I’ve had too many things I’ve wanted to write about, what’s the opposite of writers block? But I need to tell you this last story of the Order first. Having never done a winter ultra just two years ago, I binged on race reports and blog entries. I write these to tell my story but also to put the information out there, to encourage and inspire anyone who wants it. It is also one of the reasons why I shamelessly speak of my mistakes and weakest moments, they are a learning moment for me, but what good does that do sitting in my brain when I can share it and someone else can benefit! Not being very clever I would probably be a thawing corps in Wisconsin right now had I not wrapped my sleeping bag around me that first Tuscobia night, an idea I got from reading Chris Scotch’s race report where he did the same thing at another race. Yes, executing a race takes thought and strength, as does the recovery! After speaking to my fellow Hrimthurs a little while ago, who were experiencing the same thing I was in some areas, my belief of telling you this final chapter was cemented. It is easy to be there for each other during the race, but the After can be more lonely than any second night on the trail. There is also no pushing through the recovery for me, and as much as I try to bypass certain aspects, I still have to go through the motions. So here is my story of what happened after completing the Order, in all its full glory.
After finishing Actif, I went back to my life, spending the now standard five days in a men’s size 13 shoe due to the swelling in my feet. This “normal” is mostly from the winter ultras, the feet swell, then they go down, then back to normal. It never occurred to me that it would be anything else other than water. Last year it took MONTHS to recover from Arrowhead, so this year I had a plan. Sleep. For many weeks I slept 10-12 hours a day, this is the first step to healing for me. But I also wanted to do it stress free, so I slept and put away any thoughts of trying to start training again or anything like that. I was TIRED. So I slept. This portion was something I actually did right. I also starting binging on fish, in the last 15 years I haven’t eaten as much fish as I have since finishing Arrowhead. And sometimes not even fish, you know that fake crab meat in the plastic bag at the grocery store? BAGS of it! I won’t use the word “addiction” here but whatever one click above that is, that is what fake crab meat is to me. I couldn’t get enough. So whatever my body was craving, I ate. And then slept.
I started running a little bit. The first time I attempted a run, I bailed. It took a day to realize that the anxiety I had been feeling was the same anxiety that plagued me at Actif. I actually was worried I wouldn’t finish that 3 mile training run! After some internal coaxing I realized that not every run had to be a massive endeavor and I became the (self proclaimed) Queen of the Twenty Minute Run. It was GREAT! I would DRIVE to the park, run for 20 minutes, and DRIVE HOME! Sorry planet Earth! But it helped get me over this hump and got me back on the trail. This was a month after Actif so I was feeling pretty proud and ahead of the recovery game. Last year I just wanted to sleep during my runs, like actually pull over on the trail during a 5 mile run and bivy. None of that was happening so life was great. So far so good. Then two things happened. I got depressed and I got fat. Not sure the order so we’ll just say they happened at the same time.
Sleep turned into my escape, I was sad all of the time. I felt far away from my dreams and goals and that is a bad place to be for Kari. The exhaustion was extreme. To add to this, my car broke (my bad!) so I was biking to work, that’s 150 miles a week, 30 miles a day, for almost two months. The 20 minute runs were gone, my days piled on top of each other, I rode my bike and my world shrank. I cried every day. All of this riding didn’t change the fact that I now have a full extra layer of fat on me! I couldn’t figure it out! And it had nothing to do with that sugary fake crab meat so don’t even think it! There was this puffy fat around my knees, my KNEES! I had a belly and chubby knees. Oh God! I just ran 100 miles! I could not figure it out, and the state of my body compounded the state of my mind. I’m not super lean or skinny anyway due to chips and the fact that my boyfriend works at a brewery, and generally don’t care about weight unless it’s two weeks before a race and then I freak out about dieting. But this was different, I looked unhealthy and felt weak and THAT is not ok. This helplessness went on for… who knows.
There was never one day where I “got better” but it was more like a series of events that cracked open the depression and let some light in.
First, I spoke to Craig the physical therapist who comes into the store. We talked of training and racing and recovery, that we, the Order, should be guinea pigs for some mad scientist to experiment on. That the swelling in my feet was not water but some creepy residue from my body eating its own muscle, LEAN muscle. WHAT! What an asshole! So yes, when you actually traumatize your body it does react to keep you alive…by eating itself. ewwwwwww! So that’s where the fat Kari came from. I decide to join a gym. Touché universe, as this was something I said I would never do! But I needed to get strong, I needed a huge change up, I needed to swim in the pool, I needed to get my muscle back and the fat would take care of itself. So I joined a YMCA to play and swim, and every day my heart shoots out of my chest and dramatically swirls to the bottom of the pool and it feels great!
The mental recovery takes as much time to heal, and that healing for me truly began at the Zumbro 100. I was reunited with my fellow Hrimthurs and as we talked of the ITI we had tears in our eyes. It was so good to see them and it filled the giant hole that was in my heart that I didn’t know they could fill until then. Catharsis. I talked to my friend Ed, and as the morning went on we swapped stories, talked dreams, and we spoke of the actual reason for doing any of it, and that is the connection with our fellow runners. My ship was being set right with each conversation. Later that night, I paced two of my friends to their first 100 mile finish. One was during the Witching Hour, the shitty part of the night, and the other I paced her last loop, the victory loop. Watching these strong women give everything to get the hard earned buckle was HUGE, I was focusing not on my own insecurities and out of touch dreams, but instead was focusing on them and their finish. It was so wonderful to watch. Zumbro was a wakeup call, and when I went home I was ready to get my duckies in a row.
One of my favorite pictures from Zumbro. Not sure what we were talking about, but it is very symbolic to how I was feeling!
Since then, I’ve been focusing on strength at the gym, swimming, and consistent running. Even if it’s for a few minutes, I try to run 5 days a week. I’ve started fixing things that need fixing, IT bands and those pesky tight caves. All of this to be a better runner for next winter and injury free. Being an addict, balance is hard for me, so I’ve already over done it twice by working out three times in a day and having to sleep for a day. This puts me right back at day one after Actif so I am REALLY trying to move to consistent training vs acting like a slow Olympian. Adrenal fatigue is a huge concern, so I’ve been taking Adrenal Support drops and Hammer Mito caps, whether these work who knows, but it makes me feel proactive and that helps. I’ve changed my version of challenge and have started to meet with friends again, spring is here, and winter is coming. This all comes down to getting ready for next year. Training for winter starts in July and I have added more to my training blocks. I have every intention of going for the Order again, with an Unsupported Arrowhead mixed in. Actif is almost a given, as dramatic as it was, I think about her every day. I know my mistakes and want one more go of it.
I remember my recovery after road marathons being two days. But this is a whole new world, this winter ultra shit and those days are gone! It’s not the distance, it’s the TIME. Staying up all night messes you up! For a WHILE. And the recovery isn’t just, put your feet up and rest, it is multi faceted. I am reminding you and Future Me to be our most adaptive selves when it comes to recovery. If something doesn’t work, change it. If you’re not motivated to do something, do something else! And what ever you are going through, chances are so is someone else, even if to a different degree. Regardless of the detours this spring I’m already better at recovering than I was last year, and I hope you find this last chapter of 2017 to be your Sleeping Bag, use it!
Back at it during the Chippewa 50k, happy to be running without the sled.