Thursday, February 19, 2015

What Inspires Me

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
Every February, about mid-month, it hits with a vengeance: The dreaded winter blahs. The blahs are a very gray, murky, limp nothingness. And every February I try to reconnect with what matters in a desperate effort to hold on to what is good and bright and enlivening and valuable. Here's my attempt to slap myself out of my mid-winter funk...

What inspires you?

I asked this question of a group of close to 3000 women athletes. Almost all the responses were some variation of 3 elements : Family, people who believe in them, and stories of overcoming great challenges. We each must find what fires us up. What makes us want to live an extraordinary life, because it's not easy. It requires that we push ourselves when we are tired, weary, or just feeling done with it all.

So. Here's my answer to the question: What inspires me?
1) Now, & 2) Those who believe in me.

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1) Now ~ Today and Today and Today

It dawned on me recently while speaking to a friend, who has become a friend over the past 5ish years, that even after all this blogging stuff, some of it pretty damn personal, few actually know much about me prior to my racing days. Many people believe I've been racing for years, which is not at all true. I raced lots when I was in my mid-20s, from about 23-26 but then quit right before my 27th birthday, my first mid-life crisis. I was so burned out due to perfectionist tendencies and very lofty goals, both resulting in too much pressure. I transferred all that energy and focus first to my academic studies and then to rock climbing, which can be equally stressful and angst driven.

I continued to run a lot for someone who 'just ran'. And from 1989ish until 2009 I just ran, watchless and free. Based on what I know now, I estimate running between 40-55 miles a week over the course of all those years. Running remained a necessary part of my daily life. My husband often tried to get me to cutback, claiming it was hurting my climbing. But I needed to run as much as I needed to breath.  When I was 30 I ran one marathon, the Maine Marathon, 1993, just because I wanted to run a marathon. I didn't 'train' other than just running and adding several long runs, but I found that those long runs got in the way of weekend climbing trips, so I never ran another. I always believed I would, when I was 'old' and done climbing so much. Someday I would run New York, but that would have to wait for later.

Then in 2008 I sustained my first running injury since 1987, after a year plus of running 50+ mile weeks pushing a jog stroller (I am now convinced that all that jogger running was a problem possibly causing the injury). Several months of PT treatments later with no improvement led me to an MRI to rule out a meniscus tear. The results were grim beyond expectation:

The nurse practitioner who examined me called with the results:
NP: "We have the MRI results. You have significant osteoarthritis. I know you don't want to hear this but you won't be able to run any more. I would encourage you to try biking."
Me: "Ummm. What are you saying? What can be done?'
NP: "Nothing can be done. You're too young for a knee replacement."...

And in a matter of seconds my life changed. All those plans of "someday when I'm old" vanished in seconds. I stood in the middle of Neptune Mountaineering with the cell phone pressed to my ear waiting for some words of hope, while my daughter ran toddling circles around me. And my world began to spin. My head felt as though it was floating away from my body, and as my husbands walked toward me, seeing the look in my eyes, all he said was "What!?!"...

No one had died. No one was going to die, today, and yet I felt like an essential part of me was dying.

