The Next Right Thing

Mountain season ended on a high note back in September at Mt. Baldy in California, despite a less than stellar showing at Pikes Peak a couple of weeks earlier. Aside from slightly tumultuous life events taking place at the time, running-wise I was feeling pretty great. I decided it was time to resurrect the XC spikes, and my (very limited) leg speed–gone dormant from months of running straight up–so I started getting the legs turning over again on the flat, fast gravel of Monument Valley Park and the Santa Fe Trail, excitedly anticipating Club Cross Country Nationals, where Pikes Peak Elite Track Club would make its team debut (side note: turns out just about everyone was hurt, or rebounding from marathons, or both, so Amanda was our lone representative. Maybe next year). I love cross country, and I’ve missed it, and often I’ve really missed having a team to race with too.

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Old and new faces at the Mt. Baldy Run-to-the-Top last Labor Day.

But when will I learn? I think a large part of the reason, if not THE reason, that I’ve stayed relatively healthy for a the majority of the last two years (a post-college PR!) is that my mechanics do well with lots of variety in regards to terrain and pace, and exceptionally so with climbing. I’ve joked with people that whenever I do long runs and workouts that are all uphill, that’s pretty much the only time that only the things that are supposed to hurt actually hurt in the way they’re supposed to hurt. There are rarely any unusual aches and pains to stave off, I’m pretty sure the slower velocity and the resulting decreased necessity for as much stability and coordination has more than a little to do with it. But toss me onto the roads, track, or even a flat dirt loop to do speed work for even half the mileage I run during mountain season, and I’m beat up on the reg.

So what do I do once I feel like I’ve gotten some long lost momentum back from stringing together several healthy months (finally)? That’s right, go right back to doing what kept me perpetually injured on and off for years! Duh. Like a dummy. And what is it that they say? If it’s not broken don’t fix it? Yeah that.

Like 800-meter runner Phoebe Wright said once, when it comes to running, you better “get wise before you get old.” I’ve definitely noticed that a sub-30 year old body responds a bit differently to poor running choices than does a 30-plus year old one. It’s like glimpsing your own mortality. Crap.

Long story somewhat short, it seems that a few weeks of faster running followed by a race with some college kids at the CU Shootout last October awakened an old nagging knee issue, that started back in late 2012, which turned out to be a meniscus tear, which I then had an uneventful surgery on in late fall of 2013, and then proceeded to come back way too fast from to get ready for…well, Club Cross Country in Bend that December. Worth it? Eh…debatable. It’s been a bit finicky ever since, but not typically problematic and more or less forgettable. At any rate, here I am, a month after scrapping any real running in favor of a lot of time on the bike and in the pool, but to not much avail so far. I’m admittedly getting somewhat concerned.

Beyond just running, to say that the last few months have been a test of ones’ ability to rebound and persevere would be a slight understatement. In short, I lost a job–a dream job, to me at least–late last summer a couple of days prior to Pikes Peak. I know, I know, it happens to many people and most of the time it isn’t personal. But that doesn’t stop it from feeling personal. I’ve seen it happen to other people, but I had never given it much thought, thinking they’d easily bounce back and land on their feet doing something else that they’re good at, and maybe even be a lot happier. In hindsight, I’m disappointed in myself for trivializing their struggles, because now I know that it ain’t that easy.  What makes it tougher is that often in the corporate world, people seem to equate “professionalism” with “being devoid of humanity,” where everything is simply a business transaction, and that’s just not true. You can certainly pretend like it is, but that’s its own kind of hustle. But that’s just how it goes sometimes.

It brought to mind a day my junior year of college, when our coach was let go to be replaced, and the stunned, resigned, monotone voicemail he left me saying, “My services aren’t needed by the university anymore, I’m really going to miss seeing and working with all of you guys everyday, and I wish you luck.” I was sad for him, but recalled him sometimes talking about retiring so I didn’t think he could really be that upset. But I guess it’s much different when you get to do that on your own terms. I didn’t quite grasp what he was feeling.

