By Heidi Skildum
This past year, I have reflected most on the two most important relationships of my life: running and my partner, Andrew. To begin, I started running as a seventeen-year-old mainly to hang out with my twin sister and best friends on the high school cross-country team. This led to competing in college, then running marathons, to finally finding my spot in the ultra-world. The second relationship also started shortly after I began wearing buns on the cross-country course. Andrew and I met in college and stayed friends for over a decade before we started dating. Now, four years, one dog, a cross-country move, and an engagement ring later, I’m stoked to say that I’m in this relationship for the long run. I hope we all end up with partners who love us because of our imperfections and faults. Admittedly, I know exactly where my “area of growth” is in my relationship with my fiancé: socks. And no, I am not talking about wearing socks in bed or during (ahem). It’s just that I never wear socks except for the hours that I am running.
In fact, I hate wearing socks so much that I take my shoes and socks off immediately after I get done with a run. As soon as I hit the “stop” button on my Timex (old school here), I immediately get the itch to abandon my shoes and socks. As a result, there are normally a half dozen pairs of socks of various shapes and sizes in piles all over the apartment: wool, cotton, ankles, and of course, my Territory Forest Socks from a couple of years back.
The action of abandoning my socks as soon as I get home from a run is so second nature to me, I don’t even realize that I’m doing it. Socks are small markers of an accomplished run, taking up less physical space than a pair of shorts or a rain jacket. A sprinkle of socks around the apartment here and there can’t be that noticeable, right? Then suddenly, at the time of an impromptu porch beer or dinner with friends, I have to make a mad dash to pick up every damn sock from all over my home. I find them in shoes, under the couch, next to the stove. There is a pile near my yoga mat and weights. Another pile is near the front door, in the bathroom, right next to our bedroom door. With moments to spare, I collect a Mt. Fuji amount of socks to throw in the laundry basket. And you’re right, I am disgusted with myself as I write this confession and feel pretty darn lucky to be with a person who loves me besides this smelly habit.
Then on March 22, 2021, my relationship to socks changed drastically. After spending the majority of the winter season skiing nordic and uphill, my partner and I decided to enjoy a blue-bird day skiing inbounds at Mt. Hood Meadows. Despite thirty years of experience on the slopes, I fell harder than I had ever fallen halfway down the mountain. My knee and ankle hurt like hell and I found myself with the irrational conclusion of getting back to Andrew as soon as possible. Forgetting cell phone service and extremely friendly ski patrol, I took it upon myself to ski one-legged towards the chalet after the most horrific fall I had ever experienced. Later, I would find out that I had torn my MCL and sprained my ankle on my right leg.
For the next week, my sock pile problem was non-existent because my ankle was too swollen to even fit any sort of toe cover. Even after the swelling went down and the weeks passed, I resorted to wearing a pair of Birkenstocks for the independence of slipping on footwear without Andrew's help. Trading socks for a knee brace is not how I had imagined my spring, especially after races got the green light and wait lists were being lifted. Instead of preparing for a 50k, I found myself pretending to stay positive between PT exercises, icing on the couch, and solitary bike rides. Puppy snuggles helped but honestly, I visited some pretty dark places during this transition. In the end, I missed my socks.
Transitions are hard at any point in a person’s life. Personally, I have relied on running to be my constant North Star during the opening and closing of chapters. Changes in jobs, unhealthy friendships, new relationships, stolen bikes, moves across the country, whatever it may be: I could always navigate the unknown a little better after a ten-mile run. It’s as if each pair of socks marked not just a good run but an “ah-ha” moment or a sense of release. And just as I stopped wearing so many socks this past winter, I found myself in a whirlwind of life questions, new opportunities, and a few goodbyes. Change certainly is constant.
Without those dozen markers of a good run littering my apartment, I started to wonder: how was I going to get through this chapter and what version of me would come out of it?
The transition was slow. There would be exactly one pile of socks near the front door because I’d wear the same pair of socks for a week. Yes, that sounds disgusting but trading 30 miles for 30 seconds felt pretty deflating. I ran for so little time that it felt blasphemous to (sniff) put a perfectly clean-ish pair of socks in the hamper. I didn’t consider myself a runner but as a person “trying to run.” It socked.
As the weeks and months passed and spring turned into summer, I slowly started to gain more ability and confidence to try running again. Despite more runs and less walks these days, it took me a while to realize that I still need to wash my socks. The minutes that I clock do not determine how much of a “real” runner I am. In the end, I’m still a runner despite the piles not piling up around the apartment. Even our most important relationships need to change every once in a while. I’ve been in this sport for over eighteen years and can say with the utmost gratitude that running is the longest relationship I have ever had in my life. I also can’t expect running to stay the same when I have changed so much throughout the last two decades. Like any long-term relationship, there are going to be ups-and-downs. In the end, I choose to run in love: the payback is worth the investment. Love makes us capable of any turn and triumph in the upcoming season as well as be ready to tackle the world after breaking the final tape.
Editor’s Note: Heidi is currently up to running multiple days in a row and is trying on a new habit: putting my socks in the hamper immediately after she gets done with the run. Find her on instagram @heidizandell.