One Monday a couple months ago, I found myself at the base of the towering Flatirons in Boulder, Colorado, a trail of dusty orange gravel stretched out before me and into the mountains. It was still August, but the cool evening air was hinting at autumn.
We set off along the path, which quickly turned narrow, steep, and rocky. My lungs, still not acquainted with the altitude, began to burn almost instantly. Not long after, my quads followed suit. But we continued to climb, briefly quickening our pace to a slow jog on occasion when the path leveled out before we returned to a slow, painful trudge upward through the trees.
The loop called for more than 2,400 feet of climbing in 3.5 miles, followed by a 3-mile descent. God knows I’m always up for a challenge. But it became clear early on that I had possibly bitten off more than I could chew.
It’s been over a year since I’ve written on this blog. When I last checked in, I wrote that I’d finally decided to start taking running seriously again. I imagined I’d have more time to run because, after a year of working part-time plus taking classes, I’d finally (theoretically) have a regular schedule again. I even planned to sign up for a fall half-marathon to keep me motivated.
Well, shortly after that post… a little life detour called nursing school started. And so began the most challenging 15 months of my life.
Thankfully, running stuck around for the relentless, insane, and incredible ride.
When school started, my life was quickly consumed with all things nursing. My weekends, which were once filled with long runs followed by even longer naps, turned into nonstop study sessions. And instead of waking up early to escape the heat for a sunrise run, I found myself in scrubs listening to a 6:45 a.m. shift report.
But I tried my best to squeeze in a few runs each week because running, as it has my whole life, keeps me sane. Running seemed to help me process this new chapter of my life and the crazy new career I was pursuing. It kept the stress from becoming all consuming and released the tension that would inevitably build up.
Running and I still had a haphazard relationship, however, which evolved with each passing semester. I did sign up for a fall half-marathon, so despite my ever-present exhaustion, I spent the summer trying to rebuild my endurance. Long runs were rewarded with coffee and a donut, because that was literally all that got me out the door. Then for a couple months at the end of the fall semester, a classmate and I dedicated ourselves to completing a 10-mile run, a distance she hadn’t run in years. Each weekend, we pushed ourselves a little farther, spending the miles trying to clear our minds as the leaves changed and fell around us. The morning after our last exam that semester, buoyed by the fact that we’d successfully endured finals week, we laced up on a frigid December day and ran 11.
The spring brought with it a streak of amazing mid-week “mini” long runs. My schedule worked out so that I’d have Wednesday afternoons off. I wore my workout clothes to school and, after sitting for five hours straight, ran 7 miles on the rail trail nearby. During some of those runs, I physically pounded out stress, while others felt effortless thanks to news of a successful exam or an amazing clinical day. Those runs felt like a way to reclaim my life in a small way when school felt all-consuming.
Throughout it all, though, I was never able to run consistently. I missed feeling like my old self, the one that somehow ran marathons not too long ago.
Despite my failing lungs and legs, we reached the crest of the mountain and were rewarded with spectacular views of the sunset. I sat for a moment, gasping for air. I hadn’t felt this spent in months. But wow did it feel good to genuinely push myself again. With spaghetti-like legs, we jogged back down the mountain. On the drive home, I felt I’d run a marathon. Sure, what we’d just finished would be difficult regardless. But boy, did I realize I have my work cut out for me.
Next year is shaping up to be a big one – now that I’m officially an RN, I hope to start working sooner rather than later and get the ball rolling on this new career of mine. (I am beyond excited to start this new chapter in my life.) I also can’t wait to finally settle in to my new home in Colorado. And running wise? 2019 is going to be my year to make a comeback.
I’m not exactly starting from square one. But I’m nowhere near where I was at my best. In theory, “The Plan” is to run a half marathon or two next year and try the good old 26.2 again in 2020. My goal? To feel like myself again. No time goals just yet. The hiatus has been marvelous but it’s officially over.
The climb up the mountain reminded me of my potential, of what it feels like to push myself out of my comfort zone physically and mentally. I hadn’t felt like that in so long and it made me crave it more.