I Fear My Own Return

Fear. I’ve spent the better part of the past year advocating embracing fear – running towards fear, instead of running away from it. That (to butcher the words of Cheryl Strayed) an overwhelming sense of fear shows that you are doing exactly what you need to be doing.

What do I fear more than anything right now?

Returning to racing.

I fear my own return to racing.

Start line jitters (photo courtesy of Kien Lam)

Since the day I went down with a case of the femurs last April, I’ve been asked on a daily basis “when will you be back?” At first the answer was easy – 8 weeks. Maybe 12. As we became aware of just how BAD the case of the femurs really was, that number grew. Weeks became months. And when I effectively (well, LITERALLY) broke my back trying to “get back” to racing for the 2016 championship season, I threw in the towel. 2017, I said. 2017 was going to be the year – MY year.

So here it is, 2017. Not even early 2017 – April, actually. Almost a year exactly since the initial injury. Ironically, the Seattle Super Spartan, the race where everyone wants to see the “epic return” (newsflash: not going to be…not quite yet. Patience, they tell me) is the one-year anniversary of the ill-fated 25 mile run and 10 mile hobble back to the car. The last run, pre-femur. The last run before I spiraled into what seems like a never-ending battle with my own body, and my ability to trust the body that has carried me through so much since the beginnings of my racing days.

In theory, rehab and recovery from an injury seems easy. Do your time sitting on the sidelines, bones heal, rebuild, and you are back at it. But it doesn’t account for niggles and new injuries (or random freak injuries from encounters with dogs…) that pop up when you start running again from a base of…nothing. And what it REALLY doesn’t account for is the mental side of injury. The utter fear that every ache and pain has set you back to square one. The nights lying awake obsessing over whether that’s an angry glute max attachment or another sacral stress fracture. The entire inability to trust your body. And the worry that you will NEVER get back to competing – get back to the athlete you once were.

So don’t call it a fucking comeback.

Please don’t.

Because though I would love an “epic comeback,” I know the realities of my current status. I know that I’m rusty. I know that, unlike a pure running race, an OCR course is difficult to replicate and therefore much harder to “practice.” I know that I’ve lost so much strength as a result of not being able to run for 9 months – not being able to doing anything involving my back (which is…everything) for 4+ months. I know that I’m still crippled with the mental fear that every ache and pain is something catastrophic.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I’ve spent so long obsessing over, or just waiting, to “get back” to the athlete I was. That once I “got back” to racing, everything would be right. Life would make sense again. There would be a season, and a structure, and goals and races to work towards. I spent night after night in tears, convinced that getting back to racing again would cure everything.

So what is it, exactly, that I fear about my own return to racing?

I fear that I won’t be able to get back to the athlete I once was. The pre-femur Amelia.

(I’ve hesitated to write this because it may come across as “woe the poor competitive athlete – she’s afraid she can’t wiiiiiin anymore. Boo-f*ckin-Hoo.” Some of you may be thinking that, and – well – fair enough – I can’t change that. But regardless of your competitive level, we all experience times of overwhelming self-doubt in our lives, both in sport and beyond. We’ve all had times where we fret over an ability to live up to expectations, whether real or created by the constructs of our own minds)

I’ve danced with this devil of overwhelming self-doubt and lack of confidence for the past few months, and it took my ever-wise and amazing friend Caroline Burckle to set me straight.

“Amelia,” she said, “Stop trying to “get back” to the athlete you once were. You aren’t going to – it shouldn’t be the goal. And you will drive yourself nuts in the process.”

She’s right.

And these past few months have been a process of realizing, and accepting, that I’m not going to “get back.” And I shouldn’t want to. Because we change – we grow. Our goal should never be to return to the athletes that we once were. It should be to chart a new course. To build a new identity. To define our own terms.

We can let the past inform our future, but clinging to an idea of returning to an old self only limits what we could be. The constant comparisons to versions of our old selves only sets us up for disappoints and regrets. Instead, maybe we should entertain the idea that there’s the possibility of being something better.

And this isn’t unique just to athletics. I spent several years in a relationship vowing to my significant other that I would “get back” to the girl he fell in love with – the one before the racing, before the podiums, before the “fame”. And I swore up and down that I would. That I was working on it. That the girl was still there, inside, and I could return to her. I wanted so badly to “get back” to her: but the harder I tried, the more I lost her.

It took me three plus years to admit that I was never going to be that “girl he fell in love with” again. But more importantly – to give myself permission to stop trying to return to that girl.  It was ok that I may have changed. Because, like an athlete trying to “get back” to her former athletic form, there’s no sense in trying to be an old version of oneself.

