted; even picking up the kids from school counted (I couldn’t do this for three weeks).  I had no idea I would be so disabled by surgery.  It is a strange and terrible thing to go from super-fit, able and active, to completely disabled in one short hour of surgery.  I was startled by it, and still feel traumatized by the experience.  The weeks that have gone by seem dreamlike and strange, as if my body were no longer mine.

The hardest thing of all was about three weeks after surgery.  The pain had receded somewhat, I was walking more normally,  The bandages had come off.  I had running in my sights.  I went to lunch with my husband, and one of the un-stitched wounds, which had scabbed-over, opened up.  I leaked blood for two full days, despite compression bandages, steri-strips salvaged from my trail-running supplies, and a call to the surgeon.  The surgeon was an hour’s drive away, and wanted to see me Friday – but the wound opened on Tuesday.

It wouldn’t stop bleeding, no matter what I did.  Those few days were the worst.  I couldn’t stand up without bleeding; I couldn’t do anything.  I sunk into a dark place.  I felt like giving up.  Thankfully, my husband held me up, and the stubbornness in my character that I prefer to term determination kicked in.  I called my local doctor, begged for a single stitch to close the wound, and was given it by a lovely, compassionate doctor.

It worked; the bleeding finally stopped and I could begin healing again.  But I was shaken and scared.  And I was left with that stitch for 10 days, and still couldn’t run.  After those long ten days, I went back to the GP, who removed the stitch and suggested I wait another 7 days to run!  I couldn’t believe it.  I wanted to cry.

But deep inside, I felt a change in me.  I felt calmness returning, a sense of acceptance that all would be okay.  I decided to be conservative, to listen to my body, to walk, to slowly start to lift weights at the gym.  I didn’t push.  I let it be.  For one of the first times in my life, I allowed my body to determine what it needed.  It was wonderful.

Last week, the day I was to see the surgeon for a follow-up in fact, I finally ran.  For the first time in six long weeks, I ran!  My logic?  If the wound opened again, at least I had a doctor’s appointment!

It was a terrifying, joyous, hard, slow run.  I had this great plan – I’d been building it for weeks.  I was going to be sensible.  I planned on 1 minute run, 2 minutes walk, to do a total a 3k.  I started well – I walked the four minutes to my trail.  Then I began to run.  I meant to walk after one minute, I really did, but my body wouldn’t.  It just kept running.  It didn’t hurt.  I ran slowly.  Listened carefully for danger signs.  But there weren’t any.  It was simply all right.  I kept running for 4.6 glorious kilometers.

Was I elated?

I was scared.  Scared the wound had re-opened under my running tights.  But it hadn’t.  I waited a few days.  Then I ran 6k.  Waited a day. Ran 6.5.  Nothing hurt.  I was slow, of course, but I was okay.  I ran 17.1 kilometers that week!

Today, six weeks after surgery, I took myself to my favorite trail again, this time in my Five-Fingers.  I planned on 5k.  Partway to this goal, I ran into a friend who’d been following my surgery story.  She was as thrilled as me to see me running.  We chatted (I stopped my Garmin and didn’t feel restless!), then we ran our separate ways.  A few minutes later, I saw two other friends.  I ran with them for the next few kilometers, sharing with them the joy of moving again. Sharing the laughter.  Sharing the trail.

And it occurred to me:  I am finally back in the club.  The club of fitness and health and well-being.  Of running.  Of weight-training.  The gym and my bicycle and walking without a limp, and the whole wide world feels like a big, giant playground, and I am more grateful for this comeback trail than I can express with mere words.

It has been a long, hard six weeks.  It didn’t turn out as I’d expected or planned, and I am still healing.  But I have learned that by being compassionate with myself, I can heal.

I am not sure yet where my trail will take me, what distances I will aim for in the coming months.

For now, it is enough to run with joy again, to be back in the club.

Ouch! 9 days post-surgery blues.

This is the first time I’ve sat at my desk in more than ten days.  It hurts already.  I can’t straighten my left leg yet, or bend it either, for that matter.

I’ve been trying to be positive post-surgery, trying to see the light in the dark, searching out all manner of motivational sayings on the internet using my phone.  As I sit, sit, sit.  Between sitting and resting, I’ve been walking.  The surgeon ok’d up to two hours a day; of course, that quickly became a “must do – goal time” kind of thing, which I’ve yet to achieve.  I made it 85 minutes today, in two separate hobbles about town.

My pace?  A turtle-ish 15 – 16 minute kilometre.  Yup.  And that’s when I’m trying to go fast.  The doctor also ok’d running after 7 days – I waited until 8 days but could only manage 5 jogging steps (think Cliffy) and then had to walk.  I repeated this until I couldn’t do it anymore.  Until it hurt more than I could take.

I failed at my goal distance of walking to the beach three times (it is a 3k round trip walk).  On three separate walks I quit; I wouldn’t have made it home.  Extraordinary.

