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?

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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……

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……

5 Ways to Embrace Gratitude This Holiday Season

We have cycled around to another holiday season.  Thanksgiving is upon us and we are pausing to take stock in our blessings.  An “Attitude of Gratitude” is the motto of the day.

It is easy in the day to day to focus on negativity.  Sometimes in between rushing to soccer practice, and traveling for work, and paying bills, we lose sight all that we are grateful for in our lives.  Being grateful take practice.

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Getting my stretches in while chalking up the sidewalks

Today I was able to start my day by combining two of my biggest blessings…running with my Moms RUN This Town (MRTT) community and spending time with my family.  Our MRTT chapter organized a Turkey Trot 5K run.  It wasn’t formal – no race bibs, no registration, no timing.  Just show up and run, with love and laughter.

Prior to the race, a few of us got together and exercised our stealth “chalking” skills.  We  loaded up the neighborhood sidewalks with sayings of thanks and positivity.  Several people were out walking and asked what we were doing.  I was thrilled to tell them we were setting up for a community run.  It felt so good to be a part of something that would bring joy to others.

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Ahwatukee MRTT represents before we head out for our 5K family run

I did the “run” with Quinlan and my dad, who is visiting from Louisiana.  We mostly walked which gave us a perfect opportunity to have Quinlan read each of the sayings.   One of the sayings read, “What are you thankful for?”.  When I posed this question to Quinlan he said, “That’s a tough one, there are so many things!”  From the mouths of babes.  It warmed my heart.

Starting our day celebrating our blessings and being with our loved one set the stage for a day of gratitude.  It continued on with more love, thanksgiving, good food, and better company.  Gratitude is contagious and the more we are grateful, the more those around us see the blessings in their lives too.

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So how do we cultivate this same level of gratitude in our each and every day and not just limited to the Day of Thanks?  Here’s 5 ideas you can give a try to build gratitude into your daily life:

  • Gratitude Journal
    • Either begin or finish each day by writing in a journal, electronic or pen and paper, makes no difference.  Write down a minimum of three things you are grateful that day.  Big or small.  Gratitude for you were able to make your bed or gratitude that you survived a car accident – both build the habit of gratitude every day.
  • Set an Alarm
    • Use your smartphone to set 5 or more alarms throughout the day.  Each time the alarm goes off, pause for a minute to think of something you are grateful for in your life.  Again, big or small, gratitude is gratitude.
  • Post-It in Bathroom
    • On your bathroom mirror, steering wheel, or any common place, post a sticky note with the question, “What are you grateful for today?”  If you want to get fancy, you could stencil it or create some beautiful plaque, but be careful that it doesn’t become so decorative that it fades into the background.  You want this note to be noticeable so you look at it every day and answer the question.
  • Ritual
    • Create a ritual around a certain event in the day in which you give thanks.  For example, pausing before a meal to reflect on your blessings.  Our family regularly does a round-robin at the dinner table sharing our gratitude.
  • Gratitude Box
    • Buy a beautiful box or decorate a plain one.  Leave a stack of small pieces of paper and once a day write down a item of gratitude.  At a regular interval, weekly or monthly or so on, open the box and read what you have written down.

Incorporate one or more of these into each day and gratitude will begin to become habitual in your life.  And then that habit will influence those around you and bring more joy and blessing into your life.

Call to Action: Share in the comments what other ways you bring gratitude into your daily life?

 

HR Monitor Training Requires Focus

Running according to my heart rate requires an intense amount of focus. Throughout the summer, I did every single run within an aerobic heart rate zone. This means that at the beginning of each run, I had to focus on starting slowly and building up my heart rate to the max level over about 10-15 minutes. Then, I had to focus on keeping my pace slow enough that I was able to keep my heart rate under the max limit but also fast enough that I didn’t drop more than 10 beats below my max.

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The Beginning of My Running Story

In college, I ran a mile here and a mile there to keep the freshman 15 off.  It worked for the most part.

Leading up to my wedding, I ran a mile here and a mile there to fit into my dress.  It definitely worked that time.

After getting married, I ran a mile here and a mile there in order to complete my first 5K.  I remember how it hurt and thought it would never end.

When Kenny got deployed 5 short months after we got married, I ran a mile here and a mile there to keep away the loneliness and the demons of my depression.  It didn’t really work but was better than nothing.

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9 month old Keegan helping me celebrate my third marathon finish! (May 2009)

After he got home, I tried to run a mile here and a mile there to keep up the routine.  Usually, I was less than successful.  My depression got worse.

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What is “Delicate” and Why You Should Embrace it

A friend posted a brainstorming question on Facebook: “What do you think of when you hear the word “delicate”?  Answers came in along these lines:

  • Handle with care
  • Do not touch
  • Lace and doilies
  • Be gentle or you might break it

The general theme was one of avoidance, fragility, and protection.  This outcome gave me pause and got me thinking.  While nothing posted is untrue, I believe it leaves out an important nuance of the word “delicate”.   Maybe this nuance however isn’t so much about the word “delicate” itself, but rather how we choose to interact with those items we have labeled as “delicate”.

Let me tell you a story.

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