The Christina Challenge – a 24/7 Race to Recovery

I’m sure to those that read my race report on the Coastal Challenge finished the last post a little bewildered. A reader of blogs myself, very rarely does a race report that finishes in success ever end with anything but joy. And although there was plenty of happiness at the finish line for me, The Coastal Challenge remains one of the best worst experiences of my life, and it has left a mark. The highs and lows of the race continued well past the finish line, and the recovery has been one of the most humbling experiences of my life.
I came home from Costa Rica riding high on my achievement, and the moment I woke up in my apartment that first morning, reality hit me right in the face. The last five months of my life had been almost exclusively dedicated to successfully completing the race, and now that it was over, what did I have left? What did I have to dream about, what did I have to keep me motivated, and what did I have to work towards? Truthfully, I never felt so isolated as I did that morning, not two days after completing the race. Staring out my window at the falling snow, yes, snow, I felt as though nothing, and everything had changed, and it was a challenge just to get through each day.
Although I came home with no injuries and no physical pain, I no longer felt like myself. I could feel my legs, but they didn’t feel like my own, they didn’t feel like anything. I had phantom limbs lingering after battle as a shell of what they once were. I would talk to my friends and family, but I never felt present. Someone would say something to me, and depending on the moment, I would either feel like laughing or crying. Running became a chore, not a pleasure, and I began to notice that any slight incline would send my heart rate soaring and I would start gasping for air. I felt weak. I had just come back from such an amazing accomplishment and felt that I should be at my peak performance, but instead I was struggling just to get out the door. I began to sleep a lot. A LOT. Like, all the time. Motivation? Nope. Drive? Forget about it. All I wanted to do was sleep and eat (more than usual).
I think for the most part I held it together. Knowing that what I was experiencing was “normal” and expected, I pushed my recovery and threw myself back into training. And work. After one week at home it was time to hit the road and see my customers. For the next three weeks I traveled to Washington, Idaho, Vancouver Island, and Alaska. From Alaska, I had one day at home before flying to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. What a life. If you were to ask me, as my coaches did, how I was doing during that time, I would simply say I was fine, just tired. It wasn’t until I came home from Mexico that I finally accepted that I was not OK.
And so began The Christina Challenge – a 24/7 Race to Recovery.
I began to piece myself back together from the inside-out and learned to listen to my body and what it needed more than I ever have before, leading to my first ever DNS (Did Not Start) at one of my favourite races, the 5 Peaks Alice Lake Enduro. I’m sure to many, missing a 12KM race is not a big deal, but for me, it was HUGE. I have an undiagnosed case of FOMO, and deliberately missing out on a race that I knew would host some of my best running buddies was incredibly difficult. In hindsight, it was the best decision I had made in a while and helped me on my road to recovery. After finally confiding in my coaches about how I was feeling, I began a round of blood tests, doctor appointments, and rest. My training schedule was altered to the bare minimum, iron supplementation was introduced, and sleep was encouraged. Burn out was imminent and had I not sought outside help from my coaches it is very likely that my race season would have had to be altered dramatically. This serves as a general PSA: always be truthful when speaking to your coaches, or support system. My denial and pride prolonged my honesty, and had I talked about what was happening earlier, I could have saved myself weeks of undue suffering.
So, here we are, over two months after the race and I am finally feeling like “me” again. I am waking up with more energy, my limbs feel light, and my respiratory and cardiovascular systems are no longer under stress. A couple weekends ago I completed the Sunshine Coast Marathon Shuffle with a group of friends and couldn’t stop smiling. For the first time in months I woke up without an alarm and with energy and as I shuffled through two days of trails with my friends by my side, I remembered why I love the sport as much as I do. No PR’s were made, but the memories will last with me for a long time.
Ultra Running can be wonderful, but it can also be brutal, and I think that acknowledging both sides of the sport is necessary to truly understand it. Stories of victory are inspiring and uplifting, but they are only one part of what we as ultra runners experience. Yes, there is accomplishment and glory, but there is also pain and defeat, it is the balance of these two sides that makes the sport so special. Despite the many challenges I faced during and after The Coastal Challenge, I would do it again in a heartbeat, and that is what makes ultras so unique. It is difficult to explain, but ultras go far beyond the finish line – it is the beauty of nature, the community, the volunteers, and the other runners that keep drawing me back, and perhaps in spite of the adversity that faces me on every race, I will always keep moving forward.

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