My Beloved Monkey

Is there an adventure, race, or goal on your list that you haven't yet been able to reach?

Is there a growth potential you are striving toward, whether a physical quest, financial goal, or lifestyle change that has been needling at you to accomplish? I have such intentions in each of these categories, but one has been a monkey on my back for a few years now. A monkey I gladly invited to sit upon my shoulder, though not realizing I'd be hosting it for so long. It is top of mind as I sit to write because there is an ache on the other end — my foot.

I've had an adventure goal of completing a 50K trail running race for three years. I label it an adventure because it isn't tied to a specific race, but rather a humble adventure of moving through nature for a distance yet attempted. I invited this monkey to jump on after reconnecting with trail running in late 2014. I was thoroughly enjoying new tree-lined trails, previously unexplored mountain peaks, and traveling domestically (and eventually abroad) to discover terrain I longed to experience. I ran in the Sawtooth Mountains, the Tetons, and in Yellowstone. I stopped in Big Sky, Montana that September and watched The Rut 50K. I was enamored and intrigued. The logical next step, in my mind, was to sign up for an ultramarathon.

Unfortunately, I have been burdened with a plantar fasciitis issue in my left foot for years, one that flares up as I add weekly running mileage. Despite the foot issue, my monkey coaxed me into signing up for two ultras. I signed up for the Rut 50K in 2016 and The North Face 50K in Park City, Utah this past Fall. I have yet to stand at a start line. I have been forced, or forced myself, to take months off at a time to let this plantar fasciitis heal, including six months in 2015 when I also dealt with a fatigue issue. The inflammation subsides during the time off, but quickly returns once the running begins.

“I’ve determined that this dual pounding of heart and foot is the price I’ll pay, my admission fee, to engage fully in the wild — and feed the monkey.”

While the injury is real, I also wonder if my inability to get to the starting line is as much rooted in fear as injury. I fear not the risk of doing more damage, but rather that I'll not complete the full 31 miles. Or, I'll need to walk more than I'd like. Running the longer miles is without question the hardest physical test I've placed on myself. I've shut down training a couple months out from the aforementioned races due to the volume inhibiting my ability to walk on the foot between runs. As such, it made sense not to travel to a race that I felt ill-prepared for. I now wonder if shutting down training is as much due to that fear of failing. I believe yes.

Frankly, I have grown weary and frustrated with my left foot and this recurring routine of ramping up training only to then shut it down. I do, however, love my monkey. My monkey whispers, "keep trying". My foot shouts and attempts to kick the monkey off my back. But I won't have it. My monkey speaks the language of my heart. It speaks of fantastic feats once relegated to great adventurers and elite warriors. My foot reminds me I am merely mortal. My monkey listens to the call of higher mountain peaks and forest canopied trails which creates a beating in my heart to lace-up, a pulsing motivation to move through Nature that is stronger than the throbbing in my foot pleading for me to stop. I've determined that this dual pounding of heart and foot is the price I'll pay, my admission fee, to engage fully in the wild — and feed the monkey.

I write of monkeys and adventure with a growing pain and numbness in my foot. I've again ramped up mileage to prepare for another attempt at getting to the starting line in early 2018. I chose a race along our loosely planned traveling route to eliminate the "I shouldn't travel so far," excuse. I chose a race just two months out to reduce the amount of time I had to put on the foot, and more importantly the amount of time I had to convince myself to pull out. I am attempting to better balance the training with the injury by incorporating specific rehab exercises my physical therapist advised, as well as, keeping my total volume equal to or less than 50 miles weekly. I enlisted Susan, and now I enlist you reader, to keep me accountable to my goal. I have only the objective — I must continually remind myself — to get to that damned elusive start line. Then, I'll intend to find the finish line. I'm not blind to the fact that ego is driving this more than it should. I'm not ignorant that ultra running probably isn't the healthiest quest. But, I am aware, and I accept, the costs of these endeavors in order to feel as though I am living a life of purpose, one fully connected with Nature and the calling within. I wrote last week — uncomfortable is adventure. Perhaps, discomfort is living fully.

Back to you reader. What discomfort are you willing to manage in order to move toward a humble adventure of your own?

Signing off to hit the trails,

— Paul