“She understands. There is nowhere to go but on. Still, part of her longs to go back.”
Celeste Ng, “Everything I Never Told You”
It’s been 3 weeks since my last run.
For me, like so many others, running has been my escape, my outlet – a way to process my emotions in a healthy way and enable me to handle the everyday stressors of life. Without it, I feel lost, restless, agitated and anxious.
I was so hopeful coming off of Pittsburgh’s Marathon weekend but, as it turns out, wrapping my spinal injuries up in a corset and taking them for a run is actually not a good longterm solution. In fact, it sounds even crazier to me, now that I’ve spelled it out in black and white. Like placing bandaids on bullet holes – the damage is still there, beneath the surface, and just because you’ve covered it up does not mean that it’s better now, or that it ever will be again.
I recently had an MRI and the results were not what I had hoped for. It’s opened my eyes to the fact that my body is currently not healing properly and continuing to push through my workouts (even with significant modifications) is not helping – in fact, it’s actually making me worse. It’s time for me to finally accept what needs to be done and find a way to process through it.
I remember the very first session I ever had with Dr. Michael, nearly 20 years ago. The observation he made about me was spot on.
“You don’t handle ambiguity well, do you?”, he asked.
Me: “Wait – what do you mean?”
I’ve come a long way since then, but lately I feel a bit lost in my own mind. I find myself depending upon some very basic mindfulness techniques just to get through some days. Things I’ve learned during the most stressful period in my life – anything simple and easy, yet strong enough to ground me and bring me back to NOW, rather than all the would-a, could-a, should-a’s that play themselves over and over in my mind. Or all the unanswered questions and fears about the future, dancing in the distance, clothed in everything frightening and unknown.
The truth is, no one ever thinks about this side of a skydiving accident. Generally speaking, we think in terms of Life or Death. I, on the other hand, have been forced to face this middle ground – that “grey area”, where things are mostly alright, yet still terribly wrong. Yes, I am alive and functional – but I will never be my formerly known version of “normal” again. Learning to accept this realization comes with the uncomfortable truth that I may never again be physically capable of doing all the things I love to do. This is something that I, unfortunately, must now sit with.
Sit with it, and settle into the discomfort.
Sit with it, as my soul screams inside.
Sit with it, until it settles down.
Sit with it, until the screams subside.
Sit with it… but never, ever surrender completely unto it.
There is still so much life all over the place! This is a reminder I often need. Even when I forget it, even when I choose to ignore it- Life is still here. Waiting on me, waiting for me – and waiting for you, too.
Take a moment today, even if just a second, to notice that Life surrounds you. Maybe it’s comforting? Maybe it’s warm? Maybe, in this moment, it pisses you off? Maybe it’s just there – neutral, holding you. Just notice it. It’s always here. It’s always there. It’s literally everywhere, just waiting for you to remember… and come back to it.
“There is no worth in a candle without a flame, and we only add the flame when there is darkness. Without darkness, there would be no need for warriors and angels. Warriors are not made because the whole world is happy and angels were not formed because there are no demons. Be of worth, have a flame.”
C. JoyBell C.
They say the Universe will continue to give you the same challenge to face in many different ways, over and over, until you learn the lesson beneath the surface.
I feel like the Universe keeps challenging me with detachment and letting go – holding on loosely enough so as never to lose myself.
I thought I had it handled. I thought I understood what it meant. Perhaps I haven’t truly gotten the point though, because recent events most certainly have me rattled.
A few years back, I read a book called “The Surrender Experiment” by Michael Singer. It was recommended to me by a friend whom I admire greatly. She understood the concept captured between its pages and was able to apply it to her own life in order to achieve some phenomenal personal growth. I could also understand the context of this interesting and true story – but my soul deeply rejects the extent to which this man accepted the concept of surrendering his life to the workings of the Universe.
While I do believe it is a great waste of time and energy to worry about things which we have no legitimate control over, I also believe it is up to each of us, as individuals, to decide what we truly want for our lives – and then to do everything in our power to create or maintain it. Michael Singer did just that. However, when other people or other things happened to fall upon his path, he did not reject them. He simply accepted them as is, and allowed them in, despite the fact that they were not what he had intended for or planned upon, nor were they what he wanted for his life.
