by Tory Scholz
For those who know me well, it’s no surprise when I say that running is personal. Like many of us, I grow and reflect on the spiritual and emotional effects of endurance running. It’s so personal that I have yet to write one of those official ‘race reports.’ I don’t race often, but when I do, I keep it close to my heart. I am gradually coming to terms with exposing myself online, but my truth remains that running is personal and what I accomplish within that realm is for me and often private.
I have become increasingly fond of analyzing the lessons I learn from ultras and either turning them into some profound metaphor or making an inappropriate joke about it. The past three weeks I have been riding the high of one of the biggest runs/races completed. Physically, I felt recovered in a few days and felt as if no race had occurred. My body never felt sore (other than a couple days of feet swelling and attractive back chafing). I was inspired by many others and learned about my own patience and presence. This piece is not about that recovery, inspiration, or those lessons. It is about what happens after the recovery party is over and what the road down from the high looks like. I call this road “Aftermath Drive.”
I’ve been to Aftermath Drive before. I remember it fondly, so I will proceed down this road with caution. It creeps up on you, and presents itself in various ways. One needs to be aware and look up to even notice if they’re on The Drive. I presently find myself juggling “be cautious” and “stop being a baby.” Every time I go down this road after a big race, it feels different, and I learn more lessons. After the biggest event I ever completed, this road feels different than the times before. My body felt great, but my brain hurt. I received many thoughtful messages asking how my body was feeling and how my recovery was going after running 122 miles with the elevation gain of Everest. My response was “My body feels great, my brain hurts.” People would find that humorous. I said that because I can remember the lessons I have learned from the past when I pushed my body too soon after a goal race. My body felt great, my mind was excited about it, but my brain wasn’t ready. Now, older and not even that much wiser, I am trying to be more cautious.
Matt Fitzgerald’s recent book How Bad Do You Want It? reminds us that the majority of our endurance pursuits is entirely in the brain. My latest Google research has told me that there is not much out there regarding brain recovery and ultra running recovery. I also read that our brain shrinks 6% following a multi day endurance event like running. (It expands back.) However, this shrinkage may explain why I needed to limit any exposure to heat, light, crowds, noise, and talking. (Yes, I somehow needed to limit my speaking after this big endeavor.) It also may explain why I would take minutes to respond to simple questions and look like a deer in headlights when people were talking to me. My new excuse: my brain is 6% smaller during my recovery.
Now, four weeks later, I wonder if my brain is still in fact recovering, or I am simply being a lazy brat. I can’t tell. Last week I went climbing up a technical trail to summit a mountain in our backcountry in the mud and clouds. This is something I would normally enjoy doing. I shamefully admit that I did not enjoy it. Sure, I was alone, without any unicorns around, but I usually enjoy solo trail time. I believe that my brain was not ready. So where is this line? If the body is the mind and the mind is the body, how can we separate the two?
What happens after the recovery party is over? The celebration? After the feet swelling goes down, after the chafing scars have healed? Are we ready to get back to our passion? Where is the line between mental rest and body rest? If “the body is the mind and the mind is the body,” do we need to even make a distinction? How do we listen to both?
This is not a race report. But whenever I find myself on Aftermath Drive, I am reminded that not running does not mean resting. On our September 8 podcast recording “Ultra Dirt:13 The aftermath…what few talk about after a big race,” we talk about the endocrine system and the science behind why my brain hurt after physically recovering like a champ. How do I shut my brain off so it can recover? Running usually helps this. Where is the line and what is the balance?
Tory Scholz is passionate about exploring the dirt and mountains in her backyard, wherever that may be. You can learn more about her and her coaching services at www.motivus.ca