Trail Sisters Half Marathon & 10k

September 14th • Buena Vista, CO

My Body’s Winter

Liz is a life long runner and discovered a passion for the trails early on as an Ohio native. A NOLS backpacking course ignited her love for the outdoors and illuminated the importance of conservation and stewardship. Liz loves the inclusivity of the trail running community where she can connect in nature as her most authentic self. She is an Ambassador for Athletic Brewing Company and recently celebrated one year of sobriety. Off the trails, she enjoys mixing up mocktails and exploring the mountains and coastline in her new home state, North Carolina.

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As the winter sun shines through the bare trees, there is something about how the cut of the cold wind makes my body feel more alive than usual. I can hear the crunch of the dried Carolina pine straw under my feet while I search for the tiniest hint of new growth, but even nature is so clearly in its restful, dormant state. If Mother nature takes this seasonal pause, wouldn’t we honor our bodies in the same way too? The freezing temps make my eyes water and fingertips numb, but I know that slow movement will bring warmth, and spring is on its way.

Like the sun, this time does not feel natural to shine my brightest; like setting big mileage goals or committing to another brutal endurance race. While a lot of us feel energized at the start of the year, new year’s resolutions don’t seem to resonate quite like they used to. Instead of following this arbitrary goal-setting self improvement timeline, I decide to finally tap into my greatest source of power; my intuition, to guide the way. Like the restful trees in winter, I will honor this pause in my body and in due time the gradual warmth and blooming buds will begin to creep in as the vernal equinox inevitably approaches. 

“Congrats! You’ve been selected to represent us as an athlete at the Oceanside 70.3 IRONMAN!”. As I read the first line of this email, my stomach dropped. I had seven days to decide if my body was up to the task, so I asked her the question, and awaited a response. My ego screamed, of course we’re doing this, no matter the cost! The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve learned that your body speaks to you, not in words, but in subtle sensations. Like when you’re in a relationship and something is off, you feel knots in your stomach. Something about this person feels wrong. Or when your job invokes a constant tightness in your chest. Something about the environment isn’t quite right. Or how about my personal favorite, the nervous bathroom break urge. Something doesn’t feel safe here. Where do these sensations come from? More importantly, what is the body trying to say?

Six days to respond

If running is my first love, yoga is a very close second. When I moved to Raleigh, the first order of business was to join the local Trail Sisters group. Boom, easy. Second order of business was to find a local yoga studio and luckily I found one that felt just right. Great space with calming energy, challenging yet accessible flows, plus experienced and passionate teachers. Jolene’s Saturday morning classes are always packed. She seems to have endless nuggets of wisdom and some pretty epic mic drops. But something she said recently stunned me to my core. We flowed through an hour with lots of opening, lengthening, and strengthening, and finally found ourselves settling into our final resting pose. As a yoga teacher myself, I bring awareness to my intention at the start of class, thoughtfully move through my transitions, and use props and make modifications as needed. I try to keep my focus between the four corners of my mat but can’t help but notice those students that push past their boundaries, letting their egos take over in the moment. The student in me learned through yoga to listen to my body, honor whatever comes up, and respect her boundaries. 

As I began to sink into my mat, arms heavy, breath slowing, unfurrowing my brow, our instructor said the most astounding thing. “Notice the tension and tightness in the body. See if you can trace it back to the time, place, and emotion that brought it there”. Mind blown. As an almost life long student, yoga has always been more of a mental than physical challenge for me. It’s time dedicated to you, your body, mind, and spirit, and the integration of all three. There is nowhere else to go, nowhere else to be, but in the here and now. In this day and age, that type of presence is almost impossible with the countless distractions at our fingertips. The never ending thought loops are paused, if only momentarily, during that hour-long class.

As I lay dumbfounded in my matching set, I filed that gem away for later, and tried to be present in those last precious moments. This little pearl of wisdom will be excavated at a later time and date. The longer I experience chronic pain, the more I realize that I have no choice but to dive below that seemingly skin-deep feeling and try to understand the root of the issue. When and where did that start? How old was I and who was I with? If the body speaks in symptoms, what exactly is she saying?

Five days to respond

My first introduction to Trail Sisters was in Athens, Ohio. My college friend and sorority sister had recently taken an interest in trail running and invited me to join one of their Saturday morning runs. While I had been running road and trail since middle school cross country, I was ecstatic to share my favorite form of moving meditation with such a close friend. I clocked a lot of miles in those rolling hills of beautiful Appalachia, and it didn’t take long for me to realize I found something very special with those women. 

