by Natalie Patterson
It’s now been a month since I both moved to Washington and tripped in that fateful pothole that broke my foot in two places. I’ve watched all of the new season of House of Cards, have significantly brought down the average age of a water aerobics class, and given untold numbers of stank eyes at self-righteous stroller people on the metro elevator. But to be completely honest, I have been absolutely losing my mind out of boredom and desire to run.
When people ask for an interesting fact or whatever, my go to is always immediately “I’m Natalie and I love to run. Preferably for long distances. Preferably as fast as I can.” Running is a part of my identity, I’m not ashamed to admit, and the alternatives (sorry triathlon people…) are painfully inadequate. As I was crutching to my bus stop after work the other day, the guy who sits in the alcove in front of an old Starbucks in Georgetown backed up out of the sidewalk with a mournful shake of his head:
“I don’t say this to many people but that has got to suck”
It sure does man. It sure does.
Last week I was finishing up a trip to Wyoming and Colorado, and as someone who also loves to climb and hike, it was actually impossible to be out there and not make poor choices. At one point, I taped my climbing shoe to my foot and tried to scramble up a pile of rocks I was that desperate. I scared (also impressed) a lot of people in Rocky Mountain National Park limping up and down this trail on some pretty treacherous snow, but I couldn’t stand the thought of going all the way out west and just sitting around drinking beer all day (although there was plenty of that too).
This isn’t my first rodeo with an injury, of course. I’ve had two stress fractures and have sprained my ankles so many times I can’t name them all. But I, like most competitive runners I’m sure, struggle with more than just the physical aspects of the injury. Not running and training and competing just puts me in such a terrible psychological state it can be hard to function sometimes. Running helps me concentrate, it helps me sleep, it gives me a self-esteem boost and a sense of accomplishment that I don’t often get from my day to day life. I don’t feel worthy of taking breaks or eating indulgent meals or even getting enough sleep when I don’t run, because so much of the reason that I treat my body with those things is because I need them to run well. Is that healthy? I mean, probably not. But so much of that has been tied to my love of running and competing that it is hard to this injury as anything but a catastrophe for my running career.
But I suppose that is why we need teams in the running world, and more than that, why we need teams that are based and that function as support networks and encouragers and daily reminders that you are loved and have worth for more than your times and daily distance. I have been lucky to be on such teams. In college, we had a number of girls who chronically struggled with injuries that sidelined them for entire seasons at times. But that never made them any less a part of the team or any less of athletes. They were still at practice, involved in team meetings, and came to every race in any kind of weather. I recently ran a Ragnar Relay with a group of these women, and when one of our teammates – who had battled a major injury for months and STILL ran this insane leg up a mountain for five miles – wasn’t sure she could finish her last leg, our team wasn’t concerned about winning or our times or even getting disqualified. The health and well-being of our teammate came first. That girl (being the total badass that she is) STILL ended up running. But none of us could have given a crap either way – we were just happy to get to share the experience with her and the rest of the team. I’ve been looking to that experience throughout this last month, and reminding myself of how grateful I am to have teammates and friends like that in my life.
It’s the same with my RET teammates of course, as well. I don’t feel like a forgotten or unimportant member of the team because I can’t run and compete currently. I am happy to support and encourage our runners, and they have been so supportive of my own ‘training’ and recovery as well. To be honest, it has been one of the only good things about this experience – knowing that my teammates and friends don’t just call on me when they need a warm, fast body to compete. For me, that is the true meaning of sportsmanship and competition, and it has been the primary motivator for when I really and truly do not feel like setting foot in a pool for the 23rd day in a row. I want to get back to running because it makes me feel good, sure, but I also terribly want to get back to training and competing with my teammates. I think injuries have a way of reminding of us the beautiful and collaborative nature of the sport. That in the end, we don’t (or at least I don’t) run to win anything or for the recognition. I run because something about the act of it gives me such profound enjoyment, and getting to share that with other people who are also motivated by that love and enjoyment is such a beautiful thing.
