On Sunday, January 31, 2021, I ran my best run since my first Dystonia symptoms in 2012 and my subsequent diagnosis in 2014. I went 10 miles on my favorite trails here in Boulder under a perfectly blue and cloudless wearing my cute new lululemon running vest. The whole day felt like a huge gift.
If you want to read only about Sunday’s run, skip past all of the italicized text below because that’s where the actual recap begins. But if you feel like reading some background about how and when my Dystonia began, as well as some painful parts of my journey, and how I got here—to this unbelievable run—then grab a cup of coffee and enjoy.
At the very beginning of 2012, after a brutal 2011 fall cross country season at The University of Tampa, I was ready for a break. My teammates and I had put up a solid performance at Nationals against the most competitive Division II teams in the NCAA, and I was burned out physically and mentally.
After taking some time off, and when I finally felt refreshed again, I remember heading out for an easy mid-morning run from my apartment on Davis Islands. It was chilly and humid at the same time, and a little foggy and overcast, in true Florida fashion.
After a couple cautious steps, I could tell something was off. My legs felt unbelievably heavy; I could barely lift my feet off of the ground. And it wasn’t just a matter of easing in and warming up. It wasn’t just a stiff first mile; the fatigue was worse than the worst I’d ever experienced. It was worse than the worst post-workout ache I had ever experienced. Mile after mile I tried to shake it off, hoping my legs would find their groove, but they never did. From that day on, every run I went on was worse than the previous. Eventually, I’d lose control of my muscles, of my feet and where they landed, of my coordination. Of all hope of finding my groove again.
From then until the middle of 2014, life felt like a blur of doctors’ appointments, blood tests, x-rays, MRIs, and failed drug and Botox treatments. When I was officially diagnosed with a form of Dystonia that more commonly presents itself in runners, it wasn’t a relief like I had hoped. It was a lifelong prison sentence.
We don’t know what causes it, they said.
There’s no cure, they said.
I was trapped in a body that had stopped doing the one thing I built a life around, and with that news, I felt like a part of me had died. My running life continued to deteriorate over the years. And along with it, my personal life. The more difficult and frustrating it got, the deeper I sunk into depression, cutting out friendships and relationships I treasured the most. I threw away my 20s, isolated myself and my problems in a one-bedroom apartment, and took it out on anyone who tried to help. I was a mess. And when I look back, I feel ashamed for letting a sport define who I was and how I experienced joy.
My life changed forever when I moved to Colorado in 2017. I figured out how to accept who I was and what I had. I found friends and a new life outside of running that eventually pulled me out of the hole I’d dug for myself.
And fast forward to here and now. The end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021 have ushered in some of the best runs of my life since that one horrible, no-good, dirty rotten morning run on Davis Islands in 2012. It all started at the beginning of November when every other day or so I’d feel a touch lighter on my feet. My legs would cooperate enough for me to string together a half mile without walking. I wouldn’t kick myself so often. I stopped tripping.
This continued on through the holidays at my parents’ house in Florida, and then the new year here in Boulder. I ran 3 miles without walking. Then 5 and then 6. And on Sunday, January 31, 2021, I ran 10 miles without stopping to walk for the first time since 2011. Ten miles on my favorite trail in the unbelievable Colorado sunshine.
My day started at around 9 a.m. after a few cups of coffee and some cereal. I was feeling tired, but excited about a warmer day in January, and I think everyone else had the same idea because the trail was buzzing with bikers, hikers and runners.
MILE ONE: 9:21/mile
MILE TWO: 8:39/mile
I took the first couple miles slow and steady, as I usually do at Marshall Mesa since it’s up from the beginning. I think they had done some grooming since the last time I ran there, so the trail was nice and smooth. I cruised through the first mile and found my rhythm through the second as I listened to the “This Is Morgan Wallen” playlist on Spotify. The view also doesn’t hurt at all.
For some reason, in 2020 I became a country music fan. I never really liked or listened to it before last year, but I started playing it every so often in the car, while I was working at home or going for a walk around town and, you know what, it’s actually kind of nice. Soothing, in a way.
MILE THREE: 10:10/mile
MILE FOUR: 8:47/mile
Mile three is always kind of tough because that’s where the Marshall Mesa trail turns into the Greenbelt Plateau Trail and is allll uphill. That section is filled with rocks, stairs, loose dirt, and it feels like it never ends. My pace slowed a bit on mile three, but I kept taking one baby step after another as I climbed to the top. Mile four I was rewarded with a nice descent down the back side of that trail to where it connects with Dowdy Draw—a trail that heads into the mountains on the other side of the highway.
MILE FIVE: 9:13/mile
MILE SIX: 8:52/mile
MILE SEVEN: 9:25/mile
Miles five through seven were basically backtracking the way I came – I headed back up Greenbelt Plateau Trail towards the main Marshall Mesa loop. Strava is saying it was all downhill, but it is definitely not soooo… ??? But heading back this way is one of my favorite sections because the views of the Flatirons and Boulder are pretty unbelievable, and it’s mostly downhill. My legs enjoyed that little break for sure.
MILE EIGHT: 10:44/mile
MILE NINE: 9:12/mile
After mile seven, eight is pretty much straight back up again, and it is always pretty painful because I don’t venture into eight or nine miles very often. Plus, the hills were really making my legs scream. By mile nine, I was mentally done with this run. My quads were pretty tired, I was having a hard time controlling my breathing, and the wind was starting to pick up a little, which is my least favorite of all the weather elements.
MILE TEN: 8:39/mile
On mile ten, the last of this long run, I just went for it. I wanted to be back at the trailhead so badly that I gave it every last ounce of energy I had. About a half mile from where I parked my car—I could see it in the distance—I could hear another runner very slowly catching up to me, so I made a goal for myself to beat him to the trailhead before he could pass me.
I turned up my music and pumped my arms as hard as I could to will my legs to find some speed somewhere, anywhere. I was breathing harder than I had in a long time and when I finally made it to the gate where I started, I fell to my knees on the pavement and buried my face in my hands, gulping up as much oxygen as my lungs could handle.
Ten miles. All running. No walking. For the first time in eight years.
I think that was one of the best feelings I’ve had in a long, long time. I got up and paced around in the sunshine for a while soaking it in. Even if it never happens again—even if things start to go south again with my Dystonia—I will have that moment and that run, I thought.