Yesterday I put my husband on a plane bound for Florence, Italy where he will be teaching a study abroad program for the next 2 months. In planning for his trip, and my visit later in the summer, I got to thinking about really old European cities that have been around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, and how every time they have to rebuild, they have become stronger and more resilient. We have some examples here in the US; New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina is probably the most relevant recent example, but as a relatively young country, we have not had to endure nearly as much upheaval as say Rome or Istanbul. Each of these cities has been around for well over a thousand years and have really important lessons to teach us, even if we are only mainly focused on trail running.
The key landmark in Rome is probably the Coliseum, but for any architect, the Pantheon is the most culturally significant building. The building that typically comes to mind when one thinks of Istanbul is the Hagia Sophia. Both are religious buildings that have been re-purposed to suit the needs of several religions, and both have been destroyed and rebuilt several times; each time becoming stronger and more grand than before. As common citizens, we typically hear nothing of the rebuilding process, we just observe the impressive result of years, or in this case decades, of careful planning and building. It is the dome of the Hagia Sophia that awes most visitors, but that dome could not be as expansive and as strong as it is without the carefully laid foundation and supporting walls.
The parallel between these architectural examples and my own current turmoil to rebuild myself into an ultra runner is what I have been thinking about for the past couple of weeks as I struggle to lay a strong foundation. The first week of re-introducing running to my routine felt like the best week ever. Even though I was only running in 1 minute intervals, on a treadmill, the first 1 minute interval brought a stupid, goofy grin to my face that was hard to shake for the rest of the day. I expected the first week to be a slow start. Knowing that I had not run a single step in overt 2 months, and that the body needs to get over the shock of flying and landing on one leg at a time, I expected short runs, slow paces and weird feelings in muscles and tendons that have been dormant. In my mind, after this first week of adjusting, I would be much closer to normal than I actually was / am. I am realizing that the foundation required to uphold a temple worthy of an ultra runner needs to be a lot stronger than that of a casual road runner and if I want to actually be an ultra runner – be able to race healthy all year – I have to do this right. There seem to be more and more people jumping in the deep end with ultra and sky running; increasing distance and vertical climbing too fast to remain healthy for long and I want to avoid this if at all possible. I am a naturally competitive person and if left to my own devices, I would probably fall into this trap of more is always better, but thankfully I had the sense to hire a coach who is helping me build in the right way. As he said in my training log recently “You have the fire, we just need to direct that fire so it burns long but doesn’t burn the house down”
So, entering my third week of running I have stopped fighting the slow build. I have accepted that any progress is good progress and that if I want to do this right, I can’t rush to process. I have embraced the lung burn that accompanies what used to be easy climbs and the jelly leg feeling that comes after only a few miles on the trails that once were saved for my recovery runs. I have accepted running the same amount of miles in a week that I used to run in a day and have embraced the tedious PT exercises that aim to fix all the small cracks in the foundation. I am rebuilding slowly, Rome wasn’t built in a day after all, and with enough patience and perseverance I am confident it was all come together and I will be ready for TNF 50 in the Winter and a pretty epic early spring next year.
In the midst of all this rumination on rebuilding, our country was struck with yet another senseless tragedy and while I have no direct connection to the events in Orlando, I can’t help but feel empathy and compassion for the individuals impacted and the LGBT community that embodies the very definition of resilient. While my personal struggles to return to being an ultra runner bear no similarity to the level of loss and destruction in Orlando, I do have an important lesson to share: The rebuilding process is long, never straightforward and is the result of thousands of small actions that typically go unnoticed. However, the very premise of rebuilding offers a rare opportunity for improvement and to possibly come back stronger than before.