I kept going. I told myself that was enough downtime. I told myself this was less training, much less at thirty miles per week. After all, I had run over 100km in twenty-seven hours on a mountain, a feat that I never thought this short human could achieve. I was stunned, probably. Nothing sank or stopped. I told myself, “what’s next is…” There was no question of “what’s next?” I told myself to stick with the plan. The month after the ultra, I published a book, THE ADVENTURES TO PAWNASSUS (November 2019) and planned a book launch. Friends, family, strangers, dogs…we laughed and played trivia about health, dogs, yoga, and books. I made up the game. There were prizes.
And then, I drafted a chunk of another book, about 40,000 words in the month of November. And, carried on with my life—family, school pick up and drop off, sports, teaching yoga, teaching Religious Exploration, other projects, accepting submissions for volume three of the yoga book, attending awards ceremonies….
Around this time, I went outside by the vitex plants for meditation. I had become increasingly infatuated with vitex after writing a short and strange fairytale, “Where Bees Sleep”, in which the plants offer a portal to another world. It’s in a bonus section, “The Changeling Stories”, in the back of The Adventures to Pawnassus. I was mesmerized by the peacefulness under the plants where hundreds of bees hung upside down while sleeping on the purple flower blooms. Dew covered the plants and the bees. Even if I blew a breath into the eyes of the bees, they slept on, as if they were bats, dangling from each stalk’s tiny blossoms and facing the rising sun. I tried to go out early in the morning before daybreak truly warmed them. The ripe moments enthralled me, and I was convinced that I was increasingly onto them. The frost crystals and sunrise invited me outside to continue.
So, of course, when the opportunity presented itself, I was ready to teach yoga at the Montgomery Bell Ringer Ultra and run the 50km. About seven weeks had passed since the Cloudsplitter. I felt great teaching yoga the night before the race. I stayed close by at my parents’ house. The next morning gave us perfect early winter conditions. Not too cold, no snow, a little mud and fog. I was exuberant. I ran with pure joy and waved to my parents through checkpoints. I felt alive and happy, and I tripped. No problem. I trip often. Something felt tingling, almost burning through my body, as I carried on and focused on each step forward. I tried to shake it off. I snagged my toes on a few places but managed to stay off the ground, lurching suddenly forward sometimes. I walked for a few minutes and grounded until everything felt steady and ready to go again. Slowly, I trotted, faster, a little pickup, until it was alright. I settled into my stride, then I tripped and fell. I fell hard. My chest barreled into a tree branch. I was up and going, but I couldn’t seem to breathe any life into my legs with momentum. I tripped again and the pulse sent a shock of heat and fear through my face. My feet kept tripping on everything. I walked. I walked, trying not to ask too many questions, staving off the, “Why so many falls?” concern of my inner wisdom. I trotted again, passed a Santa Claus in the forest, and that made me laugh. High five, running. I regained my confidence, knowing I was headed out of this section soon. I made it to an aid station, distance from the mountain bike trails, and I was refocused.
Okay, I was going to be fine. I refueled, talked to some people at the aid station, saw my parents, and headed out, taking my time. I was going through the motions but instead of recovering as I usually could while going slowly through the process, I felt more and more depleted. I stumbled and fell a few more times, just while walking and once while taking a picture. I tried all of the checklist–I was hydrated, I was fueled, I had electrolytes, and I tried my usual program in a pinch–gum, music, that tree up there, lucky to be in motion, gratitude list, counting breaths, taking pictures. Usually, one in that list will fix everything and the bliss of running can resume for a while. This time, the unexpected happened: Chills. Shaking. “No!” That’s the worst anytime, but nothing worked to make them stop. I ran to get warm and fell again, sprawled out around by the lake. “It doesn’t make sense when it isn’t even that cold, and I haven’t even gone very far compared,” I told myself these things, teeth rattling. By this time, my frustration was at a high, but beyond that, I also knew that I was mostly frustrated because I knew that I needed to stop. I knew that I shouldn’t have run this far in a race without more time between ultras. I knew this truth suddenly was within me, and I was giving in to it. The chills and shakes made it harder for me to focus, challenging for me to keep good footing even while walking. As soon as I saw my parents at a road crossing, I got in the SUV. I called it and let the race director know that I was dropping out and going quickly to warmth. I couldn’t stop shaking and told my dad to pull over so I could throw up.
I slept for a few days and weeks, really. I mourned the loss of the second half of the Bell Ringer and my love of the trails that I wanted to run so much. I yelled at myself, but went back to sleep. I was bruised, hobbling, and sore from falling so often. I completely paused my running and writing. I slept until 1 pm. My husband picked up the pieces that I had to sit down for a while.
