Most often, when I sit down to write (however rarely that might be), the ideas in my head transfer effortlessly through my fingers onto the page. But since I broke my foot almost six weeks ago in Eugene, I have sat down at my computer more than a dozen times, only to struggle through and trash various failed efforts to document my thoughts. I have expended more than enough time and energy feeling angry and confused. Today is the day.
At first I was angry with myself for attempting to race in Eugene. I had just raced two weeks before in Atlanta, but I found myself mourning the bombings in Boston and the impact of that terrorist attack on runners everywhere. Running so many lonely miles, deep into training for the USA Half Marathon Championships, I ached to be with other runners, to have an opportunity for some camaraderie. So at the last minute I found a ticket I could purchase with miles to join scores of Oiselle teammates competing in the Marathon and Half Marathon in Eugene. But even though the race plan was a workout with my teammate, Allison Delancey (@azrunparents), it was still a ‘race’ with all of the stress and excitement and adrenalin that goes along with it.
The strange feeling in my foot started around mile five or six. Running along comfortably at 6:20 pace as planned, I felt something funny in my shoe. Thinking I needed to adjust the laces, I stopped for a few seconds, straightened the tongue, and then caught up with Allison. Over the next couple of miles the strange feeling turned into discomfort and then increasingly severe pain. Somewhere between miles eight and nine I knew I wouldn’t be able to finish the race and hobbled off the course in disbelief. Never before have I dropped out of a race. Never before have I succumbed to pain. I am a competitor. In high school, when I was still a tennis player, I severely sprained my ankle in the finals of the State Championships Doubles and still won the match with a grapefruit size bulge on top of my shoe (most of the credit goes to my partner, of course). But after the match, I couldn’t walk normally for weeks.
Competitiveness and toughness were not enough in Eugene. Those were not the lessons for me that day. Sometimes we imagine learning about ourselves in our heads. But, it seems the lessons we actually internalize are those we learn through experience. I had traveled to Eugene with the intention of connecting, of experiencing relationship and camaraderie. And, in fact, my broken foot has brought me nothing but that over the past six weeks. Well, ok, I still have a painful sinking feeling in my belly every time I think about not racing in Duluth on June 22nd, but I am learning to spool that thread of energy into an expanding ball of competitive fire. I will continue to get stronger and faster and race at the highest levels. I will realize my athletic potential…just not today. Today my opportunity is to experience feeling connected. Here are some highlights of how that has happened over the last six weeks:
- I had travelled to Eugene to meet and cheer on teammates. After hobbling off the course, I found my way to the Oiselle team cheering squad and yelled my heart out for almost three hours. It was totally inspiring to watch runners pushing themselves to their limits and heart pumping every time a teammate raced by. The adrenaline kept me on my feet but when it was all over, the pain really set in and I couldn’t take a step without feeling like there was a knife through my foot. As the devastation of the injury started to set in, I was hobbling alone back to my car when Oiselle Team Manager, Kristen Metcalf came up to me with Jacquelyn Komen and a flock of Birds. She offered to go get my car and as I hugged her with appreciation, I finally broke down in tears. Not only did she and JJ run to get my car, but they fed me, drove me home, and ran their way back to their apartment.
The Cheering Squad (photo credit: @enduroTwerd)
2. Once I got back to the house, I found my five roommates and new friends who were overflowing with concern and grace. In the purest demonstration of selflessness, they forgot about their personal best or worst performances, their exhaustion and marathon-sore legs and spent the next 24 hours driving me all over Eugene to find crutches, helping me stay positive, taking me out for drinks and dinner, packing my suitcase and making sure I could get to the airport with my rental car. They were patient as I slowly hobbled and crutched and cried and made them late, offering the kindness and support I desperately needed. I am unaccustomed to and uncomfortable with leaning on others. One of my biggest weaknesses is I’m horrible at reaching out for help, even when I need it, even when I know I need it. I’ll struggle and fight and claw my way through on my own, even though I know I’d be a whole lot better with some support and a little company. But in Eugene, I did not have a choice. I received a tremendous gift from these women.
3. And the outpouring of concern did not end once I returned to Colorado. For the past six weeks I have received daily emails, texts, and twitter messages from teammates checking in on me. United by our passion for running and by our Oiselle Team, I have never experienced such concentrated support. Amazed and appreciative only adequately describes the fullness in my heart.
4. In Eugene, I was fortunate enough to meet some of the leadership of Nuun (the very best source of hydration and electrolyte replacement). For the past few years Nuun has sponsored teams of women runners in the Hood to Coast Relay. To be a part of one of their teams is competitive and a huge privilege and honor. The women I roomed with in Eugene knew each other primarily through the HTC relay and/or Oiselle. Both have an amazing cult-following of super cool people. Shortly after returning from Eugene, I was humbled to receive an invitation to participate on this year’s Nuun HTC Competitive Team. I know the experience promises to offer a great opportunity to race on a team and to cultivate new lifelong friendships. I am doing everything I can to be ready to race in August.
5. Part of my commitment to getting healthy as quickly as possible required a huge sacrifice. After much soul searching and serious tears, I decided not to join my family on my stepdaughter’s high school graduation trip to Europe. Needing to be off my feet more than less, I felt that the walking demands of the trip and the long travel days would probably set me back in healing. But after the initial disappointment and loneliness of being away from my family, I began to appreciate all of the friends who have reached out to invite me to spend time together while I’m on my own. I am a high-functioning introvert, so it would be my first instinct to spend this free time alone. But as I’m learning, I need people more than I think. And this time to cultivate relationships has been a true blessing.
6. And this brings me to the real source of inspiration for today’s post. No blessing has been greater than the one I experienced last night. One of my dearest friends gave birth to her first child, a daughter. When I drove my family to the airport last Tuesday, I reached out to her to meet for lunch, as she was in her 36th week of pregnancy and I knew this might be one of the last few times we could be together before her life offered a little less free and undistracted time. When we said good-bye, I knew it wouldn’t be a full month before I received the call that it was time.
With all of her family a flight away, I had promised I would be back up for her husband. In the event that he passed out in the midst of her labor, I would be there. So I wasn’t too surprised when on Thursday morning I got the call and was on my way back down to Denver to meet her at the hospital. Fortunately I had two hours to drive and gather myself so I could be calm by the time I reached her. Even more fortunately, for all of us, her husband made it through almost 24 hours of labor and delivery while I waited to meet their new baby.
If you’ve sat in uncertainty in a hospital waiting room, you know why I imagine it is the closest experience to solitary confinement, without committing a crime. But finally, after hours and hours waiting outside the nursery (my girlfriend is exceedingly tough and endured a marathon of work to bring her child into this world), I met the sweet soul that was born as her daughter. And through much of the waiting, as part of my friend’s team, I was supported by my own friends and teammates through emails, texts and twitter messages. I was not alone. (With special thanks to Dr. Meggie Smith @mbsthinks, for all of the technical insight on childbirth)!