“Up To Me.”

“There will be times when the long miles make zero sense and, other times, all the sense in the world.”

Michael D’Aulerio
Running the Half Marathon in Pittsburgh, May 2022, with multiple fractures in my spine, wrapped tightly in a brace. (Not the smartest decision I’ve ever made.)

Recently, it’s been occurring to me, more and more, exactly how much my life has evolved in the past five years. Beginning with the much needed change in career paths – from full-time Paramedic to part-time Chiropractic Assistant. To the drastic reduction in hours worked – from 60+ down to approximately 20 hours per week. And the changing of faces amongst my social circle, as well as, the important roles that each and every one of them play in my life – and I in theirs.

I’ve done a complete 360 in how I venture through this Life. I used to be overcome by “Monday morning dread” and worked only for the weekend or whatever set days I had off from work or had requested for vacation. Whereas now, I enter each day with ease – looking forward to whatever adventure or challenge may lie ahead, at work or at play, and the camaraderie that can be found in the “little” moments that so few people even take the time to notice or appreciate.

With the help of my therapist, I have taken a deeper look into my self – who I am at my very core, as well as all the people, experiences, conversations and events that have come to shape the way I think, feel, act and, ultimately, believe about myself and the world around me.

It’s not easy to interrupt the thought patterns and processes of an adult, let alone alter them so completely. At this stage of our lives, the majority of us are quite stubborn and set in our ways. Perhaps I should consider myself lucky that the tragedy surrounding the deaths of my parents caused me to question everything I have ever known or believed in? Changing the way I think, feel, and act has never been easy, and the end result (the current state of my life) is something that I never, in my wildest dreams, would ever have imagined was possible. But, obviously, it is!

“Back in the day”, I used to say that the only “good” thing in my life was running. That no matter what happened, or how stressed I would become, running was the one thing that could make everything alright again. So long as I could run, I could expend all that anxious, angry, depression infused energy and return to my family, friends, and job much more balanced and capable of performing. The truth is, I wasn’t actually “balanced” at all… I was tired.

I was tired of working long hours at a job I no longer enjoyed. I was tired of regretting the past and so many of the decisions that I had made, which led me to where I found myself in those days. I was tired of questioning why people are the way they are, and why we do the things we do. I was tired of assuming responsibility and blame for anything that didn’t go quite right, as well as, everything that went so terribly wrong. I was tired of feeling down, worthless, and so depressed that I assumed the responsibility of doing my best to make sure nobody else I knew or loved would ever feel the same. I became so tired of fighting my own darkness that I allowed it to envelop me. I welcomed it in, embraced it, and became much like it. I laughed in spite of it. I wore it like a badge of honor and made it my friend. I stared so hard into that proverbial abyss that, over time, I literally began to feel it looking back into me. I am no longer ashamed to admit that it almost consumed me… because I am standing here today, writing this, as living proof that it doesn’t ever have to be that way.

As the great storyteller, himself, said:

“No one can tell what goes on in between the person you were and the person you become. No one can chart that blue and lonely section of hell. There are no maps of the change. You just come out the other side. Or you don’t.”

Stephen King, The Stand

I’ve made many sacrifices to get to where I am today. Nothing has ever just been handed to me. From the structure of paying off my debts, to the discipline of not incurring any more, I have minimized my needs and eliminated practically all of my wants. I have limited time spent with friends in order to focus on my marriage and, as a result, have created the once in a lifetime love story that the two of us have always dreamed of living out.

When it comes to running, however, my forward progress has been hitting a wall. My ability to endure in distance and pace has decreased so significantly since becoming injured that, some days, it just seems easier (and physically better) for me to simply let it go.

With just two months left until race day, it really is imperative for my training to be on point. I don’t know anyone who believes it’s a good idea to go out and run a marathon on significantly sub-par training. But this is where I am. Pushing for more, early on after my release, ultimately resulted in taking “one step forward, TEN steps back”, sidelining me for several weeks with a lower hamstring injury that has continued to linger on.

I’m no stranger to pain. Pushing through pain is something that we runners are notorious for. Choosing to tolerate what most people would consider intolerable is the down side of having developed high endurance. It’s not what caused the condition that I’m in, but it has certainly hindered my body’s ability to heal and, in the months prior to my spinal surgery, deteriorated my injuries further.

In the face of pain that would cause the average person to stop running and seek help, I simply chose to hunker down, push through that physical pain cave, and rely on my mental strength to continually see me through. In the year that followed my skydiving accident, however, at a time when I should have been bouncing back, my life seemed to be spiraling completely out of control. It was a disorienting chaos marked only by an increase in pain, decrease in performance, and my dizzying inability to push my way through any of it at all.

I’ve had to reconcile the fact that I am not invincible. Broken bones may heal, but they will never be quite the same again. This realization has been both debilitating, as well as liberating. Many months of recovery have taught me, in no uncertain terms, how to take care of my body – and also my mind.

I’m a different person now than I was before – a different runner, as well. I no longer have all that anxiety, anger, sadness or fear within me. I no longer carry a cloud of darkness over my own head, which I then feel the need to outrun. I no longer need (nor do I want) hours upon hours of endless miles and continuous exertion in order to expend negative energy or escape the responsibilities in my life. I finally love my life and the person that I’ve become. I love being present with my husband, our family, and the people whose lives intertwine with mine. There are books to read, concepts to explore, pages to write, places to see, and pictures to take. There are people to meet and conversations to be had; adventures to plan, and experiences to share. There are so many things I’d much rather be doing than running “all the miles”. Don’t get me wrong, I do still love to run – but I no longer desire any one single thing to consume all of my thoughts, energy, time, or life.

Right now, more than anything, I’m just doing my best to figure out what works for me in order to keep progressing. I am currently seven months post-spinal surgery and, while I am doing much better, I am still (quite literally) learning how to run again. I’m creating my own way forward, and am looking to do so in a way that creates a healthy, longterm balance. The fact that I am ultimately losing my love of marathon running in this process of healing is neither triumph nor tragedy. The way I see it, it’s just another part of my journey. I’ve already overcome so much – from repairing and rehabbing broken bones, to restoring the initial loss of bodily functions and reducing the level of neuropathic pain.

In the past two years, I’ve undergone 3 surgeries, 4 months of daily disc regeneration treatments, 6 months of physical therapy, continued corrective care chiropractic adjustments, as well as 3+ months of one-on-one personal training, twice a week, in order to recover as fully as possible and to prepare my body for this upcoming race.

While the thought of not running this particular event has never crossed my mind, when it comes to the marathon distance, I can’t help but feel like all I’m really doing it setting myself up to endure yet another “thing” that I will have to recover from. And for what? To be able to say that I did it? To have another race medal, collecting dust, as it hangs upon my wall? It just doesn’t make sense to me anymore. With that in mind, it’s up to me to redefine exactly what running means to me – and, moving forward, decide exactly how I intend to make it last.


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