Scenes from my running adventures in nature’s playground. Crave the run.
Scenes from my running adventures in nature’s playground. Crave the run.
I don’t know when to quit.
After the emotionally hellocious roller coaster of Grindstone 100, I am 100% sure of that statement. I spent about a week post race beating myself up for being so down and depressed. And then instead of beating myself up mentally, I switched to beating myself up physically. Not in the sadistic “I cut my wrists” type of way, no, but in the 3 hour sweat sessions in the gym kind of way. “Just Train Harder” has been my go to coping mechanism for any battle in life over the last 7 years or so. That, and of course the gracious Almighty, have saved my hide from serious amounts of expensive therapy and copious amounts of medication.
However, more than a few times, I’ve pushed myself so far and hard that I didn’t bounce back in a good way. Sometimes, my body simply decided to call it quits. Occasionally, without even giving me a heads up it was going to do so. People close to me say this happens because of how I’m wired. “She just doesn’t know when to quit” has been a staple in my Mother’s vocabulary since I could walk. My entire life, I’ve struggled to accept something most humans understand–something called balance and boundaries. Most call it an “extreme personality” or “addictive personality”. Considering I was addicted to meth before I could even drive a car, I cannot dispute the obvious. They’re right. It’s something in my blood.
A lot of ultrarunners will tell you that they’re the same way. That they get it. But truthfully, I don’t know how many of them have really experienced it. How many have been unconscious in the ICU, or in bed for weeks unable to walk, all from trail running? Probably not many. I guess I’d say that in my experience, “not quitting” really isn’t worth all the hype it’s been given. It is an idea romanticized on social media, and pushed by the big brands on everyone’s backs. But what does it really look like? For me, it’s had a lot of different faces. Some positive, sure, but some downright ugly.
My first 100 attempt ever, in torrential weather and with minimal training, resulted in a solid surprising finish. I was determined to finish and I did.
The following year, at Hinson Lake 24 hr, that same determination and drive gave me a fat DNF and put me in a dang wheelchair.
Again, at Pistol 100 last year, my “can’t stop won’t stop” motto paid off. Though it was 14 degrees, I finally went sub 20 in the hundred, and didn’t take a single break during the race. It was the perfect run.
So what was the difference? Why does “NEVER QUIT” work sometimes, and sometimes is doesn’t? Is it even about determination not to quit? What are the unseen forces that worked in one race, and failed in the other?
I’d wager to say that there are other forces that make or break a race…. I believe now that they’re the ones I struggle to recognize, and hate to admit when they’re absolutely necessary in my life:
BOUNDARIES AND BALANCE.
The two things I subconsciously loathe.
The importance of the two in training have become especially clear to me in the past 9 months. How did I finally figure it out? Easy. I quit NOT quitting. I allowed myself to stop. And the subsequent time off helped everything start to make sense.
After Grindstone, I became increasingly sick with the thought of sticking to a hard schedule. I was burned out. Emotionally and mentally drained. I refused to run if I did not actually feel like running. I wouldn’t lace up for anything other than a need for a good freakin’ endorphin release. This resulted in about 10-30 miles of running a week, and occasionally not running for weeks at all. Crazy for a woman who once maintained well over 100 miles in ONE week, right? I trained still of course– with weights and calisthenics– but for once in the last 7 years, I did not let running and racing dominate my body and my mind’s daily thoughts.
After a few months of this non-training program, it became increasingly clear to me that my past best race performances have been after long periods of rest. Long periods of “there are more parts of me I need to find other than running”
I realized that before my Pistol 100 win, I spent the time leading up to it working on crafts with my kids for Christmas, and physically doing only body weight calisthenics for weeks while my husband was working 36 hours away all month. Other ultra wins, and my first 100, were all off of significant down time due to injuries or just lack of interest in training. Could there be something to this?
My worst performances and failures were all off of rigid training, fierce dedication, and insane work ethic.
Maybe my extreme personality just needs a little more yin to the yang?
I’m willing to find out…I mean, after you “GO HARD!!!!” for so, so terribly long, eventually, I think you just need to chill. And chill hard. The kind of eat whatever the heck you want, sleep in on the weekends chill. The skip training to have lunch with a friend chill. The stay up late and binge watch Netflix with your spouse chill. JUST CHILL. Run?…Sure. Work out?….Definitely. But it can be on the back burner! And for people like me, occasionally I think it should be.
I’ve also learned over the years that running has to have strict boundaries in my life. Yes, I’m an addict. And as I’ve written multiple times, I can and will get addicted to the miles. I am well aware now that as a mom to two young kids, my weekends do not belong to me. If a race does not fit into my family life and schedule, then it will have to wait until a better time no matter how bad I want to do it. That’s fine with me.