I allowed the exhaustion to take over, but it made me sad. Sweating is inspiration for me, and running influences my mind and that determines how and when I write. “I have an addiction,” I told my husband. “I need to sweat and I’m an endorphin junkie for it, and I don’t know how to get through this. I feel so much happier after I’ve been active.” I didn’t enjoy the plunge of rest, the deep ravine that came after the mountain. I had expected the Cloudsplitter 100km (actually 69 miles) to crush me while I was there, but it was like a hungry ghost in waiting, pausing, lingering, and unexpectedly, I was hit with the weight and depth of it. I suppose that you can’t go into places like that without coming out of them a little torn for the wear, but I thought maybe I’d made it, been given a lucky pass that had allowed me to do just that.
This assumption wasn’t correct. I learned an important lesson in my own training, and that’s the length of total rest and relaxation that I need between big moments of exertion. My body’s chemistry was all mixed up, and I hadn’t recognized that the moment was ripe for rest. My hormones, my vitamin and mineral levels, everything needed time to replenish. Finishing a book and drafting a new one are mentally draining and that also depletes the resources of the body as well as feelings of vitality and peak performance. I didn’t feel typical feelings of failure because I know better than that. Yet, I still felt plagued by my lack of discernment to realize what I was asking from my body, but I also felt satisfied at allowing myself to go through the process naturally, with the plan that I thought was good for me, especially since it was my first ultra of this caliber at the same time as the growth of my writing practice.
Without trying the other ultra so close to the previous finish, I wouldn’t have known what I needed regarding a deeper level of rest. I would have wondered “what if?” had I not pushed myself with all of the activities at that time.
The process led me here, to the decision that I don’t want to repeat that learning experience, and I will give myself adequate rest between action. After over a month of rest and relaxation, which included walks and mild core exercises, I am finally recharged inside. I picked up my cross training, something recommended to help my running by G who I met during the Cloudsplitter. I started biking about ten hours a week, and I love it. I’m back running on the trails, too, but with less mileage right now. I took my running to the treadmill so that I can evaluate it. It works like sensory deprivation therapy for me–running inside on a treadmill facing a block wall, but when I turn the treadmill, there’s a window where I can see the vitex, a reminder to rest. I can focus on my body without any of the distractions of the trail for some of my training.
Before this happened, I continued to increase my trail running mileage and writing output in order to achieve more goals. I would make it to a milestone and plan for the next one, then keep moving. I didn’t stop to truly celebrate. I didn’t stop to soak in the rewards on a deeper level, one that’s rejuvenating for the whole body. In my evaluations, I also realized that happened around the time when I stopped drinking alcohol. While not drinking is wonderful for my training and focus, I didn’t realize how much celebratory events truly are intertwined with alcohol. When the drinks got pitched from my experience, my celebrations no longer included the rest that often came with time off for drinks.
So, I started going through the list of what provided me with rest and inspiration, as well as what made me feel celebratory—-being in the presence of my family and strolling along without a task, laughing with my husband, watching and experiencing dance, music, and art performances, simply observing in nature for no reason, eating fresh fruits and vegetables, eating cake, building bonfires, dancing, and playing on playgrounds. I’ve been enjoying all of those, and the awareness that it is satisfying to stop and bask in completion without looking forward, simply being tired and happy at the end of rewarding work.
Note: The Montgomery Bell Ringer Ultra 50km is a beautiful and fun race that I have completed in the past. Here’s a blog about that experience.
I keep thinking of something too, in relation to our running. Running IS therapy. I get the feeling that the Cloudsplitter 100km was therapy. It was a way to process things, to show yourself things, to celebrate your journey. You put your body, your soul and your mind through the therapeutic ringer. I think this next journey of slowing down, or being forced to slow down, is allowing all that work you did to settle: to just settle in and continue to work it’s magic on you. Slow is good. Allowing yourself to bath in your accomplishments and feats is good. Knowing that everything you have done and accomplished is enough. You are enough. You are perfectly you as a human BEing.
And, I loved the description of the vitex and the bees!!! Love. Love. Love.
Thank you, Jennie! I’m so glad that you enjoyed it. Yes, the downtime has been a real challenge for me, but I know it is good for me. I am hoping that I truly learn to accept stillness and being slow and take it easy, and stop striving in so many aspects of my life. This is a huge lesson for me, and I am more at ease with it every day.