Injuries are an inevitable part of any sport, especially ultrarunning, due to the demands it puts on our bodies and the nature of its participants. Ultrarunners embrace ultraruning as a long-term lifestyle and are always on a quest to push the limits of what is possible, in distance, overall mileage, completion of ultras and speed. Even if we avoid injury for many years, at some point, time and age catch up to us, and a decade later, something gives out. For me, this was my left ankle, and the real culprit was excessive abuse in my teens and 20s at other sports. But ultimately after a few DNFs and pain with every step I opted for surgery on April 23, 2013, a day I’ll never forget.
The surgery, although it addressed four different issues, was “successful” and I was running again three months later. But it frequently hurts and running hasn’t been the same. I work on it a lot and try new things – shoes, taping, massage, chiropractic adjustments, physical therapy, icing, proprioception exercises, even ultrasound and lasers. But what I mostly do is complain about it. And that’s the real problem.
One of the great lessons of ultrarunning is the power of a positive attitude, and it is, after all, one of the few things in life we can actually control. At a recent 100-mile race I badly rolled that left ankle in mile 6. It was a doozy. But I didn’t stop running, because if I had, I don’t think I would have made it to the finish. Not because of the pain, but because of my brain. The mental anguish and frustration flooded into me like a tsunami. Prior to the race I had taped the ankle and it was ensconced in a tight compression sock too. Sure each step hurt a bit, and more importantly I had to be extra careful with every step now to make sure I didn’t do it again. But the real bugaboo was in my head. The negative thoughts and self-pity were raging, “why me, why now, am I ever going to get over this chronic problem and run well again, like the old days?” Fortunately the only negative thing I wouldn’t let my brain ask was, “how am I going to run over 90 miles on this thing?” And with each step the pain was a little less.
It took me about 25 more slow miles and the boost of seeing my wonderful crew and supportive friends at aid stations, until the ankle was out of my head and I was positive and feeling good. From miles 31 to about 70 I had a wonderful time floating along that trail. And towards the end I had a wonderful, memorable bonding time with my loving pacers. And the reality is that I ended up running the race that met my fitness and desire on that day (and night)!
But the lesson for me was that even if things don’t go as I would like them to, I still can have a meaningful and positive experience if I keep a positive attitude and don’t dwell on things outside of my control. Worries and frustrations about injury, and for me these days, aging as a runner, are things that I can’t allow to hijack my attitude. They are what they are, and I cannot wave a wand to make them go away. But I can choose to focus on what is going well, what can get better and all of the blessings in my life. The fact is I still get to do this sport and push myself forward to new, maybe different, goals and experiences with great friends, new friends and people I love.
A positive attitude is key in life, and in ultrarunning this only seems to be even more so as the miles pile on and the years roll by.
In this issue the themes of recovery, overcoming injuries and keeping a positive attitude are woven throughout the magazine. I hope you enjoy it!