Take a Walk Into The Wild

By: Kirsten Capuano

My entire life I've always wanted to be a runner, but my entire life I’ve always been a quitter. Sure, I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree from a private university with honors, but that was just one accomplishment in my life I was able to stick to and successfully finish, and for that I am forever grateful to myself. Unfortunately, there were many endeavors I began and quit constantly, exercise being one of them. I would begin working out for a few months and then slowly yet surely, fall off the bandwagon again. My excuse was always I got bored or didn’t have time. These were a couple of the many excuses I used to mask the fact I just didn’t have the motivation to continue. I was a quitter, and I hated it! I yearned to set my mind to an obtainable goal and for once, accomplish it! 

After I started working for a race timing company, I decided I wanted to start running. Being indirectly involved with races gave me the passion and confidence I needed to start jogging again. I was tired of leading a sedentary lifestyle and strived to get my body moving after eight hours of sitting at a desk every Monday through Friday. I wasn’t sure where to start, but I knew I had to begin slowly and ease my way into running. I figured my best chance of sticking to a running schedule was to sign up for a race. I found a St. Patrick’s Day 7K at my absolute favorite park near my home. It was the ideal location for me because the course was flat. The race was six weeks out and I was stoked to get started with an end goal set in stone. I began very slowly, running only about a half a mile the first three runs. My second week of training I migrated toward a mile and got comfortable with that distance. I felt refreshed and renewed. Running loosened up my stiff body after a long day of work and it was invigorating. I welcomed the mental clarity and natural stress relief that running provided me. Around my third week of training, I increased my distance to a mile and a half. At this distance, my left knee started cramping.

From an early age, I’ve dealt with a few injuries. I have carpal tunnel in my right forearm from playing basketball and daily use of a computer. I’ve also been dealing with a slipped disc in my lower back that never seems to heal, even after months of therapy with a chiropractor. I had almost forgotten about my left knee injury until my third week of training for the 7K. I soon realized that running over a mile irritated my knee. The pain wasn’t excruciating, but remained constant. As long as the pain didn’t increase, I decided to push through and continued to train. Prior to the race I was up to running almost three miles, more often than not my knee was still hurting, but I refused to give up. I wanted to run in the St. Patrick's Day race more than anything and I refused to be my usual quitting self. A week before the race disaster struck! I got a horrific strain of the stomach flu. The illness sapped all of my energy and I wasn’t able to run my last week of training before the race. I was still determined to do my best on the rapidly approaching race day, and nothing was going to get in my way or stop me from finishing. 

The morning of the race arrived. It was a frigid 40 degrees with flurries. I was freezing and I hoped once I started running I would get warm. I lined up at the start with the other 600 participants and tried to shake off the cold. Before I knew it, the race began and I was off. The first mile my feet and ankles felt like blocks of ice, it was painstakingly uncomfortable, but thankfully soon subsided. I kept my mental state strong, even though I hadn’t run in a week, I knew I had enough determination to carry me to the finish line. I felt surprisingly strong and energized the majority of the race, but I began to feel fatigued right after mile three. I stopped to walk for 10 seconds and then thought to myself “NO!” I immediately picked my pace back up and ran to the finish with a chip time of 48:04. I cannot describe the high I felt the second I crossed the finish line. I was ecstatic that all of my training had finally paid off. I rode this incredible feeling of accomplishment for the entire week following the race. Runners were no longer crazy! I finally realized this is why people run in races, because the high experienced at the finish is unparalleled. I had never felt so proud of myself, and for once in my life I wasn’t a quitter.

I was hungry for more and wanted to sign up for the Into The Wild 10K in Keenesburg, CO. I could hardly wait to experience that rush of adrenaline pulsing through my body once more. My dream of running the Into The Wild 10K was quickly shattered into pieces. My knee pain was continuing to increase and ached so bad at night I could barely sleep. It was clear to me that my knee pain had worsened from continuing to run. I finally had to accept the inevitable, that my running days were over, at least for now. Acceptance isn't easy, my mind kept saying keep going, but my body was screaming in agony to stop. The amount of disappointment I felt in myself was detrimental. I had finally finished a goal and wanted to continue, but I just couldn’t. I kept thinking to myself, “I’m only 27, why can’t I keep running? Why do I always have to deal with an injury? How can my body restrict me like this?” It wasn’t fair, but then again, life isn’t fair.

I shoved the Into The Wild Race into a deep, dark closet and shut it out of my thoughts for a while. If I wasn’t going to run it, why do it at all? With my vacation to Denver, CO approaching, my thoughts were increasingly drawn to the Into the Wild Race. I finally had a breakthrough and thought to myself, 

"How selfish can you be that you wouldn’t attend a race just because you can’t run it? You’re more than capable of walking and being a part of an awesome cause.” I decided to drop my "woe is me” attitude and picked up the fallen pieces I’d been carrying around for months. I made the final decision to sign up for the Into The Wild 5K Race and I would proudly walk it!

The Into The Wild 5K Race was the last stop on my vacation to Denver. It was a cool, brisk morning. I lined up towards the back of the start line. The gun went off and the race began. I ended up lightly jogging about half of the race. I had been hiking most of the week and my legs felt strong, ready to take on anything. I enjoyed not worrying about my chip time and just focusing on the fact that I was there and participating in a great cause.

The Wild Animal Sanctuary rescues big cats, bears and other animals that have been abused or were living in poor conditions, but cannot be returned to the wild. We got to run alongside their massive enclosures. The bears were running and seemed so happy and free. I’ve never seen a bear run before because they’re always confined to a tiny cage at the zoo. I felt emotional because this experience of seeing animals living in captivity that had more than enough space to run and roam around was foreign to me. I was thrilled I was able to swallow my pride and participate in the race. I didn't achieve a record finish, but it didn't matter anymore.

The moral of the story is sometimes we get hit with a curveball that can’t be dodged. Unexpected challenges will always be thrown our way, but what’s important is that we can get back up and come face-to-face with reality. From this experience, I learned that just because a scenario doesn’t go the way you wanted it to, doesn’t mean you should give up on it completely. We must accept the cards we’re dealt, and in return, we have a fighting chance for coming out stronger in the end. So, maybe I couldn’t run Into The Wild, but I was able to walk Into The Wild.

Always consult a doctor before starting any new exercise or diet routine and follow all safety protocols for appropriate social distancing.

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