Here is the follow up email:
"As we discussed, I'm sending you the results of your MRI with annotations. That study mainly reflects degenerative, wear and tear type changes.
IMPRESSION:
1. 9 X 6 MM FULL THICKNESS CHONDRAL (cartilage next to bone) DEFECT AND CHONDRAL DELAMINATION (coming apart in layers) WITH AREAS OF REACTIVE BONE EDEMA SEEN IN THE LATERAL PATELLAR (knee cap) FACET (face).
2. 11 X 5 MM FULL THICKNESS CHONDRAL DEFECT IN CENTRAL WEIGHT
BEARING SURFACE OF THE LATERAL TIBIAL (large bone in lower leg) PLATEAU (top of that bone in the knee)
3. EARLY DEGENERATIVE CHANGE OF THE ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) WITH REACTIVE BONE EDEMA.
THE LIGAMENT REMAINS INTACT.
4. PROMINENT UNDERSURFACE FRAYING AND POSSIBLE EARLY DEGENERATIVE
TEAR NEAR THE POSTERIOR ROOT OF LATERAL MENISCUS. THIS DOES NOT
EXTEND INTO THE POSTERIOR HORN, AND THERE ARE NO OTHER MENISCAL
TEARS.
5. VISUALIZED MUSCLES AND TENDONS ABOUT THE KNEE ARE WITHIN NORMAL
LIMIT. THERE IS, HOWEVER, A FOCAL AREA OF MILD EDEMA AND
INFLAMMATORY CHANGE WITH SEPTATION IN THE SUBCUTANEOUS FAT JUST
SUPERFICIAL TO AND ABUTTING THE FASCIA OF THE MEDIAL GASTROCNEMIUS
AT THE UPPER CALF LEVEL. THIS WAS NOT DESCRIBED ABOVE AND IS BEST
SEEN ON AXIAL IMAGES 26-28. QUERY FOCAL CONTUSION. DIFFERENTIAL
WOULD INCLUDE AREA OF FAT NECROSIS.
 
I can assure you that no one ever wants to see an MRI report like this and I still feel a little sick to my stomach reading this. Thus began what turned out to be 6 months (the injury kept me from running for a total of 10 months) of battling depression, the feeling of futility, and a desperate search for some hope. At 44 years old, with a 15 month old daughter, I was in constant pain. I would look at my daughter and cry, knowing that I would never be able to go for a hike with her, frustrated because the pain made me cranky and short tempered. Every morning, as the sun streamed through our bedroom windows beckoning me to run and run and run, I would curl up in a ball and sob.

My husband was incredulous - Don't believe it. Don't give up, he would argue. I would vacillate, one moment denying the very possibility of the diagnosis, after all I NEVER had knee pain ever, and then just as quickly the pendulum would swing and I would berate myself for succumbing to denial of the facts - the FACTS. The MRI. That's fact. The fact that my knee never hurt - the fact that this made no sense, those facts sank to the bottom of my morose soul.

I look back at pictures from this time both sad and thankful

Importantly, not a single doctor examined me. Not once. They told me I was done based on the films. That was it. Nothing could be done. Case closed.  But something in me didn't give up. I took my little MRI DVD down to Stedman & Hawkins in Denver. As I sat on the examination table, the doctor walked in and said right off the bat: "Your knee is fine. You have tendinitis." I can not even begin to explain what those words meant to me.

Of course, it still didn't get better, 2 months later, so I visited Stedman & Hawkins again. I told the Doc:
Me: "So. When you told me what I wanted to hear I just forgot to ask any questions. I just wanted to go home and run again. But I still can't run and it still isn't better, so I guess I need to ask you to explain why the MRI is wrong?"
Doc: "I have a sore back. My wife keeps telling me to get an MRI. I keep telling her I don't want to know what's going on in there. After 35 we all have arthritis, bulging discs, other changes that may not be symptomatic. You know things now that might be better not to know, but those are asymptomatic. Your problem now is tendinitis. Will you ever need a knee replacement? I can't answer that..."

And so I left the office both hopeful and anxious, thinking: "I need this fixed and I need to do some things NOW before I may not be able to do them." And yet, in the back of my mind hung this lingering concern: What if he is wrong?

It wasn't very easy to fix, but I didn't give up and managed to stumble onto something that helped, dry needling, while pursuing prolotherapy treatment, which I couldn't afford. Over the course of 2 months of 2 x a week needling I was running again. Just a little bit, struggling through a mile non-stop.

...Bartering with the running gods: If you just let me run 3 miles a day for the rest of my life, I promise I will be satisfied with that...And so things improved, slowly...

