It all came rushing back – slowly though

I left the starting line with a sweaty high five and huge smile from Shme as I set out on loop 2 of the Medved Mid-Summer Night’s Madness. I was with a few other runners, it felt strange though.

My heart rate spiked – I had red lined on a downhill within 50 yards of the start – Then for no reason I started to cry.

I ran – people began to pass me, that’s an odd feeling. I started to cry again, in a crowd so I stopped to “tie my shoe” My heart was racing in my chest.

I ran again, but more tears. 3 times in the first mile? Then I saw Shme and a few friends coming through the woods – In a chance to finally heckle the heckler she yelled “I’m sleeping with that sexy man over there”. Classic line there, babe.

I laughed and it broke the tears – I waved and then moved along, finding my way as a runner, in a race again. A long time had passed since I was able to do something like this.

3 years, 4 months, and 8 days. Over 1,000 days happened between participating in a race. Even longer if I add in when I actually “raced”.

If you follow along at all with my life you know how much running means to me, and how hard it has been not having it for these past years. I helped create and am the President and RD for #TrailsRoc – The best people I know are a part of this community.

Sheila (shme) and I own Trail Methods – We put on more races, and I freelance over there from time to time – All covering this crazy sport we love so much.

I was declared healthy enough to run a few months back, albeit with some sore, cartilage depleted knees and 60 pounds more to carry than prior on rebuilt achilles tendons and feet.

Those 60 pounds though were nothing compared to the weight I felt being around this running community so often, while never actually being able to participate.

In those 1,000+ days – I directed about 15 races, and gave out over 2,000 finish line high fives as people ran our races and accomplished their own running goals. I was present at probably another 15-20 events in that time frame, and every Tuesday, without fail, with stitches or scars; scooter or crutches; cast or boot; brace or ice pack I was at the Tuesday night trail workouts.

I would talk to everyone about their running, plan workouts to help them achieve goals – Then I would watch them leave the trail head and take off for the hills. I would watch them fade into the woods as I limped back into the truck to read a book or listen to some talk radio for an hour .

As they came back, I would emerge from the cave, greeting sweaty runners talking about the trails and the hills or the bugs or the mud.  All of them vibing in that afterglow that only an off-road run can bring.

Smiles, miles, training, and relationship building. I was there through it, just not really a part of it. People joined our group as new runners and became ultra runners all in the time frame I was not running. They never saw me as a runner.

I can’t really explain why I stuck around, or why it seemed to important to me.

I just knew that’s where I should be.

I hit mile 2 of my race – the shortest leg of the relay  – only to realize this route would take me on the largest hills in Mendon Ponds Park, with some loose scree like sections and plenty of turns and roots to traverse with my weakened ankles.

I was slow. Holy cow was I slow. Runners would gain on me – My old race mindset would kick in, I covered ground with them and chatted for a second only to watch them, with ease, pull away and head up a hill towards a finish line that they had no idea would mean so much to me.

I found some alone time in this mile – No one near me, it reminded me of all of those hours sitting at a trail head or all the time sitting alone at a finish line after a race started waiting for runners to come back and tell the tales of the race they just ran.

I didn’t feel alone this time though – The trails and the forest provided me a sense of belonging. A reason to have gone through everything. A perfect welcome back highlighted by cool temps in what is traditionally the hottest time of year.

I never had a doctor tell me to stop running or stop hoping to run though so that helped. To think this all started with a missed opportunity to run CCC as part of UTMB week in France with Columbia Sports a few years. I had to miss that event with my first post college injury, but was told I would be back running soon…..

I had colleagues, and some friends, and family members say I shouldn’t run again. I had internet strangers suggest that my running would be behind me – Asking me what was the point. Each doctor though said I could. So I believed the “experts”.

I had my achilles tendon blasted with shockwaves. Injected with plasma, I  had both of them cut off and reattached, I  had bone shaved off, and feet reshaped, I had my knee hit up with a tenjet device. I had to learn how to walk again. I literally had to replace the brakes on a knee scooter which we affectionately call “Scoots Magoots”.

