Trail Sisters Half Marathon & 10k

September 14th • Buena Vista, CO

Enduring

Karen is a runner born and raised in Costa Rica, now living in the Pacific Northwest. She was a student-athlete in college for the Track team, and continued to run as a young adult but had to take a long hiatus due to her two children being diagnosed with a rare genetic disease called WOREE Syndrome. She recently returned to the sport in search of mental and physical health and now you can find her exploring the magical forests and mountains of Washington State. She lives in the Seattle Area with her husband, their two sons, and their dog Russell. When she’s not on the trails, or caring for her kids, you can find her teaching music or making art from her home studio.

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Endurance in the trails. Endurance in life. The beauty of it all. Endurance: the ability to withstand hardship or adversity especiallythe ability to sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity (Merriam-Webster).

You know that feeling when you go out on a run, you think you’re fully prepared for a good time on the trails, and then something happens that throws all your plans out the door? An injury, you get lost, the weather suddenly changes, the route you planned is closed, your gut does not collaborate… all these things you think you should be prepared for but then that day, you aren’t. 

That same feeling but multiplied 100 times is what my husband and I felt when our firstborn was diagnosed with an ultra-rare disease at a few months shy of 2 years old. The change started when he was only 10 months of age and a prolonged, unprovoked seizure almost takes his life, in my living room. Firefighters saved his life, and the search for answers started. Up until his diagnosis day, we held into the hope that this was temporary, that even though he wasn’t hitting his developmental milestones, he would eventually catch up, and everything would be well. He would still get to do all the things you imagine your little boy will do in their life… talk, walk, run around with friends, play in the local soccer team, and make friends in the neighborhood.  All of these plans came crumbling down when we found that the culprit for his seizures and delays was genetic. “Your child will be disabled and need assistance for the rest of his life.” These words not only shook us to the core, but they also generated a cascade of interventions, specialists, equipment, appointments, and so many things we were not prepared for.

Our little world was turned upside down, and I didn’t know what to do with it. As his mama I was supposed to make things better but I couldn’t. I went into survival month from that point on. 

I have been running since my late teen years, and the sport has gotten me through many difficult seasons, but this time, I did not have time to think about myself. This was not about me anymore, it was about my son, and he needed me. So I completely devoted myself to his care and the management of his health needs, selfcare was not important.

I was a track runner in college and ran for my city’s team. I continued to run into my adult years, running road races or simply going for runs in my neighborhood during the week. It was always my way to zone out or simply destress. But now there was no space in my head for anything else than trying to make my son better. I stopped running. 

A year or so later I tried to get back to exercising as I noticed my son needed me to be strong, wheelchair transfers were killing my back. I signed up for the local gym and tried to get in shape again. I was feeling better, my anxiety was better and I had a sense that even in this new normal things were going to be ok. 

Not too long after that, I became pregnant again. I continued to exercise and was hopeful for the future. My son soon would have a personal cheerleader! A sibling to bring happiness and healing to our little family. Then, in the genetic counseling appointment and with us not understanding the disease very well yet, we were told the chances of having another baby with the disease were 25%, 1 in 4. And even though hearing this news was scary, as I was already pregnant, I told myself, there’s no way this could happen to us again… this baby will be fine. He wasn’t. They tested him at only a few weeks of age, he tested positive for the same disease that had wrecked our hearts 3 years before. Even with that, I held to the hope that his case would be less severe, but at only 4 months of age, my baby started seizing. And the same nightmare started all over again. This time, more severe, more specialists, more interventions, more challenges than his brother. 

The constant wave of pain and crisis with my youngest, while also caring for his brother, threw me into a spiral that I thought I would never come out of. My mental health declined significantly with the years. If I didn’t have time for myself before, now I was barely surviving. Seeing your child suffer over and over without being able to stop it will rewire your brain in ways you cannot imagine. 

It took me several years and a mental breakdown to seek the help I desperately needed. One of the most important things on my therapist’s list was “movement”. She told me how movement, especially outdoors, would benefit me. It would be a few years more before I could have the strength to put the mom guilt aside and start taking care of this body, that would take care of my children for the rest of their lives. This medical mom/caregiver status is not temporary for me. It’s what we runners call a sustained effort. I’m in it for the long haul. And just like a long-distance race, I must be prepared for it. Physically and mentally. 

It was after a hernia removal surgery (from lifting my kids), that I said, it’s enough. I need to get moving and feel happiness again. I took the plunge and signed up for a 5k race that spring, not knowing what to expect. I remember the day I took my senior dog (former runner too! ) on my first run back after all those years… I could barely make it to the top of my street! But I kept pushing, and remember very clearly that feeling when I came back from the run. I was smiling. I felt light, after all these years of being trapped under the heavy weight of medical parenting, I was free! 

My first race back was not even close to my athlete days, but I was proud of myself. I had recovered a part of myself. After this, I decided to get back to strength training and regular running. My life was still the same. But I had found my coping mechanism. 

Later that year and after running my local urban trail for almost every run, I remembered that I had wanted to look into trail running right before I got pregnant for the first time. So I said, why not? And signed up for a mountain 5k race that summer. After that race, I was hooked. There was something about running through the woods, surrounded by nature that brought me so much peace. But also experiencing the struggle up the hills, the navigation of my feet on the rugged terrain, and making sure I wasn’t getting lost, made me 100% present, living in that moment without space to worry about anything else. It was a healing experience. It was hard but beautiful at the same time. Just like my life. 

After that first trail race, I decided to sign up for more. But I was a former track and road runner, so I didn’t really know what I was doing. That’s how I found the Trail Sisters. I saw a pregnant runner at one of my first races and she was wearing the Trail Sisters shirt. My first thought was that she was one badass mama, and then that I wanted to be part of her tribe! So that evening I looked up Trail Sisters and decided to join. At first, I was intimidated by the posts from ultra-runners, but then I discovered that there was space for all of us in this sport. We come from all walks of life, and I felt like I belonged to something again, without being judged, without pity for my children. With the support of the TS I have run countless trails and trail races since last fall, including my first trail half. 

The mountains have taught me many lessons. I found myself again when running through the trails, when I thought, everything was lost including me.  When I encountered the pain cave for the first time, I knew I had been there before but in a different situation. Mother Nature whispered to me that here, I was safe and I could work through the pain, use it, and see the beauty in it. Lessons that I would apply to my life as a mother and caregiver, countless times. 

To me, endurance running is not much different than my day-to-day life in many ways. Long, difficult, and painful at times. Requires a lot of patience, learning to be uncomfortable. Believing you can do hard things, seeing the beauty amidst the pain. Enduring. 

“When it felt like her world was a sea of change, she found herself craving the stability of the mountains. Their unwavering presence calmed her, quieted her mind, and helped her find serenity among the chaos.”  -Susan Pedigo (@likeamountaingirl)

About the Author

Karen is a runner born and raised in Costa Rica, now living in the Pacific Northwest. She was a student-athlete in college for the Track team, and continued to run as a young adult but had to take a long hiatus due to her two children being diagnosed with a rare genetic disease called WOREE Syndrome. She recently returned to the sport in search of mental and physical health and now you can find her exploring the magical forests and mountains of Washington State. She lives in the Seattle Area with her husband, their two sons, and their dog Russell. When she’s not on the trails, or caring for her kids, you can find her teaching music or making art from her home studio.

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Sept. 14th 2024

Buena Vista, Colorado

Half-Marathon & 10k

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