Slow Down And Enjoy the Trail

Last year I followed Scott Jurek as he ran the 2,160 mile Appalachian Trail (AT).  He wanted to break the speed record for a supported thru-hike set by Jennifer Pharr Davis in 2011.  She completed the entire trail in 46 days 11 hours and 20 minutes.  (It normally takes hikers 5-7 months to complete the entire trail.)  Although Scott is a well-known ultra marathoner, he had a few injuries along the way.  It wasn’t in the bag that he would break the record.   Scott made it from Springer Mountain in Georgia to the AT’s north terminus at Mt. Katahdin in Maine in 46 days 8 hours and 7 minutes.   An amazing record!

This year another ultra marathoner, Karl “Speedgoat” Meltzer, is going to attempt to break Scott’s record.  Karl has won 38 100-mile races, more than anyone else in the world.  While Scott ran the AT from south to north, Karl is going to start in Maine and head south.  Not only is Karl getting himself in shape, he is rehearsing his rest stops with his support team to ensure they are as efficient as a NASCAR pit stop.  He plans to eat dinner with ice on his legs while his crew clean and tape his feet.  Sounds like ultra multitasking to me.

I understand the desire to get from Point A to Point B as fast as possible.  It seems like we have a need to do everything faster these days.  But it also makes me sad.  I consider the AT to be one of our national treasures.  The AT isn’t something one should rush through.  It should be savored like a fine wine.

An experience I had in 2013 taught me to spend more time enjoying the moment.  That year I participated with a group of women who ran Rim-to-Rim in the Grand Canyon in one day.  It was an adventure that was important to me.  I wanted to prove to myself that I could take on an extreme physical challenge and succeed.

We started out at the North Rim before daybreak, wearing headlamps,  and went down the North Kaibab Trail into the canyon.  We stopped for lunch at Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon then headed back up the South Rim via Bright Angel Trail.  I completed my Rim-to-Rim adventure in about 13 hours (including an hour stop at Phantom Ranch).  Except for that stop at the bottom of the canyon, we kept moving all day.  There wasn’t time to stop and linger to admire the view or look for the petroglyphs carved into the rock.  We had to be out of the canyon before dark.

One of my friends had tried to discourage me from doing the Rim-to-Rim before I left.  The Grand Canyon, she explained, is a beautiful place.  By running through it in one day I would not be able to really appreciate it.   I wouldn’t be able to take time to see all the different layers of rock or observe the different ecosystems within the canyon.

In hindsight I admit she was absolutely right.  I was more focused on getting from the North Rim to the South Rim as fast as possible, without getting hurt.  There were rocks everywhere along the trail and I had to be fully attentive to each step.  I spent most of the time looking at my feet.   Looking back on it, running through the Grand Canyon in one day seems wrong.  Although it was important to me at the time to run Rim-to-Rim, I wouldn’t encourage anyone else to do it.  To fully enjoy the Grand Canyon you need to spend much more time there than I did (and I was slow by Rim-to-Rim runner standards).  I plan to return to the Grand Canyon to see everything that I missed, including the petroglyphs.

So while Jennifer, Scott and now Karl scamper along the AT, I hope others take a slower route.  One that allows them to stop and listen to the birds, to pause at an overlook and enjoy the scenery.   Because there is more to life than just getting from Point A to Point B as fast as you can.

Read more about Scott’s AT adventure at his web site: http://www.scottjurek.com/appalachian-trail

Brooks Running put together this video of Scott Jurek’s 2015 Appalachian Trail speed record.

Karl has a web site – http://karlmeltzer.com – where you can read more about his achievements as well as his blog.   His sponsor, Red Bull, has set up a web page for people to follow Karl’s attempt to break the record.  It should be interesting to watch his progress.

Getting Up Again

You may have noticed that I haven’t written on my blog for the last couple weeks.  I was trying to come to terms with my latest injury.  I didn’t want to talk about it, write about it, or even think about it.   While running two and a half weeks ago, I tripped and broke my big toe.  My podiatrist told me no running, cycling, or even swimming for at least 4 weeks.  There is no way to speed things up.  I just have to rest my toe and hope for the best.

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 6.57.46 PMMy emotions went the whole gamut.  First I was frustrated.  I blurted out “Why me?” to my husband.  I immediately realized the absurdity of the comment.  I sounded like Nancy Kerrigan, the Olympic ice skater, after she was attacked prior to the 1994 Winter Olympics.  That curb I tripped over didn’t have it in for me.  Things just happen and they are out of our control.

Then I was angry. I threw my running shoes into the back of my closet.  I thought about giving up on this whole running thing, quitting my 50-State goal and no longer writing this blog.  I never broke a bone while I sat working at a desk.  Maybe I needed to get a job and go back to a sedentary life style.

Finally I became very depressed.  It took me a long time to discover running.  Now I was unable to do the very thing I loved the most. There were races that I was going to have to miss.  My half marathon in Maine in July was scratched and another one in August is questionable.   When I had mentioned the Chicago Marathon in October to my podiatrist, he was doubtful that I would be ready.  I was devastated at the thought of missing that race.   I may claim to be the funatical runner but I was neither running nor having fun.

I couldn’t think of any way to fill my days if I could not run.  When I broke my arm almost 2 years ago, I gained 5 pounds that I struggled to lose.  I feared that I was going to be reunited with those 5 pounds and maybe more.  I could only sit and read.  Let’s face it – reading is not an aerobic activity.  I was doomed.

One day the song “Tubthumping” by Chumbawamba popped in my head:

I get knocked down
But I get up again
You're never gonna keep me down

I had tried to get up again.  I tried to have a positive attitude.  I decided to stay as fit as I could by doing floor exercises like Pilates that wouldn’t require me to stand and put weight on my foot (and therefore my toe).  My running coach sent me encouraging emails.  But it was all an act.  I just couldn’t get up again.

This week I read excerpts of an interview with Meb Keflezghi where he pointed out “everybody gets hurt.”  Over the course of his marathon career, Meb has ruptured both quads, experienced Achilles tendonitis, a soleus tear, and a pelvic stress fracture.  Getting injured is “part of the sport” according to Meb but “it’s how you deal with it that matters.”  Compared to Meb’s injuries, my broken toe was nothing.

Meb’s words resonated with me.  I needed to change how I was dealing with this injury – starting with my attitude.  I could be “down-in-the-dumps, oh-woe-is-me” but that response would just be wrong.  I have a friend whose husband is battling cancer for the third time.  I have no business feeling sorry for myself because a broken toe was keeping me from running.  I am going to be out there pounding the pavement again soon enough.  I may be inconvenienced by my injury but people who are battling life-threatening illnesses like cancer have a questionable future.

It was time for me to get up again.  I started by deferring my Chicago Marathon entry until 2017.  I looked at the calendar and realized I could probably be ready for the New York City Marathon.  I secured a bib through a charity and will be running through New York City’s five boroughs in November.  I won’t be very fast but I will be able to finish the race. I got more serious about my Pilates training and started increasing the number of workouts I do each week.  When I get approval from my podiatrist to start running, swimming, and cycling, I will work with my running coach to get back into aerobic shape.  I am fortunate that I was in very good physical condition when I fell.  I should be able to bounce back quickly.

So far I have not gained any weight.  I am eating much better thanks to the wide variety of healthy vegetables and fruits available at the local farmers’ market this time of year.  I plan to add more exercises to my workout routine to help maintain my flexibility as well as strengthen my core.  From a broken toe will emerge a stronger and more grateful runner.