May 8 2018
A high school athlete shares how the running communities she's built through school teams have created within her a real love for the sport.
It is very painful to write this letter to you.
As you know, Running, we have been friends since I was a young child. Playing with friends and organized sports were my greatest joys. I didn’t like you so much when we were on the school basketball and softball teams, but we did what we had to do. Then we met again and got together casually in a not-forced-at-team-practice way while I was at college. We became exclusive in the fall of 1996 when I was 28. It felt perfectly natural. I loved the fresh air, I loved seeing what my body could do and—I’m not going to lie—I loved the calories you burned.
I soon started entering road races. I did 5Ks, 10Ks, half marathons and one marathon. We weren’t super fast and it was hard going those far distances, but I loved the structured training I followed and I loved the feeling of accomplishment when I finished.
Then in 2010, a new love entered my life: triathlon (which means you too, Running). Triathlon challenged me in new ways. I had to learn to swim and I had to learn how to work the gears on a bike. There was so much to discover and so much training to do. You filled all of my needs physically, and all of my Type-A personality needs mentally. Triathlon provided me with a love-at-first-sight training schedule.
We started with sprint-distance triathlons before moving on to the Olympic distance. We cautiously moved up to the 70.3 and, after finishing better than we expected, signed up for our first 140.6. In the past eight years, we’ve done three 140.6s, four 70.3s and numerous smaller races. We even placed first in our age group a few times in some 70.3s. At the age of 47, you gave me the confidence to tattoo the Ironman logo on the back of my lower calf.
I proudly display “70.3” and “140.6” car magnets on the back of my SUV. My teenagers bought me a vanity plate for Mother’s Day one year that read “RTRIMOM” (read: our tri mom).
Triathlon, I thought we would grow old together. I thought you were going to take me to exotic locations where I would go on “racecations.” While you cost me a lot of money, it was worth it because you filled my mind, body and spirit. It was empowering to cross every finish line. You gave me strength and confidence. You were a badge of honor that I displayed proudly.
But as you know, Triathlon, my left knee had other plans. Close to six years ago, the knee started to hurt. I saw an orthopedist who ordered a MRI, which revealed a meniscus tear that the doctor then repaired. He also found that I was born with a portion of my meniscus missing. Go figure—God was already laughing when I chose to be an endurance athlete.
Three months later, I competed in an Olympic-distance triathlon and PRed. All was well with the world—until the knee began hurting again, five years later. Another MRI, another tear. My recovery was a little slower this time—and then I suffered some injuries to the upper part of my body and never had much time to run in between.
In the meantime, I received an amazing opportunity to play baseball at the Philadelphia Phillies Phantasy Camp. I played against former Phillies with a bunch of other middle-aged people; I was one of five women and 108 men. My knee flared up a bit while training, so I received a cortisone shot. That helped for about two weeks as I continued training for camp.
Early on the second day of the camp, my knee loudly told me it was unhappy with the agility moves required in playing baseball. You can probably guess the end of that story: yet another tear to the poor, long-suffering meniscus.
That third tear was the proverbial nail in the coffin. My orthopedist didn’t want to touch my knee so soon after my last surgery. The amount of cartilage under my patella had degenerated. I had a bone spur, arthritis and a touch of tendonitis. The doctor told me nothing would heal the integrity of the inside of my knee; weight-bearing activities were no longer in my future. I had a series of orthovisc injections and a PRP. My new goal: Delay further degeneration and preserve what was left inside my knee so that I could still do non-impact activities without pain.
Triathlon, I didn’t think this day would come so soon. Running, this certainly affects you the most, because swimming and biking are both low-impact activities and thus easy on the knees.
I have such great memories from all my triathlon firsts, like finishing each increasing race distance. I remember in 2014, during the Challenge Atlantic City 140.6, I had such bad stomach issues during the bike portion of the race. I remember telling my husband when I passed him that I was “one and done.” Little did I know that, much like childbirth, it was a pain I would easily forget a little over a year later, when I raced Ironman Maryland.
Less than one year after that, I did my most challenging, most satisfying race to date: Ironman Lake Placid. It was a great swim followed by a hilly ride and a somewhat hilly run. I’d joined a triathlon club the year before and went with the club on a long weekend to Lake Placid. As the oldest person in the house who didn’t know anybody, I worried about whether or not I could fit in and keep up with the others. Thankfully, I did both. The other members were amazing and it was fantastic being around “my peeps” like that for four days. At the actual race two months later, it was so fun to see the green and black club uniforms during the race and cheering for one another. I loved that sense of camaraderie, and I performed well in the race.
Triathlon, you have given me an amazing journey, which makes saying goodbye to you that much harder. You taught me how strong I was mentally. Though my training enabled me to physically endure more than 13 hours on my feet, it was my brain that kept me from quitting when the road grew rough.
Running and Triathlon, with every finish line crossed, you empowered me to feel like I could do anything to which I set my mind. I tried to pass that knowledge on to my children so they wouldn’t be afraid to challenge themselves and to know they could and should reach for the stars. I was proof of that.
It is with a lost and heavy heart that I say goodbye, Running. Thank you for all the gifts you have given me in mind, body and spirit. Though I will attempt to replace you with some other activity, you will be a tough act to follow.