I Skipped a Race…Why it was the Best Decision I Could Have Made

A little over a month ago on April 22, 2018, I was registered to run the Dam Run 40K.  I signed up for this race shortly after my Antelope Canyon 50 mile finish, excited for my next running adventure.

Life had different plans however.  My hubby’s school schedule and workload got out of control.  This left me with most of the child and household duties.  I was slammed at work with my normal job, a national strategic project, a leadership development program, and preparations for a 4 month detail to Washington DC.  On top of all that my family had a week of the flu, then a few weeks later, a rotating door of some 36 hour bug that left at least one of us wrecked for almost two weeks.

All this occurred over a 6 week period leading up to the race and I was barely running.  I still got out for a few miles 4-5 times a week to maintain some sanity, but as the race approached,  I found myself feeling raw and detached. When I thought about the race, I just felt empty.

I commonly get anxious before a race and my brain gets cruel.  It tells me that I should skip the race or that I won’t be able to finish or I’ll be slow (for me).   I know that I just need to ignore these thoughts because that wicked little demon my shoulder isn’t telling me the truth.  This time however, his song and dance were more subtle. It wasn’t waves of excitement followed by waves of anxiety.  It was just a low underlying hum of exhaustion, as if even he didn’t have the energy to rally a battle cry.

A few days before the race, I paused long enough to ask myself, “Do I really want to do this race?”   I wasn’t worried about finishing, I knew I would. I wasn’t worried about a fast time, I knew that wouldn’t happen and I didn’t care.  I wasn’t even worried about the heat or waking up early. When asked the question, my heart answered simply, “I just don’t want to.”

And so I listened.

Choosing to skip a race was a huge risk.  Would it open the door to skipping races later?  Would it fuel the flames of my depression? Would I feel horrible and regret the decision as soon as the race started?

I decided to skip the race anyways.

The moment I sent off the email letting the race director know I wouldn’t be coming, I felt peace wash over me.  It freed me to spend quality time with my husband and kids on Friday night and a night on the town with girlfriends on Saturday night.  That Sunday I got to sleep in, relax, and get caught up on household tasks. It turned into the best decision I could have made.

What questions can you ask yourself when trying to decide if skipping a race is the right call?

  1. Am I injured and could racing lead to worse or permanent damage? – The greatest benefits to running come from consistency and longevity.  If one run or race will put that at risk, it isn’t worth it.
  2. Does a loved one need me and my time more that I do? – Running is a lot about self-love and it is important to make that self-love a priority.  But it can quickly become selfish if we put it above the needs of our loved one. A child’s important soccer game or a husband’s final exams might require sacrifices from your running.  Running should make you the best person you can be, but if you allow it to always put your needs above others, it is no longer supporting the best you.
  3. Am I Mentally Burnt Out? – this is a tricky one, especially if depression haunts you.  Read my post about burnout for more thoughts and ideas on managing burnout.  Yet from time to time, one more hard push might put us over the edge.
  4. What will I gain from this race? – If the race will give you a much needed confidence boost, a break from a stressful home or work life, or just an energy surge from being out on the trails, then it is worth it, even if you won’t run a personal record.
  5. What will I gain from skipping this race? – This turned out to be the critical question for me.  By choosing not to run, I gained time to relax with my kids, enjoy comraderie with friends, and catch up on some of the undone tasks that had been creating extra stress in my life.  I gained more by skipping the race, than running it. This was definitely a new experience for me.

In the end, the biggest key for me was HONESTY.  It can be so incredibly difficult to be honest with ourselves.  We fall into justifying bad choices or pushing when we should rest.  At the time, I was afraid I wasn’t making the right call, but in hindsight, it was the best choice I could have made.

What helps you be honest with yourself when deciding how hard to push and when to rest?

Advertisements

Becoming an Ultra Runner Started with the Courage to Face My Fears

I recently ran 50 miles for the time at the Antelope Canyon UltraMarathon. It was an amazing accomplishment and I am immensely proud of myself. As I reflect on this latest accomplish, I can’t help but turn back time to the first time I ran 4 miles where the dreams of being a long distance runner all began.

I was living in Clarksville, TN and I had been going out for 2-3 mile runs pretty regularly. The moment I decided I wanted to start going longer, the idea of going farther than 3 miles was daunting and terrifying. But I wouldn’t be deterred and I went out for one of my regular 3 mile routes. When I got back to the beginning, I shot down a different road to add another mile. I felt determined.

