Monday, August 07, 2017

On The Other Side

I just let out a big exhale as I begin to type the letters to this page.  I feel like I should update this blog. It’s been a long while since I have.

It’s been a  year since I ran my last ultra, Voyageur 50 Mile Endurance Run.   Man, that one took a toll on me. My body finally got through to my brain. I had to stop ignoring and denying the pain I was going through; although feeling pain was better than feeling the emotion, the seriousness of what I was doing to myself. Why do I always have to hurt myself?? What am I trying to fill up? Run away from? Fill the hole..with booze, with running, with food.

After healing from cellulitis, the fractures, another neuroma, and tendonitis after Voyaguer, I began to walk and was quite concerned when walking was still painful.   I was so inflamed. The nerve damage kept my feet numb, the walking spread the numbness to my ankles into my shins.  Wasn’t I even going to be able to hike? What had I done? Serious damage? I’d quickly stomp out that thought and go back into denial. I’ll be fine. I’ve been here before. Yes, I sure have, too many times. I can barely walk, I try to run through the pain, I ignore my body, breaking down further, gritting my teeth with every step and this becomes normal. Not really cool, Jul.  You have one body. ONE BODY!

For the past five years I’ve been in pain while running but running in pain was better than not running at all. That was all that mattered. That I was running. 

In January, 6 months after Voyageur, still not able to run more than a few steps, I was  praying for healing, praying to run again. I was back in this too familiar space…praying for healing from injury once again so that I could run once more  and then this all over again. The cycle continues. Eventually I ‘heard’ from God as I sat on a bench in the woods. ‘What if you prayed for release from this burden to run?”  “I can release this burden from you” What? No. No. No no no . It’s not a burden. I am a runner, I run. That’s who I am, what I am. Moving on…not giving that thought any more attention. Nope, no thanks. I’m good.  But I wasn’t.

I couldn’t deny the fact months later, that I was still in pain: my ankles, my knees, my hips…everything ached, was inflamed, swollen, a mess.  I couldn’t bend down to my lower cabinets in the kitchen, I couldn’t walk down my steps without bowing my knees out and holding the rail. Most of the time I had to come down sideways. My family would follow me saying ‘slow moving traffic’.  I  had some pretty crazy frantic, manic thought processes as the thought of not running came to solidify in my brain, my heart, my prayer.

The more I listened, the more I knew what I needed to do. I began to pray for release from the burden of ‘having’ to run. True release from that need. Not just lip service. I really had to run. I felt running made me whole. I defined myself as a runner.  I prayed.  I struggled. I went to a recovery group. I needed help with this one.  I am not one to ask for help. I can do it all myself.  Not this time. I needed others to help me. Something that was dear to me, that defined me, that was my life, I needed to let it go. I didn’t know if I could. I knew that it was hurting me, I knew that I could no longer control it. I had tried running 5 miles each day, telling myself I wasn’t going to race anymore. I would only run a good 5-7 each day . I had been saying that for years!  I would then run 10 and 20 and then enter a 50K, a 50 miler, a 100 miler and end up in the same fricken place. Injured, trying to get back to the other side. I was always crossing the line . Something that was so good for me had become so dark. My running was looking much like my alcoholism. Damn.  How the hell did this happen?

Very easily.  I became obsessed, again. Obsessive compulsive, call it what you will. Addictive personality? Whatever. I ran in the morning, I ran at lunch, I ran in the evening. I ran all day, all night, more more more. I was shocked when I would read on FaceBook that others were running 2000 miles a year. Why not 4000? What? 4000 was always my yearly goal. Was it too much?  I was applauded for my tenacity, my perseverance. I trained to take my pain and place it into a little black box, separate from me. I could run while blisters popped upon my feet, run with a broken ankle. I could run with tendonitis, fractures, extreme pain, because I had to finish.  I didn’t think it would result in serious injury.  I was called a bad ass when really I was being a dumb ass. For 15 years I racked up miles upon miles and didn’t suffer injury but after I had my hysterectomy I began to injury myself. First it was herniated discs, then over a dozen stress fractures, breaks, neuroma, surgery, foot numbness, nerve damage, celllulitis. One thing after another.  80,000 miles was too much. I had to pay attention.  I had to stop this insanity. This was no longer healthy.

I began to heal. After 9 months I could walk without pain. I’d try jogging and stop after a few steps.  I’d remember where I was, that I didn’t want to again cross that line. I’ve been hiking 6 miles each day.  My feet are still numb due to the nerve damage, sometimes it goes into my ankles and into my shins.  Every once in a while I’ll have neuroma flare up and excessive inflammation but it goes away. It is no longer chronic.  That is the goal. No chronic inflammation. 

