Then and Now
Updated: Dec 15, 2020
photo credit: Michael Buehler
by Laura Henry
Exactly six months ago, on Friday May 12, 2017, I “toed the start line” of the goal that I had been training for. I was put to sleep by an anesthesiologist so I could have my third surgery to attempt to repair my long-broken left arm. What was my goal?? To wake up. While this seems like a rather odd goal to “train” for, it was what I had been preparing for. I wanted to make sure I was as cardiovascularly fit as possible for that day so I would wake up from the anesthesia and could be strong as I began my recovery from surgery.
My surgeon - Dr. Brian Harley - took three inches of bone from my iliac crest and plugged it into my left arm to stimulate it to heal. Vader Arm 3.0 and Jetfire the Hip were born that day, and we started the longer part of our endurance event - our recovery. It wasn’t easy. It required a ton of downtime, a ton of patience. My left leg still doesn’t function completely normally (my hip flexion in particular is extremely compromised), and it’s something I need to be mindful of in all of my daily activities, but especially when running.
On Friday October 27, 2017, Dr. Harley told me that this surgery had been successful, and that my arm was no longer was broken. It was the first time I had all 206 of my bones intact in over 2.5 years. To say I was relieved and overjoyed is the biggest understatement of the 21st Century.
Today, on Sunday November 12, 2017, I toed the start line of the Syracuse Half Marathon. It was my fourth time doing so (a rarity for me since I dislike repeat racing) but today was different. Today I was treating the race like a supported long run and was hoping that Jetfire the Hip would hold up for 13.1 miles. Today was my longest workout of any kind since the Spring Edition of the Syracuse Half Marathon in March 2017, and I knew I would need to rely on my endurance base from years past and experience reigning myself in to get through the day.
My race plan was this: run at RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) 4 for 9:00 and then walk for 1:00. Competitive Laura was going to need to continue to stay on the back burner, because Long-Term Laura wants to be able to be active for the rest of her life. Sticking to my plan was essential in order to keep my recovery moving along.
Over the course of 13.1 miles, I had SO much time to think. I thought about the seven Team MPI athletes who I have been working for this year who were also out on the course. I went through all of their plans leading to today in my head and hoped that it was enough to see them through to strong finishes.
I thought about my Fleet Feet family and all of the “orange and black” athletes who were out running or cheering on the course. I thought about my Team RWB family, who was firing up everyone on course with their flags and unparalleled positive energy. Every time I hit one of my walking breaks, I did a check-in to see how I was feeling. Jetfire the Hip had been bothering me since about Mile 2, but it wasn’t anything more than what I’m used to these days, so I kept on with my race plan. I took Gatorade and water at every aid station, and took Honey Stinger gels every 30:00 or so. As I closed in on Mile 11, I couldn’t believe that I still felt as good as I did. I knew that it was a result of sticking to the plan and being honest with myself about where I was, what my RPE was, and not giving a flying hoot what my pace was. I knew I couldn't let my ego get in the way for the final two miles, and that I needed to continue with the plan.
As I made my final turns to come back onto State Street towards the finish line, I started to get emotional. I was flooded with brain movies and memories: I saw Dr. Harley’s face smiling at me saying “we got it.” I thought of my friend and mentor, Brendan Jackson, and how we went on our own “pre-race warm-up” during the 2016 Syracuse Half Marathon to find a secret bathroom that didn’t have a mile-long line. I thought of Mark Turner, my coach, who believes as I do that consistency and patience can get you anywhere. I thought of my family, who went along on this journey with me for every single step. I looked down at Vader Arm (3.0 and Final Edition) and was so, so thankful that I had the best surgeon and team possible working on my side to get me to this day.
I saw the finish line looming in the distance, and the finish line clock. I knew that I would be crossing the finish line with a time that was my slowest stand-alone half marathon time in over four years. I didn’t (and don’t) care, and I’m being completely honest about that. The Syracuse Half Marathon is home to my half marathon PR, which I set in the 2015 event. That finish time is more than 21 minutes faster than my finish time today. My finish time from the 2017 Spring Edition of this same event was over 10 minutes faster than today. People who I normally finish ahead of in races passed me with flying colors today.
None.of.that.matters. Today was about celebrating the fact that I have all of my parts whole and intact, plus some extra. I have a hip that was strong and healthy enough to give up a rather sizable piece to be reallocated to where it was needed most. All of this is nothing short of a miracle.
And so, as I approached the finish line of the Fall Edition of the 2017 Syracuse Half Marathon, I started to cry. It was one of the few times that a finish meant more to me than just crossing a physical line. Like all finish lines, this one is an intermediate boundary between my past and my future: it’s the finish line of the longest endurance event of my life - the 2+ year journey to healing my arm. It’s also the starting line of the rest of my life, which includes continued growth and healing as I navigate where I am and where I go from here. I can’t wait to see where that is. :)