What if this is ‘The End’?

When I ran Run Rabbit Run 100 in September, 2016, I had no idea that it would likely be my last 100 mile race. I was blissfully unaware that my little 100+ mile jaunt through the mountains in and around Steamboat Springs might be my final ultra or possibly even the conclusion of my running ‘career’.

As hard as Run Rabbit Run was for me, I had an amazing time. (You can read more about my race experience HERE) Even though there were moments in time where I was really ready to be done, I knew without question I wanted to run another 100. In the immediate aftermath of my previous 100’s, I told myself I was finished with the distance. Only days, weeks or months later did I start entertaining the idea of running another one. At Run Rabbit Run, however, I knew before I even crossed the finish line that I would sign up for another one. Except now I think my days of toeing the line at ultras is over.

finish-rrr

Injury

It turns out the self-diagnosed ‘groin strain’ was something entirely different. I have a tear in the labrum of my right hip that is causing pain and making running difficult. While physical therapy can sometimes improve the symptoms of a labrum tear, the labrum will not actually heal on its own.

Complicating things a bit is my age. As we get older, we typically have signs of osteoarthritis in our joints. If there is too much arthritis in the hip joint, the surgery will not be successful.

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Soaking in the scenery (Photo courtesy of Tim Englund)

Debating Surgery

I have debated with myself whether to have surgery or not many times over since I first learned the nature of my injury.The recovery from hip labrum surgery is known to be very long and challenging.  If I don’t get the surgery, I might be able to keep running, with pain, for a while. Running in the hills puts extra strain on the injury, so that would be out. I could run short distances on flat trails to try to minimize the damage, but for how long? And would I be happy with that?

On the other hand, if the surgery is not successful, I may not be able to run again at all. What is the right thing to do? Take a chance on the surgery so that maybe, just maybe, I could get back to doing what I love? Or should I try to settle with what I consider to be a poor substitute for an unknown amount of time?  Do I take a chance on my passion and risk giving up running entirely? Or do I play it safe and hope to just be able to get in a couple of miles each day around the neighborhood?

Vermont 100

What would I have done if I knew it was the last time?

When I found out that I might not be racing or even running in the future, I was devastated. I thought about Run Rabbit Run and how I had absolutely no idea it was likely my final 100, my swan song. If I had known, I wondered, what would I have done differently? It was a race, after all, so maybe I would have tried harder, despite being injured, to turn in a faster finish time. Maybe.

I love competition and I get fired up by seeing how well I can do under any given set of circumstances. However, in this instance, I think I would have tried harder to soak up every second of the experience. I have wonderful and very fond memories of this experience, but I wish I could hold on to every second in my mind: the beautiful scenery, hugging my daughter at the Aid Stations, Larry’s amazing stories, the spectacular full moon that Laura made me take in, the sunrise with my husband and even those final hot and painful miles downhill to the finish line.

rrr-foliage

As we go through life and become acutely aware of how quickly time passes, we all seem to want the same thing- the ability to slow down time so we can savor the experiences. I have no regrets at this point about my running experiences. I have run many, many roads marathons, trail marathons and ultra marathons. I am three for three on 100 mile finishes.

Memories and Miles

Each race is special snapshot of a particular moment in the times of my life. I remember something from each experience which carries meaning for me. Sometimes those memories relate to where I was at a particular point in my life. Sometimes it is something as simple as the crowds at Boston or the scenery in the mountains. Either way, the memories the races evoke are incredibly special. I wouldn’t want to change the races where I ran as hard as I could. Still, all I can think when I recall Run Rabbit Run is how I wish I could replay the whole experience. I want to slow it down in the same way parents want to slow down time as their children grow.

More importantly, I carry running memories with me that have nothing to do with racing. I think back to how I started running with my dogs when I lived on the Gulf Coast. I remember the people I have run with over the years. I envision the beautiful trails I have spent so much time on since I have moved to Colorado. I have pushed my children in baby joggers and I have developed deep friendships on the roads and trails. My relationship with my husband has become richer and more rewarding as it has evolved over the years of running together. This is what makes running meaningful for me. It isn’t the races or the medals or the t-shirts. It is the all about the moments, the experiences, the time spent alone and the time engaged with others.

elk

I recently purged a bunch of my old race t-shirts. I even tossed an old Boston Marathon jacket I had. My husband was incredulous. He knew that jacket had once meant a great deal to me. At some point I realized, however, that it wasn’t the jacket that was important to me. The memories of the experience are what matter.

Who Am I if I am not a Runner?

In three weeks, if all goes well, I will have hip surgery. I hope to come back to running in time, but at this point I have no idea what the future holds. As with any major life change, it is frightening to have to give up something that has long been a big source of my own identity. I have now been ‘a runner’ for 20 years. Will I cease to exist as I once was? How will I see myself? How will others see me? Will I survive the long recovery period with my sanity intact? Will something else take the place running once filled in my life?

tonia run

Maybe I will come back to running, or maybe this will be the beginning of something new and undiscovered in my life. Either way, I cherish the memories I have built over these past 20 years. Push yourself. Run Hard. Run Fast. Run Long. But every once in a while, take the time to slow down and revel in the moment because you never know if it will be your last.

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6 thoughts on “What if this is ‘The End’?

  1. When I was 43, nine years ago, I was told that my running days were over. I’ve been running since I was eight years old. I had a one year old daughter I wanted to hike and explore and maybe, someday, run with. I had races I wanted to run but always put off until later since rock climbing was then my athletic focus (though I still ran 50 mpw for my sanity). I woke up every morning in tears because all I wanted to do was run. I told my husband that we would have to move – from our house which backs to a popular running trail and maybe even from Boulder. I could not believe that at 43 this was it. I sank into a deep and dark depression. BUT, when I had the strength to pull out of it I started trying to figure out if the doctors and the MRI were correct or if something could be done. After 10 months on no running and vacillating between grim acceptance and a defiant “No effing way!” attitude (which I always feared was just denial of the truth) I did find something that helped me. Since then I have known that I really don’t know how much time I have. Some ask why I moved up to the 100 mile distance so fast? Why didn’t I take my time (which is what I advise my coached runners to do!)? And the answer is simple: I need to do what I can do now. I don’t know if I have tomorrow. My feeling, based on what I know of you, that you will be back out there again. I wish you the best of luck with surgery. I know of many runners who have successfully run after this surgery, some in both hips. Keep the faith. For what it’s worth, I would do exactly what you are doing – I would try for the best and not settle for safer but less fulfilling path.

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  2. U r such an amazing person Tonya, and I have no doubt that this surgery will be successful, and u will be running again❤💕❤💕🙏🙏🙏🙏 in our prayers!!!! U go girl!!!!!

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  3. Thank You. I am looking at a knee replacement at some point in the future. I hope it is many years away however I feel I will share the same ‘well there you go ‘ moment you must have felt. May your new experiences be deeply satisfying and a breath of fresh air.

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  4. Got tired of the constant injuries with distance running and switched to Crossfit. Best thing I’ve ever done for my sanity and fitness. Good luck to you. It doesn’t have to be the end even if u never do ultras again

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  5. Hey there, I am Christine Sterne’s friend and fellow ultra-marathoner. Just underwent the surgery (mine was a labral repair along with Cam+Pincer FAI, microfracture and torn hamstring repair). Would love to connect with you and share my experience and give you some hopeful advice.

    Best wishes for your health,
    Lesley

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