50K: After the finish line
The first thing I notice is my lungs. They’re soft—expanding and contracting slowly. I’ve been more out of breath after a five mile jaunt around my neighborhood. Did I push myself, I wonder.
Then I notice my legs. They feel trashed, torn open on the inside. Bone, ligament, muscle seem to all be displaced. My stomach is too knotty; I can’t yet eat. I skip the finish line enchiladas and tell Alfredo I just want a hot shower. Throughout the race my body warmed up, but my hands remained cold. I shuffle my ragged legs to the car, and open the back door. Luna is there. I wrap my body around her black fur as she licks the salt from my neck. I could fall asleep here, I decide.
We get back to our Airbnb and I beeline to the bathroom. Inspecting your naked body after a long run is always an event. There seems to be no bruising on my hip, which is good. My lower back has lacerations from my pack, somehow. Small cuts line my skin and stretch to my sides. Salt crystals, the ones Luna didn’t reach, flicker beyond my eyes. No chaffing on my upper thighs — a miracle. Blisters, of course, but none that seem extraordinary. All in all I don’t look as battered as I feel.
I let the hot water pour over my body, slowly draining away the salt and desert dirt. The soap makes my back sting. I sit in the tub and curl into a ball and bow my head, allowing the shower current to strike my neck and spew down my ears. This is some strange, stunning bliss.
It’s been two weeks since Dead Horse. In those 14 days, I ran once (Thanksgiving, had to) though I did not feel ready for it. I still don’t.
While it seems like most other ultra runners can bounce back after a few days, my body wants nothing to do with it. I’m accepting of this, with reluctance. To keep my body moving in some form, I’ve practiced yoga. Looking back, I only took two days off completely from exercise (the Sunday and Monday after the race) before moving in the studio. In ways, yoga feels like active rest. It’s still physically challenging, but it’s also rejuvenating and spacious. You also don’t need to foam roll afterward, which is a big plus.
I’m not sure what’s next for me and my running shoes. In fact, I just signed up for a 200-hour yoga teacher training this spring, something I’ve always wanted to do. While I self-identify way more as a runner than I do a “yogi,” I want to peer into and discover what yoga holds for me. Will I abandon running all together? Will I miss it? Of course, I can still do both, but it feels weird to not have running be the priority — the default.
My mind shifts to teaching yoga, rehabilitating the unyielding tightness in my hips and hamstrings, and making peace with the slowing down of movement. Then it shifts to trails, where I want to find another 50K, or even a 50 miler, and throw my body back into the mountains, knowing I am capable of more.
I’m not sure which choice is right, though I also realize I don’t necessarily have to choose. I have time to do whatever I put my mind and body to. That’s a commitment I will make to myself until time is no longer.
For now, I’ll bask in the sweet release of rest, giving myself some hollow space before moving down the next path.