It still totally blows right now to be unable to do the things that I most love, and even with a support network back in ROA, it has still been hard to see people running on the greenway by my house and see everyone signing up for summer races on Facebook. But having such great teammates and friends who are just as anxious as I am to race with me again means I’ll go get back in the pool with my floaty belt and keep providing the teenagers in Tenleytown with comedic fodder.
by Scot Bellavia
Roanoke’s mountains aren’t the tallest in the world. In fact, only two of Virginia’s mountains summit above 5000 feet. Humidity is pretty pervasive here too. However, I think the Blue Ridge Mountains are the best in the world. I may be biased because this is my hometown but I have always believed this region is naturally perfect.
We have four seasons (winter means a few big snow days and that’s it). In the spring and summer, when the leaves are full, the mountains give off a blue tint when you look at them from a certain distance. In the fall, we have every leaf color you can imagine boasting itself on our mountains. These mountains define Roanoke and give us the lifestyle many Roanokers live. Our city, county, and surrounding towns’ parks and recreation departments do some fine work getting people to live more outside. We have hundreds of miles of trails and greenway road along the Roanoke River. There are more than 20 miles of singletrack, dirt trials just within the city limits used by runner, hikers, and bikers. There is green space and a public park in every section of town. These total doesn’t even include Carvin’s Cove, a 12,700 acre reservoir with about 60 miles of trails. It is nationally known for mountain biking and offers huge climbs, remote-feel singletrack, water, wildlife, and connection to the Appalachian Trail.
Did I mention we have a section of the Appalachian Trail? Within Roanoke County and neighboring Botetourt, there is a 34 mile loop that people run and hike connecting three favorite hikes and the AT’s most photographed overlook. I like to differentiate AT miles are longer than other trails. Almost always, the AT has more technical, climbing, and sometimes scrambling in each of its miles so to run the AT is a workout like no other. We are fortunate to have this internationally known trail so close to us. I would be remiss to omit the Blue Ridge Parkway from our natural resources. It is a 469 mile roadway between Shenandoah National Park and the Smoky Mountains mostly covered by cars. People run it sometimes and many bike it. This is the location where so much of the region’s most iconic pictures are taken; for our myriad of fall colors, wide blue valleys, and nice trails and wildlife along the way.
Finally, there are national forests and state parks nearby that allow trail runners to get their fill of remote, almost wilderness, nature. All these natural amenities contribute to Roanoke’s running community. We have a vibrant trail running group and many residents are avid volunteers to keep the trails beautiful and accessible. While we do not have mountains that reach higher than the tree line, you can easily get your fill of that same wilderness and elevation training here in Roanoke.
by Nathan Perkinson
I haven’t always been a “runner”. I would say I was your typical jock throughout high school, always playing whatever main sport was in season, like soccer, basketball, and baseball. Unlike most of my friends, I always loved complementing my sports practices with running. It was never more than that for a long time though, just a little addition to my other sports pursuits.
When I went off to college, I continued to play some basketball and stuff, but I would also run. While at Liberty University, where I spent my first two years of college, I took part in some trail races that Liberty hosts on their home trails of Liberty Mountain. It was on that mountain where I really fell in love with trail running and running in general. Life eventually took me away from Liberty University and back home to Christiansburg, Virginia, where I attended nearby Virginia Tech. I took some time away from running to explore other fitness endeavors, but I eventually came back to the sport. I loved running in the New River Valley! I loved my runs on the Huckleberry Trail, watching many Blacksburg sunsets over the rolling hills and farms. I loved running around the campus of Virginia Tech, passing fellow students, taking in the beautiful grass, trees, and life brimming from the vibrant community that can be found in Blacksburg.
After quite a bit of time road running, I found my way out to Pandapas Pond one day. It is a small recreational area outside of Blacksburg in the Jefferson National Forest that has many accessible trails. It was here where my love for trail running was truly re-kindled. I began spending more and more time there running around the pond and creeks that abut the trails, providing a tranquil partner in an already serene place. I began to simply appreciate nature more, and it gave me such a different perspective in learning to love God’s creation. It provided me time to be alone in the woods and time to realize I’m small and my God is really big. It gave me time to escape the business of life, sometimes only hearing my breathing, and not the noise of everyday life. This is why I love trail running.
Since that time, I have moved to Roanoke with my wonderful wife, ran my first road marathon, and have fallen head over heels for running. I have most recently discovered what I believe to be one of the most supportive communities in running, that being the people of the running community in Roanoke, Virginia. I don’t care what you say, it is second to none! I have also had the privilege to join an incredible group of runners on the Roanoke Endurance Team and I love the friendships, community, and camaraderie that the team brings to my life!
