What a difference a couple of years makes. Two years ago, I participated in a 12-hour race at the Black Mountain Monster. I use the term “participated” rather than ran or competed because I walked the entire thing. Six weeks had elapsed since I had undergone major back surgery and although I was forbidden to run for another few weeks, my PT had given me the go-ahead to “walk as much as I wanted”. Little did she know that I would take her literally, covering 42 miles or fourteen rotations around the 3-mile loop.
That was an interesting experience, and although I had fun, my pride took a beating as I was lapped over and over again. Although I knew that I was out there only for the experience and the camaraderie, the competitor within me hated the fact that I was out of the mix from the start.
At that point in time, both the doc and I viewed the surgery as a success and I was thrilled to be able to walk all day without pain (although I was forced to lie down and ice every two hours). We still didn’t know what the future held in store for my running, however. The surgeon made no promises and it was still unclear if I’d ever run again. I told myself that I’d be thrilled if I could simply jog a few miles without pain, although deep in my heart I knew that what I really wanted was to continue to be an ultrarunner.
Fast forward two years, and I’m standing at the start of this race once again. This time the walk breaks will be short and purposeful. I will walk for three minutes at the start of each lap, enough time to rehydrate and suck down a gel. I won’t even think about my back (although there will be plenty of pain and discomfort in other areas to occupy my thoughts).
The day was terrific – perfect weather and the camaraderie that comes with reuniting with old trail-running friends and meeting new ones. I ran with a sense of gratitude that my body was allowing me to do what I love, knowing that many others are not as fortunate. I was psyched to surpass my goal distance with a total of 68 miles for the day.
I’m not an advocate of running through severe pain or injury, but I definitely believe in pushing our limits. Some people would’ve given up running at the first mention of back surgery. If I was that type of person, I never would’ve taken up running in the first place, being a lifelong asthma sufferer. Or perhaps I would’ve quit fifteen years ago, when an orthopedist said that I had bad knees and suggested that I take up biking instead.
Some might consider my decisions risky or foolish, but I’d rather try and fail, succumbing to my body’s limitations only after giving it my best shot, than live a life full of what-if’s.