Welcome to our first of many Athlete Journals! As media consumption pivots to the quick hits of Instagram posts and TikToks, long gone are the blogs that likely brought you into the sport. One of my hopes is to recreate that spark in the form of essays from your favorite pros as they navigate the highs and lows of running, racing, and life. To kick us off, one of our own, Katie Asmuth.
“Slow down, you move too fast” the Simon and Garfunkel hymn humming on my lips. The art of mellow days hasn’t been my strong suit. There are always mountains to climb, weights to lift, foam to roll. The juggle struggle is real as a mom, nurse practitioner, and athlete. My lists are overflowing, like an event planner in wedding season – but I love the beautiful chaos that is my life!
But on July 14th, a different type of chaos unfolded when the ER doctor said, “You have a right Navicular Fracture.” I stared blankly. He continued, “and you need to eat more food.”
WHAT?! Confusion set in.
“Who me???” I love food, all of it, all the time. But as a clinician, I’m no stranger to the risk of Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S), particularly for ultra endurance athletes. I knew what he meant – “Gain weight and Chill the F Out”. A stress fracture diagnosis felt like a punishment, like I was getting my knuckles rapped. A stress fracture? How did this happen? Just last year, through a research study at Western States, I had a normal bone density scan. I pride myself on my strong bones, on being durable. How have I gotten here? I’m thoughtful with my fueling and I don’t overtrain. My running felt conservative – running low to midrange miles every week compared to my competitors. I’m not burnt out – always stoked to run! I listen to my body. I love my Monday rest day. My periods are normal. But here I was, with the first broken bone and a whole of questions.
If there is anything injury teaches you – it’s to surrender to what you have no control over. I have a broken bone, something I never thought I would have without falling down a mountain. Was it the perfect storm of favoring my right foot during a left leg niggle while ramping up my mileage for Western States? Maybe… But the hard truth was, running is not in the cards for at least 4 months. And imaginably harder, no standing with two feet for 6 weeks.
This of course seems like a heartbreaking reality. Thankfully, my growing bank of trail running wisdom set in, like a superhero from the Avengers. Ta Da!
I am intentional in using what I learn as an ultra runner in daily life. I internalize the lessons learned in training, and more often, the ones we pickup in racing. While it could be so easy to just run, simply enjoying moving through space with each leg turnover, there are deeper life lessons that trail running can teach us when it comes to approaching everyday challenges. This injury from ultra running has taught me more in 3 weeks than I have learned from years of self help books. So what are those lessons?
1. Flip the Script
I know, easier said than done. But ultra running has taught me not to dwell on a problem. Understand the situation. Reframe. Move forward.
Now I say, “Thank you!” to the 205 bones that ARE NOT broken. The body is pretty darn miraculous. How can you run thousands of miles for years and only have one tiny broken bone? BODY: “You are BADASS.”
It’s amazing how our mind and body can adapt. The week I was diagnosed, and began my non-weight bearing existence, my husband left for a week-long work trip. His absence was excruciating. I was counting down the minutes until his return. The 350 stairs up and down to our condo everyday were exhausting. I needed help with everything. How much longer could I do this? Day 2 – a little bit easier. Day 3 – I was more confident on crutches, shuffling, and crawling around. I laughed at myself. I felt lighter. I began to accept my new normal, and became excited about the upcoming arrival of my knee scooter. I slowed down. I adapted.
2. Practice Patience
EVERYTHING is slower with one leg. And I’m talking EVERYTHING. From showering, to getting out of the car, to grocery shopping, to getting a glass of water. My usual quick paced chaotic life slowed and became more simple. I now prioritize tasks and errands I HAVE to do. I also know that this lesson will be needed most when I can return to running. Having patience in training once I’m cleared to run will remain foremost in my mind.
3. Accept Help
As a parent, I learned this lesson pretty quickly. It takes a village to raise kids. But when it comes to my daily tasks, I’m in charge. Ultrarunning is another animal. You will not be nearly as successful racing an ultra without a team. Injury is no exception to this, especially when you can’t walk. My usual daily life responsibilities are now pleas for assistance. There just isn’t a choice here – I need help when my slow pace doesn’t cut it (read: “Help! Dinner is burning!”). Thank goodness ultrarunning has taught me to be vulnerable, open, and able to rely and trust others.
4. Community Matters
C’mon – you knew that community had to be a part of any trail running list. Not a day has gone by without another runner checking in on me. Community makes this sport special. Whether online or in person, this growing collective of driven, passionate souls have your back. So for all of you reading this – reach out to people you know that are injured or suffering. They likely need it even if they are not asking for it (see lesson #3). Not one runner gets through life without some sort of set back. Send love. It’s lifegiving. It matters.
5. Have Empathy
I generally think of myself as empathic. I care – a lot. But when you are injured it’s next level. One week ago, I met Sheila in line for coffee at the Anchorage Airport. She has run the historic Mt Marathon race 11 times. This past year she was diagnosed with cancer, became septic, and had 19 surgeries. Yes, you read that correctly – all in one year. She told me her goal of running Mt Marathon again is what motivates her to keep going. Trail Running and the community around it is her life source. I can’t understand her suffering, but I can understand what motivates her.
Today, I was shuffling around on my crutches at my son’s Kindergarten Orientation – and a 5yo with a full-length leg cast was wheeled in on a wagon by his dad. He had jumped off a jungle gym on top of his sister (she was fine, so I hear). My heart exploded for this kid. A non-walking kindred spirit! Though, he couldn’t bend at the knee like I could- no knee scooter for him. My little navicular fracture shrunk in importance, heart aching for this child (and his parents). Trail running has taught me to be open and shaped by others experiences.
6. Cultivate Gratitude
I have a love affair with trail running. It’s messy and alluring, it’s the ultimate expression for many of us. It took me over 27 years to discover this sport, and it’s forever changed my life. Right now, I’m just relating to it in another way. The amount of past and present race coverage and trail running documentaries and articles that I have consumed in the last couple of weeks is astounding. I can’t wait to see my friends throw down. It feels darn good to care about something so deeply. Grateful that my able body will be back to running adventures soon.
One could argue that runners feel the highs and lows of life more profoundly. An injured runner is no exception. I’m here for it. I’m ready to heal and grow in more ways than just my navicular bone. I’m focusing on the things I CAN do, rather than the things I can’t. This is my new normal, for a small amount of time. I know I’m a trail runner for life – and this will be a blip in my dirt running journey.
Sure, ultra running is what caused the injury – but it’s also what taught me how to handle the highs and lows that come with it. I’m still months away from running, and I’m sure my library of lessons will grow. Injury is an opportunity to change, and isn’t that our life purpose?
I used to say I thrived in the chaos, now I say I’m “Looking for fun and feelin groovy” – changed for the better.