One if by Fire; Two if by Bear
Last night as I finally was settling down with a cup of coffee and a sweet snack to watch some television and play solitaire on my little electronic gizmo—being on my feet from just after six in the morning. Got my one hour of morning chores done—then to food store for two more items to complete the Thanksgiving meal for our youngest and I as she was in school. On to cooking and cleaning for four hours—a light training run, then raking for an hour and then six hours of writing in-between conversations and making dinner for the two of us.
I wondered how long I could stay up—happy I was able to get in a light training run coming back from Saturday’s disastrous competition event along with an injury I didn’t realize I had. You’d think after over fifty years of competing in sports I would’ve recognized something was wrong beforehand, but no—it was not typical.
Worse yet I felt ready and rested for it—yet somehow my energy was so suddenly depleted in the first miles I could barely pick my legs up and was ready to just give up and drive 300 miles back home only one hour into a six-hour event. I asked myself, ‘what was your intention?’ I had many which I won’t reveal. People would be astounded as to what may have been going through my mind. My old coach and running friend Dante told me what he expected of me. However, in the heat of the battle—now I knew unless there was some incredible miracle I wasn’t going to be pulling it off in this event on this particular day.
As a matter of fact—I wasn’t even going to be close. So, I had a choice—cut my losses and quit? Chalking it up to whatever—like there were absolutely no stars in the sky above me for me to even line them up. That’s just how I felt. But as I ran along—legs exhausted like never imagined—I decided to keep moving forward until a final decision came through me. As my usual I prayed.
I remember just years before my fight coach Phil getting me ready for a fight he’d ask, “You want to move?” I loved being tested to prove myself right. But I knew to pray as he stood across the cage from me as I could get knocked out, break an arm, fracture a foot, dislocate my ribs again—which always sucked. With broken ribs its’ at least six to eight weeks out no sparring no fights. With a nose as I’d said to Phil and he agreed, “You take the fight anyway, cause it’s already broken. It doesn’t really matter. You take the fight that’s it.”
Many injuries you can work around it—make it work for you. You just don’t tell anybody. No one needs to know. I remember one time I knew I had a fracture in my hand—I wasn’t going to bail, and I certainly wasn’t going to tell Phil. I knew for this type of fracture and where it was—my adrenaline would be insanely high, and I’d pay no mind in the fight to it. I thought about it as Phil wrapped my hand before the fight.
So, Saturday, here I was near Buffalo having driven through five snow squalls to what? To fail? How did I want to fail—this time? Not having raced in fourteen years due to change in athletic careers and some damage. Something had told me I was ready just three weeks ago. I had probably one of my best training runs in distance, physically, mentally everything was the best I’d had in twenty years. I recovered with no pains, no exhaustion after thirty-one miles in under four hours and ten minutes on an incredibly hilly course having just twenty ounces of water during it.
After, I ‘d showered then raked for four hours—still felt fine. The next seventy-two hours would give me an answer. Happily, I felt no negatives no real unusual tightness. I even went to my acupuncturist for my usual tightness. He stuck twenty or thirty needles in me—assessing and apologizing for my muscle spasms which needed no apologies—releases are expected you just breathe it gets better.
I was so psyched for the training run before it. That day I had my usual quart of water and four servings of dehydrated greens and eight ounces of black coffee that I’d forgotten to eat. It was cold out—but the smack of cold air to my face felt oh so perfect—because it was oh so right. I’d had so many years of burn out hodgepodge training runs—which had only gotten worse upon my husband’s illness and then death in 2020.
I’d promised myself ‘you don’t just give in when it hurts. No matter where it hurts.’ I’d been there before—the pain of losing certain clients, a best friend, a beloved relative over the years made me nearly stop dead in my tracks with insurmountable grief. This time I decided that this grief would be different. It was—as weak as I’d felt over the last few decades—especially the last decade physically—I knew what I had and would get me through was pure spirit. I also knew—I may have just built up more mental toughness—something I began praying for. Well, that and incredulous discipline late at night since age seven. Something always told me I had to. I never questioned it—the essence of knowing how hard I’d have to work and deny my sadness or anger with being understanding that humans are fallible resonated much over to me from when I could ever remember.
So, I decided—just like after I escaped death after an abduction and assault and ran the next day broken and all. I’d crushed the ground with my feet—damning those who heard me and denied my safety. I decided the world needed to hear my stomping as if to say—oh yeah you think you got me—I won’t be had. My intention was to crush all the ills of the earth—grinding them down till they yelled ‘no more!’. My intention. My will.