It’s hard to put into words the bond that is formed when running with friends in the woods. I will at least try by touching on the Highball to Thurmond 50 Mile/50K trail race in the New River Gorge National Park. The same friend who recently picked up running only a few years prior decided to do something epic for her 40th birthday, and she did something epic indeed. “Will you crew for me?”, she asked. An honor to even be considered. “Absolutely”, I said. With the help of another fellow trail sister, we sent her on her way at 4:45AM, planning to meet at each car-accessible aid station tucked deep in the West Virginia mountains. 

When you spend any time with runners, be prepared to answer the inevitable question about your upcoming races. My rehearsed response of “healing from an injury” didn’t cut it and I had to be honest with my fellow crew member when the question arose. “I have chronic pain in my neck and it is the worst it’s ever been and I’ve talked to eight doctors about it and still don’t have a real answer”. I also told her I thought it was from stress and unresolved trauma and joked my next stop would be visiting a shaman, but at this point I wasn’t joking, I needed answers. My trail sister finished her 50 miles for her 40th birthday and I couldn’t have been prouder. 

Four days to respond

I realized that I didn’t have a choice but to tackle the chronic pain head on. It’s time to double down and trace back these feelings to their origin. “For many of us, our generational ‘curse’ is avoidance. We come from people who just act like ‘it’ didn’t/doesn’t happen”. Sound familiar? “But pain demands to be felt. And somewhere along the line, a child will be born whose charge it is to feel it all. These are your shamans, your priests and priestesses, your healers. You call them mental health patients and label their power as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and the like. But these are the ones who are born with the gift of feeling. And as we all know, you can’t heal the pain that you refuse to feel”. 

I came across this quote by Dionne Shanette Wood and it has become my mission statement. Time to feel. I’ve come to understand that trauma can be passed down generationally, but strength can too. I wouldn’t be charged nor capable of this task if those strong women who came before me didn’t pave the way in their lifetimes too. I asked my body the question, and patiently awaited a response. As I continued to dig further into my “issues in the tissues”, I came across an Andrew Huberman podcast that featured Dr. Sean Mackey titled “Tools to Reduce and Manage Pain”. By golly, this was certainly written for me, I thought. I voraciously consumed this 3 hour episode and took copious notes. Did you know that pain is subjective and everyone has a different experience with pain? Did you know that your body doesn’t distinguish between physiological and psychological pain? Did you know that 100 million Americans have this invisible disease we call chronic pain? While this new knowledge wasn’t the magic wand solution I was hoping for, it certainly was still music to my ears. Deeper we go.

Three days left to respond

Does anyone remember the animated show The Magic School Bus from the 90’s? (Millennials raise their hands). The show was the first animated series on PBS and was created to help kids learn about science in a fun way. For this season of the healing journey I imagine I’m a microscopic version of myself driving a bright yellow school bus along the neuro pathways in the brain. Taking field trips around my body, exploring all of those areas of unexplained stabbing, shooting, and burning pain, attempting to trace it back to those moments in time where my brain sent these coded messages signaling that something wasn’t right.

For the next stop on the magic school bus tour, I venture down the spinal cord, curiously observing each vertebrae along the way. Next stop, the stomach. Has anyone told you to trust your gut? My mom always said this but I never understood what that meant. Like binging when you’re not even hungry? Or if I feel butterflies when I meet a new love interest? Yes, but so much more than that. I’ve always been a highly sensitive and emotional person. Loud sounds, bright lights, and large crowds are often too stimulating. I am also one of those adults who has little recollection of my childhood. I tell myself that this is because my parents got divorced when I was a kid and that is why I blocked everything out. But what if that’s only scratching the surface? Perhaps at a young age my body learned to dissociate as an adaptive (or maladaptive) coping mechanism. What if my body has stored and suppressed so much trauma and stress that it is at full capacity? 

