Oh man, where to start?! It’s been over three years since my last post. Let’s get you caught up.
So last I checked in I was about to move across the country from New York to Washington state. I had just bailed on a 50k training cycle in lieu of using that time to spend with friends before I left. I am still somewhat conflicted about the decision because Bear Mountain and those races hold such a special place in my heart. Also my friend Tom who lost his battle with cancer last year ran that year and I would have loved to have gotten in more training runs and a finish line celebration with him.
As part of the move I drove across the country with my cats and an old friend. It was exciting and epic and exhausting. We took seven days to make the journey and made stops along the way to see lots of awesome things. Highlights of the trip included visiting with a dear old friend in Chicago, visiting Paisley Park in Minnesota, roadside attractions like the woodchipper in Fargo, Painted Canyon and the National Grasslands in North Dakota, driving around and hiking in Makoshika State and Dancing Horse Mountain in Montana, the Garden of 1000 Buddhas in Montana, and all of the interesting and odd towns we made stops in for gas, food, and overnight stays. Facebook has been reminding of all the sights and adventures along the way the past few days and it makes me long for a good road trip.
After landing in Washington, I literally hit the ground running. I settled into a good running routine, ran a few races, and hiked quite a bit. However, in August, I was asked to pick up a project working with a team with a 12 hour time difference. I spent two and a half months working 12 hours over the course of 17 hour work days that started with calls at 5 and 6am and ended with calls at 9 and 10pm. I was exhausted and my weekends were spent catching up on sleep, chores, and errands. My doctor was really concerned as it started to impact my health. By November things were starting to slow down and I was able to start running a bit again. Over Thanksgiving I took the week off and was really looking forward to hitting the trail, however a few days into my vacation I ended up in the ER with chest pains. The hospital was unable to find an official cause for my chest pains, but two of my doctors believe that my body went into shock because of adrenaline withdrawal. Their theory is that my body was super stressed and fueled by adrenaline for months and when I suddenly relaxed it threw everything out of whack. I’m sure my arrhythmia didn’t help. Long story short, a few weeks of building back a running routine I was sidelined for several weeks while I recovered and my doctors did all kinds of tests.
My application to Hood to Coast had finally been accepted and I was officially a team captain so I really wanted and needed to get my butt in gear over the winter. My first winter of running in the PNW was tough. I had thought it would be no big deal because I ran through frigid New York winters and loved running in snow. I had even run through a few big snowstorms. But frigid temps and snow have nothing on 40 degree rain and mud. I struggled to keep warm because of the wetness. I didn’t have any friends here yet either so keeping motivation up to go run on gloomy, cold, and wet days was tough. I was also still finding my work schedule to be challenging due to a challenging call schedule which started at 6-7am and ran through to lunch time. It gets dark here by late afternoon in the winter and with no sidewalks and limited streetlights, evening running didn’t seem like a safe option. I was able to keep some low mileage over the winter and got in a pretty epic snow hike at the Gorge in, but really should have just joined a gym and got in treadmill miles. Live and learn. I did manage to find a trainer and started lifting again in January so winter wasn’t a total loss.
By summer of 2019, I was back into a good training routine and getting ready for Hood to Coast. I had an amazing team with many of my athletes on the roster. I had also started joining a local weekly group run and was making some running friends. I was stoked. By mid-July though, my sacral and back issues started to resurface. (My back rarely flares these days, but I do still have bulging discs.) Some physical therapy got me back on track, but then I ended up with mild extensor tendonitis which I contended with during the race. The race itself was awesome and I am kicking myself for not taking more pictures throughout the race or writing a race report. Once again after the race my work schedule started to become unmanageable. I remember this time period well because my new running friends were asking about why I wasn’t showing up at group runs. One even went so far as to tell me that I was working too much and needed to prioritize myself. Yikes.