The story does not end badly as a result of this surrendering, and never does he admit to being unhappy, miserable, or tortured as a result… but, this kind of passivity simply does not resonate with me.
Maybe the point really is to simply let go and learn to be peace, light, love, and joy despite any of the happenings that come upon us? Maybe I haven’t truly learned the full circumference of this lesson and will be forced to face such things again? Maybe I’m just not there yet? But, right now, I feel like you’d be a fool not to fight for all the things you love – all the people, places, activities and things that ignite that fire inside you and fuel your desire to live. The things that bring you joy and peace and inspire you to love and share your love with the world. These are the things that matter the most – not your willingness to roll with the punches and allow them to be taken away.
Why would you ever just let it all go if you are, in fact, a better person because of it all? Why would you be passive, rather than aggressive, when it comes to fighting for what you love?
I mean, why else are we here if not to live with unreasonable passion for things?
What else is it all for, if not simply to be enjoyed?
Moral of my story: hold on loosely, but never let go.
They tell you not to cry – he’s just a dog, not a human being.
They tell you that “the pain will be over” – that animals don’t know they have to die, and it’s important not to let him suffer.
They tell you that “now there is no more pain” – that you can adopt another dog and you will forget all about this moment that you are in right now.
But they don’t know how many times you’ve looked into your dog’s eyes – or how many times you and your dog have turned and looked into that darkness alone.
They don’t know how many times your dog was the only one who was by your side – or how many times he slept in your bed or within arms reach on the floor right beside you.
They don’t know the fear you feel when you’ve awakened suddenly from sleep, to look for and listen to him in the darkness of night.
They don’t know how much you’ve changed since your dog has become a part of your life.
They don’t know how many times you’ve hugged him when he was sick, or how many times you’ve pretended not to see his face getting whiter or his eyes clouding over.
They don’t know how many times you’ve talked to him – the only one who truly listens and never judges.
They don’t know that it was only your dog who always knew when you were in pain.
They don’t know how much he loves you and how it was always enough for him to be happy, simply knowing that you loved him back.
They don’t know what it feels like to see your old dog struggling to stand up just to greet you with his toe-tapping, tail-wagging “Hello”.
They don’t know that, when absolutely everything was going wrong, the only one who didn’t walk away was your dog.
They don’t know how much your dog has trusted you in every single moment of his life – especially his very last.
They don’t know that crying for your dog is one of the most noble, significant, truest things that you will ever do.
They don’t know that the last time you moved him, you made sure it didn’t hurt.
They don’t know what it feels like to hold his head in the final moments of his life knowing that, as you pet him and kiss his face for the very last time, an irretrievable piece of your heart was departing with him.
“They” don’t know any of these things – but you do. And how lucky are you to have had a friend that makes saying “Goodbye” so damn hard.
(*Edited and adapted from the original poem by Emanuele Spud Grandi.)
“We must always welcome the end of all things – for sometimes, knowing that nothing lasts forever, is the only way that we can learn to fall in love with all the moments and the all people that are meant to take our breath away!”
My name is Runner, but you can call me “RunRun”. I’m a retired racing greyhound. You probably already “know” me from social media. My humans tend to post a lot of photos of me and, way back in the day, they even created my own hashtag:
I was born on January 15, 2010, the largest in my litter. I was bred to run, but born to love. They named me “AMF One And Done” and started training me right away. I competed in 100 races during the first 3 years of my life, traveling all the way from St. Petersburg, Florida to Wheeling, West Virginia. I’ve won 10 of those races and placed “Top 3” in 46 of them. It was fun in the beginning but, after awhile, I had to make it clear – I’m a lover, not a runner.
I retired at the age of 4 and, by the time I was 5, I met Mary, (aka “the matchmaker”) at Going Home Greyhounds. She’s interviewed many applicants throughout the years but, this time, she knew exactly with whom I belonged.