As these thoughts along with prayer and thoughts of our two daughters rolled through my mind—two hours into the event I’d now put them in a parking lot in my mind—to clear the way for decision making of the day for the event. Like Lou Holtz had been quoted, “WIN!”/”What’s Important Now!” I noticed I was holding women’s first place spot suddenly between miles ten and twenty-one. There had been a thirty-something or younger female runner ahead of me. I let her go 600 meters from the start, she quit a mile after I’d passed her.
I went out cautiously. Not something I had done in the past. It was just a new idea, and I was just to put my toe in the racing water today. Yet, I knew if I did it right—it could potentially be either my best or one of my best six-hour performances. Yeah, at age sixty my best.
With ninety minutes to go I knew I’d finish—but I knew as I was passed I’d be lucky to hold second place, let alone win. I decided to stick it out—because in this timed distance you never really know what’s going to happen. What I noticed was—out of about 100 runners only one person seemed to be having a good day. He was lapping everyone. He was cruising like a metronome. Same pace lap after lap. We could see each other on the winding, mostly gravel, dirt out and back loop.
I rarely walk in racing and never in training runs unless I’m losing my balance after hours on my feet and need to measure ample water to ingest or drink coffee or hot soup as I run. I usually maintain a light jog but hot soup—it’s a walk with a spoon and crushed crackers. Also, rare that I desire or need any food for a race under seven hours—I’ll usually eat light two hours before the event.
This time my chair was set up with bottles of water, bananas, cookies, and peanut butter tubes and of course a good-sized jar of honey intertwined peanut butter. I truly wanted to eat the whole jar at some point—just for fun. I’ve lived on peanut butter since I can remember. My peanut butter eating is so bad our youngest thinks I’m a peanut butter addict. I can’t convince her I’m not.
As I was forced to take walk breaks then I knew the decision would be not to quit—but to stay on my feet for the six hours. I’d run by my chair quickly grab a banana or what else—a peanut butter cookie till I could reached the vanilla creamed oreo cookie in the bag jogging in place. I made certain I did not stop moving. Even to the point of spilling water on myself whilst it remained twenty-eight degrees and my right hand froze a bit.
The wind picked up here and there at one point, but it didn’t matter too much. More of a psychological hinderance. I told myself to ‘Knock it off. Everyone else is in the same boat.’ The out of the blue adductor magnus cramping in both legs at the same time I hadn’t experienced since 1996. That had happened twenty-six years ago to the date in a training run. The stupid thing was back then I ran till my right side seized up and I was nearly totally incapacitated nearly unable to even drive for days. I had a peg-leg for near four days after that. Had to get dry needling done a few times before I could run again in two weeks—the pain from that injury was exhausting. Especially, at work as I’d wobble around the treatment table taking care of injured athletes and pain patients.
This time twenty-six years later I reminded myself of that episode. I walked, made friends as I did. We would wave to each other on the run, throughout the event. Say kind words, kid around to increase our serotonin levels. I kept moving forward. Carrying bottles of water in my wind-breaker’s back pocket I took small sips—so the only cramps I’d feel were below my waist. Too, I could keep moving with small sips of water. I tripped a few times and realized to finish I must stay upright.
As my my twin adductor cramps would abate. I’d get another mile in running then they’d attack again, and I’d noticed a familiar searing burn I’d felt here and there just above one of the cramping sites. I knew I was injured; however, it was from a surgical site thirty or more years ago. I decided to walk some, then to run some was my best bet—keeping the cramping as close to zero when running. Within six steps of walking the cramping would abate.
I repeated to myself that this was all about staying on your feet and increasing your mental strength. You already had the physical strength—this wasn’t about that. It was about the mind and the tolerance of driving over 600 miles in a day. ‘Just deal with it. You know the ropes. No reason to get upset.’ You can feel upset, but no reason to get upset. That was a mistake years ago.
In the end, I stayed for awards, made bonds, gave away four running books I wrote—to people I felt truly made the event a good one. One being the race director. The other three were young women runners with less than a decade each of running under their belts. I encouraged them that they have many a mile to travel and many a sight to see. Then I dismantled my chair and food and drove 300 miles back home.
I came in the top ten overall and fourth of the women’s field. It was perhaps my worst performance. Yet, I reminded myself that an even worst performance is when you are forced to quit because your mental and spiritual body has given up on your dreams and aspirations. And I’d avoided six feet of snowfall just by miles.---Jody-Lynn Reicher
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