Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Coming Down From the Mountain

They say that not all who wander are lost. That statement, however, does not apply to me. I am pretty much always lost. My Grade 8 Social Studies teacher once told me that women are bad navigators because they lack naturally occurring metals in their nose that act as a compass. (He also once did my astrological chart and told me that I would be very successful in life but unfortunately no one would ever love me…but that’s a blog post and/or therapy session for another day). By that logic, I must have terminally low quantities of nose metals because no one can throw a GPS into fits like I can. In the times before smartphones, I routinely had to phone friends to ask questions like, “Hypothetically, how would one end up in Kentucky when one was trying to get to Chicago?” or “I am at a place with a big tree and kind of a weird bird and it’s raining. Could you come and get me?”

Training for the Scotiabank Half Marathon has put my navigational deficiency into sharp relief. I tried to walk North Vancouver, discovered the pedestrian path of the bridge was closed for construction, and suddenly I’m in the woods going past tree forts built by homeless people and someone comes out of the bushes and I start to run ("run") and, poof, I’m in Burnaby. I attempted to make it 14.5 kilometers to my parents’ house in New Westminster and 18.5 kilometers later found myself slogging up the massive Canada Way hill, once again mysteriously in Burnaby. The only silver lining is that I’ve put myself weeks ahead of my training schedule just by adding unintentional kilometers on to every training session.
New blog series: "Where's Arley Now? No, really, where am I?"

My amazing personal trainer and pilates instructor Christie Stoll recently lent me the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed (aka that movie where Reese Witherspoon yells at trees). There’s a scene in the book where Cheryl – who is hiking the 1000+ mile Pacific Crest Trail -- encounters an unexpectedly snowy pass. Some of her fellow hikers choose to slog through it, but she decides to come down to go around the dangerous area. When reading this scene, my first thought was, “Oh, sure, she takes the easy way out.” (In fairness, I would not have even started the Pacific Crest Trail because I would have taken a wrong turn on the first day and ended up in the ocean). Later in the book, Cheryl Strayed learns that those who tried to push through the snowy pass actually ended up exhausting themselves and giving up on the whole hike. Following her instinct to come down and avoid danger was a smart one.

I have been trying to take this lesson to heart. When you have my litany of muscoskeletal problems – one wonky knee, two arthritic feet, three subluxed ribs and a partridge in the pear tree – the chance of injuring yourself is high. Through most of May, it felt like some higher power was playing a very bad game of Operation with my body. First, the arthritis in my feet started to flare up. Then, part of the top of my left foot started to burn and tingle – back problems? Shoe problems? Flesh-eating disease caused by those shoes I bought for $5 from a man selling them out of bucket on the street in East Van? – and my subluxed rib came out. Finally, my knee decided to tap out.

I will save you the history of my knee problems, but suffice to say that if the children’s rhyme about the hip bone being connected to the knee bone is right, then when the ass muscle isn’t connected to anything, and the hip bone’s connected to several pounds of reinforced titanium, the knee bone has a hard time staying where it’s supposed to.  (Yes, even my knee cap wanders off and gets lost). Three weeks ago, it started locking up and I began to feel an awful tearing sensation in the back of my knee. All of this was new. When it seized up for five minutes in a pilates class, I went to the walk-in clinic. Was it a bone chip? A piece of floating cartilage? Had I managed to contract Runner’s Knee without ever running a step? No one knew.

So, I took Cheryl Strayed’s advice and came down from the mountain. I stopped training and focused on icing, taking anti-inflammatories, stretching and trying not to sulkily spend hours listing to that John Prine song that goes “sweet songs never last too long on broken radios.” For someone who has a long and storied history of pushing herself too far (see: that time I fractured my back and decided to treat it with two strips of athletic tape and Percocet and won an MVP award but scored on the wrong basket once and also lost feeling in my left arch for two years) this is actually a big deal for me.

I was not sure whether I would be able to do the half marathon at all, which was upsetting to me because my friends and family have been so amazingly generous and I did not want to let them down. After several long weeks, however, the swelling’s gone back down and the pain is less, though the knee still clicks and locks up on occasion. I’ve lost a lot of fitness and stamina in my weeks off, but I have made peace with the fact that even if I don’t complete the course under three hours, I will count even dragging my carcass across that finish line at all to be a success. 

I originally decided to do the Vancouver Scotiabank Half Marathon for two reasons. The first was to give back to the community that’s given me so much. The second, however, was to prove that my version of success doesn’t have to look like everyone else’s. No matter how hard I train, I will probably always be the last one across the finish line. I will still be passed by old men with knee socks and fanny packs on the Grouse Grind. My downward facing dog and my backwards bend will look pretty much identical. And, though it has nothing to do with my disability, my lack of navigational ability will probably mean that probably 50% of the time I’m going to accidentally end up in Burnaby. But at least I’m out there, slogging away, finding a new normal. Gimpy little baby steps.

(And, hey, if you want to donate to my Scotiabank Half Marathon quest, you can do so here. You'll get a tax receipt and a personalized thank you letter and also a big, sweaty hug if I see you on race day).


Thank you all for your support.

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