The Road Ahead
(Originally published on www.irunfar.com 11/25/20)
The road ahead of me stretches out, over hills and around corners. I’ve been on this rough gritty path for what seems like forever, and despite the fatigue in my body and my brain, I’ve no choice but to keep plodding onward. There’ve been obstacles, false summits, hard and seemingly easier times. I know that what lies ahead is fraught with more unknowns, but still I put one foot in front of the other. But… this isn’t a long training run or a point-to-point ultra,... this is my life on the front lines of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In March 2020 I found myself N95 mask-deep in the sudden changes and stress involved in gearing up for what we expected would be an onslaught of sick folks coming into the suburban Emergency Room where I work as a Physician Assistant. At the time I found solace in my daily trail runs. The singletrack threads running through Umstead Park and along the shores of Falls Lake were the fibers that held my spirit together in-between shifts. Mine and everyone else’s A-races got cancelled, and we all had to find other motivation to continue “training”. It was a healthy dose of perspective that set me on course. I reveled in my ability to keep doing what I loved and used that as the primary means of providing self-care and wellness that ultimately proved to be critical in the long haul.
The problem was… the dang virus just kept hanging around! The protocols and precautions evolved and changed. The classic signs we looked for morphed into too many subtle presentations. Every patient seemed to have it!
Covid fatigue: the feeling we providers and the general public began to have, that we were just TIRED of all of it. No one wanted to keep being cautious and careful. The community strain became immense. Politics muddied the waters. More events got cancelled. Businesses closed their doors for good. Mental health worsened for those most at risk, and even for those with no prior diagnosis.
More than before, my escapes to the dirt and trees became a vital and necessary activity to keep my sanity and personal happiness. That’s the thing about those trails; they are always there to welcome and embrace you. Sometimes a little root will even grab your foot so that same trail can give you a little “kiss”. It’s REAL, it’s TANGIBLE, it’s GROUNDING. It’s a reminder that if you can take care of YOURSELF… you can survive just about anything this world can throw at you. Additionally, this self care makes you better able to provide some of that light in your heart to others, whether it be to my kids, my patients, my Dad quarantined in his Assisted Living facility, or family and friends connected only via a ZOOM screen.
I was lucky enough to toe a starting line recently at the Pinhoti 100. This race managed to pull out all the stops of safe Covid mitigation and nearly was derailed after all that by the destruction of Hurricane Zeta. I was thankful to even start that race, especially as my main training buddy was taken down by The ‘Rona only 3 days prior to this race we were to run together. So when I unexpectedly found myself pushing the cutoffs I had this sudden realization that finishing this race and holding that buckle would FINALLY be the one big positive I could get out of 2020! I pushed myself harder than I ever thought possible and completed the race having left it all out there! It was a gigantic emotional sigh of relief.
No sooner did I get home though, that I found myself back in the thick of the pandemic ramping up all over again. It never left. Europe struggles with new outbreaks and increasing lockdowns. News came out that my town will be cancelling all outdoor gatherings, parades and races through March 2021. I started seeing more and more sick people, even those young and without other illnesses! I found myself back in the mental struggle,.... the motivation abyss. A promising vaccine on the horizon but not soon enough.
After a week the high of the finish line faded, and the buckle sits on top of my dresser unworn. It seems I have come full circle, but THIS time I have a plan. I recall how good it felt to get out on my local trails. I remember the feeling of mild soreness in my calves as I saw patients in my mask, gown and gloves knowing I’d been outside with the breeze and leaves falling just hours earlier. I know that each day I manage to get a slice of time I’ll be communing with the trees and the dirt and biting cold, and it energizes me once again. I’ll start training again for a Spring race that may not happen. I’ll virtually kudos my run club pals, and if lucky, wave excitedly to them in passing. I’ll revel in the postings and adventures of the worldwide trail running community. I’ll get out there and do what I do… keep trying to find the awesome in everyday. It’s not about the finish line after all… it is and always has been about the process. If that means inventing run-ventures, trail shenanigans and other socially distant and safe things to look forward to then so be it. I’ll once again put it in perspective, and thank my lucky stars I have this incredibly healthy and positive outlet to continue carrying me through the darkness. One foot in front of the other… on down the path, over the hill and around the corner to whatever lies ahead.