Mountain Healing

I’ve been largely unable to run for six months. There were times in the beginning when I seriously doubted whether I would ever run again. Not whether or not I would ever want to run again, but if I would ever regain my health enough to be able to run at all. When you are sick and are getting a little worse each day, it’s hard to keep a positive attitude. When you get a little worse for several weeks in a row it’s easy to imagine that you may never get better, that each successive week will spiral a little lower and a little darker. This was my mindset for much of August and September. It feels really dramatic to think of it now, but there were certainly more than a few days in which I felt I would never regain even as much of my “normal” health as I now have.

One thing that kept coming back to me in the midst of these dark moments was the fear that I might never again get to go off and wander through the mountains looking for new peaks, new ridges, and new experiences. I’ve run enough in my life that I feel I could live without running, but I’m not sure I’ve explored remote mountain ranges enough to feel I could live without more exploration. Exploring deep into the mountains has only been the primary focus of my running for three or four years, and I feel like I want so much more. I want to be in the mountains everyday if my body allows it.

Throughout much of these past six months I have felt almost haunted by the last real mountain run I did before I was too sick to continue. It was my last weekend in Alaska this past summer and it was one of those perfect runs: tons of vertical, amazing views, almost entirely off trail, lots of ice and snow travel, crossing crevasses. Essentially a mini-mountaineering trip disguised as an eight-hour “run.” It was a new route that I had never done, and an outing that just happened without thinking too much about it. We just went out into the mountains with no idea what we would find, and ended up finding more than we possibly knew existed.

I’ve thought about this outing nearly everyday these past six months, but it wasn’t until this past week that I realized just how much I missed all of it. This is because I was finally able to get a small taste of this again.

I was back in Alaska last week for a short visit, continuing to feel ever so slightly stronger and healthier. I’m still a long way from 100%, but I’m 100 times stronger than I was in September. On Thursday, my health and the weather came together and I found myself out on a mountain ridge above Juneau with no real plan, no real destination, but with an eagerness to push on, to explore. It wasn’t anywhere near the most ambitious outing I’ve ever done. Certainly not the most scenic either, but in this particular circumstance it turned into the most uplifting, encouraging, and emotional day I have likely ever spent in the mountains. I was so overcome by just how easy and simple it all was. My body cooperated and all I had to do was keep moving along, and with each step came more enjoyment, more confidence, and more beauty.

Juneau photo 1

In reality this was one small step forward of hundreds that I have needed to take to get to where I am. In my soul, though, this may have been the most I have ever grown in one day. I was really tired, and even a bit sore later that day, but now, several days later, I can still feel the strength, the warmth, and the health in my body. I know I have a long road toward health still ahead of me, but having removed the question of whether I would ever again be able to go off into the mountains and explore in this manner has boosted my mind, my spirit, and my body more than anything else throughout this process.

Juneau photo 2

I know I will never again take any of this for granted. I will refuse to stick to the same old thing. I want new trails, new mountains, new experiences – even when I’m traveling in a land I’ve been a thousand times before. It’s these new perspectives that open up the space for us to move into the place we’ve always wanted to occupy, even if we never knew it existed.

Juneau mountain photo 4

I have no idea when I’ll have the opportunity and the health to go out in the mountains in this manner again (Hopefully this week!), but I do know that I will have a huge smile on my face and a huge warmth in my soul when I do.

Juneau photo 3

There are 4 comments

  1. Shelby

    Thanks for reminding us all that every run is a gift. An valuable lesson in the midst of a hard season of life. Wishing you many more smiles as you venture back into the mountains this year!

  2. Diederik

    Hi Geoff

    I always like to read your articles, and you have mentioned before that you were very ill – if I may ask, what was wrong? (I kind of assume it's worse than say itb/flue, and it would be encouraging to know that one can recover from much more dire things)..


  3. Jimmy Mac

    I think I can speak for the majority in saying "we're glad you're back, Geoff". You continue to inspire, thanks for sharing this wonderful update on your recovery.

  4. thomas

    Hi Geoff,

    great to hear from you these optimistic news. The ultra trail community needs you, I hope you come back and show all of us what running meens, freedom, happiness, a lots of fun, take care


    1. geoff

      Close Jill, actually though it was the ridge that parallels eaglecrest road on the south side. we went from EC out toward the channel and down to the ditch. it takes you over the peak with the towers (which I believe is called Saddle mt).

