Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Let Go

what freedom looks like

One of my favourite movies is "A Christmas Story". The movie is about Ralph, who wants a BB gun for Christmas. At every turn - a school essay, pleading to his mother - Ralph is told no: "You'll shoot your eye out." Finally, for Christmas, he gets the BB gun. While he doesn't end up shooting himself in the eye, the result of mis-firing the gun, indirectly, results in his family's Christmas dinner getting eaten by the neighbours' dogs. This disaster doesn't faze Ralphie in the least. The movie ends with him going to bed, BB gun next to his pillow. The final voice over: despite all of the misfortunes, the BB gun was the best present ever.

Learning to trail run over the past year has been my own ongoing BB-gun story - I had big, crazy, stupid dreams that didn't exactly go as planned. And it was the best year ever.

"You'll get injured"
I ran my first ultra (and second trail race, ever) in July 2012. The race is called the Kneeknacker, which covers 30 very technical miles and 3,500m of North Shore logs, rocks, snow, and creeks. My parents were not impressed: the pounding on my knees, my weak ankles, my ability to get lost on even the Vancouver seawall (a flat concrete path along the ocean).

getting dropped by Brooke around Cypress
ice bath, post-wipe-out

My explanations, even to me, were weak. It wasn't about trails being lower impact, or the health benefits of training. The idea of the race made me feel alive -  terrified and excited in about equal measure.

Two hours into the 6.5 hour race and I jumped down from a log and didn't quite land right. I could hear my ankle crack. I finished the race on a badly sprained ankle, loosening my shoelaces every half-hour as the swelling grew.

My ankle ended up taking a month to heal. In the days that followed, my throbbing ankle woke me up at night. I hobbled to and from work in a brace. And all I could think about was getting back on the trail: the views over Howe sound from the top of the Black Mountain, how to take the drops going downhill, the smell of baking pine needles. I wanted to be gasping for breath going uphill and shaky and uncertain downhill. A week after getting injured, I signed up for a 50mile race. Three weeks later, I was back on the trails, running up mountains - with some new friends I had met from the race.

"You'll get heatstroke"

climbing up to the North Rim

In September 2012, I ran the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim with Donovan,  a guy I had known just over two weeks. I think it was our third date. Some of my friends were worried that I was about to undertake a 40k, 2,000m trail run adventure with a guy I barely knew (and, more importantly, whose athlinks profile showed that he hadn't done a trail race since 2010). The bigger worry was the heat - Early September is still very hot in the Grand Canyon, especially on the Canyon floor. And Vancouver isn't exactly a heat-training location.

The day before the Rim-to-Rim, the guy raced at 70.3 World Championships in temperatures over 38C. He got heatstroke during the race. Despite this, he still was intent on going ahead with the run (possibly because I under-sold him on both the distance and difficulty: "it's 30-something kms, a bit of climbing, might be hot on the canyon floor"). The weather forecast predicted low weather in the low 20Cs, with scattered showers - perfect running weather.

I knew the timing on the run would be a bit tight: we had exactly six hours to get from the South Rim to the North Rim.One bus left the North Rim once a day, and we had to be on it. Our flight back to Vancouver left late that night from Las Vegas.

The run started promisingly: a fun downhill as the sun warmed the canyon walls. The clouds that lingered in the distance never came, and once we hit the canyon floor, the temperature kept rising. Our pace kept slowing as we hit a gradual uphill before the big climb out of the canyon up to the north rim. Time ticked along, and we got worried that we would miss the shuttle. Then, seeing the shape that Donovan was in, I started to get worried about getting us both out of the canyon. With less than an hour to go before our bus was supposed to leave, we made a plan: I would race up to try and catch the bus, and then delay it to wait for Donovan. I have never gone uphill so damn fast - I made it to the North Rim, and then hitchhiked with some hikers back to the bus meet-up spot. I was two minutes late, and the shuttle was thankfully waiting for us.

I grabbed some cold water, and went back down the trail to meet up with Donovan. Together, we made it up to the North Rim. Donovan eventually made it out of the fetal position. The bus took us back to Las Vegas in the middle of a windstorm, with a spectacular desert sunset. We're still dating.

Take away my doubt
 I used to worry so much: What if I got lost? What if I got injured? What if I wasn't strong enough? Running makes me feel free, because I have learned what is on the other side of those fears. I have learned that things don't always go as planned. The worst case scenarios happened - and I'm still here. I got more from having things go wrong than if they had gone right.

me vs chafing - a solid win for chafing

I was able to run through the Grand Canyon on my 28th birthday: the rising buzz of cicadas, the murky river, the dusty red canyon walls. My crazy run adventure was enough to inspire my friends (and my sponsor!) to return this May to go Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim with me. (my boyfriend, perhaps wisely, has decided to sit this one out).

I raced over four hours on an injured ankle - and I discovered that I am so much stronger than I believed. I learned that my head is my most important muscle. Even injured, I had no doubt that the only place I wanted to be was back on the trails. I learned gratitude for running with a healthy body, and I became part of an amazing Vancouver trail running community.

2 months after the ankle sprain - back to going up mountains

Running has freed me from the voices in my head that tell me no, that tell me I won't make it, that tell me I'm not enough. Running has taught me that things don't have to be okay, and I'll still be okay. It has taught me to trust in myself and my ability to recover. It has taught me that setbacks can be blessings, and to look for the opportunity in sadness. It took me two tries to actually take an offseason. I got so lost on a training run with friends that we had to hike through clearcut to the top of a mountain to try and find the trail. Things will continue to go wrong. These aren't mistakes and these aren't catastrophes. This is how I learn: bruises, going back three times to check trail markings, and saying yes again and again and again.

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