Accepting limitations

The best feeling for me as a runner, cyclist, and hiker has been knowing that you can do anything that you set your mind to do.

I’ve strongly felt the sentiments inspired by the motto “faster, higher, stronger”. All kinds of athletes feel this drive to push their limits and achieve success. It is so freeing, empowering, and inspiring to know that the sky is the limit. But lately, I’ve been feeling that I may be better off staying close to the ground.

I found that I could always go faster and get stronger, even in spite of setbacks. There were always new goals to set and horizons to reach. Half marathon? Done. Cycle 60 miles to raise money for a new library? No problem.  Full trail marathon? I did it. On the long training runs/hikes in the woods preparing for the marathon, my heart had already set its sights on ultra races, and the siren song of the trail called for an epic thru hike.

But as weeks, months, and years go by without my knee recovering from that marathon, I have to be realistic in my expectations and honest about what I really want in the long run.

So, here it is: Honestly, I will never be an ultra runner, and I will never thru hike the Appalachian Trail.

Maybe those endeavors seem too big or dangerous or difficult to seriously consider in the first place, but they were real possibilities for me, and admitting that I won’t be able to pursue them just sucks. After all, I’m used to building and chasing dreams, not casting them off.

So now I’m stuck in a bit of a no-man’s land where I feel the sadness that comes with abandoning dreams but am still trying to remain positive about my recovery and hopeful about the future I do have.

It turns out, luckily, that acknowledging limits is not giving up. As I said, I have to be realistic in my expectations and honest about what I really want, and being the fastest, highest, and strongest that I can possibly be for a short period now isn’t as important as being active throughout my whole life.

Honestly, for me, a lot of the appeal of these achievements has been that they’re achievements. They are quantifiable accomplishments that I can be proud of. But what I’ve really, truly, taken away from these activities has been the experiences. When remembering my first half marathon, I think back so much more on the feeling of coming up to the finish line and giving it all I had on the boardwalk along the ocean than I do about the medal they put around my neck for finishing.  And I think I can get a lot of positive and fulfilling experiences without chasing “sky’s-the-limit” type goals.

I do not, by any means, want to lessen the incredible accomplishments made by bad-ass athletes, but I’m coming to terms with the fact that I don’t need those accomplishments to derive happiness from my outdoor pursuits. I don’t need to hike thousands of miles to camp under the stars and wake up to the sounds of loons calling. I don’t need to run 30 miles to get a runner’s high. And section hiking sounds pretty awesome and is waaaay less physically damaging.

So far, I have been rewarded with 2 years and 3 months and counting of inactivity for running 26.2 miles in one morning (ok, one morning and half an afternoon). I’ve missed out on hundreds of miles, races with friends, mountain adventures, backpacking, triathlons, duathlons, and so much more. Running a marathon was such an incredible experience, and I deeply wanted to go back and try it again injury-free, but I’d rather not risk a long-time overuse injury again if I can help it.

I will always want to push my limits and try to improve, but I think that I can put hubris aside and channel that drive into a variety of activities. I may not be able to be the best at any one thing, but life can be incredibly full and satisfying in so many other ways…

And, it goes without saying, that there is more to life than outdoor/physical activities. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how grateful I am for my general good health, fulfilling job, and loving family and friends. My time off the trails and on the couch has given me the opportunity to read, write, and craft, and there’s a lot to say for all of that, even if I am antsy to get moving again. 🙂

Ever on, my friends.

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