I had a plan for 2019. It was going to be the year I pushed myself.
Learn how to break mental and physical barriers. Become more comfortable with uncomfortable. Force myself to be tougher, grittier through hard, harder and hardest training. Accept physical suffering, callous my mind so I could withstand the loudest, most convincing, whining quit voice. Create an updated version of myself that was ready for a huge, mind expanding race in 2020.
That was the plan.
SFX: record scratch.
Well, you know what they say about plans?
“All human plans [are] subject to ruthless revision by Nature, or Fate, or whatever one preferred to call the powers behind the Universe.”
– Arthur C. Clarke
I’ve never had the distinct pleasure to deal with an injury. I have been incredibly fortunate to have great health since I started my journey back in 2014 doing ultras and Spartan races. Nagging things, sore this, bruised that, twisted this, kind of stuff. Little ice, a few ibuprofen and I was good as new.
I was injured from June the 8th, until September the 7th. Including 50 days where the gift of running was completely taken away from me. This isn’t a sob story, or a Rocky story, or a come back story. I’m not a teacher and this is not a lesson. This is being written with nothing but gratitude.
If I could, I wouldn’t change a thing that happened to me. I’m beyond grateful I went through what I went through. If it happens again, and it probably will, I will be beyond grateful again.
Injury in general teaches you to appreciate every moment. I’ve had my share of injuries throughout my career. It’s humbling. It gives you perspective. No matter how many times I’ve been hurt, I’ve learned from that injury and come back even more humble.
– Troy Polamalu
I ate humble pie every single day. Injury has zero sympathy for you, what you were doing, what you planned or how fast you want it fixed. It is an uncaring force that just relentlessly tries to wear you down both physically and mentally. It is the kind of humbling that takes you to the crossroads.
Crossroads: In folk magic and mythology, crossroads may represent a location “between the worlds” and, as such, a site where supernatural spirits can be contacted and paranormal events can take place. Symbolically, it can mean a locality where two realms touch and therefore represents liminality, a place literally “neither here nor there” “betwixt and between”.
Neither here nor there, what a beautiful way to describe being injured. Betwixt your former self and your unknown future self and between the worlds of training, racing and being a physical force of nature and being at the unprotected mercy of doubt, frustration, self criticism and your emotional human nature.
1. You can stand there, do nothing, turn around and look at the past and go nowhere.
2. You can go left, down the I feel sorry for myself, self-pity, road of depression.
3. You can go right, down the angry, pissed off, fuck this injury, mad at the world road.
4. You can move forward, down that long, never ending path with no guarantees and zero promises.
Or you take all four of them at once and go fucking crazy. Crazy I went. I took all four paths and sometimes on the same day. Slowly I realized that 3 of the 4 paths were just dead ends and the only way to go was forward, and to do it with conviction, optimism and faith.
“Write your injuries in dust, your benefits in marble” – Benjamin Franklin
I could write about all the things I did, describing in detail the time and effort that was exerted to get healthy.
It’s just dust.
I want to celebrate what the injuries did for me, not what I did to them. These benefits are carved in marble.
Injury made me a more grateful runner. There were days when I put my foot on the floor and the pain and the buckle of my weight under my legs had me convinced I would never run again. This was it. For 33 years I didn’t run because I was ungrateful for my gift and 5 years into running its over. I have not run one day, one minute, since my return where I haven’t buckled under the weight of gratitude.
I don’t care how tired I am, how cold it is out, or how shitty the conditions are, as soon as my foot strides out in front of my body I’m honored to be running. When things get tough and I’m hurting, I just think about how much my heart hurt when I pictured my life without running. Gratitude washes over the temporary physical discomfort and my emotional weakness in that moment and joy flourishes. I have no idea how long this will last. I hope it never ends. “Taking for granted” is a strong force in the human tool box. I hope I don’t take one stride for granted because I feel like I have super powers right now. Even when running is hard, its a million times better than not running.
Injury forced me to have a deeper appreciation for connection. I have a great love affair with running by myself. Getting into an uninterrupted hum, where my body is moving instinctively, freely and my mind slowly empties of thinking and society. I slowly slip into a moving meditation. I’m just a witness. Its like I’m sitting inside my brain looking out the windows of my eyes and it feels like I am driving a car. I’m moving, I’m in control and I’m feeling movement but not the effort of movement.
What I didn’t love was the loneliness, the isolation and the prison of injury. So I promised myself to run with other people as often as I could. To open up more, to feel the deep connection of running in nature with others, as many others as I can. To hear their stories and to tell mine if they want to listen. Pace, time, miles would become irrelevant bystanders to participating in the tribe of running and runners. To be seen and to see you. Maybe this injury was just a way of opening my heart up and letting more of myself out and others in. Not every run should be 100 percent in service to becoming a better runner, maybe running is just a really great way to be a better human.
Injury made me stronger. Yes, I did things to make parts of my body stronger. I researched and worked on running form and efficiency, so I believe I’m a stronger runner. But that is not the strength I am referring to. Being injured forced me to miss the 2019 Spartan Ultra Beast in Killington, Vermont. That was a feeling I disliked as far into the pit of dislike one can journey. That was rock bottom. A weird thing happened when I crawled out of that hole. My will got bigger and stronger, my motivation doubled in size and my grit got a lot grittier. I can’t prove any of this in a court of law, but I feel it every morning at 4:00 AM when I get up and think about getting after it. I’m different. Not to prove anything, or hit a podium, win an age group race or PR a distance. My life, my being, my purpose is intertwined with training, racing, suffering and using this physical machinery. I deeply understand it. When it was taken away that was the real hole I fell into. I’m not wasting one fucking year, month, day or second. If I can get after it, I’m getting after it.
Injury made me a more grateful human. Every day I wake up my cells are dying, my body is aging, organs, muscles and tissue are slowly working their way to a finish line. It’s a miracle what we have at our disposal as human machines. It’s a miracle it works. We can get so fixated on the times when it doesn’t work, that we don’t take the time to deeply appreciate what it does in so many beautiful and amazing ways.
Being hurt is just a gentle reminder of how fucking awesome your machine truly is and how grateful we should be to have it and use it.
“Sometimes life knocks you on your ass… get up, get up, get up. Happiness is not the absence of problems, it’s the ability to deal with them.”― Steve Maraboli
In a weird plot twist for an audience of one, ME, which I never saw coming, injury made me more indestructible. I thought training was going to help me accomplish that goal. You know what they say about thinking?
Exactly, do less of it.
Injury broke mental and physical barriers.
Injury made me more comfortable with uncomfortable.
Injury forced me to be tougher and grittier through gratitude, appreciation and vulnerability.
Injury made me suffer immensely, both physically, mentally and spiritually.
Injury calloused my mind and broke my heart open.
Injury created a version of myself that was more accepting, an open to a huge, mind expanding life.
Thank you injury, I am so grateful we met. It was my pleasure.