Morning came too quickly. I got up hoping to see a message from my friend, Michelle, informing me she couldn’t run that morning. It wasn’t there. The sun was out, but the air was cool. I knew we would be running. I have run the Bridge of Flowers 10K six times since 2010, missing only 2014 after injuring my Achilles. My heart and body did not feel in it this year. I began the summer killing my training plan. I was feeling amazing. I had a specific pace goal and I was nailing my training runs. Then it fell apart.
The downward spiral began with a dental procedure at the beginning of July. I needed to have skin removed from the roof of my mouth to graft to the gums below my two front bottom teeth. I am no stranger to dental surgery, and I pride myself on being able to tolerate discomfort and pain to a high degree. When my dentist described the aftermath as akin to what it feels like when you burn the roof of your mouth only much worse. Well that was an understatement. For two weeks, I was unable to eat or drink anything except a well-blended smoothie and tepid water out of a straw while tipping my head to the left side. Even that caused me to cry. After a week of excruciating pain, I returned to the dentist certain something was terribly wrong. He assured me I was healing well, but was experiencing heightened sensitivity due to the exposed nerve endings.
While this was going on, work issues escalated for the nursing team and we were put under an enormous amount of pressure to clean up messes that we did not create. I was hungry, exhausted, and frustrated. Some personal issues crept into the mix as well. My stomach was empty and tangled with worry. I worked sun up to sun down while trying to be sure my son’s summer vacation was not affected. Running all but stopped. I tried to run a few times, stupidly in the high heat of the day because it was the only time I could go, and inevitably the runs were demoralizing.
I emailed my coach and told her I had to stop. Something had to give and this time it had to be my training. I didn’t want to stop moving my body. I just wanted to stop the structured training plan. I was walking daily and doing some yoga at home when I could fit it into the day. Instead of being tied to a schedule I began doing whatever I felt like with my own self-imposed goal of moving for at least an hour every day if not more. I took a Barre class, did two OrangeTheory classes while visiting family in Florida, ran without pace goals, walked, rode my bike, and I swam. It was refreshing. My mouth eventually healed. Work is still insane and a bit unhealthy. I don’t want to say too much because the obvious response from people seems to be “if it’s so bad maybe it’s time to find another job.” I can’t argue with that point, but it’s never quite that black and white. Personal matters ebb and flow, but through the teachings of Sharon Salzberg, meditation and self-reflection, I continue to grow, accept responsibility for my own short comings, and in the end I will emerge a stronger, better, and happier person. I know things will be ok, but my patience and ability to give space to the issues is being tested. Historically, I am not a patient person. I like quick resolve, but that will not help things this time. Deep breaths!
My training fell apart for Bridge of Flowers. In the week leading up to the race I had the most horrendous work week of the summer. My hormones were also wreaking havoc as I retained water and felt like my body had become as wide as the Goodyear Blimp. I was in absolutely no mood to conquer Crittendon Hill this year. My friend, Michelle, texted a few days before to make a plan for race day. I knew I would run the race, but I wouldn’t like it! Race day came and surprisingly I woke up feeling better than I had in previous days. I did all my pre-race rituals. The weather outside was perfect. I was relieved that we would not have to deal with the stifling heat and humidity we experienced at last year’s race.
We arrived in Shelburne Falls with 45 minutes to spare, but the road to the parking area was already closed for the short 3K race. We waited in a line of vehicles for the road to reopen. People were getting antsy, but I felt calm. Even if the race started without us, and I knew it wouldn’t, we would be joined by everyone in the car line. We eventually parked, picked up our bibs, and used the bathrooms before walking about 5 minutes to the starting area. As we left the packet pick up area, I heard a volunteer signal to someone on her walky talky to hold the start 10 minutes.
We took our time to the start on the Iron Bridge.
As soon as we settled into middle of the pack, the national anthem began, the gun sounded and we were off. I knew instantly that I would run the race with my heart and soul. This is my race. I know this course better than any other. I know the tangents. I know the hills. I know where I can let it all out and I know when to hold back. The old familiar feelings welled up inside and I knew I made the right choice to run.
Bridge of Flowers is my current 10K PR though it is a pre-Achilles injury feat. I am far from running that kind of pace right now. I wanted to run it in under an hour and my A goal was to beat my 2015 time in an attempt to begin working towards getting back to that 10K PR pace and beyond. I ran hard and pushed pace more than I thought I would be able to, but it wasn’t enough to meet either goal. I finished in 1:00:23. I finished the last mile with gusto. My feet were on fire. I was neck and neck with another woman, and I made a private competition out of it, pushing myself above and beyond my comfort zone in the last half mile. I pulled ahead of her so far she couldn’t catch me. It was exhilarating. This was all in my head obviously, but it made for a fun and fast finish for me. As I rounded the corner back onto the Iron Bridge my feet felt as though they were lifted off the ground. I was beaming. The bridge is always lined with spectators cheering wildly. It’s my favorite part of the entire race. I paused my headphones so I could hear my name being announced as I crossed the finish line. I get a charge out of it every year.
I’m not disappointed with my time or my performance. Running is not just a passing phase in my life. It’s a part of my life and has been for many years now. I love running. It brings me peace and clarity. I also love training for races. I enjoy the challenges running goals create. However, one crucial thing I learned after being injured a few years ago is that when my body or mind signal that I need a break it’s imperative I listen. I have come to trust that taking a break from running does not mean it’s the end. When I am ready to return, I do it gently and from a place of love. I don’t watch my pace or the minutes I’m out running. I simply run.
This won’t be my last Bridge of Flowers. It is my race. The course may be the same each year, but it challenges me in a different way every single time. It frustrates me sometimes. It makes me smile too. It takes me out of my comfort zone. No matter what my time is at the end, I have always run my best race and each finish makes me proud. Until next year!