Knowing when to say when

This has been an awful, tough week.

Running and dogs.  I know it’s not my usual fare, but there’s a parallel there.  At least, I see it.

On Sunday, I had a trail race.  I never do trail races, I don’t particularly like them (sorry to disappoint so many), but I was home instead of a planned trip to Bangladesh, so I signed up.  Friends told me that the trail wasn’t that bad (and they were wrong!).  I had the option of 10k, 10m, 25k and 50k, and everyone got 8 hours.  I signed up for the 25k.  That should have been fine and would have been my last long run before an ultra in two weeks.  But… it was a pretty rough trail.  I’d already thought about switching to the 10 miler because of the hundred degree, 98-percent humidity weather that I knew I’d be running in.  And there were a lot of people downgrading their distances because of the heat.

(This was before the race.)

But I also really, really needed a distance win.  I hadn’t done more than 13 miles since my June Hatfield-McCoy failure.  I needed to know I could do it – could finish it.  I’d had one triumphant race since June.  But… really.  It was a Beer Mile.  The first mile or so of this trail felt great.  Then… I turned my ankle on rocks or sticks or a hole… something on the edge of the trail.  Badly.  To the point that I saw stars and had a hard time breathing.  I couldn’t walk it off.  Then I got lost a number of times.  (Race officials later told me that I missed a turn – oops!)  Stumbled a LOT.  Drank at the rate of 2 liters every 5-6 miles.   I kept turning my ankle, every mile or half mile.  Finally got to the first aid station at mile 6.  I was so tempted to switch to the 10k and just be done with the misery, but my pride wouldn’t let it happen.  I did decide to switch to the 10 miler, though.  Partly the heat, partly my ankle.  And mostly because, the misery.  I would have had do to do that same trail I had just done, again.  I didn’t want to.  I just. Didn’t. Want. To.  It’s three days later and I still never want to see that trail ever again.  So I let the on-course officials know, but kept flirting with it in my head:  ‘Hmmm, could I do the 25k?  Maybe I should.  Don’t be a wuss, push yourself.’  But I kept twisting and re-twisting my ankle, and the closer I got to the finish – where my Garmin said 10 miles but I wasn’t even out of the woods yet (literally) – the more I decided that I should stick to my decision to keep with the shorter race.

It came down to, each time I assessed, that I was really feeling no joy at all in the running, in nature, in being out on the trail.  The temperatures kept climbing, the air was still and oppressive.  I got lost two more times and panicked (quietly, calmly) a little.  When I finally reached the exit from the woods, I found out I had to go another mile or so.  Finally – 11.5 miles.  I finished DFL, again, of course.  It took a ridiculous amount of time.  Even the RD couldn’t believe how slow I was – but at least he made a good recovery about it once he got over just how long it took me to go ten miles:  “LOL. My kind of trail runner 😉. Well done!!”


Although this is a similar failure to Hatfield-McCoy, where it was hot and hilly and hard and I dropped down to an easier distance, it feels different.  I could have continued.  I really just didn’t want to.  And I’m glad I didn’t.  My foot, below the ankle, since that race has been really bad for the last two days.  To the point where I can barely walk.  So, if I’d kept running on it, on those trails and kept getting caught in the roots and twisting on the rocks and edges… it would have been even worse.  Still feel like an idiot, but less of a failure than last month.

Tuesday – two days later – my husband and I had to make that awful decision and help two of our dogs on the way to the Rainbow Bridge.  One of them, a cocker mix named Olivia, was 16 and had advanced lymphoma, and we pretty much knew, though it’s still awful.  Physically she wasn’t too bad off, but mentally she was in lala land.  That could have been okay, if we had any indication she was deriving any more joy out of life and that lala land was full of rainbows and flowers and skittles.  But she got lost in corners, had a lot of other issues, and she seemed increasingly to be in the other lala land – the one that’s confusing and distressing and scary.  The other was my baby.  Boomer, our Saint Bernard.  He would have been 11 in three weeks and we had had him since he was a puppy.  What we thought was arthritis and general giant breed aging issues over the past few months that we were able to manage, getting gradually worse, went straight downhill this weekend.  Diagnosis was either cervical spinal tumor or degenerative spinal myelopathy.  Either way, it’s catastrophic and there’s no way out.  Our boy – the king of the dogpark, law enforcement in our house, the one who loved parades – being in them – and walking through Eastern Market, who we took with us to the Jersey Shore and to summer camp in Rhode Island… he couldn’t walk any more.  At all.  He wasn’t in physical pain, but dragging himself to get water, being sedentary and dependent on everyone else to move and manipulate him, wasn’t him.  It wasn’t his life.  How he wanted to be.  And he knew it was bad.  He couldn’t even let us know he needed to pee so we could help him up.  He was stubborn, but he knew.  The hardest thing was that his head was just as it always was and he probably was trying to spare Chris and me from the pain and distress of having to help him with everything.  It’s not about us.  It’s about the furkid.

We are both grieving hard, but somewhere in my head as I realized that over the years as we’ve done more and more hospice rescue, that I’ve gotten better with my dogs at knowing when to make the call.  To not prolong something just because we can try to push one more thing, squeeze one more thing out, just because we can.  Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.  And I know we made the right call on both Boomer and Olivia, even though it is so painful.  Somehow, in my own head even though I know the statistics, I somehow thought Boomer would be with us forever.  More time would not have meant more joy.  Not for them, and not for us.

If it’s that way with my furkids, why can’t it also be that way with running?  I made the call with my furbabies.  I made the same call with the race on Sunday.  Yes, I could have suffered through another five or six miles.  Probably in the timeframe allotted, too. But it wasn’t worth it.  Pushing through it wouldn’t have meant more joy.  Sometimes it would.  Finishing a longer race (or a beer mile, apparently) generally brings me more joy, in the sense of challenge and accomplishment, than a shorter one.  But not Sunday.  Finishing 25k as opposed to 10 miles wouldn’t have made me feel any different.

My dogs keep teaching me things.

I made the right decision.  Every time.  I just wish it didn’t still feel so bad.




4 thoughts on “Knowing when to say when

  1. Dear Valerie, I’m writing thru tears after reading your letter. Boomer’s death is going to leave a giant hole in your life and Chris’, this I know. And Olivia also– but Boomer, oh my. That dog was special! Bless you all. “Condolences” doesn’t come close to my appreciation of his absence. Big hug!


  2. Valerie, I didn’t realize you had Boomer since he was a puppy. I knew he was special to you, but wow. I can only imagine the grief and I’m so sorry.


  3. I just read your blog. ): Dogs do teach us many things. Maybe we don’t observe closely enough. They run for the sheer joy and silliness of it. Not for medals or times. They run till they’re tired, rest and do it again. They don’t care who’s watching or what they think. They just do it. And they’re happier for it. And they love unconditionally whether we deserve it or not. We could learn a lot from a dog.


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