Push Through the Pain

Madelyn with Russian guide on Mt Elbrus, highest mountain in Europe

Madelyn with Russian guide on Mt Elbrus, highest mountain in Europe

My advice from personal experience is to train hard, stay healthy and good changes will take place, mentally, emotionally and physically. This has been my motto, and once I set my goal on running a marathon I train very faithfully. In fact, weather was not a deterrent; I’ve trained in all kinds of weather. It was wonderful preparation for when I would run in marathons that were in the cold of Antarctica and the desert of Algeria. I had no problem with terrain as Maine has lots of hills.

When I first began, running was new to me and I started in this sport a bit later than most. I began running about the time I was going to retire from a teaching career.  I enjoyed the challenge, did well and stayed injury free until it was three weeks prior to my seventh marathon on the seventh continent. By this time I had invested so much of my time and efforts towards attaining this feat that I could not imagine not completing this goal.  I was out on a short practice run when I was hit by a terrible pain in my hip. I walked home. I knew this was not good. My trainer set me up with treatments and ordered me not to run until the marathon. The marathon was in Vina del Mar, Chile, South America! It was mental torture worrying that I may not be able to run even a mile after I flew this far. But, since I had planned for it, trained for it and was psychologically ready, I decided to go for it—I was going to do it!

Understandably, I was quite concerned to say the least. The Marathon committee had set up rooms for the international runners in a hotel nearby. I was sitting in the dining room a day before the marathon, when my cabin mate on our small boat to Antarctica came through the door. What a delightful surprise! She is from California and a great runner. She said she would like to run with me. I said I didn’t think this would be a good idea because I had developed a weakness around my hip and I wasn’t too sure how well I would do or how fast I could go. She couldn’t be dissuaded, and insisted. When you experience these life changing adventures with other people you become very close.

Another marathon runner offered a very helpful tip which proved to be a life-saver. He said when it got tough during the long run he would think about important things. I thought this was a fabulous idea, and so I prepared. I divided this marathon into three parts and as I ran. I devoted each part to a member of my family, my husband, my son and my daughter. I focused my thought on their entire lifetime and tried to remember everything I could. It was enough focus to endure the pain and after awhile I didn’t notice the pain and I focused on the beautiful scenery and took in the parts of the race.

Long distance hiking is tough too. I have endured some terrible blisters on my feet especially after days of rain and miles of hiking on the Appalachian Trail. But the goal of completing the trail of many miles kept me walking. I had reached New York northbound with no zero days (this means a day you spend waiting and not walking), and that season we had a lot of rain. It was during one of those rainy days, that I experienced ledges and rocks that were slippery, and I fell of a ledge! Fortunately I landed mostly on my backpack. This was one of those times I was hiking alone and no one else was nearby. After a few minutes I got my wits about me and realized I was okay, I got up and bushed myself off. I noticed a chipped tooth and a few places where I would have some good sized bruises. I slowly climbed back onto the trail and after a few minutes I felt my leg and a bruise the size of an orange appeared. I could still walk so I kept at it, that painful raised bruise lasted quite a few days. But, in the end I successfully completed the Appalachian Trail in four months without major injury.

Mountaineering is different than hiking. It is a slow methodical climb, all enduring and totally focused on every step. There is cold to endure and that is painful. On the summit of Mt Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe I felt my fingers going numb and it was a helpless feeling. My guide and I were in a whiteout and the only way to survive was to keep going. It took many more hours to get down to The Barrels, the highest camp site, and as cold and exhausted as I was, walking kept me from freezing to death. There are times in life we cannot give up and we persevere though pain. When things go bad it is important to have the coping skills, tools and common sense to survive. Risk take carefully, plan for the worst case scenario and react carefully. Trust your own instincts.