I basically built Tim over at Latimore his brand new facility. I had more physical therapy appointments than I could shake a stick at as I finally took advantage of all the years of paying for insurance. Yeah, Blue Cross Blue Shield – I got mine. Suck on that.

Mile 3 was coming up. I had just been passed by a few runners. I was sweating. I was tired. I had not run a hill in years. I walked…….. Then I heard “Go Eric WOOO” It was Jen – and again a chance to heckle the heckler as Pete screamed “I didn’t drive all this way to watch you walk.”  I laughed. I ran. Up a damn hill.

Friends had driven to the park to celebrate with me. What a wonderful thing, so I ran…. Until they couldn’t see me.

The finish line was close. I could hear people.

For years it never felt close. This journey back felt endless. We had a very real at home conversation about amputating my foot and getting fit with a prosthetic to get rid of the pain, and to find a way to run again. I spoke at length with my PT and my surgeon. They thought I would get through it though.

I did not believe them sometimes though. I had so many temper tantrums over these years. It was like being in taper mode for years. I ate my way through it. I drank my way through it. I ate like I was training for an ultra, but the fact was I had not even been exercising at all. I couldn’t. I got fat…..

Honestly I think I was depressed.

I was going to step away from everything we helped build. Shut it down. I wanted to lock everyone out and throw away the key.

I can’t say why I didn’t though. Maybe it was pride? Fear? Hope?

I think it was hope.

I could hear the finish line and I could not stop smiling. I let a couple of runners really get ahead of me, which was unheard of in my “racing” days.

I wanted this moment to myself.

I came out of the woods to cheers. My hat was pulled low over my face so no one could see my eyes. The race directors lining up with high fives. FINALLY, I was able to be on this side of the accomplishments. 4, 5, 6 high fives on the way in.

Cheers, smiles. Liz was waiting for me at the finish to head out for leg #3. High Five. Off she went.

Tears. I saw Shme – She hugged me. I buried my sweaty stinky head into her shoulder. I couldn’t do the tears in front of everyone. I grabbed her butt.

Everyone laughed. So did I. The sweat and smiles hiding the raw emotions of the moment.  I reached for Sheila’s hand and walked to the side and sat down. I wish someone had captured a picture of this.

A beer was delivered to me (thanks Dan) and all I could think was how I… me…. myself…. for once in the past few years, actually earned that beer.

It tasted so good.

A few more high fives. I got to tell the stories of the trail and laugh and listen to others as they cross the finish line and sit in the grass.

I have so far to go. The doctors are insistent that the weight loss still needs to happen but I felt like so much of it was already gone.

We sat in the grass, celebrated with Liz when she finished like a boss up the final hill. I had a few drinks, laughed at the kids fun run with everyone. Cheered like a maniac at the awards ceremony.

This feeling was fresh. I owe so much of it to so many people. The ones who said to not give up. Who showed up to hang out in parking lots. Who encouraged me to be patient. Who understood what this meant to me even while not understanding.

I owe it to the doubters too. Yes, even to the ones who said to quit. In my mind, I turned those words over during sleepless nights. I listened to them on painful walks or more bad MRI news. I agreed with them while using the scooter and crutching down the stairs. I fought those words for a long time because you said them. I  heard them. I repeated them. My heart heard them, felt them and tried to become them.

I also dug in though – So thank you because it made me more resilient. It made me want this even more just to show you…

Shme- You dealt with wall punches and scooter flips. You were calm when I was irrational. You loved me when I was unlovable. Thank you.

I raced again.

I was back.

I am back.

I feel relieved and revived. I ache most of the time still but it’s an ache that I like not an ache that I fear. I want to share some more miles with you, I look forward to seeing you out on the trails.

Emerging Trail…….. Years in the making indeed….


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