The winter of 2019 to 2020 was really focused on work. I had a new hire and a director that was super motivated to get funding for my program. It seemed like it would be a good return on investment. Everything was focused on getting to March 2020 when we would be in New York for a big presentation. My running suffered, but I continued lifting and was seeing some really good progress. In January 2020 I had a traumatic experience and lost my grandfather and it all really knocked the wind out of me. Several things started to shift in my personal life pretty quickly. I started working with a therapist, practicing Kundalini yoga regularly, and decided to temporarily abstain from alcohol which became a permanent decision by summer. I also finally, permanently rolled off that project with a 12 hour time difference. By February I was really prioritizing myself and my health above all else and was able to increase mileage. I had signed up for a six hour race in April and a 25k in July. I was super excited about both not just because of the race, but because they were going to be overnights with new trail friends. I was finally making some local friends and had plans for an exciting summer. Then March hit.
The pandemic. I don’t know how else to transition into this. If you remember, early on there was debate about masking and whether we needed them outdoors once it became a thing. I’m literally thousands of miles away from all of my family and loved ones. I didn’t want to risk getting really sick being so far away and especially with travel being so limited and risky. So I stayed home. A few months in I started going for short walks around the neighborhood. My trainer and I met once a week over Zoom and I worked out in my loft with kettlebells. I did yoga via Zoom. For six weeks over the summer I was able to get in one hike a week with an old friend and her sister. I also started trail running a bit again. Then the wildfires hit and we were all trapped inside our houses for two weeks. I decided to do a 40 day sadhana (daily yoga practice) that turned into an hour or more a day for almost 60 days. There was also the election, (virtual) volunteer hours, extreme craziness in my personal life, winter weather, and then somehow it was March 2021 all the sudden. Which brings us to the latest hurdle. A broken toe that has been extremely slow to heal over the past twelve weeks. I literally just came out of a post-op shoe (no surgery, just for recovery support) last week and am cleared to walk, but not run.
The biggest lesson I have had reiterated for me over the past few years is that I have to make space for and prioritize myself. I have also learned to be kinder to myself and not beat myself up for what a past version of myself might have considered failures over the past three years. Moving across the country to place where you essentially have no loved ones you can rely on for support, adjusting your schedule to a new time zone when not all of your responsibilities to other time zones have changed, learning a new area, new trails, making new friends, and then having trauma and a pandemic thrown at you is not easy, and I did the best that I could. And honestly, I am so grateful for all of these challenges because I have learned and grown so much in the past couple years. I have shifted my energy to focus on things that are most important to me and relationships with people that support and accept me and all of my growth. My therapist uses the term “radical acceptance” and I believe that accurately reflects where I am right now with many things. (Totally still working through it for ALL things!) As an aside, I am also so excited that in 4 days I will celebrate 17 months of living alcohol free. But what the heck does all of this have to do with running?!
I have come to realize that no matter what life throws at me or how long I am away from it, running–particularly trail running–is my home. It feeds my soul in a way that nothing else I have done does. My appreciation for being on the trails has grown exponentially even and especially during times when I wasn’t able to get out there. And while I would love to be able to say I managed to run through all of the craziness I am going to not beat myself up about it. I’m going to radically accept myself and my need to rest or whatever else I did instead of running.
As we hopefully start to get “back to normal” and my toe continues to heal, I am optimistic that my training will start taking shape in a way that feels productive again. I have a new trainer that I have been chatting with and I am looking forward to potentially working with soon. I have new athletes reaching out for coaching support. Races and travel seem to slowly be ramping up again. I’m not setting any goals right now because I’m not sure what recovery is going to look like with this troublesome toe, but I do want to get back to documenting my journey. If you are interested in following along, look for updates here and @distancebrandi on IG.
P.S. I promise more pictures and detailed adventure recounts in future posts. I may post about a few past adventures in the coming months and will definitely get a post about my toe written sooner rather than later. If there are other topics you would like me to cover related to coaching or training, hit me up in the comments or shoot me an email at distancebrandi on gmail.