I met my humans in April of 2015, and it was love at first sight! We moved in together immediately. Time really does fly by when you’re having fun – and we sure have had a lot of really good times throughout the years!
They’ve shown me what it’s like to be loved – and I mean, REALLY LOVED! Not because of how fast I can run or how many races I can win, but simply because I’m me – and who could not love ME?! They used to call me the “gentlest giant” and, weighing in at 98 lbs. when they adopted me, they really were not wrong. Most greyhounds don’t get that big. They just smiled and said there was more of me to love!
I am very patient, highly sensitive, and I avoid conflict as if it were the plague. We have several cats that live in our home, but I pay them no mind – so long as the fluffy one doesn’t bite my legs. A couple of years ago, we adopted my brother, Quint – he likes to play with toys, so I gave him all of mine. Sometimes he steals my favorite bed, but the humans have taught us both to share.
I’d like to think I’ve taught them a thing or two, as well. Like how to live in the moment, right here, right now – not worrying about the past or wondering about the future. Sometimes, I think that maybe I’ve done TOO GOOD of a job at teaching them this…because, sometimes, they seem to forget that nothing lasts forever. Not even me.
I’m 12 & 1/2 years old now, which is like – I don’t know, “really old” in human years. The fur on my face is almost completely white, but I still love it when they kiss me. Mama tells me that I have “almond eyes” and I can almost see, looking deeply into her’s, how they really do reflect back at me.
My back now hurts a little and I like to sleep a lot. Sometimes my joints will swell and I’ll struggle to get up. But I still love it when my people touch me, scratch my neck, or rub my ears. I like when they take naps with me, and throw pillows at the kitty who’s always sneaking up to attack.
My toes might drag when I walk, but I still prance when it’s time for treats. I’ve lost a lot of weight this year, despite how much I eat. My skin hangs off me now – like a well-worn, favorite T-shirt, stretched out so far that it no longer fits. I know that this saddens them, but they still tell me I’m beautiful and, as always, I believe them.
I gave them the biggest scare this past week and, I’m afraid, I may have taken it too far. It’s hard to watch them suffer, but now I am suffering too. I can not live forever. They’re going to miss me when I’m gone. When the time comes for me to be on my way, I need to know that they’ll be strong.
I need to know they’ll be okay – and ready to make the call. So I’ve stressed them hard, I’ve made them cry. I’ve pushed them to the brink of whispering goodbye. I had to be certain, and they need to understand, that sometimes the greatest love you will ever know can only be expressed by the grace of letting go.
We’re getting by on borrowed time now. Truth is, there’s not much left. Let’s be grateful for every day we spend together… even if hours are all we get.
It’s no secret that running has been a struggle for me since becoming injured 11 months ago. To this day, my spinal injuries have yet to be fully diagnosed. Xrays show compression fractures to T-10, T-11, and T-12, as well as, a probable traumatic lower lumbar spondylolisthesis. We are awaiting the full diagnostic report on an MRI that is to be taken next week. In the process of trying to heal while still remaining active, I have re-discovered a lot of very simple truths.
First and foremost: YOU DO NOT NEED TO BE EXTREME – JUST CONSISTENT.
This applies to practically everything, but especially exercise. Twice per week, I show up at FitBody BootCamp and do what I can. Sure, I have to modify a lot. I don’t lift nearly as heavy on the weights as the majority of their other clients do, and I focus more on maintaining good form than I do on maxing out reps or going for multiple speed rounds. But this is what works for me. This is how I am able to keep going and not injure myself further.
Four days per week, I run. A year ago, that would have meant any number of things – easy runs, tempo runs, speed intervals, long slow distance… but always 100% running with little to no walk breaks. Now? Well, it is what it is – and even I don’t know what it is or what it will be until I lace up my shoes and take a few steps. Nowadays, I always start out walking… then I test my back out with a slow paced run. Some days it’s good and I can run for several miles. Some days it’s not so good and I am humbled back down to a walk. Some days I can go fast and it feels better that way – other days, 10:00 – 10:30/mile is the best that I can do. I’ve learned to include regular walk breaks in order to reassess and readjust my running form, even if I don’t feel like I need them. I’ve learned (the hard way!) how vital these little checks and balances are for me now… because what’s the point of one “good” run, if it takes my body an entire week to recover from it?
