It's weird starting over. There's nothing easy or simple about it, and it's just never easy. It's downright hard, frustrating, and not at all a linear journey. Truth be told, you may never get back to where you started from, and that's the ugly truth.
For me, I used to be pretty fast...granted I got into trail running and ultra running especially, before it was super popular or "mainstream", but still I was in the top 20 percent...even won a few of my age groups over the years.
I came from a road running background...starting running in 2005, when some friends suggested the Vancouver Sun Run would be something "fun" to do...it was a combination of overwhelming (hello 50,000+ runners!!), and exciting (how exciting to be weaving through others and pushing limits). It was the start of my journey, and I'm sure many of you can relate.
From the Sun Run to many 10K's, to half marathons, to my first marathon in 2011, and my first ultra in 2012, to running a ridiculous 7 ultras in 2013. My body felt strong, fierce, and it answered every single request I made of it...But, to be fair, I did too much that year, and the injuries started popping up.
Truthfully I've had a slew of unrelated and annoying injuries from 2014-2020...there would be a few months of feeling like I was re-gaining my strength, and then a series of setbacks. Somehow, my body grew a grapefruit sized cyst that had to be surgically removed and it set me back hugely in 2017. Of course moving towns, opening my own business, going through a divorce, it's all a lot while you're trying to run and re-gain that love of running.
During the middle of 2020, I started noticing my left knee to have some sharp pains during any sort of steep downhills. At first, I figured it was just normal wear and tear, being the hard stuff I ask my body to do in the mountains. But, in October, my knee just fell apart. I could not even walk downhill without sharp stabbing pains in my knee.
I'll spare you the details, but it took months of physio, imaging, arguing with surgeons, and advocating for myself to finally get a bone scan that showed a large fragment of bone had migrated from the side of my knee to the front and underneath the knee cap. April 28, 2021, the lovely folks at Squamish General operated on my knee and took out a half inch chunk of bone that was "bigger and deeper than the surgeon expected".
****IF we can include the picture of the bone chip, I would****
Knee surgery, any surgery really, is no joke. And I literally had to start at nothing. My house of course is filllllllllllled with stairs, and those first few weeks were not much fun. I started with walking 200M, 400M, 600M, and around my block which is a flat 1K. The progress felt like it was slow and annoying and not improving, I went through lots of lows, lots of feeling like I would never run again, and it truly felt like 1 step forwards, 2 steps backwards for weeks, if not months.
So, we titled this post, "The Hierro, Solana's Hero", and if you've gotten this far, you're probably wondering what the heck I'm babbling about. Truth is, I had my own blog from 2010 to 2016 and I miss it terribly. The art of putting your thoughts out there for the world to read is cathartic, and I enjoyed baring my soul with friends and randoms alike. I started this post just going to talk about shoes, but the truth is, the story behind the shoes is just as important, and I'm sure many of you reading have related.
Back to the shoes! When I was allowed to start hiking and interval running, my beloved trail shoes of the past just weren't making my feet happy. I had weird tingling and cramping that I'd never had before...I tried a brand new pair, I tried a super worn-in pair, and it just wasn't working.
My surgeon told me that ultra running was maybe not in my future. I told her I'd be happy with 20K, and she said we'd see how things went...no guarantees. Fair. Knees are hard. Running is hard. Long distance running is hard. I get it.
I pieced together different shoes throughout the summer to get me through some baby alpine adventures, and it kinda worked.
In September, we received our first shipment of the New Balance Hierro. I popped on a pair, just before run club one Saturday morning, and I was skeptical. They felt great in the store, but despite my knee feeling pretty darn good, my feet were just plain unhappy, and it didn't matter which shoes I ran in.
I came back from our run club and I could not believe just how good I felt. My feet, my knees, my body, it all just clicked. Finallyyyyyyyyyyy.
Since that day, the Hierro's have been my shoe of choice for all of my long runs. I automatically grab them, and know that they're going to treat me right.
Funnily, New Balance is what I started my running journey in on the roads, the 880, back in 2011 was the shoe that helped me embrace long distance running. It's quite humorous to me that the Hierro would bring that joy of running back to me in 2021. 10 years later and so many different brands in between...it feels serendipitous to end up in the same brand.
In November, during our 30x30, I gave myself the personal challenge of running 5K every day, and decided to do a trail 25K to see where I was at. Of course we picked a miserable rainy day, but my feet and my knees and my body held up, and I finished feeling really strong and proud of the progression from surgery in April. So, I did it again, a 2nd trail 25K, this time on the 25th of the month (hello tired legs!!), and obviously on another crazy wet day.
I was able to finish the 30x30 month with 222kms under my belt and a strong base that I built step by step after surgery, listening to my physio (Thanks Christy!), doing my exercises, taking it each day at a time, and not pushing the journey to recover too far.
In November, I signed up for the Wild Horse Traverse with a couple of friends. I wanted to be able to show not only myself, but also the outside world that I could get back to ultra running. Maybe I'll never be in that top 20% ever again, but that's ok. I'm back doing what I love, and I'm doing it pain-free. I mean....no ultra is pain-free, so it's better to call it injury free.
The past few months, I've been putting in the time and mileage, trying to tell my body that it enjoys 2000M in one training run, trying to convince it that it enjoys the death shuffle at the end of a long run, trying to remember how to break down the seemingly impossible walls to get through the low lows and come out the other side.
Truthfully, it hasn't been easy, but things that are worth it never are.
And while it's been a journey of highs and lows, the best part is that I've never questioned my shoes. I've rotated through a number of Hierro's and they have delivered every single run.
8mm drop, mid to max cushion, vibram megagrip sole, slightly wider width, super super super comfortable. I feel like the Hierro for me, was truly a game changer to my training.
I've tried and tested many different brands and styles over the years and there's truly no "best shoe for everyone". It just doesn't exist. But, there's shoes that speak to you, there's shoes that allow you to get back to what you love, and for me, this past year, that's truthfully been the Hierro. It's corny for sure, but the Hierro is my hero.
I mentioned that I signed up for the Wild Horse Traverse last November, and the race happened last weekend in Kelowna. It's a 52km race, 33 kms of rugged trails, and 19kms of road running mixed together in the package deal of one ridiculously hard ultramarathon.
My friends and I ran it, it was a truly unique and beautiful experience, and we *might* be back in the future to tame that Wild Horse, now that we know what we're up against.
I don't think I would've made it to the start line without both my Hierros and my training buddies, and I know I wouldn't have made it through the finish without both of those key elements.
This weird sport of ultrarunning....it takes this crazy mix of the right amount of training, the right people supporting you on and off the trails, the right gear to hold you together, and the ability to dig deep within yourself and push beyond perceived limitations.