As I turned down the road, two old ladies walking their Pekingese were coming straight at me. I swerved and ducked around them and the yappy little dog. They called out, “Great job, how far are you running?”

I sang back, “I’m going on my fourth mile!! Can you believe it?”

These ladies didn’t know me from Eve. There was no reference for them to either believe or not believe that I was capable of this monumental feat. But I wasn’t speaking to them, was I? I was telling myself, proud and out loud, to make sure that I knew, beyond a doubt, that I was capable of such a feat. That fourth mile was a door that I busted open to greater possibilities.

0407180818c_Film1.jpg
I was afraid I wasn’t going to fit…talk about a tight squeeze!

The significance of this moment rises to the ranks of my wedding day, the birth of my children, and completing a 50 mile race.

At that time, 4 miles was epic, almost beyond comprehension. Today, 4 miles is as easy as walking to the mailbox. I have to push myself to new heights and new challenges to get that same sense of pride and accomplishment. But as I conquer new feats, I am grounded in the understanding that it all began with a single step and the courage to conquer a fear.

The courage to put on running shoes and step out for the time – I was terrified I couldn’t do it, but I did it anyway.

The courage to go to a running store to purchase running shoes – I was terrified they would laugh at the newbie, but I did it anyway.

The courage to register for a race – I was terrified I would be a laughingstock, but I did it anyway.

The courage to show up for a group run with strangers – I was terrified no one would talk to me or run with me and that I wouldn’t be able to keep up, but I did it anyway.

Each time I had the courage to overcome a fear has brought me one step closer to where I am today. And it gives me the foundation to know that each time I face a new fear I have within me the courage to do it anyway.

Gary “Laz” Cantrell, infamous Barkley Marathons race director said, “If you are going to face a real challenge, it has to be a real challenge. You can’t possibly accomplish anything without the possibility of failure”.

0407180757a_Film1.jpg
Trail running used to be a big fear and now it is my sanctuary

Once upon a time, I took a risk to give running a try knowing that I could fail. Today it is longer and longer runs, running with stronger and stronger runners and most recently going to the gym to do strength training – but I seek out those things that scare me, the places I am vulnerable and try them anyways. Through these actions, I have proven to myself I am stronger than my fears, stronger than my depression, stronger that I realized. I surprise myself time and again and my goal is to keep surprising myself for a long time to come.

What are you afraid of doing for fear of failure? Whatever your answer…..put that at the top of your to-do list! The journey continues…..

Antelope Canyon: 50 Miles to Find Myself

FAIR WARNING _ THIS IS A LONG ONE!!!  But I didn’t have the heart to break it into two parts.  It just couldn’t be done.

On February 24, 2018, I woke up in Page, Arizona to freezing cold temperatures.

I desperately wanted to stay in my sleeping bag and skip the race.  I wanted some excuse…a broken leg maybe…..that would allow me to graciously step down from this commitment I had made.  I wracked my brain for that excuse and came up short.  I knew that I needed to face my fears.

Putting on a brave face, I dressed within the confines of the sleeping bag that was my only warmth the night before, and stepped outside to toe the starting line of the Antelope Canyon 50 mile Ultra Endurance Run.

Read more

How to Rise Above Depression When Dealing with Burnout

Burnout.  We’ve all felt it.  Life is going great.  You are loving your job or enjoying your marathon training or head over heels in love with taking care of your kiddos.  Then, one day, you wake up and it takes all of your energy to get your running shoes on or make one more peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

The symptoms of burnout – fatigue, lack of passion, loss of enjoyment -are all too often daily feelings for a depressive.  Because of the similarities, I find it a major challenge to recognize when burnout has taken a hold.   To complicate matters, the best solution to burnout is a short break to reinvigorate and re-energize.  But when managing depression, taking a traditional break can be the first step into a dark and gloomy spiral of never ending sadness.

Finding the yellow-brick road back to the light of day can feel as daunting as eating rice a grain at a time.  Might as well not even be worth the effort.

I am an overachiever by nature.  I want to be at the top of my game…best of the best.  I want to do everything and actually believe that I CAN!  And while I have come along way in balancing my priorities, I still struggle with exercising moderation.  I go go go until I drop and burn up.

My first problem is recognizing burnout versus depression.  Even when recognize I am starting to get a little burnt out, I struggle to simply ease off the gas.  Instead, I slam on the brakes.   Once those breaks are slammed, it takes a force of nature to get me moving again.

