Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Horizon Has Been Defeated

Saturday afternoon I set out on the Emigrant Trail in Truckee for a 20-mile run with my border collie, Cap. The dog’s presence notwithstanding, it was my first solo long-run (if 20 miles can be considered long) since Pt. Reyes, and only my third of the entire winter/spring training season. I had lightened up the mileage last week with the intent of upping the quality, and using the rest as a springboard to just a few more weeks of hard training before beginning a late-June taper. The plan unfolded beautifully, and I felt great all week, with some high-quality speed and hill workouts.

In addition to loving the warm weather, Saturday was spent with my eye on the watch. Given that I have spent both of my races this year without much heed for time, this kind of thing was unique to training, and unheard of on a long run. If I was going so short, I wanted it to be fast, and I ran a beautiful sub-9:30 pace for 15 miles on trail. If you’ll recall though, the run was supposed to be 20.

Mile 15 is where I embarked upon what I am now thinking of as my “June tradition.” I sprained my ankle. Yes, the same ankle. Yes, the same tendon. Frustration, anger, depression. These are my bedfellows.

Also, courage and perspective. Hope.

I spent 2 ½ miles hobbling, crying, dragging my crushed spirit to a road where I hitched a ride back to my car. To say I was feeling sorry for myself would be a ghastly understatement. I do self-pity so well. I think, in reality, it’s a good thing that I was alone. What could another person have done, really? And the presence of another would have required that I maintain some semblance of dignity. Some pretense that my world hadn’t just come crashing down on top of me.

And who can put forth the effort of pretense when the world has suddenly been flipped and everything is wrong? So wrong.

As I limped my way down the trail, every now and then a fresh wave of tears would come upon me. Now it wasn’t just this sudden inability to run; it was everything. I found myself dwelling on a hundred things completely out of my control, everything from oil-soaked pelicans on the Gulf Coast, to the potential death of loved ones. A bit melodramatic, I know. But I find that delving head-first into the depths of self-pity and despair makes for a quicker return trip to “perspective.” It took me nearly an hour to travel that 2 ½ miles, and it was a physical and emotional journey I hope not to repeat soon. Still, all such journeys are an adventure, and a learning experience, and if I wasn’t in a fairly positive emotional place at this point, I doubt I would even be writing this.

Have you ever had a conversation with a 10-year-old and felt more understood that you are by most adults? As I shuffled from my desk to the whiteboard this morning, I shared the weekend’s setback with one of my students. I knew what her reaction would be.

“Oh no!” she wailed, springing out of her desk. “What about Friday cross-country?”

“I know,” I nodded in sympathy. We were of the same mind.

She commenced with further whining and stomping of feet, displaying emotions as only a 10-year-old can, but which a grown woman can still feel. It was almost a relief to see someone act out my own feelings for public display.

It’s not that other runners weren’t sympathetic to my plight, but their own situations remain unaffected. The running experience of my cross-country kids is inevitably tied to mine. I don’t run—they don’t run. It’s deeper than empathy when we can all be selfish together.

On yesterday morning's dog-walk, I noticed Cap had a pronounced limp as well. Closer inspection revealed a torn pad on his right front paw. Another aftermath of Saturday's run. We must make a hilarious sight, the two of us gimping our way around the block at a snail's pace. We're damaged goods, my doggie and me.

I don’t know exactly how big of a setback this will be, but I do know my season isn’t ruined. I’ve been in this place before, (every June for three summers, in fact). I have confidence that a week off will allow me to jump back on the trail, even if this weekend’s TRT training camp is a bit in jeopardy.

Still, when things get bad, when life problems get complicated and lead to the next and bigger problem, I run. That’s what I do. I don’t mean that I run away necessarily, but I do use it to cope. I use it to maintain forward momentum. To stave off the semi-mid-life crisis of a 36-year-old’s mind.

I think tomorrow, if this weather holds, I'm going to dust off my road bike.

For your melancholy listening pleasure, here is my favorite version of The Horizon Has Been Defeated.


  1. Ooh, sorry, Gretchen. No fun. Sending good vibes toward your ankle -

  2. How's the ankle doing?

  3. Ooops, I am not anonymous, it's Jamie:)

  4. That silly ankle will always be your weak spot, won't it?

    I'm SO sorry it's sprained. Big, purple, painful to put weight on? Yuck, yuck. What's worse, though, is the mental tumble that incidents like this can take us into, unless we find the silver lining on the other side.

