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I am Alive

This is all I could think of in the moments after I lost control of my quad, which rolled over my legs, crushed my left foot and ankle, and rolled down the dune with me under it. As I flew off, I felt my head hit something very hard. The world through my eyes was white, quiet, confusingly foggy, with no answers, just questions. Then the pain hit. Instinctively, I yanked off my helmet to relieve the crushing feeling that now accompanied my cloudy murky vision. “I can’t see” is all I could muster. Then more pain...In many places. The sharp pains pulsing across my left foot and leg took my breath away. What’s happening? I thought to myself. “Call someone” I kept muttering with urgency and a stroke of panic. A quick glimpse of my other leg revealed my blood soaking jeans with a gash in my thigh. “Why can’t I feel that? I Overwhelmed, all I wanted to do was lay down and go to sleep. I looked around and saw the outline of people waving their arms, and scurrying around me, but I couldn’t hear them or tell who they were. I laid down and trusted in the only things that came to my mind: my God, and my family. "Be strong for I am with you" kept going through my head.

I don't think there's any way to prepare for a moment like that, but miraculously, it all happens in an instant. That day began a 3-year journey to heal and rehabilitate my body, and my mindset about my future.

In the ER they stitched up my right leg, where the brake levers on the handlebars tore through my thigh. A CT scan identified a severe concussion, and several X-rays on my left foot showed multiple fractures and dislocation. For some reason, I kept telling anyone that would listen that "I am a runner”. Almost like I was expecting some royal foot treatment because of it. The greatest impact on my foot came directly on the ball of my foot. My big toe was dislocated at the ball joint, which pushed it in toward my second toe. It looked completely deformed like it wasn’t there anymore. Their first order of business was to put it back into place, which took 2 people to do. The X-rays showed a fracture in the crushed ball joint, broken bones in my heel and ankle, along with a fractured Liz Franc tendon, and a serious concussion with brain swelling. “You’ll probably need surgery”, they said. But the swelling needed to go down first.

After seeing an orthopedist weekly for two months, the plan was to fuse the ball joint for starters, and see how much scar tissue and damage was done to the other bones, tendons, and ligaments in my arch, midfoot, ankle, and heel. I called the night before the surgery and canceled. I’d been on crutches for 3 months and just wasn’t ready to do something irreversible. I went to see Dr. Runco, who helped me with all my past running injuries, and he recommended I go to an orthopedist that had experience in the military, repairing feet that were "blown up by land mines”. They would have the necessary experience putting all the pieces of the foot back together. These people, he said, have experience with multiple fractures, joint replacements, and midfoot tendon tears rather than run of the mill surgeries. My husband and I went to a top orthopedist in SD that he recommended, and got a similar second opinion from her partner. They agreed that what I needed included a fused big toe joint or full joint replacement where the fracture and dislocation took place, then multiple midfoot plates in the smaller midfoot joints along with repairing to the Liz Franc tendon that was fractured in the arch. We’d wait on my ankle fracture, to see if it became arthritic, but also required surgery.

Then I asked, “How will I run with a fused joint, and metal plates in my foot”? She looked at me and responded very matter of factly, “Oh, you’ll never run again. You might be able to do hikes and walks, but you won’t have the range of motion anymore to run, and eventually, arthritis in all the areas of injuries will take over and it will be too painful anyway.”

That hit me pretty hard. At the time of the accident, I had recently completed the PCT 50, and fairly mountainous ultra-marathon, which allowed me to qualify for the San Diego 100 miler. I was training with Michele, and she had already sent me a plan for the coming 6 months. I was signing up for the SD 100 on New Year's Day, literally two days after the accident. It had been a goal since my Dad and brother died 2 years before and had taken me a couple of years to work up to it. She was supposed to be the best of the best. Then she said, “ I used to be a ballerina, and I had a career-ending injury too, sometimes you just have to change course.”

I did.

This was a turning point in my life; I knew whatever decision I made, would have a great impact on my life and future. After several days of praying and thinking about what I valued and the type of life I wanted, I decided I would finish the 2 years of rehabilitation, swimming, and walking, and start running again. I had nothing to lose. If this was the end, and I was giving it all up, I had to know if it was possible. I had to try.

While we were on a trip to Hawaii in April 2019, I decided to assess every daily habit in my life, add new ones that moved the needle forward, and remove others that were holding me back. I announced to my husband that I had decided to run every day starting today, 4/16/19-the day my Dad died 3 years earlier. I felt like I was taking back control of my life. I ticked off the days in my planner, and the days piled up to weeks, and then a month. My foot held up. My mind got stronger. I was careful about everything I put in my body and mind and focused on healing. I was building the habits and strength necessary for the goals I’d have for the next 2 years.

“This is who I am, this is what I do" was my mantra.

Get 1% Better Everyday

The more I got out there on the trails and ran, the stronger I felt. I’d walk in the door from my longer runs, and my husband would always ask, “How’s the foot?”. “It’s great!” I’d always say every time. Crazy thing, it was. And I was gaining momentum in all parts of my life. I read a few great books on habits, including the 5 AM Club and Miracle Morning. Interestingly, there was common about the importance of morning habits, that I decided to implement in my life along with running. I realized that I am a collection of my daily habits-good or bad. Monumental growth doesn’t actually happen overnight it happens slowly. For me, it was about small incremental improvements each day. Success was going to be slow. I called it my 1% rule. Every day I tried to get 1% better through consistent, productive daily habits. During the process, I learned that 1% adds up quickly, and it all started with asking the right questions.