Since exercise, particularly running, plays a major role in healing my depression, eliminating it is like taking away my oxygen.  While I am at rest, the burnout may go away, but I have no way of knowing because the depression grows stronger than ever before.

Additionally, proper physical recovery is largely dependent on mental well-being.  If you are dealing with stress because of the extra weight of depression, the physical body doesn’t have access to the tools it needs to fully heal.  And when the physical body isn’t nurtured and properly cared for, the mental aspects deteriorate as well.

So when exercise is your anti-depressant, what do you do when you burnout slaps you in the face?

Here are some strategies that have helped me get through while rebuilding my motivation:

  • Give Myself Permission to Slow Down: Taking off entirely leaves me feeling lost and hopeless, but running shorter or slower, making simpler meals, putting off a difficult to-do list task….these strategies give me room to breath.
  • Don’t Take a Day Off from Exercise: Related to the first point and contrary to logic, taking a day off entirely usually exacerbates my problems rather than solving them.  Don’t skip workouts.  In fact, add in an extra one, but do so with intentionality.  For example, instead of going to a HIIT class, go to a Yin Yoga class.  You maintain your routine, but modify it to treat yourself with kindness.  Or do something fun like cranking the music and dancing around your family room naked!!
  • Refocus on Daily Gratitude: When I notice myself getting burned out, it often coincides with a few days of skipping my daily gratitude journaling.  Whip that journal back out and write down at least 3 things, big or small, for which you are grateful each and every day.
  • Breathe: Set an alarm for each hour and when it goes off, take 5 deep breathes.  Slipping into flight or fight sympathetic nervous system happens when we are under lots of stress.  Breathing deeply resets the nervous system and moves the body into the parasympathetic system, calming and rejuvenating.   Quite literally, adding oxygen to a fire is fuel that allows it to grow rather than burn out.
  • Look Outside Yourself, Then Treat Yourself: Look at your friends and family and ask, “If they were having a hard time right now, what would I do for them?”  Then do that same thing for yourself.  If you would take a friend out for a glass of wine or your partner for a walk on the beach, then do exactly that for yourself.  Best done alone and really enjoy the company you are with….you are an amazing person to be with!!

Burnout results from a fire that burned too bright and ran out of fuel.  To reinvigorate passion, it is critical to find and supply proper fuel to keep the fire going.  If a fire burns out completely, it takes a lot more resources to get it rekindled.  It is easier to let the fire die down a little and when the fuel becomes available, the fire is ready and waiting to accept it and grow right back to a glorious bonfire.

The journey continues……

2018 ~ Setting Focuses…Not Resolutions!

At the end of each year, I like to reflect on what the last year brought into my life.  Much like a daily gratitude journal, a yearly reflection allows me to assess how far I have (or have not) come.  Before I look forward to the next year, I take account of my lessons learned.

2017 brought much into my life.  I proved to myself that I am a capable endurance runner and much braver than I thought.  I tackled trails all alone that would have scared me in years gone by.  Kenny’s and my relationship grew to a whole new level of wonderfulness.  I was given the opportunity for a temporary promotion which I feel I tackled successfully.

On a rougher note, our boys had a difficult year in a few ways.   By association as parents, we did too.   And juggling Kenny’s return to school was a tough transition for the family.  But through these experiences, we grew to be an even closer family.

While in a few ways, 2017 was one of the most difficult years of my life, in others, it was a year of tremendous growth, love, learning, and adventure.

Learning from the past is critical to plan better for the future.

Looking ahead to 2018, I do not care for New Year’s Resolutions.  Like many, I do not see value in making a promise that is destined to be short-lived.  Resolutions like, “I will never eat another piece of candy again” are bound to fail!  Instead, I prefer to use any new beginning as a chance to determine how I would like to grow and commit to focusing on those actions next.  This happens at various times throughout the year, but after the winter holidays, and with the returning of the warming energizing power of the Sun, the New Year is a fitting time to re-examine my focuses and commit to them out loud.

As I step into 2018, I have established three areas of focus for my life:

Intimacy in My Most Important Relationship

I cuddle with my kids. I share meals and stories with friends.  At times, I spend more time with co-workers than I do my spouse.  But oh sweet intimacy, only my best friend/partner/spouse receives that.  I divulge thoughts and feelings I would not share with anyone else.  I give my physical being to my spouse.  I trust him with every bit of my vulnerability. Yet despite the importance of intimacy in setting this relationship apart from all the others in my life, it is easily lost in the daily chaos.  For 2018, I would like to focus on making intimacy in my marriage a higher priority.