Today I did make it (it took 25 minutes to get there on what is usually an 8 minute run).  I stood and stared at the bay.  My leg throbbed.  I remembered all the wonderful runs I’ve had along this coastline, the adventures and the wind and the rain, the hot sun, the cap-fulls of water I’ve dumped over my head – all of it, I remembered all of it, and it brought tears to my eyes because I can only just shuffle now and I don’t know how long that’s going to last, or when I’ll be able to run free again.

I know surgery was the right thing to do.  I was worried about blood clots from my damaged vein – my Mom had suffered several mini-strokes in her later years, and I know how this disabled her.  It was right to have this operation when I am young and strong and able to recover well.

But it is so hard.  It hurts every moment of every day, and more at night.  I haven’t slept a good night in 9 nights.  My leg is black from mid-thigh to below my knee.  I can’t even climb up stairs.

It is hard to stay positive, to take friend’s kind words that this is a short thing and will be over before I know it.  Time has slowed to a terrible crawl; I have slowed to a terrible crawl.  If I told you I felt positive, I’d be lying, and I told you I’d tell you the truth, even when it was hard.

The truth is this is a horrible place to be.  I’m bereft and feel purposeless because I can’t even stand up long enough to make school lunch for my kids.  I want to howl and cry and throw things.  I want to run free in the woods but I can only do this in my memory right now.

Here’s what I know for certain though, beyond the emotions.

I will fight my way back. I’ve already begun.  I’ve walked every day since surgery last Monday, starting on Tuesday with 60 minutes (3×20 minutes), then 75, then 90, then 100.  I scaled back for the weekend as I was shattered, but got back up to 90 today.

This will not break me.  But it has changed me.  It has given me great compassion for older people, for the injured.  I will not look the same way at crossings roads ever again.  When I entered the hospital last Monday, I knew I was setting my healthy, strong self aside for a while.  I entered knowing this.

I can’t stay with you longer tonight as it hurts too much to sit and type.  I’d love to leave you with words of wisdom but I am still discovering what this has to teach me.  For now, I’ll leave you with the title of my favorite Bon Jovi song of the moment:  The Fighter.  I sing it quietly as I hobble right now.

Hope to see you on the trails soon…

Running in the dark.

I’d been waiting all day.  And it’s school holidays, so a day can be a very long thing indeed.  All I needed was one short hour, and yet, it was hard to find.  I didn’t want to miss the trip to Waves that my husband had suggested (the local swimming pool), because such trips will be the things of memories in a few years.  Even though it was frigid cold and the last thing I wanted to do was strip off any of the four layers of wool I had on and get into a swimming pool.  So I tricked myself (yet again).  I got changed in our super-heated laundry room/drying room, and double-tricked myself by packing my running gear to change straight into after the pool.  We set out at 2:30 pm, and I was doing the calculations in my mind, okay, if I’m out running by 4 that will be just enough daylight to squeeze in my hour…I can do that…

At the pool, it struck me again how much the kids have grown, how waves in the wave pool that used to be terrifying, now seemed calm and easy to manage.  Both my kids have had swimming lessons for years, and my son in now in swim squad.  They can bob in the water without danger, and my daughter has the knowledge to be afraid of the appropriate things.  I was glad I’d gone.  My husband played with our son in the deep water, and I shared time with my daughter, laughing in the shallows, hopping in the waves.

The car ride home was ugly though, with tired children and spitting and nasty words directed my way.  Like most moms, I become the target when things go awry.  I held it together, as I’ve done many, many times.  But it is tiring.  And it hurt.  Despondency crept in and sat with me in the front seat.  I stared out the window and noted it was already growing dark.  The clock on the dashboard read 4:43.

Yet I was determined.  And a little bit angry at the way things had turned out.  We got home, and I bolted from the car, raced in the door, changed to my running shoes, got my cap, and found the head torch I’d bought for the North Face 50 but never had cause to use.  I tested it; it still worked.  It was 4:45 and with an hour’s run, it would be well dark on my trail on my return.  But I was upset and frustrated, so I went anyway.

Oh, the freedom.  Even though I’d run 18k in the Dandenongs the day before, my legs felt fresh and bouncy.  It was meant to be an easy run, but I was wound up and didn’t feel like going easy.  I pushed the pace, in pursuit of a calmer self, and also conscious of the orange sun setting over my shoulder.  If I made it out fast, it might not be totally dark on the way back.

The kilometers flew by, my stride was short and strong.  I was alert to tree roots and rocks but I knew the placement of most of them on this, my usual trail, so I could still run fast.  I switched on my head torch early, thinking it would lull me a bit as the darkness increased, that it might not seem so scary as sudden darkness.  At the halfway mark, up on the cliffs on Red Bluff, I stopped for only a moment to stare at the horizon, then sprinted back down the way I’d come, taking care on the steep set of stairs.