Regardless, it was so blindsiding and unexpected that subsequent weeks felt, and often still feel, as though there is a cinder block in my stomach. Sadness, confusion, denial, and admittedly pride, kept me from telling too many people aside from those who might offer further employment opportunities. With a somewhat perfectionistic personality, common to so many of us in this sport, it is difficult not to internalize something like that as a tremendous failure–like seeing a failing grade on a test that you expected to ace, or finishing dead-last in a race that you ran a huge PR in–and you go over things in your mind trying to figure out what you should have done differently or better to prevent such an outcome, even if it really wasn’t preventable at all. The result: anxiety. Stress. Constantly. Lots of it. Over the future, over your perceived shortcomings, over your source of income (or lack thereof), over everything. The kind of worry where when you go to bed at night, you hope you wake up and find out it was just a bad dream. I tried to convince myself that it was okay, maybe even a blessing in disguise, and that it would all work out. And it will, eventually. But in any case, the cliche adage of denial being more than a river is indeed true. I got stressed out, I was angry, I tried to “run it off,” in addition to suddenly trying to train differently, and now I’m hurt, and so it goes.

As an aside, numerous studies have correlated high stress levels and resultant negative mindsets to upticks in injury rates. By all means, run hard and blow off some steam, but please run responsibly. It’s science. PSA foreclosed. Take heed, and if you take nothing else from this post, at least take that.

It seems like the same few people always turn up in my life every time I’m metaphorically shooting the flare gun and Morse-coding S.O.S. for the rescue chopper to come save me (again) from my own ship that I somehow managed to sink myself. Or maybe I subconsciously seek them out. Either way, God bless ’em. When you’re balling, everyone is balling with you, but when you’re not, things can get a little dicey with only your worst thoughts for company. One of the aforementioned people is my friend, veteran mountain runner extraordinaire and physical therapist Simon Gutierrez, who has weathered more than his own fair share of running sh*t-storms. Truth is, as far as running goes, there is nobody I’d rather talk to when the crap is hitting the fan, and I’ll never be able to repay him no matter how much exotic booze I get for him to add to his liquor cabinet. He has a way of convincing you that, whatever is happening and come what may, it will be okay. You will be okay.

Conveniently, he is getting his dry-needling certification and needs willing participants, so I went down to Alamosa to be his voluntary pin-cushion for a few days, in an effort to alleviate, or rule out, a muscular issue. And I tell you what, there is no better combination than whiskey, Christmas carols, and dry-needling, all together at the same time, to cure your achy-breaky heart…even if it doesn’t cure your achy-breaky body.

I don’t know if it’s a bad or good thing that by now, such setbacks seem routine enough to really not be off-putting, you just get used to it; feel the sting of disappointment, accept it, then shoulder it, bite the bullet, come up with a game plan, and start grinding away doing what you still can do, in the hopes that when the stars do align again, you’ll have done everything you could do to create the best possible outcome so that you’ll never have to wonder. You will, after all, someday not get to do this anymore. Besides, you don’t get to control much in this whirlwind of life besides what you put into it with the time that you have, so get after it. The worst handicap you can give yourself is a victim mentality.

In the running realm, 2017 was great for the most part, and I want 2018 to be better. I’d really, really like to be on that team to go to Andorra next year for the World Mountain Champs. 2018 is an up-year, USA’s is at Loon Mountain next July, and geez do I ever have some unfinished business with that course, and with myself.

“Just do the next right thing,” my buddy Tim “Bergy” Bergsten said to me last week while I voiced my present bewilderment over everything from jobs to running to everything in the news to life in general.

“The next right thing might be going to work, it might be drinking more coffee, or it might be going for a run,” he continued. “Just do what feels like the next right thing.”

Black Canyon, Mt. Washington, USA’s, Pikes Peak…they all seem so many months away, yet way too soon at the same time. There are so, so many things that could change between then and now, and some things I just want to be shut of. But life can change–or even end–on a dime, as I feel like I’ve seen a lot of this year, and again, you control surprisingly little of it. So in trying to stay in the present so as to not find myself in over my head in my own head, I guess I’ll just do the next right thing. I’ll admit that I’m not entirely sure what that thing looks like right now, I just know that it doesn’t look like apathy, or despondence, or quitting.

Until next time folks, Merry Christmas and “Illegitimi non carborundum”: don’t let the bastards get you down.

 

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