This week marks four months since I was out running the trails of the Berkshires. Our rough winter weather has been a nuisance for my recently cracked sternum, but I’ve been told that the discomfort gets better. While boot camp classes and elliptical machines are a decent substitute, for me, nothing beats jogging through nature.
There is something about trail running that reaches into my soul, circles my heart and appears on the edges of my eyes while I grin at the sun. Inspiration comes from many places, but when you take up a new venture the challenge to succeed has to originate from inside if it will have lasting meaning. I have toyed with personal challenges like hiking to a mountain peak, trail running certain distances, but they have always been marks I set for myself kept to myself…until now.
My open heart surgery occurred on Friday, January 13th and added another frightening notch in a belt of a number that has been considered unlucky for centuries. In addition to that date, my wife recently informed me that there were 13 people in the waiting room during my eight-hour surgery (it’s a wonder I made it out alive).
Numbers, even anniversaries are different now. They pass through me like a train passes by while you stand on the platform. You acknowledge the passing train and know that another will be coming by soon and may have your name on it. You glance at the train, then look away and bring your focus back to whatever is currently pressed on your mind.
Passing through another Friday the 13th a few days ago Sunie and I talked over breakfast about the day of my surgery. We didn’t talk in big bold letters as I am wont to do at times when I tell the stories of those precious few days where breathe balanced perilously on the brink.
Acknowledging that day when it appears is a healthy practice. Life gives us all some very unpleasant situations to deal with, and allowing them to consume us adds to stress and puts us in a dangerous cycle that can be hard to extricate from.
I ended up acknowledging my scary day of 13 by signing up for a trail race. Yes, that feels as weird to write as it does to say, the last time I ever remember racing in any capacity was during high school basketball practice. Back in those days the last place finisher in the sprints portion of practice had to do more sprints, so my only incentive was to finish second to last, an honor I claimed nearly every time.
Trail running has been a potent activity that kept me moving last year during my recovery. I signed up or this race for many reasons, the main one is I have been toying with the notion of such an act for months now, and thinking and talking about doing things is so very last year while actually doing things is far more hip, not to mention healthy.
We all have things we would like to accomplish. We face challenges every day and how we climb those hills helps define us as people. For 98% of trail runners winning the race is not the object. Getting out in nature, enjoying the camaraderie of fellow runners and overcoming our individual obstacles are just some of the reasons people gather at these events (plus you usually get a cool t-shirt if you finish).
Now for the good part; my maiden voyage at a trail race will be this June very close to home in Pittsfield and it just happens to be called Vegan Power. You don’t have to be vegan to run it but all the pre and post-race snacks I was assured will be vegan, ,and while meeting fellow plant nerds has proven hard in our new community, I am sure I will be running with some of them in less than 10 weeks.
Crap, 10 weeks. I need to start training. Trail races come in all shapes and sizes, this particular one consists of a 50K distance and a 25K distance. I’m unsure as to why we use kilometers so often for race running in the United States but I gather because the sound of K is much softer, and gentler than saying MILES. In fact if you told me to choose running 25 Ks or 15.5 MILES I would undoubtedly pick the 25 Ks (they are the same thing).
Crap again. 15.5 miles? Who signed me up to run over 15 miles over the sticks, stones, grass, and dirt?
You may be wondering how long I have run on my own now that we have established this is my first race. Well, let’s see, without stopping I’ve made it about two miles on the trails. Then I’ve walked awhile and run a little more. Last year I peaked two mountains (my term, not sure if that’s a thing, yet) and had a dozen trail outings that clocked over 10 miles. But never 15, and never in a race, you know, with competitive juices flowing, possible urine wanting to flow and most likely tears in major flow mode.
I have no idea if I am up for this challenge in what will be 17 months after open heart surgery, not to mention a long, slow recovery. And I have no idea if I will even finish this race. As much as I am looking forward to answering those doubts I am not sure if that is what this is all about.
As I continue to travel the road of a bypass survivor I have encountered many people with attitudes steeped in defeat, frustration, and self-doubt. Continuing to heal and push beyond the boundaries set by conventional wisdom is something I have been setting my sights on since this past August.
I have a strong feeling that many of us have things that we would like to accomplish but we get derailed and fall behind. We worry far too much of what others might think of us and end up making excuses along the way and playing what if and what could have been more often than we would like. I share those pains and would love to hear from you and find out about some of the goals you are pursuing and challenges you are looking to run through this year.
For me this last 15 months between Friday the 13ths has been a magical ride filled with every conceivable undertaking and emotion. Each step is an opportunity to explore myself and uncover something that I would have missed if my eyes were closed.
As I begin this journey running on plants in the spirit of shared energy and enjoyment for all creatures I will make sure to keep you posted in the updates section of this site and I sincerely hope you join me in meeting your challenges, physical or otherwise, as we turn the page from one season to another.