“It’ll take me about 8-hours, I reckon”.
That’s what I told my friends, Katie and Simon, as we tucked into giant bowls of pasta in a cosy, if a little over-priced pub in Clifden, a tiny town on the West Coast of Ireland, and a few miles from the starting point of the 40-mile ultra-marathon we’d run the very next day.
There were hills. A lot of them. I’d read the reports of people who’d run the race in previous years. ‘The Hell of The West’, that’s what they called the climb at the 22-mile mark. I was nervous.
The date was 5th April 2014. Little did I know that just 5 months later, I’d sprain my ankle so badly that the consultant who treated me would exclaim – with a tilt of his head and a furrowed brow – “You’d have been better breaking your ankle. It would have been less of a mess.”
I actually finished the race in 7 hours and 20 minutes.
40 minutes faster than I thought. I was surprised. It hadn’t been a pleasant race by any means. I’d had to have a strong word with myself at 26 miles. I thought of quitting. I wondered why I put myself through these kinds of races, and yet through hot tears (and necking two aspirin for the pain), I stubbornly trudged on. Oh, and The Hell of The West? My hike/walk/crawl up it was accompanied by headwinds so strong, the gnarly sheep that stood at the side of the road, curiously watching me as I passed them, were practically on a 45 degree angle. And the rain. Fuck, the rain.
I arrived at the finish, hand-in-hand with Katie, already setting my sights on other races I could do that season. A faster 40-miler perhaps? A 50-mile technical trail race? A 100-miler? Maybe. I couldn’t wait to start researching them when I got home. I was consumed with races and running and getting stronger and seeing what my body really was capable of and maybe I could run faster or a bit slower but for longer and God, I love running so much, especially ultra-marathons and marathons and I just can’t wait to book ALL THE RACES!
And then I landed weird on a fucking trampoline.
Game over. Over and out. Partial-to-nearly-fully torn ligaments and deep bone bruising and not being able to walk and crutches and MRI’s and countless sessions of physiotherapy and x-rays and hospital visits.
It’s been 9 months so far. 9 months of learning not only to walk again, but in patience. I’m a pretty, ok very, impatient person and yet, when there’s nothing you can do, other than go slow, I figured very quickly that I could continually fight against what happened, about wanting my injury to heal RIGHT NOW and kick that shit out of that stupid trampoline, or I could accept, begrudgingly, that time really is the greatest healer. For both broken hearts and fucked up ankles.
This morning I ran 2 miles. It occurred to me as I made my way towards the supermarket I’d set my sights on as a marker to run towards, that I am a beginner runner again.
And it blows. Big time.
The patience I apparently learned? Out the window. Again.
Mentally, I am still the runner sitting in the cosy pub in Clifden, bawking at the €11.00 bowls of pasta, my friends by my side, excited and nervous about the ultra marathon we’d be running the next day.
Physically, everything hurts. And not in a painful way. I hurt in an everything aches because I haven’t used those muscles in 9 months way.
I am hard on myself. I think I should be able to run further than I physically can. I am irritated that I huff and puff once more, that the meager hill I jogged up this morning had me hunched over at the top of it, hands-on-shins, trying to get my breath back. I don’t want to be a beginner. For many reasons. But mainly because I don’t think I should be a beginner. I mean, I used to run ultra marathons and now? I can’t even run 5K. I emailed my friend, Laura, a few weeks ago – she’s a run coach – knowing I needed a plan of some sort to follow, to keep me on the straight and narrow. I’m goal-orientated like that, you see. I’ve tried training in a “Oh, I’ll just see how I feel like moving my body today”, and HA! I move my body to the nearest sofa and sit down.
Laura sent me a plan. A 0-5K plan. Week 1 had me running for 1 minute and walking for 1 minute. Repeat 10x. I mean, fuck, RUNNING FOR 1 MINUTE AND WALKING FOR 1 MINUTE? I USED TO RUN MARATHONS AND ULTRA MARATHONS ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?
But no, no-one’s kidding me. Other than myself.
My ego is in serious over-drive, and really, it’s ridiculous. I’m ridiculous. For expecting so much from myself – while being fully aware of just how messed up my ankle was. And all I am capable of right now is 2 miles. It’s another lesson, I know, in patience and being ok with being a beginner. I’m no longer Charlie Big Potatoes, casually knocking out a 30-miler on a Sunday morning.
This is now my reality and it’s time to physically slow down again, to trust my body as it continues to heal and gain strength.
And mentally? It’s time to stop being such an asshole to myself. To be gentle. And encouraging. And accepting.
As my friend Lucy says, sometimes you’ve just got to check your ego in at the ego coat-check.
I ran 2 miles this morning irrelevant of me being a beginner or an ultra marathon runner or a whatever else I say or think I am to validate something inside me.
I ran 2 miles. And I am glad.