I think back to Alicia’s wedding shower two years ago. Amy was teaching a yoga class for us.  I was unable  to bend to the ground, I couldn’t sit on the ground, I couldn’t bend my knees.  I couldn’t stretch my calves, my hips were like glass, feeling fragile, ready to break. I was so full of inflammation that my body could no longer  perform simple tasks. I  still ran though.  Oh yeah, I ran.

Here I am, a year out since the last ultra and I’m feeling really really good. I'm happy. I am at peace. I'm thankful, full of gratitude. I’ve dropped 25 pounds. I joined a hot yoga studio in Elk River. I just had this weird calling to check out yoga again, it had been a while and I wanted to do something in addition to hiking each day. I  found a coupon through Groupon and bought 10 classes. I was scared to death. What do I know about hot yoga? I absolutely loved it. I love the heat, the meditation, sitting quietly, feeling the emotions, harnessing them, then letting them go with unattachment.  I am learning so much. Feeling and letting go. Not feeling and denying or feeling and filling up with something else. Just feeling and being. It’s incredible.  Hot yoga has been healing for me. Spiritually, mentally and physically. I can now bend my knees to 90 degrees and more. I can walk down my stairs without pain and without bowing of the legs or sideways, gripping the rail. I can get into my lower kitchen cabinets.  I am going to a hot yoga fusion (yoga flow/pilates) each MWF at 530 AM which is divine. It’s challenging, strengthening and delicious. I attend an active flow on Saturday and a 90 minute combo/restorative on Sunday.   

Last Sunday Alicia and I went an all day yoga event in Minneapolis. It was all about detoxing, vegan juices and lifestyle, various forms of yoga, rituals, crystals..we had such a good time. It was great to get together again. We weren’t running. We were doing something else. Growing.  It felt strange  to be practicing yoga, caring for myself while on the same day that one year ago I was running Voyageur, hurting myself so badly. What a strange twist of events. 

I miss running. I miss it very much but I no longer mourn it, I no longer wish that I were still running. I no longer pine away for it. It was a wonderful time, it was what I needed at that time in my life. It served it’s purpose  and now I will move on. I can move forward. I can grow. 

I find myself wanting to warn those whom I see following the same path as I. They are  running through serious injury, taking weeks off to recover, only to do it again..because they are runners. It hurts more to stop than to continue.  It is what and who they are. I know that scenario. I know that pain. I know the anguish. I want to let them know, but I don’t. I ask them to be careful.  Just be careful.

There are so many ultrarunners  I know who are  no longer running due to extreme injury. I don’t know if they didn’t tell me before or if I didn’t care to listen to  their story. Now I listen. Now I nod my head. I know. I know. I should have listened before. 

Now, I am on the other side of that line that I kept crossing. Gratefully, I am no longer crossing that line.


Catherine Kunst said...


I've missed your blog posts. I am glad you are coming through the other side and finding some balance again. Ever and always I appreciate your courage in sharing your struggles and successes.


Olga said...

I ran through injuries, but it's not the injury that took me out. Unexplained body fatigue. After 4 years fighting its existence I had to let go of forcing things and love where I am. Not fully. But not forcing. Patiently waiting. Doing little things.
Keep on healing, Julie.

bryankrouse said...

Fantastic post.

Damon said...

My path to becoming an ex-runner was different, but similar. I had never imagined that there would be a day where I could run, but I wouldn't. I suffered a bad hamstring tendon tear getting ready for WS in 2009. That was a huge disappointment, because I'd been in great shape in 2008, but the race was cancelled. In 2009, I DNF'd due to injury. I haven't even considered another 100 since then.

In the fall of 2010, I found myself lifting more and running a bit less. I had run one marathon and one ultra in 2010, but my heart wasn't in it. It was my slowest marathon ever, more than twice the time of my PR. And then, a CrossFit gym opened up close to work. I'd been waiting for this to happen in VT - the last state in the country to get a CrossFit gym. I joined immediately, and I've just never looked back. I now run a few hundred miles a year, a lot of it in sprints at the gym.

Last year, I did a 45 mile ultra with my wife, but it was a 30 hour, go as you please event. You could pick any distance from 30 to 100 miles on a 7.5 mile long rail trail. We hiked 30 the first day, got some dinner, some sleep, some breakfast, and then hiked 15 more. My longest walk in "training" was 7.5 miles and we did 45 fairly comfortably, mostly on CrossFit training.

I may still hike some ultras in the future. I was thinking of the VT 50K this fall, which has the course open for 12:30. But, surgery in June made that seem undoable. It's 2 months since some surgery, and I'm not walking more than 3 miles at a time yet.

I think some people never give up. I see some older runners who can't manage an even gait any more, but they refuse to quit. I thought I'd be one of them. But, I found it easier to walk away than expected. And, the social aspect of CrossFit is something I'd been missing, as I mostly trained by myself.

Best of luck going forward.