Getting my Children Outdoors More Often

My boys are pretty active.  They jump on the trampoline every day, play on their swing set, love bike rides and swimming.  Inevitably however, they get overly excited about playing on their tablets or wanting to find “easy” entertainment.  Yet, whenever we venture into the great outdoors, they always find joy in it.  Getting dirty is good for the body, mind, and soul and while I do it regularly for myself, I don’t drag my kids along often enough.  For 2018, I would like to focus on getting my boys into the great outdoors more often.  Camping, hiking, swimming in lakes and rivers, kayaking, paddle-boarding, mountain biking….anything that leads to fresh air, dirty feet, and a joyful heart.

Running with Women Who Are Stronger and Faster than Me

I love the times when I have runners who join me to push themselves.  I find great joy in helping other women find their next level.  But when I am destined to be the slower runner, I get nervous, anxious, fearful.  What will they think of me?  Will they assume that I am a terrible person because I can’t run as fast as them?  What if they never want to run with me again or even be my friend?  HAHA….It is just ludicrous the ideas that go through my head when vulnerability knocks down the door.  Yet, the times I have overcome my fear, I have found great pride in myself at pushing to a next level.  For 2018, I would like to focus on allowing myself to be vulnerable and dare to chase that next level of accomplishment.

Setting focuses for the year remind me of the intention I like to set before a run or yoga class.  There are always areas I want to improve in my life and if I try to do them all at once, I will fail at everything.  Breaking down my goals into smaller focuses will give me a chance to make some real progress towards the woman I want to become while not losing the beautiful parts of who I already am.

The journey continues……

Every Run Needs a Purpose

Running is a powerful tool in coping with depression and really just life in general.  The physical activity relieves stress while releasing endorphins that elevate the mood.  Many of the runs I do have the sole purpose of giving me release from the chains of depression.  

Runs all need a purpose.  Some days it is a cure-all for emotional distress.  Other days it is pushing for a new personal record.  And at other times it is also a chance to seek out new adventures.  

What happens when a run lacks purpose?  Most runs that lack purpose feel flat and unfulfilling.  You naturally fall back into habits and the full benefit of that run gets lost.  On the other hand, giving a run purpose provides a foundation for the movement in that run and helps you focus expectations.

How do you set purpose for a run?

  1. Begin by planning ahead.  Having a training plan that identifies each run and its purpose ahead of time helps set the stage long before you lace up your shoes.
  2. For each run decide what conditions you need to fulfill that purpose.  For example, if I am doing a tempo run, I like to get some faster friends along for the ride to help me push the pace.  Make arrangements to have those conditions met.
  3. The night before set the stage for execution.  Is the intention of your run to socialize with friends after work?  Then be sure to pack clothes so you don’t have to come home after work, but rather can go straight to your meet-up.
  4. At the beginning of each run, silently or out loud, set an intention.  Tell yourself, “On Today’s run I want to……”  Use this intention to set the expectation for the run and let all other expectations go. If your intention is to use the run as a recovery run, that is the intention.  Do not expect to set a new personal record on Strava that day and be okay with that because running fast is not the intention for that days run.  
  5. Don’t be afraid to adjust your purpose if you need to for that day.  You may have an endurance run planned, but just need to get anger and frustration out so you can be present for your family.  Do it.  Maybe you are tired from a long week and just need an easy run or have missed a friend you haven’t seen in a while.  Change your purpose to get what you need in your life.  

What are some examples of purposes for a run?  We often think of the purely physical purposes….tempo run, fartlek run, long run, and so on.  But for the majority of us, there are far greater and more important reasons to run than just getting faster or running longer.  

Here are some of the intentions I choose to set before a run:

  1. Social interaction – spending time with friends and deepening relationships
  2. Good for the soul – spending time in nature and reconnecting with my inner self
  3. Adventure – seeing and exploring new places
  4. Stress Relief – pounding out anger from a hard and frustrating day
  5. Recovery – moving my muscles in an easy way to stimulate recovery from hard efforts
  6. Building Speed – shorter bursts of faster speed to build speed for longer runs
  7. Building Endurance – long miles in an aerobic zone to build the bodies endurance

Picking the purpose of your run helps you be ever mindful of what you are seeking to get out of your running.  If you give running the chance, it will deliver far more than physical fitness.  It will deliver some of the strongest friendships, the best mental health medicine, ability to deal with conflict and challenging events in life, and so much more.  