Needless to say, my physical training for the half marathon in Pittsburgh this year has been much less intense than previous years. Mentally, however, I did not need to prepare myself at all. I’d made up my mind that this was something I was going to do and it didn’t matter what kind of day I was having – good or bad, for better or worse, I was going to run this course. So I did – and I give all the credit for my positive experience to the fact that, day in and day out, I have remained CONSISTENT. I may not be able to do everything that I want to do, or in the way in which I would like to do it – but that will never stop me from doing all the things that I CAN do in the meantime.
Another major factor in my positive Pittsburgh half marathon experience this year has to do with CLEAN EATING HABITS.
John L. Parker Jr. once wrote that “if the furnace was hot enough, anything would burn – even Big Macs.” – meaning that distance runners could, if they ran enough, eat pretty much whatever they wanted and still stay healthy and lean. But this really isn’t the case at all. The truth is, you simply can not outrun a bad diet. Your body does not lie, and poor nutrition will always show – perhaps not always in your physical appearance, but most certainly in the way that your body physically functions and athletically performs.
Since becoming injured, clean food choices and accurate portion control have become even more important for me. It’s a lot easier to keep excess weight off your body when you’re running marathon distances and training for events, but take that ability away and you simply can not continue to consume foods on the same level and not expect to gain weight. In these past 11 months, I’ve lost a lot of muscle tone and strength due to the severity of my injuries and the absolute need for several months of rest in order to recover – but I have still been successful at maintaining a healthy weight. I’m definitely not where I want to be, or hope to be again someday, but I’m proud of my ability to read labels, plan meals, and prepare well, day in and day out. This year, my husband has even joined me in this endeavor, taking an active role in improving his own diet and health. He’s lost a significant amount of weight, no longer suffers from acid reflux, and hardly even snores anymore! We both love the way it feels to eat a primarily plant based diet with just a few servings of fish per week.
And now, the CORSET – which is kind of a funny story.
I’ve struggled with my spinal injuries so much these past 11 months that, on one particularly “bad” day, I found myself popping open the prescription bottle of painkillers left over from my previous surgeries to repair my shattered wrist. I know that this is not a longterm solution. It’s literally the equivalent of placing a bandaid on a bullet hole, and that is not how I want to live out the rest of my life. I am not one to take medications. It’s actually a really big deal for me to pop a single ibuprofen but, on this particular day, I knew that it just wouldn’t be enough. I went straight for the Schedule 2 opioid narcotics.
That was a wake-up moment for me.
I have seen way too many good people go down this road and I sure as hell do not want to be one of them! I began my search for the best neurosurgeon in the Pittsburgh area and I made the call. They listened to my story, pulled my previous medical records, and ordered diagnostic tests. They have already prefaced me for the probable need for surgery at this point and, pending the results of next week’s MRI, we will schedule an appointment to discuss my potential options. Spinal surgery is something that I am not particularly confident in or, in any way, comfortable with. I can not say that I will agree to this – but I am open to exploring the possibility of some less conventional, “experimental” treatments – like PRP or Stem Cell Therapy. Regardless, all of this information had me researching the details of surgical interventions, statistics, and outcomes. While they seem to boast a high rate of pain relief, the recovery does not seem particularly promising to me – meaning that high-impact activities, like running, are still cautioned against, and athletes who have returned to running did so about 6-months post surgery but still required spinal bracing in order to tolerate it.
Wait. Spinal bracing? Why hadn’t I thought of this?
I immediately began my search for a highly recommended back brace suitable for running. There was literally nothing in stock in any store within 100 miles of me! All of the sudden I had an epiphany – why not wear a corset? Adapt and overcome, right? This was Saturday afternoon. With less than 24 hours left before the race, I decided that I was going to test this out on race day, as an experiment. I found an old corset that I had from a previous costume party, several years ago. Not the personally fitted, cinch me up and make me look sexy kind of corset – but, rather, the wrap me up and hold me tight, spanx like, body shaping kind of corset that can be found in the lingerie section of your local KOHL’s department store.