Roanoke has also provided TONS of amazing trails to adventure on and I have fallen more in love with trail running than ever before. I have come to love the grueling mountain climbs around here because the views from the top take your breath away more than the climbs up the mountains. The trail running community is also second to none, with Josh and Gina Gilbert leading the way with their Mountain Junkies race series that I have been privileged to participate in this year. Along with that, Josh and Gina will soon be providing me with the opportunity to do something in trail running I’ve never done before! In just a couple weeks, I will do my first trail marathon and I cannot wait! It’s going to be hard, but that makes it all more worth it! I can’t wait to spend the day in the woods, running over dirt, roots, and rocks, just taking in the sights and sounds of nature, listening to my breathing, and learning to appreciate creation a little bit more.
by Sam Lev
I’ve been running and racing consistently since I was 13. Even when I decided as a sophomore that collegiate racing was not for me, I continued to train and race as though I was on a team. It’s part of my DNA. For me, running has never been “exercise”. Good physical fitness is a fortunate byproduct of having running goals based on time, place, and effort. And because I can never stay still for long, I’ve always had a goal to strive toward.
This winter, though, I was in a slump. I’ve been through slumps before; usually I can pull myself out through group training, selecting future races to hold me accountable to my training, and realizing that when you’re in the muck, sometimes you just have to be patient and train through it. I have to give a big shout out to RET and all my friends in the Roanoke running community here: You folks keep me motivated, and keep me on my toes. The support of the runners in this city is second to none.
Anyway, back to the slump. I usually love winter running. I love the quiet trails, the long leafless views, and I hate sweating in the summer humidity. I love winter running so much that I plan all of my marathon and ultramarathons in the spring so I get my hard training done in January-March. But this year was different. I was coming off an injury and a couple disappointing fall races, so I was looking to the winter as a time to get back on the horse, get fit, and start racing well again. For some reason, though, the motivation never came. Physically, I felt fine. No injuries, plenty of time in my life to run. But when I stepped out the door for a good track session or a 7 mile run, I would bail and end up with 3-4 miles easy, then back home with no good excuse. I lost my footspeed and felt my endurance slowly draining, setting me further back from my goal of spring 5k racing.
I couldn’t identify what was happening. I wasn’t overworked, over raced, or overtrained, I wasn’t overly stressed, and I certainly didn’t have any physical injuries. I just didn’t feel like training. Heck, I didn’t even feel like running. It look me a long time to realize this though. It was a couple months of ducking workouts and cutting runs short until I finally decided to take a long look at what was happening. I wasn’t getting any faster, I wasn’t really trying that hard, and that was a frustrating double-whammy.
I came to the decision to take a little time off, maybe I just needed a short mental break. So I took a week completely off of running. This isn’t unpresented. High school and collegiate training often has 1-2 week breaks between seasons to help reset. One week, then two weeks passed. I told myself it was time to get back to training, so I planned to run early one morning. When I woke up, it was raining. Usually this doesn’t bother me, but on this day it was a non-starter. That day, after some soul searching, I decided that I wouldn’t try to run until I truly felt motivated.
Flash forward to today. It’s been 7 weeks since I first took time off, and I’ve been back running for a week. 6 weeks is three times longer than I’ve ever been away from running, including injuries. In that time, I’ve been doing two things I never thought I’d do: played basketball and lifted weights. I’m awful at both, but enjoying the journey. Physically, I feel great. And as the weather has warmed, as the flowers start to bloom, I’ve started to get the itch to start running again. I’m looking at races in the summer, and for the first time in months I’m fired up. I’m scared of the fitness I’ve lost, that I’ve built up over 18 years of consistent racing and training, but I’m confident that I’ll find it again quickly.
It’s pretty easy to call this a burnout. But this is a concept that’s new to me, and I’m still grappling with what exactly it means, why it happened, and what will happen on the other side. I have to admit, though, that I’m not sad it happened. I vow to be more perceptive about my training and notice when I need a reset or a motivator. I’ll look more closely at my goals and the specific steps I take to meet them. But importantly, I won’t be afraid to take a break and try new things. I think I’m just a little late in the start of my career as a professional basketball player.