Two days to respond

“Your body knows what your mind cannot. What your body is trying to tell you (if you listen): Your body knows when you’re experiencing trauma from the past in the present. It helps you by dissociating. By helping you leave your body so you can survive the moment. When you come back into your body remind yourself you’re safe”. So eloquently said by Dr. Nicole LaPera, @the.holistic.psychologist. If the body speaks in symptoms, I hear you loud and clear. As a former heavy drinker, and like a lot of women I know, I have been in too many unsafe situations. And perhaps in a sober state of mind, the body could have sensed that danger and we would have “trusted our gut” and remove ourselves the best we could. Now I realize that when I binged alcohol that bodily feedback was muted and silenced. This once adaptive coping mechanism, leaving the body, had become more destructive than drinking itself. The mind may not remember, but the body keeps score. Our alcohol-fueled culture has normalized drinking away our problems. Thankfully now, I am 18 months sober and promised myself that I will never stumble down that dark road again. I will never self-abandon again. I will never numb myself to the point that I compromise the safety in my own body again. The crushing weight of guilt, grief, shame, and anger still lingers, but the load that I carry is lighter now that I know that I am safe.

Last day to respond

A 70.3 IRONMAN begins with a 1.2 mile swim, transitions to a 56 mile bike ride, and a 13.1 mile run takes you across the finish. As I did the mental math, two-a-days for 5-6 days a week for 6 months to even toe the starting line, I realized my ego was writing a check my body couldn’t cash. But wouldn’t this be such a comeback story? Endurance athlete, forced to hang up her Hokas in order to heal her chronic pain, waves a magic wand to heal her body and goes on to compete as a sponsored athlete in a brutal race of redemption? This was all the makings of an inspirational Netflix special, but sadly this was not the ending that I had hoped. When I read the first line of that email, I knew in my gut what the answer was right away, but I needed to rationalize it out on paper, just in case my body wasn’t telling the truth. Can we handle the exertion? My body knew the answer before I even began.

“Thank you for the opportunity to be a sponsored athlete, but I regretfully have to decline”. This is a line that no type A, overachieving, perfectionist, trauma surviving, endurance athlete wants to write. “There’s a really big correlation between people who have experienced trauma and getting into endurance sports. A lot of it is tied to the feeling of overcoming and the feeling of proving to yourself, and maybe to other people, that you are made of iron, and can do anything”. I came across this audio clip on social media, and like the dream of becoming an IRONMAN, it’s something I won’t be able to shake. Over the holidays, I flew to Cincinnati to visit my dad and we had a rare few hours between just the two of us. As we caught up on life, I shared how heartbroken I was to turn down this amazing opportunity. As a former athlete himself, he empathized and said something that snapped me out of my one person pity party. “Liz, I am still waiting everyday for a call from the NFL”. We were just two athletes, chatting over breakfast, sharing our never ending love of our sport. No, I don’t have any upcoming races. But this doesn’t make me any less of a runner.

When my stomach dropped, did I listen? It took me a week, but yes, I finally listened to the whisper of intuition and all those little sensations. The last stop on the magic school bus tour was the heart. As my body dug its heels in and said no, I realized that this year I won’t get any distance PRs, I won’t compete in any epic races. And I won’t become a sponsored athlete. But, this year, I will move my focus from lack to gratitude. This year, I will be grateful for all those miles under my feet. This year, I will feel all the feelings. This year, my biggest accomplishment will be focusing on my mental health. This year, I will listen to my body and trust my gut. This year, I will create so much space for physical healing. This year, I will survive 100% of my worst days. And this year, that will be enough and I’m proud of myself for that. If this is your biggest accomplishment this year, I am proud of you, too.

May we all honor the winter in our bodies, and trust that spring will inevitably arrive right on time, once again.Thank you to Trail Sisters for creating a safe space to share my voice. Mental health disorders and substance abuse are not a choice and my hope is that this story will help to break that stigma. While I am not a medical doctor or licensed mental health professional, my intention in sharing my experience is to shed some light on these tough topics. If you are struggling with your mental health please know that you are not alone and you are worthy. Call or text the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline 24/7 at 988 if you need emotional support.

About the Author

Liz is a life long runner and discovered a passion for the trails early on as an Ohio native. A NOLS backpacking course ignited her love for the outdoors and illuminated the importance of conservation and stewardship. Liz loves the inclusivity of the trail running community where she can connect in nature as her most authentic self. She is an Ambassador for Athletic Brewing Company and recently celebrated one year of sobriety. Off the trails, she enjoys mixing up mocktails and exploring the mountains and coastline in her new home state, North Carolina.

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Sept. 14th 2024

Buena Vista, Colorado

Half-Marathon & 10k

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