I told Strealy about the corset as we were preparing to head downtown, early Sunday morning. I warned her that, if it was too uncomfortable or impeded my breathing, I would need to stop, take it off, and throw it away. But, as Strealy and I took off running through the first few miles of the race, I quickly realized that this was an absolutely genius idea! I felt amazing and we were running way faster than we, realistically, should have been.
We made our first stop just shy of the 3-mile mark. A small group of incredible men had set up a “hydration station” and were handing out dixie cups of beer – I.C. Light has never tasted so good!
A few site-seeing murals, high-fives and hugs from friends spectating along the course and we were off and running again!
The weather was interesting, to say the least, with an ever changing mix of light rain, heavy downpours, sunshine and rainbows, followed by thunder and lightning, periodically steamy conditions, and some light fog. We incorporated multiple walk breaks in order to stretch and reset, as Strealy is also nursing chronic pain from a previous spinal injury of her own. Just two years ago, this incredible woman could barely even walk! Yet, on this day, she was running a half marathon right by my side!
Miles 4, 5, and 6 ticked by and I was still feeling very little pain! The corset that I was wearing offered great comfort through compression and and stability, preventing any excessive leaning or twisting movements originating from my spine.
Strealy, however, was in a significant amount of pain and, by Mile 7, I was begging her to let me give her the corset. If it helped me so much for the first half of this race, perhaps it could help her suffer less in the final half? Stubbornly, she refused. Like the natural born warrior that she is, she insisted upon pushing through her own pain rather than allowing me to increase the amount of mine.
We entered Mile 8 and she became very quiet. I was a few steps ahead, pacing us forward, but in my mind, I was right there beside her. I know the “pain cave” very well and I know that nothing anyone says can or will pull you through it. You have to find your own way through. In moments like these, it’s best to simply share the silence. In quiet support, I watched her and waited as she found the strength to power through.
We entered the South Side and another locally famous mural at Mile 9 offered us a photo-op!
Mile 10 was filled with cupcakes and cold brew, jell-o shots and beer, conversations with old friends and some really rockin’ bands! This is just what we needed to find our second wind.
As we crossed the Birmingham Bridge at Mile 11, and made the left on 5th Avenue, the first touch of sadness seeped into my soul. For the first time, at Mile 12 of this particular race, I simply didn’t want it to end! As we turned onto Grant Street, with the 13th Mile marker not far ahead, we saw my husband waving and taking a video of us. A fellow runner friend, at the final turn in the course, was screaming my name. With a quick hug and a lot of encouraging words, he sent us on our way.
We picked up the pace as we headed for the Finish Line and I have never been so proud of us in all my life! We had every reason NOT to run this race. We had every reason to give it up halfway through. Considering the extent of our injuries and the severity of our struggles, not a single person would have judged us for bailing out. But that is simply not who we are!
As we held onto each other and made our way through the finisher’s chute, our emotions were rising high. Accomplishment and relief, bittersweet disbelief – but, most of all, immeasurable gratitude for each other’s friendship and shared fortitude!
A short time later, after securing our spot at a local bar for lunch, I returned to the course to cheer. Our employer had sponsored the Marathon Relay and several of our friends and team members were participating. I arrived along the 26th Mile just in time to catch sight of our 5th and final leg participant making his way towards the final turn. I called out his name and re-entered the course. He welcomed my company along his final half mile and graciously allowed me to share in his Finish Line moment.
In the past 10 years, I have run so many races. It amazes me now how, in each and every one of them, I’ve wasted so much energy stressing about my pace. Wondering if I can? Worrying that I can’t. Always pushing for more and better – as if it ever even mattered to anyone but me. In reality, all that really matters is that I simply enjoy the run itself and that I always finish whatever I start. This is where a person’s true character is revealed.
In the words of the late, great David Clark:
“The real heart of any race is not in the lead – it’s in the back of the pack where the pace may not be world-class, but it will always be fast enough to out-run the excuses that threaten to steal your hope.”