The harder you try to reclaim that person, to reclaim that identity as an athlete, the more it slips away from you.

So this is me, paying my respects to the old Amelia. To the athlete she was (she was a pretty decent one, I’d say)

Swollen and barely-able-to-stand 2012 WTM champion Amelia
2013 Spartan World Champion Amelia

But more importantly, this is me embracing the athlete I currently am, and the athlete I will be.

And I’m scared as f*ck.

But I’m only scared because I’ve let (what I perceive) as other people’s expectations drive my timeline. Drive my athletic career. I swore up and down I wouldn’t push, that I’d respect my body and race again when I was ready, not when other people wanted me to be ready.

But it’s hard to not let the question of “when will you be back?” build pressure and push that timeline. It’s difficult to tune out the well-meaning cheers of folks who “can’t wait for your epic comeback!” It’s stressful to feel like you are not fulfilling obligations of sponsors because you are not on top of a podium (shout-out to my rockstar quad-fecta of Reebok, HumanN, Spartan, and RockTape that love me regardless). Because you fear that you will let them down. But more importantly, you fear that you will let yourself down.

So I’m vowing to change the way I talk to myself. Vowing to be kind to myself, to smile at the well-meaning cheers, but to, above all else, to remember why I started racing and competing in the first place – for myself, and myself alone. Because it was the unknown, and it was a new challenge. And I thrived on that.

So you know what else is a new challenge? And you know what else is full of unknowns?

Racing again for the first time after 18+ months. Accepting the reality that it’s not going to be “epic” (it will more likely be akin to watching a baby giraffe on ice skates) and that the only one who should really #fearthereturn is…myself.

But, as I’ve preached over and over this past year, I’m not going to run away from that fear. Instead, I’m running towards it.

I respect what I’ve accomplished, and no one can take that away from me. Because I’m no longer afraid of whether I’ll “get back” to the athlete I was. Or “get back” to podiums and world championships.

Because I’m not “getting back” – I’m starting over.

And I’m going in with a love and a gratitude to even be out there in the first place. There’s a time and place for confidence and bravado. And there’s a time and place for humility and honesty.

I fear my own return, but I embrace the challenge of starting over. And I look forward to the opportunity to create a new path.

For me, that’s the healthiest place to be.

Happy Place (Photo courtesy of Scott Keneally)

 

 

 

28 thoughts on “I Fear My Own Return”

  1. Insightful and a good read about the emotional journey and not just the physical one. Best of LUCK, keep focused !

  2. I’m an old man, and I’ll give you an old man’s perspective. You don’t need to prove anything to anybody. At the end of the day, the people who were close to you this whole time will continue to be close to you. Your perception of who you are is what matters. Let the media and the sponsors try to figure out what you “should” be. You identity is attached to OCR, you are the Hobie Call of women’s OCR. Embrace it and enjoy every day. Glad to see someone with such a great attitude. A great role model all the way around.

    1. “The Hobie Call of women’s OCR”? Ewww. How about the Amelia Boone of OCR? Or possibly Hobie is aspiring to be the Amelia Boone of the men’s circuit? I know what you were getting at, but it was a bad effort, mildly sexist. But like you said, you’re old….

      1. Perspective is why he mentioned Hobie. Really stupid to call him out like that. It was a nice gesture to associate AB with someone he clearly admires. Your reference to his age is, well, you get it….

      2. Please get over yourself and leave the feminism where it belongs…….. Comparing one great athlete to another is not sexist but a compliment. Burn you bra somewhere else.

  3. Awesome post!!! Good to see you are back to writing (even if it;s just occasionally)!

    I love this line, “Instead, maybe we should entertain the idea that there’s the possibility of being something better.” I get that completely! I even commented that on your last blog post!

    Many won’t like that though – they’ll try to tell you it’s a cop-out. Ignore them – they really only care about themselves and being heard.

    Regardless how this all turns out you will always be an inspiration and someone I’ve learned from. I hope to see you out there on the course sometime – maybe we can help each other over or through an obstacle!

    By the way, I owe you a case of Topo Chico! LOL

  4. Amelia, you are truly a rockstar. I know you probably get a lot of emails and comments, but I wanted to share my story with how I came to admire and be inspired by Amelia Boone.

    In 2011, I was a 18 year-old attending his first quarter at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. It is the second best public school for computer engineering and I worked so hard over my teenage years to get to that place. I did not have a single free summer. My free time was spent at SAT Centers or studying. Mom and Dad put me through a rigorous schedule; I hated them for it at that time, but now I come to realize they wanted the best for me.