  5. Seamus Foy

    Wow, that sounds like an amazing day! It is so easy to take health for granted. I think it's an important lesson for all ultrarunners. We need to know our bodies. I'm all for pushing beyond the limits occasionally, but we should make all the other pieces (rest, recovery, nutrition) that much more important because we are going to such extremes.

  6. Jay kelly

    Gorgeous scenery! Thank you and so happy for you that you were blessed with a healthy day to get out and renew your soul. Prayers for continued healing and many more mountain miles of running!

  7. Miriam Gilbert

    Geoff – We have never met, but I can certainly identify with your setback. I finally went back to work a month ago after a 5 1/2 month medical leave. I survived the biggest medical challenge of my life – three major surgeries and two minor surgeries in a 10 week period. Three days before the first surgery – a scheduled outpatient surgery, completely unrelated to running, and that went haywire – I ran in a 24 hour run. I should have been critically ill, but what saved my life was all my years of running and being fit. I'm starting to run again…I am grateful for every mile. I am feeling stronger and looking forward to my next ultra. Stay strong! Thank you for sharing your story.

    "Come what may; I want to run" – 2 Samuel 18:23

  8. Steph J.

    Such a great perspective and feeling this brought me. I spent one of my happiest summers in Portage, before I was a trail runner. I'd love to go back and get to run the same trails and explore new places. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Doug Brandt

    Hi, Geoff:

    If you remember my postings, I told my story about going through the same thing as you. I've gone from 20 minute runs with naps preceding each run, to 50 mile weeks and all my sleeping at night. I've recovered, and now it's just a matter of getting in sufficient training to realize my goals.

    I knew you'd be on the road back; it just takes time. Time and trust.

    You'll be racing again as if this thing never happened. What we love is truly a treasure, isn't it?

  10. Lovedawg

    Hey Geoff…dunno what you have going on medically speaking, but emotionally I relate. I've been through a few bouts of chronic fatigue which were much more confusing that any surgery or acute injury. The bouts took me from the Olympic Trials Podium to the bottom of the recreationalist group. The lessons I've learned, I hope have value to you: you learn much more about your body and how to tune in, what matters most and who your friends are. An important perspective that helped me was to work on amnesia. Getting away from any comparisons to your former self is vital in taking the time to heal fully, so forgetting what you "used to do" and just dealing with the day you have in front of you becomes the focus. It is a path that will take you back higher than you were.

    Your body will tell you when it is ready with morning HR and HRV (variability) as can be measured with the ithlete app.

    Thank you for sharing and continuing to inspire, you affect more people that you realise!

    1. geoff

      yeah, throughout this experience i feel like i've gained lots of tools which will help me know how best to get back into things, including the morning HR and HRV you mention.

  11. Charlie M.

    Re: "I know I will never again take any of this for granted"

    I hope you do once again take it for granted. That's the only way to run free. Let God do all the "never taking it for granted". It's too big in scope for one person to take on that responsibility. Just keep enjoying and start to take it for granted again. Then you will know you're normal again.

    As the Zen master says, "before I knew Zen, mountains were just mountains. Then when I learned Zen, mountains were no longer mountains. Now that I have un-learned Zen, mountains are mountains again".

  12. Crazy Cloud

    Before I had studied Zen for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains, and waters as waters. When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and waters are not waters. But now that I have got its very substance, I am at rest. For it's just that I see mountains once again as mountains, and waters once again as waters.

    -Zen Master Ch'ing-yuan Wei-hsing

    1. Charlie M.

      Well, I paraphrased a tad bit I see…Ch'ing-yuan said it eloquently indeed. Thank you. It reminds me of when my daughter was learning to speak and said the word "moon" for the first time. I knew she was ruined from that point on. Now she's 7 and she no longer sits on the front stoop and stares up at it in wonder. She has a whole lifetime to get the feeling back.

  13. Jacko Kelly

    hi Geoff, beautifully written. Your stories continue to be very engaging and inspiring. Glad that you're getting back out there and answering to the call. It can only get better. Happy trails.

  14. montecervino

    it is just about the right personality and attitude…

    things are gonna get right! hang in there and do not give up!

    thanks geoff

  15. Linda

    I know exactly how you feel! I got a debilitating case of Lyme Disease and did not realize all that I had taken for granted. I am finally healthy again and am truly appreciating life and just being able to smile. Doing some beautiful 50K's this summer to celebrate! Glad you were able to get back to the mountains…..they are my favorite as well. Heal well.

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