• Arabelle Romeo

I'll share a secret with you...

I started planning this transcontinental run in the spring of 2017. I mention in the video that I was training for a 50k and I hurt my back 2 days before and couldn't run it... 

I started running in 2004. I quit smoking on New Year's Day and joined a gym and by March I was running and by November I ran my first marathon. And then another and another... I was addicted to that distance until I met someone training for an ultra marathon...ultra what? You mean we can go FURTHER? I was beside myself and went out and found the first 100-miler I could and signed myself up. And from there I spent a few years registering for races and getting pretty severely injured before reaching any of the starting lines. They weren't even running injuries. I tore a hamstring in yoga, I injured a hip flexor in pilates, I fractured a metatarsal tripping on a sidewalk... and then the final straw was registering for a 24 hour endurance run and falling down my stairs a few weeks before and breaking my pelvis. I decided that I was jinxed, because that seemed totally reasonable, and I quit registering for anything. Eventually I backed off of running during the years Matt and I were trying to conceive and when we then decided to move on from having a baby, I wanted nothing more than to run. I had felt pretty resentful and bitter about the whole trying to conceive process, all of the shit I had missed out on...don't eat this, don't drink that, get exercise but don't overdo it. I'd run for a couple weeks and tell myself I was just going to live my life and if we got pregnant then so be it. That lasted until about a day or two after ovulation. Those of you who have experienced the psychosis that comes with trying to get pregnant are probably smiling and nodding your heads right about now. Because, you know, if you conceived yesterday and you go running today and that little zygote hasn't implanted in your uterine wall yet you could feasibly talk him out of it by going for a run and elevating your core temperature or f***ing up your pH balance... seems completely rational when your hormones have been on a tightrope for months and your sanity is wavering on the edge of a pee stick... So I bought new running shoes and joined a gym. I'm pretty goal driven and in the beginning just showing up was enough. I had to get past goals like "I'll make it through today without jumping off of a bridge" or " I'll resist the urge to ram my grocery cart into the first pregnant woman I see at the store" before I could worry about long term goals. Every day had been a negotiation for so long that thinking into the future was something that didn't happen until several months after I laced the shoes back up. And then of course once my head started clearing and my old ambitious "go big or go home" self started coming back, I decided to register not for a 10k or a half marathon, but a 50k. And I wanted to win it. Which of course I realize now was absolutely ridiculous, but it motivated me to train harder and dig deeper and push myself in ways I had never pushed before. I think this was really the beginning of my recovery. I had cried to Matt plenty of times over the previous years that it didn't matter what kind of stuff I was keeping myself busy with, there was nothing I was doing that made me want to say "I'd rather be doing this than having a baby"...but that was changing. Spring was coming and I was running on trails for the first time in a long time and feeling free and alive again. I was seeing glimpses of the joy I had known in the past jumping over roots and rocks and navigating technical trails. I dreamt of that 50K the whole time I was running. I started seeing that race as the answer to all the problems. I felt as though crossing that finish line was going to put the grief and the anger and the lost babies behind me. It was going to break the curse of the starting line injuries and I was going to be a new person once that medal was hung around my neck. 

Our first baby was due in April of 2014. When April rolled around that year I pretty much lost my shit. And from there it went downhill...because from that point on every month became "our baby would have been ___ old by now"...which of course means that April 2015 held the promise of a "should have been a first birthday" that sent me plummetting to new depths. By April of 2016 I was just pissed. At everyone and everything. Then something crazy happened in April of 2017... I forgot. I forgot that there was supposed to be something I was so upset about until the end of the month when it came to me like that feeling you get when there's someone birthday or anniversary you're supposed to remember, but you can't pinpoint what it is. I had thrown myself so joyfully into my training at that point that I had totally forgotten to be angry. I had forgotten to be pissed about the pregnant neighbor or the women with strollers in the park...Then something I hadn't believed would ever be possible again happened--I realized suddenly that I was doing something that I'd rather be doing than having a baby. And I had a race to win in just a couple short weeks. 

My training continued, I went out two weeks before the race and ran 30 miles just to make sure I could do it...I felt invincible. So invincible in fact, that 2 days before the race when 120 lb package was delivered by UPS I thought I could drag it into the house. Nothing happened in that moment, it felt heavy and I had the fleeting thought that maybe this isn't a good idea, but I pushed the box out of the way and went to the grocery store and ran a couple other errands and forgot all about it...until I bent just right to put the kale in the fridge when I got home. A horrifying pain shot through my back and I was stuck just sort of hanging on the fridge door- I couldn't stand up and I couldn't get to the floor. I held on for a while and finally with a scream muffled in my arm I dropped myslef to the floor and laid there sobbing unable to move. I could see my bag 10 feet away and I knew my phone was in there, but it hurt just to breathe, there was no way I was getting up and going for that bag. After 20 minutes of inching and crying out in pain, I made it to my phone and called my son Theo who was on the next street at his dad's. He came and tried to help me up, but when it became clear that I just couldn't stand, he called an ambulance. I think the tears were for more than the pain in my back, they were for all of the things I had lost. I had felt so helpless every time I had miscarried and I felt like running was different because it was something I could control and it wasn't up to nature or some god's plan- I could train and I could be certain that I would run a race. Let me share a little secret here, a lesson that I required a lot of pain and suffering to learn: WE HAVE NO F***ING CONTROL OVER ANYTHING. Read it again if you need to. I sure didn't get it the first time...

The ambulance came. They put me on big wheelchair and thumped me down my front stairs one step at a scream at a time. I'm sure you've seen that neighborhood on TV, or maybe you even live in one-- where all the neighbors come out to watch when something happens. So there I was, 2 days before a 50k I had trained my heart out for, being thumped down my front stairs on a wooden chair with wheels, screaming and crying while the neighborhood all looked on. It was like an episode of 911 that got left on the editing floor...

They gave me some muscle relaxers and I came home and laid on the livingroom floor staring at the ceiling for hours...days...tears rolling down my temples and pooling in my ears. I contemplated what the hell the lesson here could possibly be and in a moment of clarity I realized that maybe there isn't really a f***ing thing in life that I have control over- but I can control how I let it affect me and what I do with it. I wasn't losing months of getting in shape by lying on the floor a few days with a bum back, it wasn't the end of running for me. I had made amazing progress in those months- physically, mentally, emotionally. And maybe the race wasn't what made me crawl out of the depression or feel like I was at peace with all of the losses and grief...maybe it was the whole process. Maybe it was committing to doing something that only served me...finding something I could be passionate about and giving myself permission to believe I could do it. I felt the stirrings of an idea, a message... a purpose for the pain... maybe the journey was the answer all along and maybe I could help someone else figure that out. Maybe I could help a lot of someones. And maybe there was a bigger journey waiting for me. I googled a map of the country and stared at it and wondered how many others were out there across the country who just needed someone to hold their hand and get them off the couch and maybe just walk to the corner or run around the block with them. 

My back got better... I registered for another 50k 2 weeks later and I showed up uninjured at the starting line and smiled almost the entire 31 miles about it.

I've made it to a few starting lines since then, but those are stories for another time. I do still get a little nervous the days before a race and imagine I'm coming down with a plague and avoid lifting anything bigger than a carton of almond milk... my next 50k is in 2 days and Theo has been home sick and needed to go see a doctor today. Now maybe I'm being a little fanatic, but there was no way I was going to a doctor's office during flu season just 2 days before a race without a mask...

 Keep living. Keep loving. Keep hoping, Arabelle

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