By this time, dusk had gathered and I had five kilometers between me and home, along a narrow, wooded trail.  I felt strangely unafraid; somehow my headlamp reassured me.  It lit up the trail well in front of me, and I thought any bad guys would be simply blinded by the light, and that would give me time to get away.  I also figured I would make an unappealing target, moving fast, and with assurance.  And I just loved the freedom of being out there.

Night came quickly, and I noticed how my feet became more sensitive to the earth, feeling their way on undulations and rocks.  I felt more stable than I’d expected.  Running in the dark on a trail felt glorious, I discovered, similar to running in the fog on Mount Dandenong.  I had a sense of being cocooned somehow, and safe.  A woman ran by in the other direction, and commented that my head torch was a great idea, and I smiled and thanked her.  I agreed.

Though the run was meant to be easy, I made it back in 57 minutes, one of my faster efforts on that particular trail.  I’m not sure whether it was emotion or fitness or fear that enabled my feet to fly a bit more than usual.

Returning home, all the gunk that had built up over the long, long day had suddenly disappeared.  I was calm and content, and I wasn’t up for a fight with anyone at all.

Running in the dark had somehow brought me back out into the light.

Face-planting 101.

I was just trying to find a good video to reference about tripping and rolling, when I realised that my Google search was taking me places I didn’t really intend to be.  Who knew “tripping” could be used in a context other than “tripping over”?

Many trail runners might call it “face-planting” but that didn’t lead to any good images either. Just this one…

Anyhow, I’d seen a good video on how to roll onto one’s shoulder and come up standing after tripping over, so search for it if you’re brave enough.  Just watch out for the drug-users type of tripping references, which hadn’t even occurred to me.

I haven’t tried the ”trip-and-shoulder-roll” myself.  I’ve focused more on the standard “trip-over-and-smash-into-the-ground-with-your-body” technique, as demonstrated below.  Poor woman.

I’ve been trail running for more than ten years, and road running for thirty.  In that time, I’ve traveled hundreds of kilometers, seen some gorgeous places, done countless races, made some great friends, and met the ground hard with my body a total of five times.  The last time was on Friday.  In honor of that memorable moment, and because I can’t run on my sore knee this morning, I will share those memorable moments this morning, and what they’ve taught me:

1.  Face-Plant One.  It was during one of my first adventure races on Lamma Island, a small island near Hong Kong Island.  I’d traversed two kilometers of coastal rocks twice without incident, stepped off them into the sea for a short, fully-clothed swim, and run about eight kilometers.  I was on a flat section of track (flat, flat, flat) without a rock or tree root in sight.  I tripped on nothing, flew through the air and banged my (bike-helmeted) head on the ground.  No one was anywhere near me.  No injury, just scrape and bruises.  And a profound feeling of gratefulness for the bike helmets we had to wear.

2.  Face-Plant Two.  Running along the Bayside Coastal Track near Sandringham, I was contemplating my Council Rates, and wondering when they would arrive, and thinking they should have come by now.  It was near dusk.  I was alone, running on a slight downhill.  Out of nowhere, a tree root suddenly jumped up and tripped me.  Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration.  I tripped over a tree root and slammed my elbow into the ground.  Injuries: a sore right arm for a few days.

3.  Full-Body Plant.  The Roller Coaster 21 km Run 2012.  At the 13k mark.  Some of you will have read about that one already.  A superb full-body plant after I tripped over a camouflaged rock near the 13k marker.  A bloody elbow, and sore knees.

4.  Bayside Coastal Track after teaching Bodypump and 8k into a 10k run with a friend, I tripped over a step.  Gravel rash on my hands.

5.  Friday, running with a new friend.  2k into an 18k run.  We’re running on the extension of Doongalla Road, a hard, flat dirt road with a few bumps, deep in conversation.  I trip over an invisible bump.  Time slows.  First my knees hit the road, and I bounce.  Then they hit again (is this possible?).  Then my hands slide along the ground. Ouch.  That stings.  That’s what I said.  My friend said are you okay, lets walk a bit.  So we did.  Then we ran again.  We stopped at the toilets five-hundred meters away, at which point I happened to touch my knee, came away with a wet hand, and noticed I was bleeding.  A lot.  I did some First Aid with the things I always carry in my pack, and we continued on for the rest of the 18k.  Damage: a very skinned and swollen knee, on which I’m still hobbling three days later.  Oh, and gravel-rash hands.

What have I learned?  That it is much easier to fall on less technical tracks.  When focus is required, I take extra care and stay upright.  On the flat, when I’m distracted by either my own internal chatter or the wonderful company of a friend, I lose my focus, and that’s when I fall over.

I’ve also learned I’ve got good, strong bones.

Oh.  And the “telling the truth” bit: it stinks to be injured again.  I did way too much last week and forgot to look after myself.  I was tired from children’s issues and from teaching.  I lost focus.  I knew it before it happened.  I vow to take better care of myself this week.  Hence the sitting on my bottom typing instead of racing off to the gym.  I’m trying to learn when to stop and rest.  It is a hard lesson, and one, at age 48, I would really like to master.

A good technical trail helps me stay upright…