Being brave enough to know when to stop

Being brave enough to know when to stop

That sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach.  Tears prickling behind your eyes.  The disbelief as the weight of the situation settles on your shoulders and you know you’ve got to make a decision you don’t want to make.

Maybe you rage against the unfairness, or perhaps you desperately search for ways and means to push through.

Ultimately you know that the right decision to make is to just stop. Take a step back. Reassess.

But bloody hell! It’s hard.

Photo Credit: @cheeky.weka

Pulling out of race or event will always be one of those decisions - one we don’t want to make. Particularly when we ‘might’ be able to push through - when it’s ‘just a niggle’.

Our sport has such a gritty ethos, a narrative of success at any physical cost. Mind over body - but at what cost is that really for us recreational runners - our long term ability to run?

Runners and ultra-runners (I imagine similar to other sports) are a curious breed.  For some reason we seem to think we are exempt from the rules of physiology!

Running to most runners  is so much more than running, that we forget that actually at its basic level, we are breaking down our bodies with the aim of making them stronger.  Many of us however, don’t pay enough attention to the recovery part in our endless pursuit of the adventure, the runners high, the next peak, the next race.  Fuelled by an endless to do list and social feeds full of epic things we want to do.

But the fact remains, every time we run we break down our bodies, and if we don’t allow the space to adapt at the level appropriate to our bodies we will break - and then we are left with the decision - to push beyond and risk further injury and long term damage or allow space for rebuilding, rehabbing and become runners for life.

Photo Credit: @cheeky.weka

I recently pulled out of an adventure I have been planning for over 6 months. I had sponsorship, media, not to mention the hours of work I had put in with route planning, gaining land owner permissions and all the logistics that come with creating your own event.  I had trained well, conservatively, pushing just enough.  You see, I have learnt that my body is not just a vessel that I can push and bend to my will.  It’s been a hard learnt lesson over years of trying to do that and seeing the detriment. But I have come to respect my body and its needs. No, this was an accidental ankle injury, that just didn’t heal quite as it should have - a niggle - you might say.  A niggle however that over the course of 250km+ and 16,000m of tough off track ascent and descent in the Otago mountains would likely have caused me problems.

At the first thought of having to postpone, other thoughts quickly rushed through my head - taping, cortisone, pain killers - there were options to get me through, I’m tough, I’m not a quitter.  But what kind of example would I be setting? And what kind of experience would I have out there in pain for 72+ hours. Not to mention the long term repercussions. I could do it, but should I?

Nope.  The ‘niggle’ was enough to bow out, hard as it was.  The ‘niggle’ was my body telling me now was not my time, heart wrenching as it was.

After that decision and waiting for the specialist appointment I cut my mileage right back, followed my physio guidelines to take it easy.  I was feeling pretty good on a sunny mid afternoon run when I rounded a corner and my ankle completely gave out - seemingly out of nowhere, other than the niggle that wasn’t quite right. I’m now waiting for surgery.  The ‘niggle’ - literally floored me.  Thankfully it was on a local track just a couple hundred meters from my car and not atop a mountain requiring a heli evac!

Photo Credit: @cheeky.weka

And so, I would like to advocate for choosing the health and the long term well-being of our bodies. 

I would suggest that runners and ultra-runners become aware that we are in a sport that peddles mental strength, resilience and mind over matter, revering those that literally crawl over a finish line - holding them up as beacons of inspiration, but this may be an unhealthy mentality.

Let’s change the narrative. Running is a sport, governed by some general rules of physiology - let's acknowledge that. There is definitely a place for mental strength and resilience, but that is not in breaking our bodies.  Mental strength comes in knowing when to stop, in not having to push our bodies to breaking point just to achieve a goal that ultimately no one really cares about as much as we do. 

Let's revere the runners that take the time to build and support their bodies to achieve their goals, honing their endurance and strength over the years required to be healthy and successful.

Photo Credit: @cheeky.weka

My running story will continue with a minor plot twist, one of prehab, rehab and then building slowly back up.  It’s frustrating, upsetting, but I’m damn proud of myself for stopping when I did, if I didn't it could have been the end of my story, rather than an interesting chapter where the heroine learns valuable life lessons.

 - Tanya Bottomley, Adventurer

Follow Tanya's adventures at @runliketanya