On the exploration of limitations

I’m no longer a spry 20yo. I cannot wake up in the morning and bounce into an 8mi Spartan Race without training and expect to return unscathed. I no longer have puberty on my side; recovery is the name of the game now.

Yesterday, I had planned on tackling the Pennsylvania Spartan Super with my classmate, Scott. We originally registered for a race in Florida during MS2, but the timing did not line up with our academics and we decided to delay the race until third year and the Pennsylvania mountains. Scott had attempted this same course before medical school, but the steep inclines and various hurdles thwarted his race buddy, causing an end to the day.

Earlier in the week, I had a small flare of plantar fasciitis after monkeying around on some big rocks during the Fourth of July. The first holiday since clinical rotations began, it felt like such a relief to have a shortened week: Monday on, Tuesday off, Wednesday on, Thursday a short day, and Friday on. So, for the warm, sunny day off we explored Hangar 18 near Nockamixon State Park, a mere fifteen minutes from our Coopersberg home.

About a mile hike up Haycock mountain from the parking area near a disc golf course, we spent the whole afternoon into the early evening exploring and relaxing. It took us about an hour or two of poking around to find our way onto the right trail, but once we started to haul our gear uphill, we found huge 10 to 15′ boulders almost immediately.

There was a spot near the top of the mountain that a friend described as a temple, and I have to agree. A warm, quiet place with room-sized boulders cracked open and worn down with time and rain. Trees sprouted from the crevices and seemed to support the enormous rocks.

It makes you wonder about the natural history of the place, because what could bring such huge boulders to the top of a mountain like this? Glaciers carved up the Appalachians and to my knowledge, likely formed the Lehigh Valley. The forces required to deposit such glorious stones this high up are impressive and humbling.

To me, this must have been a sacred space for some peoples in the past. Now, the only humans that would trek all the way up here would be rock climbers, who revere the same place for different reasons. The huge boulders allow for some interesting rock climbing routes and if you look carefully you can see the leftover chalk that countless climbers have smeared into the essential cracks and ledges.

We spent the Tuesday climbing and crawling up and down rocks like children once again. We set up hammocks in tiers and soaked up the warm afternoon sun. It felt so good to explore and move. That night, I noticed an angry and irritable foot, probably from various impacts on my barely covered feet. With some self-massage that night and some reflexology the following Wednesday, I still wasn’t sure if I’d be good to Spartan Up on Saturday.

The morning of the race, I woke up with a headache and a deep desire to do nothing all day. If I were younger and bolder, then I would’ve probably convinced myself that it was just an 8mi obstacle course and that I would probably be fine on the other side. Now that I have some age and injuries under my belt, I know that the risk of irritating something and limping the whole next week during inpatient rounds was not worth the reward of a t-shirt and some photos. And it seems that I made the right decision, since Scott had to call off the race for himself a few miles in due to cramps and nausea. We’ll tackle it together, sometime in the future and after an appropriate amount of training, for his third and final crack at the course.

Understanding my limitations is a dynamic process. Some days and some weeks I might have vim and vigor to spare. Exploring new bits of landscape and socializing with friends in addition to a physical practice and the hours for clinic. Other times, I may have drained the battery a bit low and I need to sleep twelve hours plus float to bring myself back to a level where I can bother my partner while she completes chores around the home.

Managing my time, energy, and limits will be the name of the game for this coming year. Sometimes, I’ll be too conservative and undershoot; perhaps I could have slowed Scott down and together we could have conquered the course. Perhaps not.

The only way to really know the limits of the day is to cross them from time to time.

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