More so: What does one do after Western States?
And what if that person, at Western States, had the race of her life, surprising herself, until mile 90. It was around then, the back of her knee gave out, and eventually her entire left leg became an immovable, burden of an appendage, and her race ended around mile 93. In running, we call this a DNF: did not finish. Stigmas surround DNFs—was it an emotional blowup? Did she quit? Was it mechanical?
Physical Road to Recovery
Fast forwarding through a race recap, here’s what’s up currently.
After a week of doing no exercise, other than biking a half mile to the pub one day this week, I tried to hike and run a little downhill while in the mountains. A tester to see if my leg/hamstring/back of knee is healing.
I had felt fine walking around all week almost to the point that I wondered if it was, in fact, my hamstring that blew up. During the race, I was convinced it was my upper calf, because pain had started there around mile 70 and I began compensating for bad blisters around 35. By 80, I was sporadically grabbing the back of my knee and upper calf, and when 89 hit, I was grabbing the back of my knee for all of those final agonizing miles.
But the morning after my race ended, a medical helper had told me that it was likely my lower hamstring attachment that was strained. Made sense. In my mind, I went with it, have treated my hamstring aggressively, and have hoped that when I tried to do more than walk to and from the kitchen, I’d be okay.
Not the case. Upon the first step I took running downhill this past weekend, one week post-States, I felt that exact searing sensation that ended my race. I’m equally as puzzled as I was during the race. I cannot straighten my leg without the stabbing.
“No, it’s not your hamstring,” my acupuncturist and physical therapist friends said. “It’s probably your popliteus.”
“A tiny muscle buried three muscles deep in the back of your knee.”
Thus begins the process of getting an accurate diagnosis and treating the problem.
Even though I’m only 25, I feel like I’ve run a thorough gamut with injuries. As I wrote on this blog earlier this year, as only a sophomore in college, I was sidelined for over 10 months with a patella cartilage hole. Since then, I’ve had stress fractures, tendonitis from my groin to my feet, chronic sprained ankles, muscle strains, you name it.
I like to think that I’ve had enough bodily tweaks to realize that running cannot be intrinsically linked to my happiness.
Yet, as I sit here, now almost two weeks after Western States, I’m not outstandingly happy. Yes, I’m bummed about the outcome of the race, but I’m more concerned with the fact that I’m still injured, and I don’t have a timeline for when I’ll be able to run, let alone train again.
I try to think positively, knowing that I have time before CCC (a 100k version of UTMB in Chamonix, France on September 1st), but it’s hard to stay super duper happy when I can’t run. No matter how supposedly mature-with-injuries I become, I don’t think not being able to run will ever get any easier.
So anyways, that’s where I’m at physically.
Mental and Emotional Road to Recovery
I’ve been surrounded by dear friends and family since the race, had many laughs and fond recollections of the highlights of States.
I’ve celebrated Cat’s win with our Boulder crowd of crazies, collectively relishing in her seminal accomplishment.
I’ve also had many, many retellings, in person and via text, messenger, and email, of my final three or so miles when everything stopped. And via this podcast with my awesome friends at the Southeastern Trail Runner.
In my playbacks of the race, I’ve learned way more than I ever would have had I finished on the podium. DNFs force you to learn, whether you like it or not. I suppose I’m grateful for the forced looking back.
One thing I didn’t expect from this race is my understanding of my mental-ness. I went into States a bit unsure of my fitness, as I knew I didn’t feel as strong as I had felt going into Leadville last year.
I was dealing with a touch of chronic fatigue, unexplained high heart rates, a bit of manic moodiness, all mixed with really quality workouts. So the months leading up to States were a confusing smorgasbord of feedback that made me physically unsure entering States.
Now, in hindsight, I realize that in order to compensate for my physical uncertainty, or maybe just lack of confidence, I knew everything would come down to what’s above my shoulders.
Preparing With Blinders On
Two weeks before States, I honed in more than I ever have in my life. I prepared my mind for States more thoroughly, but recklessly, than I knew I was capable of. It was not all for the better.
I committed to doing-away with any and all fluff leading into the race, assuming I would have a heightened sense of clarity. I extinguished anything that I thought was a distraction.
Running-wise, it worked. I went into the race extremely confident that my mental strength would make up for any physical deficits. The night before the race, I told myself I was capable of winning. That confidence came from my two-week crash course in self-belief and focus.
During the race, I felt more challenged than I ever had in my life, but I stepped up to the plate, mile after mile, until I couldn’t out-mental the challenges anymore.
Yet, in those weeks leading up to States, I didn’t process any emotions unrelated to the race, let alone ask myself if I was ignoring non-States related parts to my life, i.e. important relationships.
Even though I can come across as a carefree jokester and as someone who doesn’t take herself too seriously when it comes to running, internally, I was far from that. Realizing, in hindsight, that I was far from balanced is almost as painful as my DNF.
Thus, before my next big race, I aim to not shut out everything and anything unrelated to my mental race preparations. With time, I hope to learn!
Cheers to everyone recovering, training, and just being.