And after 9 months doing this non-legit-runner-chill thing, I finally feel back to normal. I’m truly anxious to get back to running, and I feel more alive and energized then ever before. I’ve carefully whittled my health and strength to a strong level, and meanwhile, I’ve rediscovered my love for art and music. I’ve also grown closer to my family.
And most importantly if I ever need to quit something, I can. And I don’t have to feel guilty about it. As I wrote earlier this year, I am the only one who has to feel the heavy weight -physically and mentally-of proceeding (or not proceeding) with a race. Unlike what we sometimes think, we are indeed just lowly runners. We’re not curing cancer or winning Nobel Peace Prizes….and we can live to run another day.
Some people might argue that if you take extended time off, or if you quit, you’ll lose everything you’ve gained. I disagree. Time and experience has shown me that you can bounce back stronger. I actually went for a run up a mountain last weekend just to test this out, and yes, I can still power up the climbs and stand on the summit like a boss. I’m willing to bet most people that struggle with taking time off could do the same.
Balance and boundaries are good for me, and I’ve found that they can only make me stronger. As I stood on that mountain top this weekend, alone, and taking in the wonder and beauty of it all… I realized that despite 9 months off– I’m still fast. I’m still strong. I’m still powerful. I’m still motivated. And I’m still able to get lost in the flow, and swept up into that amazing rush of endorphins. But more than anything, I realized I’m finally whole. I’m complete. I’m yin, but I’m totally yang.
I’m finally ready to toe a line again, ready to charge up another mountain, and ready to taste the pain of competition against my own body.
I’m thankful now that I took the time off, because it taught me what I needed to become a better me in the future. I know I will push hard over the coming years like I always do….it’s how I’m made….. but I will do so with careful balance, boundaries, and grace. I want to live. I crave to thrive. I need to grow, and I yearn to run…..far…..for years and years to come. And finally, I think I can do that.
I was driving home from a trail run the other day, windows down, feeling amazing, listening to my favorite radio morning show on KLove.
Ahh… endorphins flowing, sun shining… everything is just… right.
The host began a discussion that instantly grabbed my attention: “What if you could somehow write a letter to your 15-year-old self?” he said, “What would you say?”
Ha… I thought, everything wasn’t always “just right”, was it?
I started to reflect upon 15-year-old me. The rebellious, bratty, out-of-control, drug addicted failure daughter of a Baptist preacher… oh, I’d have a lot to say. So, why not actually say it? Where to begin… Continue reading
The last time I ran over 10 miles was at Grindstone 100. The race was back in October, over 5 months ago. My 6th hundred wasn’t a normal one for me …if there is such a thing as a normal 100. Most hundreds hurt in more ways than one. But this one– it was pure mental, emotional, and physical hell for reasons I could not have foreseen… Continue reading
Feeling low? Slow, burned out, fatigued? Sick of it, done with it, over it–all of it?! I’m there too. And trust me, I know it’s a rough place to be. My mileage is currently the lowest its ever been in my entire running history. Many days I don’t even feel like running. I’m currently battling some serious life hurdles, and working hard to stave off the depression I know all too well. And that endorphin infused run high that I love so much? Well… right now, it is nowhere to be found. But, [BUT!] I’m not discouraged!! I have been in this place more times than I can count, and just as many times, I have bounced back unscathed. I have picked up a few tricks along the way to help myself out when I get to this low point. I hope these tips can help you out, too! Continue reading
I have always been a rebel. It’s in my DNA. Always has been, always will be. This personality trait is evident in every area of my life. I like to think for myself, and refuse to accept societal norms. Seeing as running is a huge part of my life, it should come as no surprise that I shattered a few running standards there. Here are a few examples of how I made running work better for me: Continue reading
It was cold in Alcoa, Tennessee that January day. Really cold for a Georgia girl; fourteen degrees to be exact. I was bundled up tightly in my heavy WeatherEdge jacket, old thermal gloves, and layers of sweats, but nothing could ease the bite of the windchill. I pulled my jacket up a little higher over my mouth, and I breathed in and out to feel some kind of warmth…Man, it’s freezing.
I glanced over at my husband, Dan, who was staring back at me….Thumbs up… a reminder that being cold was the least of my worries that day. I was standing outside of a local middle school, under a huge banner, surrounded by people of all shapes and sizes with one common goal— to finish an ultra. The Pistol Ultra. And the gun was about to signal the start of another 100 mile journey for me. Another life lesson I would never forget… Continue reading
If you’re an ultrarunner, you have probably noticed that our sport has become a little more mainstream in the past year or two. Not 100% mainstream, yet, but definitely more normal. Among runners, the idea of pushing past the marathon is no longer that insane, and many have embraced the idea or added it to their bucket list.