    Fall quarter year, I enrolled in IM sports and played flag football. Another friend and I went for a pass and unfortunately, we collided and both received concussions. This then lead to learning impairments and I started to slip in college. A straight-A student turned into a straight-D student, I started having anxiety attacks, and I found myself in an abyss where I saw all the efforts of myself and my parents slip away.

    Over the year, I slipped into depression and gained a lot of weight (about 70lbs actually). I tried to fight hard to become what I once was, a happy, young aspiring programmer who loved to be with others and was often the life of the party. Now I was sedentary, depressed, and clawed at what I become. One random 4 AM night in the computer lab, I saw a video for Tough Mudder. 10-12 miles with 25 obstacles, that sounds crazy. I toed the line at Lake Vail a month later with minimal training and ran my ass off. I helped comrades over the Berlin Walls and Everest and somehow still clocked a 2:12 finish, giving me the invite to WTM.

    At that time, I was a poor college kid living off peanut butter sandwiches and taco bell. I couldn’t afford the trip, but over the years I watched WTM and read so many race reports that one day I will complete the race. I stopped OCR as I found a new passion in triathlon and long distance running. From 2012-2015, I completed 5 half-marathons, 6 olympic triathlons, raced for the Cal Poly Triathlon Team, and completed 3 Ironmans in 2015 alone. In 2016, I finally toed the line at WTM. After finishing my sprint lap, I saw you holding up the microphone and gave you a high five. I shouted, “YOURE AN INSPIRATION!” and you responded with a combination of yeah and awww, more like “YAWWW!” This made me so happy and I actually caught this on my GoPro. Currently, I am finishing up on my documentary of WTM and what the race meant for me, of my downfall with the concussion and how I came back stronger (I would love to share it with you once it is completed!)

    Amelia, I completely agree. You shouldn’t try to become what you once were. Rather life has an undetermined number of chapters and it is up to the narrator, you, to write the next chapter. I know that you have grown so much through this process and yes, FUCK the term “comebacks.” Last month, I completed the MUC50K then raced TM LA the week after. Boom, Level 2 MDL shoulder sprain off Funky Monkey and a torn left meniscus. I haven’t trained in months, but I know that the energy we are bottling up will only add fuel to the fire, like a phoenix reborn.

    Wishing you all the best and would love to connect with you on the course one day.

    -John

  5. Amelia –
    thank you for this. Seriously. Thank you.
    While I am far from a level of athlete that you are, I have accomplished a fine list of events that I am proud of. Super proud of. Incredibly proud of. And each accomplishment had it’s own journey. As a 45 year old mother of three, I am a much different person that I was went I started the athletic journey. In some ways, I am way stronger. In other ways, I am far from what I once was or maybe believed I once was.
    In working with others as a trainer and a coach, one message is certain. Mindset is everything.
    It is clear to me that we are ever changing beings and as our body changes, so does our need to figure out how to keep doing what makes our heart sing the best way we know how. And it will be different than how we used to do it.
    Every time I have had the pleasure of running into you either at an event or at Starbucks, I have wanted to pass along the message that you detailed so well above. I didn’t because “who am I” passing on thoughts to someone who has undoubtedly has been receiving unsolicited thoughts far too often as of late.
    In any case, thanks for writing this. It is a great gift – this path that you have discovered to go down. Trust me. It will shape the rest of your life incredibly positively.
    -Lisa

  6. Amelia, I lost a child on March 29 0f 2001 . As weird as this sounds it was the best thing to ever happen to me. I was brought to my knees and for a year stared at the walls hoping my chest would stop rising. BUT it forced me to change in ways I would never have on my own. My son came and went FOR A REASON.
    Best quote I received in this difficult time was “things can get better or worse but they will NEVER be the same.

  7. If you are the same person when you start racing again as the person that was racing before the injuries, you have made no progress in the interim. Progress is not just measured physically. You will be amazed on how in the heat of future battles you will draw on your mental strength from this struggle and not the physical strength that once gave you victories.

    Instead of being philosophical, let us quote from the learned teachings of one Mr. Axl Rose.