    I hope Cap is also recovering, too.


  5. Thanks, Turi. I think it's working!

    Jamie - Better. I hate to get my hopes up about running this weekend, but, they're up. Actually looking forward to a bike ride today though.

    Meghan - Yup. The ankle is the new achilles. This injury never seems to get shocking swelling, just very localized, but it is painful to put weight on. Predictably, I'm now feeling some funky things on my left side due to favoring the right. Ugh! BUT ... still feeling hopeful. (Cap's feeling hopeful, too.)

  6. Oh, no! I am stomping my feet! I think you should not be allowed to venture anywhere in June anymore! OK, may be for 15 miles only...hope you both heal up very soon and very well!

  7. Ugh. Very sorry to hear this. As usual, though, your descriptions here spoke to me on several different levels, especially as I've been wallowing in my own pity as well lately. So ... thanks for that, I guess. Misery loves company.

    I'll keep fingers and toes crossed for a quick recovery for you. Hang in there, chica.

  8. Nooooooooo! Keep it moving, work on balance stuff and try not to favor it. But, I'm sure you know this stuff already.

    It's always interesting to read about others' injuries and the "mental tumble" (as Meghan put it so perfectly) that happens. It's so true, and no matter how tough we are, or how often we've experienced something, we somehow never manage to handle it any better. It sucks and I totally feel your pain. I like your style, of going all in with the misery and getting it out at once. Who cares if it's melodramatic!

    I think I was only slightly more shocked by the fact that you hitched a ride...that totally freaks me out! :)

    Here's to a speedy recovery and a little bit of a run this weekend, for you and Cap both :)

  9. No. Way. This is me, speechless. After groping around for words, all I can say is: hang in there. (And maybe, sorry, I didn't realize wrecked ankles were contagious?)

  10. Erk. Gretchen, I'm so sorry. Ah, but you captured the whole thing so beautifully. You will recover. You are strong (obviously). Having just come off an almost-year-long tendon issue, I so completely feel for you. But biking can be fun. I have been biking quite a bit lately, especially with the longer daylight hours. Zoom, zoom zoom! Fast, fast, fast!!!! Fun! (Right?)

  11. Aww, thanks for all the sympathy everyone! I'm a believer that it helps heal soft tissue injuries. :)

    Olga - Thanks for the foot stomping. :) I would totally be stomping my feet right now while no one is looking, but I think it would hurt my ankle.

    Donald - I'm sorry to hear you're wallowing, but sometimes a good wallow is what we need before we can jump back into the fire. Uh, I mean, into the game. Meanwhile, we're in good company.

    Thanks Paige. I think the "all-in misery" technique works for me. And I probably could have replaced "hitched a ride" with "approached a nice, older couple and their dog and begged a ride" but you know, "hitched" conveyed my desperation better. A tiny bit of embellishing is allowed for the sake of good storytelling (just so you know).

    Stac - Well, it's life, right? : J Don't worry about me though. You set the example for how to handle this kind of thing with grace. I set the example for drama.

    Pam - Thank you. I think biking will be fun, for real. Unfortunately today was still too soon for the bike, and tomorrow looks to be a bit chilly. (I'm totally a fair-weather biker.) But there will be some biking very soon. Gardening is also good cross-training.

  12. I guess that's one way to live vicariously through a 10-year-old's tantrums! Hope Cap's foot is feeling much better, as is your ankle. I have a weakness for that particular injury.

  13. Gretchen,

    I'd say if the sprain is a tradition for you it seems to be working well. Your TRT 50 run last year was awesome. I think this is a sign of good things to come (positive thinking!).


  14. Ugh! That sucks! I'm really sorry. I have had my share of ankle injuries and can certainly 'feel' your pain. I hope it heals up quickly!

  15. That sucks! I am down and out now with a knee injury incurred in my recent R2R2R, so I I feel your pain and hopefully your recovery will be quicker than mine...

  16. Anne - Yup, even if I can't have tantrums, I can appreciate others'. :) Cap wasn't limping at all today! AND ... I went to my physical therapist today and he, like, worked a miracle or something. Long story, but anyway, I'm running again!!!

    Darren - I hear you, actually. It's the only reason I haven't totally freaked out - it's happened before and I've come through it okay. Positive thinking, yes!!

    Dave - Thanks! The ankle is my nemesis.

    Dude - Sorry to hear that, but I hope R2R2R was worth it. I'd love to hear about it. There's a small chance I may run it this fall. the Nathan work out?