by Mary Claire Walker
The rain fell softly on the leaves around me. I smiled as I listened to it, the only sound I could hear in these woods. My legs were revitalized with new life. This is the first run since my back to back ultra events with two weeks between them that I have felt like myself on a run. Mentally I wanted to run, but almost every run I felt flat. My legs wouldn’t respond. The last couple weeks have thrown me some unexpected curve balls, which have left me confused and scared. With my go-to coping mechanism failing me recently, I have just wanted to curl up in a ball and cry. But not today. Today my head was finally clear. I was flying effortlessly across the mud and wet leaves, up the hills I used to have to walk just a short two years ago. My body and mind were finally aligned again. I thought back to my first run in the Pinebush with my running buddies Amy and Karen. I met them through Albany Running Exchange when I first moved to the Albany area shortly after leaving my abusive husband. I remembered the laughs we shared and getting lost multiple times. The trails used to seem so confusing to me here. Now I don’t think I could get lost if I wanted to. At least not from the trailhead I normally park at.
I noticed about two weeks ago as I ran that my face was expressionless, for someone who used to have the nickname of “smiley” at races and many jobs, this made me sad. I tried to think back to when I lost my smile. I think it slowly slipped away, over the past few years. Only making a few guest appearances, and most of the time it was forced, but on this run my smile was not forced, it was natural, wide and true. I felt it travel through my whole body from my toes up to my face. Alone on the trails in the rain, reflecting on the people I have in my life now which have enhanced not only my life but me as a person. I felt so much gratitude for them and for where I am today. I know it can only get better from here. I saw one person on the trails that day, it was my boyfriend John, running his longest run yet. He was crushing it, staying true to his pacing, fueling and hydration plan. I am so proud to watch his love for this sport grow as he trains for his first marathon.
Many of my midweek long runs were run at the Pinebush last year while training for Yeti 100mi. There were laughs and there were tears, some were solo and some with friends, but this run was different. I haven’t been knocked down this far in a while, I think your brain blacks out just how hard it is to come back from medical events on top of ultra events. Spoiler alert, it’s tough, and if you're going through something similar please know you're not alone. Keep getting up and showing up for yourself, because it gets better. You may not see the progress everyday and some days feel like one step forward and 10 steps back, but you’re making progress and no matter how slow. It’s progress, as long as you keep showing up in whatever form you can everyday. It’s weird to think that less than two months ago I was crossing the finish line for Yeti 100mi and accomplishing a long sought after dream and now an 8 mi run in the Pine Bush, which on paper pales in comparison can bring me so much joy. But it’s the feeling we can gain from running the freedom of mind, body and soul.
Running has been my outlet for 20 years now, I used to go into the woods on my family farm to clear my head. My mother would take me and my siblings hiking and running in the Shawangunk Mountains growing up. These experiences in turn introduced me to the beauty of the trails, and how one can find peace and reprieve in the mountains. Since then, I have always found a refuge on the trails. I think that is why this particular run was so special to me. The peace came back and instead of worrying about my pace, or my legs, my head and heart felt free again. The questioning was gone and I knew I had not lost my love for the trails, my body just needed a break to rebuild and recover. My mojo is back and training has started for LOST 118mi in February!
Not every run will be magical, but there will be magic in every run, and I know no matter what, I am so thankful that I can run, and I have a wonderful coach (shoutout to Michelle Merlis!) who keeps me on track.
Mary Claire Walker Archive
My Mom, My Inspiration: One Hundred Milers Run in the Family
Yeti 100 Miler: An Epic Run