Monday, July 25, 2016

Training on Empty: Chapter 21

Chapter 21 – Regret

“When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.” – Alexander Graham Bell.

There are those who live with no regrets. I, on the other hand, envy those people who can let go and accept the choices they have made. My life is filled with regret, bad decisions, missed opportunity and unfulfilled destiny. Change is something I don’t handle well, so even when the universe screams at me that something needs to change, I hang on and resist it as if my very life depends on it. It may be true that my decisions have made me who I am today, but I often sit and wonder what would have happened if I had done things differently. Often, I look not at how far I have come and how much I have overcome, but at how far I have fallen.

When I returned to Boulder, I was bombarded with round two of recruitment letters and calls. Word had leaked out that I was leaving BYU and offers of full-ride scholarships came rushing to my doorstep. I sometimes think that I might have become the runner I wanted to be had I stayed at Brigham Young University or headed to Colorado State or even some other unknown school instead of agreeing to attend the University of Colorado. Despite all the hard-to-resist full-ride offers from out-of-state schools, I declined. My choice was made and my fate was sealed. I accepted a half-scholarship at the University of Colorado. Had I known that my running career would stumble so harshly thereafter, I never would have returned to Boulder.

My first year at the University of Colorado was a redshirt year. I was allowed to work out with the team and compete as an unattached athlete, but could not score for the team. For most of the year I trained on my own. An agreement was made between my new coach and my former high-school coach that I would be following my high-school coach’s workouts but would occasionally work out with the college team. This arrangement worked well. My knee had healed from the surgery and by the time summer arrived, I started training for a second attempt at the Pikes Peak Ascent. I was stronger than ever and felt great when running. I set new records in training runs and in several mountain races, including the Vail Hill Climb. Both my coach and I knew that my old record was coming down that year, and I was the one most likely to break it. I established myself as a mountain runner like none other that year, but just a few weeks before the big race, disaster struck. I ended up with Giardia, a parasite that ends up living in the intestines and eventually causes vomiting, diarrhea and cramps.

I remember the day it happened so vividly. My coach and I were out on a training run. While we were waiting at the top of one of the mountain passes for the other runners to join us, he suggested I drink some water. I was very thirsty, but hoping to share a sip of Kristen’s water, as she always ran with as much equipment as she could possibly carry, including a camera, a miniature container of Kleenex and extra water for everyone. My mom had told me to never ever drink water from an outside source, even if it was at altitude, but my coach insisted it was coming from a spring and couldn’t possibly be contaminated. I hesitated and then took a few small sips. Better to avoid getting dehydrated, I thought. I accidentally got a bit of sediment in my mouth and quickly spit it out.

A few weeks later, I ran a trail race in Winter Park, Colorado. Although I won, I was not feeling well at all. Later that night, my parents rushed me to the emergency room, as I was dry-heaving after having vomited everything possible from my stomach. I was so sick that all I could think of was someone putting me out of my misery. I didn’t care how they did it; even a shotgun seemed an okay option. Upon my arrival, the emergency-room nurse told me I needed an intravenous line to help with re-hydration. In addition, she informed me that an injection of some drug would help ease the nausea I was experiencing. Then she roughly turned me over and plunged a needle into my backside, much too high, and hit my sciatic nerve. My leg shook and I felt an odd, almost electric sensation. My running career flashed before my eyes, but I was too sick to respond. I spent one miserable night in the hospital, wishing the nausea and pain would end, and returned home early the next morning, feeling shaky and weak but not suffering nearly as much.

Miraculously, I recovered in two short weeks by eating mostly white rice and well-cooked eggs. Knowing I had my big race coming up, I took only a few days completely off. I eased back into running with a short three-mile jog and quickly resumed my full training load. With just two weeks before the Pikes Peak race, I reclaimed my territory by unofficially becoming the first person to run the entire way up Mt. Elbert, the tallest peak in Colorado and the second-highest peak in the lower 48 states. It worried me that my right side was still sore from the shot, and my energy levels were erratic and unpredictable. In the week before the race I was looking visibly drawn, but I was committed to running as I didn’t want to let my coach or myself down.

On the day of the race I woke up tired. I tried to make the best of it and warm up with a good attitude, but when the gun went off I knew I was in trouble. My legs felt like lead from the start, and I was struggling before we even hit the trail one mile into the race. By the time I got above timberline I was limping. I looked at my watch: 2:40. The record was broken and I still had a good 10 minutes to go. I crossed the finish line with blood on my shirt from excessive chafing of my nipples and a limp so severe it had caused my entire right side to go numb. In addition, my left Achilles tendon was sore from compensating. I was too tired to let my full emotions go, so I sighed and headed straight for the medical tent, where officials gave me ice for my sore tendon, a blanket to keep me warm and a congratulatory pat on the back for finishing the race.

With no time or place to shower, my friend Kristen and I headed back home. We drove the two-hour trip trying to convince ourselves that despite the bad weather and disappointing finishes, we were better off for having run the race. We made it to the top and that’s what counted, at least we hoped. Trying to explain this to my coach might be another story, but for the time being, we were surprisingly satisfied. By the time I arrived home the blood and sweat on my shirt had adhered to my skin. I was exhausted and starving. I eased myself into a warm bath, fully clothed, and allowed the water to dissolve the blood sticking to my skin. I was finally able to remove my shirt and bra and wash myself fully. After dinner I was so tired I fell asleep on the carpet where I had been watching TV.

I was afraid to tell my coach about the race. Though he claimed he understood, I could hear the disappointment in his voice as I broke the news over the phone. Then, after several days of rest, something so bizarre and upsetting happened that I still have trouble comprehending it. He called me to a meeting and basically told me I was a head case and uncoachable. I didn’t understand. I had just run so well that summer, setting records and winning races. I mean sure, I blew the last race, but it wasn’t entirely my fault. Being in the hospital a few weeks before any event is not what I consider good preparation. I was so hurt by his words that I don’t even remember what I said or how I responded. I know I did my best to stand strong and remain calm. I ran home conflicted and sad, with tears welling up in my eyes. Cross-country was just around the corner and I was on my own. I wasn’t about to risk yet another injury in a program that was known to be based on too much speed work and too much mileage. As much as I wanted to stay away from overtraining, it was far too easy to get lost in the competition of who could do more when everyone around me was doing just that. What could have been the perfect time for me to regroup and take a legitimate shot at a solid running career ended up being a pivotal point in which I instead took a nose dive into the land of inadequacy and illness.

Mountain running with my coach.

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