Sage Burner 25K – Avoiding Activities Does Not Make Them Easier

Last weekend was the kick off to my trail racing season with the Sage Burner 25K at the Hartman Rocks Recreation Area in Gunnison, Colorado. My husband Josh was going to be racing the Meowler Mountain Duathlon, so I was planning to make a training weekend out of it. Gunnison is about a 4-hour drive through the mountains. We stopped about every 45 minutes or so for a brain break on the way down and I held up reasonably well on the way down. We checked into our little cabin and I took a nap before we went to find dinner. I should’ve known better. The restaurant was loud, and we should have found somewhere else. But the menu looked good and I thought with my ear filters I could handle the noise. I was wrong. Halfway through dinner I literally had to walk out of the restaurant to avoid vomiting, leaving my husband to get my meal boxed up and pay the bill.

I managed to sleep well that night, and by the next morning, I felt good enough to run. The race was challenging, but I made it through at my goal pace. The biggest challenges were not the distance, nor the elevation gain, but crossing the cattle guards, seeing the pattern of tire tracks in the dirt, people talking behind me, and that lady with the neon orange flapping jacket tied to her waist!!  My brain did not appreciate those obstacles but recovered quickly. I felt good on the climbs, but it was hard on the descents to see everybody passing me. My downhill pace really isn’t much faster than my uphill pace. In my head, I am flying downhill, but that is just because I can’t process the terrain fast enough, so things seem to be whizzing by.  So I try not to get frustrated that the three people I passed going up the hill just zoomed by me going down the other side, and just keep running my own race.

Sage Burner 25K trail race on May 21, 2016, in Gunnison, Colo.
The start of the Sage Burner 25K trail race on May 21, 2016, in Gunnison, Colo.

After the start of Josh’s Meowler Mountain Duathlon on Sunday, I followed the mountain bikers out on the course for a second day of training, and another 25K run. I went a lot slower and it felt a lot easier without all the other people. Josh finished his race strong, and I was so proud of him. I have no idea how he rides trails like that.  All in all, it was a great 32 mile training weekend for me on the trails, but the hardest part was yet to come. The drive home on Monday was horrible. I mean, crying on the side of the road wanting Josh to just leave me there, sort of horrible. By the time we got home I was having trouble walking, and was having to grab the counters or walls to keep upright. I didn’t know if it was the running or the drive, but I felt like all my running goals were over. I told Josh I didn’t want to do my other races because I didn’t want to have to travel to get to them. It was that bad.

Taking a break on the drive to Gunnison, Colo., for the Sage Burner 25K race.
Taking a break on the drive to Gunnison after going over the third pass of the day. Notice the sleeping mask, Buff and sunglasses.

The following day I had a session with my physical therapist Mary. Traumatic brain injury recovery is a specialty of hers, and she helps with my vision and vestibular deficits. She also helps me with minor running injuries that pop up. I asked her flat out if I need to stop running. Her response was “No”, that running is keeping me going right now, and that she thinks it is good therapy for me. She also reminded me that I feel good while I’m running, and terrible in the car. So she is fine with the mileage I’m running and thinks the travel is the bigger issue. Over the last few months, a lot of things have been getting harder for me, and I have worried that it was the increased running mileage causing that regression. Mary told me I have been avoiding activities that trigger my symptoms, so my brain hasn’t had to figure out how to deal with them. This avoidance was initially doctor recommended, however, she thinks that my brain is actually at a point where it is becoming less and less tolerant of stimulation because of this avoidance. It is time to start pushing through.

When my immediate response is to look away, I’m supposed to make myself look at whatever is bright, or moving for a few seconds, and try to keep my eyes open for periods of time in the car when Josh drives. I’ve started to drive a lap around my neighborhood several times a day, and try to go the store frequently, just for a few minutes. She warned me that it is going to make me feel awful, and it will be hard to make myself work on this. There is a fine line between pushing to trigger my symptoms, and pushing to where I’m wrecked and feeling miserable. It is time to start inching towards that edge, trying not to go crashing off the cliff on the other side.

First few miles of the Sage Burner 25K trail race on May 21, 2016, in Gunnison, Colo.
First few miles of the Sage Burner 25K trail race in the Hartman Rocks area near Gunnison, Colo. Look closely to see the runners in the distance.

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