My running story began in college, not as an athlete, but with a broken heart after a breakup. To cope, I just ran around campus day or night. Running became my friend, my medicine. I ran recreationally. I ran through the first semester of my pregnancies. I never stopped running.
Forty years later I’m getting ready to run my 27th
ultramarathon – the 2020 Across the Years 48 hour ultra in Arizona, USA. How
did this happen?
Flashback to 1989 when it all started with a 5K charity run. Then it
morphed into a slew of more 5Ks and 10Ks, several half-marathons, and 10
marathons. This lead to 50 milers, 100 milers, 24-hour ultras, and to the 2019
A Race for the Ages – where runners run as many hours as their age.
Why do I continue to put in the training miles, to endure blisters and stinging body chafing, fallen toenails, tripping over pesky trail tree roots, and taking a tumble or two? Why do I continue to endure loss of cognitive functioning, sleep deprivation, and hallucinations?
Yes, I have hallucinated! After finishing the 2017 Wildcat 100, I saw people – a mom, a dad, and a son – in my food. They were alive and moving in my food. I refused to eat. My husband could not convince me that what was in my food was pieces of grilled chicken and not people.
What the self-imposed beating of mind and body has endured is nothing
compared to the trauma it suffered as a result of a life-threatening surgical
error that left me with four compromised organs and three more abdominal
surgeries in ten weeks. The last surgery was to repair my transected left ureter.
My abdomen was swimming with urine and sepsis was setting in.
Thank God for all my years of running. Running kept me physically
fit, gave me a strong immune system, and saved my life during my medical
nightmare. I was in top physical shape when I went in for a scheduled
hysterectomy to remove massive fibroids seven years ago, and three days after
placing third female in my first 24-hour road ultra. The doctors were amazed I
was not more critically ill or dead.
The following year I went back to the same 24-hour ultra after also
suffering toxicity from the antibiotic Cipro during my medical nightmare, and
then diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. This time the ultra was part of my
healing journey and a prayer of gratitude. Ultrarunning had saved my life and
now ultrarunning would continue to heal me. I stopped running in scorching heat
and humidity after 18 hours. I was happy to place 6th female.
I continued to train and run ultras. I even showed up at a winter
100-miler with my left arm in a sling and my right hand armed with a snowshoe
pole. The previous month I fell shoveling snow on our driveway and fractured my
left humerus. While it would not be wise to tackle a 100 miler, I simply showed
up to walk one 10-mile loop in mud and some ice and snow patches very gingery,
and to pick up my swag.
Almost losing my life and having a broken arm did not stop me from
running, and neither did plantar fasciitis. Pain is relative. If I can scream
at the top my lungs while having joyful pain during natural childbirth twice,
the pain of consecutive abdominal surgeries, a fractured left humerus, and
painful plantar fasciitis is a walk in the park.
I didn’t let PF stop me from training and tackling a 24-hour trail
ultra after my arm healed. I found the best sports medicine chiropractor and
physical therapist. I was disciplined with the exercises and healed my PF. I
went on to finish 3 ultras in five months. I placed third in my age group in a
50-mile trail ultra; set a PR in a 50 mile road ultra, and placed 3rd
in my age group and 5th overall female in a 24 hour ultra.
I would not be able to tackle my races, from 5Ks to ultramarathons, without the unconditional love and support of my children and husband – my crew and pacers. My children are now adults and I’m a grandmother.
I still run but now I run not only to stay healthy and fit but also
to run for my husband’s healing. In early 2018, he was diagnosed with stage 4
rectal cancer that metastasized to his right lung.
During the challenge of aggressive radiation, bimonthly chemotherapy,
and recovering from three major surgeries, Jon has been by my side at five
ultras. Because he cannot pace me yet, I stick to 50 milers, 24-hour ultras,
and other timed ultras that take place on a track or short loop. He continues to
feed me, duct tape my feet, drain my blisters, change my socks, help me change
clothes, and make sure I drink our home brewed ginger when I feel nauseated at
about mile 60.
Since his diagnosis, my running has taken on a new meaning, a new
purpose. I have dedicated every training run, and ultra to his healing. Last
year, I ran 60 miles on a one-mile loop in my in daughter’s neighborhood to
celebrate my 60th birthday, and as a healing run for Jon.
Running has also become my cancer caregiver self-care. And on his ElliptiGo, Jon continues to join me on my training runs. We stay strong together.
Our time at the Across the Years 48 hour ultra will be a celebratory
time. We have much to celebrate. Jon’s last scan shows no evidence of cancer. And
for that, we are grateful. And I will turn 61 years young. This ultra will be another prayerful run of gratitude
and for continued healing.
No matter what adversity, obstacle, setback, or suffering comes my
way, I work with it and just run to stay physically and mentally strong. My
faith and prayers during runs keeps me spiritually strong.
From adversity comes strength and with that strength I continue to put one foot in front of the other and run ultramarathons, though much slower but always steady, with meaning, purpose, and gratitude.
Connect with Miriam
Thanks to Miriam for sharing her running story! What’s yours? We’d love to know. Send an email to Caroline, firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to contribute to our blog.