What are some other intentions you have set for a run?  How do you give your run purpose?

Build longevity, embrace the delicate within and let the journey continue…..

3 Ways ChiRunning Helps Battle Depression

This post has taken me several months to write mostly because there is so much information to digest and I am having a hard time determining how to form my thoughts.  I wrote a draft about what ChiRunning is and how it helps prevent injury, but it just didn’t feel right.  So I shelved it and thought about it some more. 

Then it occurred to me.  What matters the most in my world is how ChiRunning has helped my depression.   

It started in April when I attended my first ChiRunning clinic with Lisa Pozzoni of The Running University.  Then picked up momentum when I took Kenny to a ChiRunning clinic for our anniversary.  Pause…what is ChiRunning you say?  

ChiRunning is a form of running that integrates principles of TaiChi.  This unique approach results in running naturally and injury free. The mission of ChiRunning is to help people “Love Running Forever”.  You can learn more about how to practice ChiRunning by checking out the various books and videos here, or better yet take a workshop from a local certified instructor.

As you learn about ChiRunning and practice, you will find that there are common issues that most runners have to some degree.

Heel Striking – Leading with the legs rather than upper body results in landing on the heels, essentially putting on the breaks with every running step.  Not only does this slow a runner down, it also sends a jarring impact up the leg.  Shortening the stride and landing with the feet underneath the body prevents this jarring impact.  

Low Cadence – Ideal cadence is 170-180 steps per minutes yet most people run closer to 160 or 165 steps per minute.  This causes a runner’s feet to stay on the ground too long.  The longer the feet are on the ground the more energy goes into getting it back off the ground rather than forward motion.  

Arm Swing – Arms should act as a pendulum and swing forward and backward with a 90 degree angle at the elbow.   Many runners however twist back and forth from the shoulders, wasting energy in the side to side motion.  Not only does this take energy away from forward momentum, it can lead to tension in the neck and shoulders.

ChiRunning provides solutions to these common issues which helps eliminate and prevent injuries.  It also teaches a runner how to listen to the body and connect with the energy within.  As I have deepened my ChiRunning practice I have addressed these issues in myself.  And as it begins to feel more and more natural, I have started to feel a flow to my running that is quite beautiful.   It is within this flow that ChiRunning has become a powerful tool in my arsenal when battling my depression.  

THREE MAJOR WAYS CHIRUNNING HELPS MY DEPRESSION:

Deeper Connection With My Body – Chi Running teaches Body Sensing as a technique to check-in with the body and assess form.  As I have been practicing Body Sensing, I have become more in tune with how my body is feeling.  At first, I was worried that body sensing would cause me to get so wrapped up in my discomfort that my running would no longer be enjoyable.  What I have found instead is that when I identify discomfort, I can adjust my form to alleviate it.  More often than not, I am finding that I am identifying strengths I didn’t always realize I had.  Rather than thoughts of, “My legs are so tired” or “my breathing is so labored”, I catch myself thinking, “I feel strong and powerful” and “I feel like I am floating over the ground”.  The more frequently I talk positively to myself the easier it is to allow depressive thoughts to flow past and pull myself back to a positive place.

Flowing Energy – Much of ChiRunning is about body alignment and smooth flowing movement.  Visualize a needle stuck through cotton.  The core of the body is the needle, strong and firm and tall.  Rather than getting stuck within inefficient motions, the body flows around this needle, gently along for the ride.  On an energetic level, blockages to free flowing energy can cause ailments of the body and mind, while free flowing energy can alleviate them.  My depression is easier to manage when energy is moving freely throughout my body.

Consistency – One of the main objectives of ChiRunning is to run injury free.  One of the greatest medicines for my depression is running.  Running injury free allows me to be able to run consistently, allowing for that daily dose of medicine that I so desperately need.  I have learned that 5 days a week is necessary for my mental well-being.   Injuries lead to missed runs which leads to withdraw which leads to long hours in bed on the verge of tears.  ChiRunning is like an insurance policy against missed days.

Running has saved me from despair on many occasions.  ChiRunning has strengthened my running and by association, strengthened my ability to battle depression.  With running, and specifically ChiRunning, the journey continues……