As a runner, I’ve become used to the process of setting goals, creating plans and putting in the time to get the training done. Reaching a new distance or achieving a new personal record takes time, planning and patience.
Unless you get hurt.
Last August I fell during a run in Golden Ears Provincial Park and ended up with a very deep cut on my knee. A long day in the emergency room and several stitches later, I was back home again thinking I’d have to miss a week or two of training runs. Not a big deal.
Little did I know I’d be spending the next three weeks in critical care at two different hospitals, fighting a raging infection that took over my whole right leg and much of my torso. This had suddenly become a very big deal. Following many agonizing weeks of wheelchairs, swelling, crutches, physio and a knee that just didn’t want to heal, by mid-October I was finally on my way to recovering.
By the beginning of November I attempted to run for the first time since my fall, but my still weak and painful legs weren’t very happy. In February of this year, I was supposed to run the Antelope Canyon 55k ultramarathon and could barely run for 10 minutes…
Needless to say, I panicked.
But then I paused, took a deep breath and considered my options. I could let go of the Antelope Canyon dream and miss out on not just a bucket list race, but a much-needed trip away with good friends. Or, I could adjust my expectations and still achieve some of my goals.
As a runner, I’ve gotten to be quite good at just that – adjusting my expectations. Over the years, I have faced many injuries and setbacks and each time I learned to be more accepting and realistic about my training and goals. I would rather run a shorter distance or at a slower pace than have to forfeit the chance to race at amazing events and places.
For Antelope Canyon, I knew that running the full 55 km after such a destructive infection would be a pretty tall order but why not see how far I could get at a slower pace? Suddenly, my goal became about seeing as much of the breathtaking scenery as possible, by planning short interval runs and hiking the rest. My mind and my heart were instantly at peace knowing I had a new and more realistic goal. It’s a lesson I learned over many years of running, but didn’t fully realize the power of adjusting expectations until I was faced with the prospect of missing out on something so important.
My mind and my heart were instantly at peace knowing I had a new and more realistic goal.
I tailored what training I could do towards power-hiking and shorter stints of running. I focused on strength training, flexibility and just generally trying to be in the best shape possible after losing so much muscle and stamina to my time confined to a hospital bed. And I made sure to take the time to be thankful that I was even running at all. Getting to the start line became more meaningful than thinking about the finish line.
In the end, I ran what I would consider an excellent first half of the race. I knew that the most spectacular scenery began around the 21 km mark and all I wanted to do was get to that point. When I did, I savoured every step through that slot canyon and made sure to memorize every moment. It was quite simply, one of the most stunning running experiences of my life, so much beauty and so much achievement coming together in one place.
From that point on, it didn’t really matter to me how much further I got in the course. As I came down the final descent and could see the finish line, I knew I had achieved what seemed to be impossible just a few months earlier.
Finishing the entire Antelope Canyon 55k was certainly not my fastest ultra finish but all things considered, it may have been my most triumphant ultra finish. From the moment I got hurt, I focused on staying positive and finding satisfaction and excitement about what little training I could do despite the odds. It’s hard to let go of goals and plans but sometimes learning to change your expectations can be even more rewarding.
As I came down the final descent and could see the finish line, I knew I had achieved what seemed to be impossible just a few months earlier.