    Yesterday, there was so many things
    I was never told
    Now that I’m startin’ to learn
    I feel I’m growin’ old

    ‘Cause yesterday’s got nothin’ for me
    Old pictures that I’ll always see
    Time just fades the pages
    In my book of memories
    Prayers in my pocket
    And no hand in destiny
    I’ll keep on movin’ along
    With no time to plant my feet

    ‘Cause yesterday’s got nothin’ for me
    Old pictures that I’ll always see
    Some things could be better
    If we’d all just let them be

  8. I would say I pretty much identify myself with this.. I recently fracture 2 fingers while I was running. So I am not famous as you but I am enjoying this sport and i had to change that.. so I know your feeling and we have to embrace the change.. we are always going to be better as we were previously! You will do awesome I always love following you! Thanks for sharing this words

  9. You. Are. Amazing! I wish you the best luck in creating that new path, and I hope to see you at Palmerton (whether it is on or off the course).

  10. Amelia, thank you for putting into words everything I am feeling (though I was never the decorated athlete you are!) I performed decently as a high level open Spartan racer and was excited to build on that but took the 2015 season off to give birth to our first baby. Unexpectedly, the extremely difficult labor I experienced resulted in my body exhibiting an auto immune disease that I didn’t know I had and left me crippled in total body pain unable to walk, let alone run. After a long journey of seeking different treatments I am doing much better and raced for the first time since November 2014 at the Charlotte sprint in the elite heat a few weeks ago. I’ve got a long way to go to get back to where I want to be but it’s nice to know someone else is there with me and now I have my daughter – who is pretty much going to be forced to have you as her role model.

  11. I feel rather confident that when you return, 99% of us are going to be super excited and happy whether you finish 1st, 15th or DFL, and the other 1% can go do 1,000 burpees…

    Best wishes!!

  12. Thanks–I needed this. I have shed so many tears after a bad back and hip injury at work (I’m a nurse). I went from killing it on the ski slopes and keeping up my guy friends, training for a half marathon, and feeling really fit to…barely being able to walk some days. So, thanks.

  13. The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have. Vince Lombardi

    All the great ones get knocked down at least once – looking forward to seeing you out there again.

  14. This was me! We had all the same thoughts. No, I wasn’t an elite or even someone known to the running world. I was just a 60 year old woman who was actually running 1/2 marathons and winning in my division. Then IT happened and I, too, was down for the count for almost a year. Everything I felt – you said. As I read this, I kept saying yes, yes, exactly! Thank you. Thank you for putting everything in perspective and helping me understand this new path.

  15. Thank you. I’m coming back from a metatarsal stress fracture and thought I’d be back to normal by now but I can’t enjoy runs because every discomfort and feeling in my toes scares me into thinking it has to be a re-injury. Your post spoke to me so. Despite doing everything right recovery and returning to running isn’t linear or easy. It’s actually been harder than just not running at all.

  16. You will always have a “fan” here! Regardless of if you win or lose – I don’t really care. What I care about is your down to earth attitude & graciousness when approached by strangers (I may have done it once or twice), your pure joy at loving what you do and being the “role model” that women can be intelligent, strong/athletic and real all at the same time. See ya out there!

  17. Do what you do and enjoy the ride. Perhaps your best ability is putting into words what you’re really thinking, so that so many people can relate. For many folks who follow you, you’ll never be back… because you never left.

  18. I noticably teared up on the NY subway while reading this heartfelt, honest and moving look into the life of a special person.

  19. Amelia, thank you so much for sharing. We all really admire you and everything you stand for. Obstacles always get in our way or try to keep us from reaching our goals, but your fortitude, perseverance, and most importantly patience have shown how truly great you really are.

  20. YES YES YES!!! We are on the same trajectory… I raced the Earth Day 50K this weekend… first race since when we both broke our femurs last April…. and every step I took I thought I was going to break again… my shin hurts today and even though it’s not the pinpoint stress fracture pain I keep thinking I broke my leg and am freaking out! It’s awful. But this post is sooooo true…. I was looking back at when I ran this race last year and literally the following weekend I ran a 20 miler and there is NO WAY I can do that this year… so I start beating myself up about it… but why? As you said above… I’m a different person, different athlete and it’s OK! THANK YOU! Shoot me a message on email or FB if you want to commiserate on the fear!

  21. I’m glad that you understand that, the reason people want you racing again is that, they dig you. But, you’ve only got one job in this world – to be Amelia Boone. You don’t have to be Amelia Boone the successful Apple attorney. You don’t have to be Amelia Boone OCR champ. You just have to be you.
    Recently, my knees were giving me so much trouble, I began to wonder if I’d ever run again. So, when the pain eased and I was able to, that was enough to fill me with gratitude. It sounds like you’ve come to a place of inner-understanding. May it bring you peace. I wish you health, to do what you want.

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