  1. Who do I want to become?

  2. What would that kind of person do every day to achieve the outcome?

  3. What habits do I need to add to my life?

  4. What habits do I need to remove from my life?

I started with, "If I was in the best shape of my life, what would I do every day?” "What would I stop doing?”

I added things like Bible reading, writing and reflecting, meditation, daily affirmations, visualization, exercise, vitamins, water, and daily input from podcasts and books. I did it all first thing in the AM. This was my power hour, which started an incredible life-changing journey. I plastered pictures all over my wall in my walk-in closet of my vision for my life-healthy, successful and strong. I removed things that distracted me from my vision: any food or drinks that didn’t feed my body, TV, wasted time, and what I call "outflow people” that drained my energy. I needed to focus on my dreams and master my mind through my habits. Pretty soon it happened automatically. For this reason, I refer to 2019 as my “Year of Monumental Change”.

When I finally felt like I was ready, I reached out to Michele to coach me again. I knew she could get me to where I wanted to go. I started working with her and Salynda on August 1, 2020. My goal was to complete a 50 miler before the end of the year, so I could qualify to run the SD 100 June 2021. I signed up for the ABC 50 in the Cuyamaca Mountains outside San Diego. When I realized the race would be canceled; I found a 50 miler on the same day in Phoenix, Arizona, and signed up a month before the race. I got in!

On December 5, 2020, I walked up to the starting line in the dark, at 6:00 AM of the McDowell Mountain Frenzy in Phoenix, AZ. I had never run the course before, and due to COVID, I needed to self crew most of it, which I’d never done either. I threw my drop bags in a pile and prayed they’d be there when I needed them. As my anxiety crept in the weeks leading up to the race, Salynda suggested I write down my fears, then what I would do if they actually happened during the race. I felt equipped, I felt prepared, and I felt strong and excited leading into that day. I learned so many things on that long 12+ hour day that I needed to experience before tackling my next goal of running 100 miles.

In a race that distance, things happen. I heard my own words about overcoming my biggest fears. When I tripped and fell at mile 3 and injured my hand and leg, and fell again at mile 33 I heard my own words.

"Fear is a liar”, "Just get up, and keep going. It will only hurt for a while. This is who you are, and this is what you do”.

I wrapped my hand and decided to not allow it into my head and kept going. I looked at my watch at every aid station, and I was ahead of my pace by 20 minutes, then 30, then 40. I just couldn’t believe how good I felt. I ate, I drank, and did everything as planned.

Then between miles 20-30, there was a big gap between aid stations, I ran out of food and water just before the big climb at mile 30. The grade up Thompson Peak was on a fire road that was so steep, at points you could reach out and touch the road. My legs locked up, and I was depleted and out of energy. Then I got very nauseous and didn’t want to eat anything. I struggled through. It was difficult to even run down the mountain without zig-zagging due to the grade, and it took me an hour and a half to clear those long 4.4 miles.

My husband had hiked into the aid station at the base of the mountain. When he looked at me, I could tell right away that it wasn’t good. My hand was pretty swollen and wrapped with an ace bandage, and my leg was beaten up and covered in dried blood. And I was still nauseous. I looked at my watch and felt pretty defeated to see I had lost time and was now behind pace. My mind was fuzzy, and as much as I tried to ignore the way my body felt, it became overwhelming. I decided at that moment that I needed to give control of this race to God. I was giving it too much-forced energy. All I could do was the next right thing. I needed to eat and drink or I wouldn’t finish. I drank some ginger ale, grabbed my fuel bag, and headed out.

"Under no circumstance would I DNF. This is who I am, this is what I do. I won’t feel like this forever. This is a low, I'll come out of it.”

I dug deep because I knew God had me. I’d been through much harder things. I had visualized the finish, and I set my sights on that.

In some twisted form of mental torture, this race required runners to go through the finish line at mile 43 for the last aid station and continue on for 7 more miles. OMG! I met up with my husband again, who handed me a sandwich, my headlamp, my last fuel bag, and a long sleeve shirt. He filled up my water, and I headed down the road for the last leg of my journey with my pacer, John, a HS cross country buddy. He turned out to be a saving grace, and he ticked off the miles with me, counted them down in celebratory fashion, encouraged me, and made sure I hit the turns in the trail and not the rocks in those final miles.

We ran almost all of the last 7 miles. As the finish line grew closer, all those fears and pain were gone. I embraced it and realized I was going to cross the finish line I was told I’d never see again. I learned that to do anything really difficult, I had to get 1% better every day through carefully chosen daily habits. I had to believe deeply in the kind of life I wanted, and to expand my capacity by doing hard things that push me past what I perceive as my limit, into the unknown. I’ve learned that sometimes the best is on the other side of the unknown, but it may include pain and suffering. Perseverance and faith are the gifts we are given in return. I had to struggle for the past 4 years, and learn to be patient, and work through challenges, and persist for the kind of life I wanted.

On December 5th, I completed my first post-accident 50 miler. This was so much more than a race for me. It was a journey that changed me and all facets of my life- through my love for running. My accident wasn’t going to dictate my life moving forward. I would, and I was not alone. I know that I could have never made it without God, my family, and my coaches Michele and Salynda. Even though I crossed the finish line an hour slower than my goal, they reminded me, that the fact that I was ahead of pace for more than half the race meant that I could do it, and that gave me hope. Their support through training, race planning, nutrition, and the mental game was critical to my finish. They are truly the best of the best. My next goal is to run a 100 miler in 2021, and I think I have it in me, but I’ll aim to get 1% better every day and give it my best.

Happy New Year Rugged Runners!

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