On Mother's Day, 2009, I ran the Title 9 9k for women. I remember driving home and thinking how I wanted to march into the office of the doctors that declared me done a year earlier and...and...well, I can't say because I'm superstitious, and I do not want to tempt the fates. Needless to say, from that day forward I have had the attitude that I need to do what I want to do NOW. I have NOW. I may not have 'later'. Others may look at the things I do and believe that I am acting in haste. That I should back off, plan, take my time. But I don't have time any longer. I only have now, and I will use it the best I can. Sure. This wasn't a life threatening situation. But what I learned was that I can't take tomorrow for granted.
“Life is a preparation for the future; and the best preparation for the future is to live as if there were none.” ~ Albert Einstein
My NOW inspires me. My now is why I want it all now. My now is why I run with purpose. I know I can't have it all now, but today matters.
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2) Those Who Believe In Me ~ My friends and family
The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, nor the kindly smile nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when he discovers that someone else believes in him and is willing to trust him. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
This is one of my favorite quotes and one I share often because for me, this is what friendship is all about, platonic or otherwise. A friend is someone who adds to who you are, who makes you more than you are alone.

 
Some of my best friends I've had for what feels like, forever. They've stuck with me all these years and know everything there is to know about me. We have a history together, and that keeps things close and honest and real even when we don't speak for months. As an adult, I found it more challenging to connect with people the way I had when I was younger. When I started racing again I suddenly found myself in a running community I never knew existed. Back in the 1980s ones running friends were more limited, mostly local and running club based. In 2009, there's facebook, Dailymile, Strava and dozens of other places, local or more global, for runners to meet, run together, learn from one another, encourage each other, etc. This was all well and good and useful, to a point, but I've always been a very solitary runner.

But as it turns out, over these past several years, I've managed to make a few very important friends who I met thanks to running, who inspire me more than they will ever know just because they support me and make me feel that I can do anything I put my mind to. So then I need to live up to that trust and support and belief.

There have been races, many many races, when I know people I care about are tracking me, and every time I cross a timing mat I get a little jolt of energy just knowing that they are with me ~ that I am checking in and saying all is well. And when I'm not doing so well, I worry. I don't want them to worry.

And there have been many times when I didn't give up because I knew others believed in me more than I believe in myself. I know that I would not have done some of the things I've done these past 6 years without the support of my friends and family. Their belief can make me a little crazy, in a good way. I treasure that kind of being crazy.
My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me. ~ Henry Ford
While I am inspired, in a sense, by the amazing feats of others, those do not touch me the same way. Sure, they show me what's possible, and that's great, but it's personal relationships that get me through the actual suffering that is part of pushing myself. When I'm hurting I think of them ~ My daughter, my husband, my dearest friends, and they make it possible for me. Even the many people who I barely know but who still support me, who say that I have inspired THEM, who send heartfelt, sincere messages the night before important races - I think of them. If I inspire them, I want them to know that they inspire me. This is a two way street. I will admit, that in the past, I prided myself on not caring about what others thought about me. I believed falsely that this was a sign of strength and autonomy. What I have learned is that this is still true in most cases, but if someone is important to you, then what they think of you matters as much as anything can matter.

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I suppose I should add one more: I am inspired by those who make things happen even when it's hard, when life demands sacrifice and balance and a whole lot of will and determination and discipline. I am not inspired in the least by those who may do so called 'big' things but who clearly have resources that make the doing so much easier. I find those who work hard, and contribute in ways beyond their personal running prowess, much more motivating. Those who travel the world running marathons, even fast marathons, or 365 marathons a year, and have ample leisure to do so, do nothing for me because I simply cannot relate. I see many who post online about all their amazing running adventures in exotic locations - jetting off here, there and everywhere, week after week, and so many runners Ooooo-and-ahhhhh over this. But these just leave me scratching my head. 

But then we all must find what motivates and inspires US. It helps us get out on the days the couch beckons or other commitments makes it almost impossible. When the days are grim, and dark and cold and icy and we wonder why the hell we signed up for that spring race. When we feel that we never measure up, that something is always going off the rails, that we just might fail at something that matters...I always return to the things that keep me going, that matter to me.
Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone. ~Pablo Picasso

2 comments:

  1. I just found your blog and thoroughly enjoyed and really appreciated this post. :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. This resonates with me on so many levels.. having recently experienced, and still struggling to come back from, a long term (8+ months) injury. Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete

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