A few months ago, the editor of a major running magazine spent a long time interviewing me for an article about addiction in running. I poured my heart out, but never saw it published.
So I battled back and forth for awhile, torn between letting the story go, if I wanted to go there, yada yada, until I finally just said …ya know what? Screw it…. nobody can tell my thoughts better than me…. So here we go. Prepare yourselves.
In my opinion, an addict will always be addicted. Whether its to something..someone.. or someplace.. they’ll be hooked on something. And you see, I have a whole history behind me covering that spectrum. But the past is the past, and constantly bringing it up makes it what…?yup. the present. So past addictions aside, why not talk about the here and now? I’m an open book.
And if that rubs you the wrong way, well click that little x at the top of your screen, buttercup.
Okay. Now we can talk. ;)
This little running and addiction topic has become taboo amongst runners. But I want to address it from an addict’s standpoint.
Does running addiction exist?
You betcha. Why wouldn’t it??
Have I experienced it?
I’ll let you decide….
Scratching the surface.
Roughly two years ago, I ran a 12 hour with no real target or specified training. I threw down 70.5 miles that day–coming in 2nd place overall– almost effortlessly. I went home and started plotting. If I trained hard enough, I could try to run 120 miles to qualify for the world’s 24 hour team at a race that fall. It was a long shot, but I had a ton of crappy stuff going on in my life, and God knows I needed something to focus on.
So I started to pour myself into my training before the sun came up. Every freaking day I would wake up between 3-4am for 20 miles. If I missed mileage throughout the week, I would cram it all into an overnight run. Nothing could derail me. Even a stint in the ICU. I was a woman on a mission. Completely driven and locked hard into my goal.
Addicted?…others saw it that way. [Remember that interview when I was attacked by raging normal runners offended by my "psychotic tendencies"?]…. But I saw it as nothing but pure dedication.
I trained so hard for that race and did what?? …. Well, I ran 80 miles in tremendous pain to complete failure — later learning that during the race, I had torn my gluteus minimus, illiacus, & had a stress fracture in my hip. All of which pain I somehow ignored. …Good times.
But I still wasn’t “addicted”. I got back up from that spill. Stayed off my feet for 12 weeks, then BAM, up and ran a 100 and slayed the heck out of it.
Nope. That wasn’t addiction either. That was all heart.
But running, man it was everything I thought about, everything I dreamed about. Everything I TALKED about. It was what I sacrificed for. What I cared for.. but it wasn’t an “addiction”. I’d felt addiction before.
It wasn’t until the following year, while I was training for a MARATHON, that I started to fear that the tell tale signs of an actual addiction were, once again, taking hold of my strange little life.
I had a coach’s plan to follow. Speedy. Structured. Every day, I would go out with a specific workout planned, but no matter what that was, I would leave with a raw and rugged speed session. All I wanted was to run fast. For weeks it was an obsession. Every day, a harder effort than the day before it. I literally could not save my best effort for race day. I didn’t want to wait that long to feel it.
Why do I crave it so much? Why can’t I hold off for race day?
Less than a week out from my target half marathon, I went out and ran 10 miles at a 6:50 pace…the hardest I could run, because I simply wanted to feel it. I knew I destroyed my hopes for the race, but I didn’t care. That adrenaline– the rush of it surging through my veins– I had to feel it. Always.
That next week, I ran a half and struggled hard to hold 6:50s for more than 4 miles. My tired wrecked body crashed and I jogged it in for a crappy finish.
I have wreaked havoc on my body yet again. I lack control… I noticed.
And that right there sent me over the edge. I fell into an awful pit of burnout, sadness, fatigue to the point of not being able to take a step, and full on clinical depression.
But that wasn’t addiction, that was stupidity….right?
My gut tells me “wrong”
Hindsight is 20/20
Fast forward to a few months down the road and I was on my way to a full recovery.
I began to open my eyes to the big, giant, gorgeous world around me that had absolutely nothing to do with running. I began to find little fragments of ME again that I had lost somewhere in the miles.
I started painting again.
I called up old non running friends for coffee.
I started hiking mountains instead of running them.
And my kids–gosh my kids–I poured myself into them more than ever. More than I thought I could.
My weekends weren’t dominated by long runs, or race plans. And my nights weren’t spent on the trails.
I was nonrunner Ash again, and I liked her.
And to be quite honest with you all, a year later and the latter Ash is still hanging around. I love her more than the old one.
Looking back, I remember saying “I’m not gonna waste my life sitting around.” -and crap like that- to justify the insane amount of training I was doing. But sometimes JUST SITTING AROUND is good.
I can see now that life shouldn’t be dominated by just one thing. That would be wasting it. Because there’s so much more to life than one hobby.
I mean, after all, I got into running to have fun and get healthy, and if the outcome was a grumpier, sleepier, injured me– well then what the frick did I accomplish?
Now dont get me wrong, I’m never gonna write ultras off. I’m running 81 miles next week for crying out loud. I just approach things differently from now on.
No incessant schedules.
No over the top training.
No super goals.
No sleep deprivation.
No missing out on bedtime stories, late nights, and morning cuddling.
Now-I’m 100 percent lined up in the right order: God. Husband. Kids. Me. Family. Friends. Happiness. SLEEP. Running.
But I only see it this way now, because I can tell I wasn’t healthy THEN. It took me awhile to realize that, but I know it now, and I won’t let myself get lost in that running pit again.
And just like with other battles I’ve gone through, I have to have people keeping me in check with my running.. accountability. If my husband says “baby you’re training way to much..” I don’t shut him out, I listen. If my friends say “hey you’re gonna overdo it with a back to back” I consider their opinions.
And also, I really only ended up writing about this, because if I had to guess, I’d bet some of you have experienced this too. I mean, I see it on social media — comments like “Wife says I race too much, but she doesn’t understand.” — or– “Dont ever let people get between you and your dreams, even friends and family!” — blah blah blah– hey buddy- I gotta tell ya.. If your wife says “back off the running”, she’s saying it for a reason. And your marriage better be a heck of a lot more important than some stupid hobby you have, so check yourself. It ain’t curing cancer here, man…
Walk the Line
So when it comes down to it. It’s tricky. But I think a fine line exists, and I think certain people can and will cross it.
Did I cross it?
Looking back, I hate to say it, but yeah..probably.
Running alone in the dark from midnight to 8am when I should’ve been in bed with my husband? …yeah. I’m an idiot.
Screwing up expensive races because I wanna taste adrenaline?… uncalled for.
Letting a sport completely dominate my adult life when I have about a billion other things that should’ve come before it? ….FAIL.
But it can’t be all bad..had I not found my love for running, who knows where I would be right now?!
But I’m an addict after all–even if I’m a healthy one–and this is just how I work. I have to learn things the stupid hard way. Because when it’s all said and done: I NEED IT. It all makes me ME. It
is my story! Just like all the other Hell I’ve put myself through during these crazy short 26 years. The puzzle pieces all fit together in the end.
And I’ll struggle with it again, I’m not stupid. The miles, the dirt, the mountains — like I wrote yesterday — it calls to me like a siren. But I will have to wait. Wait until it fits into my life again. When I’m older and free to be a healthy addict.
Anyways… I talk too much. [And write too much.] but all of that to say…
Addiction is ugly. But running? Running is beautiful. So a running addiction? Well that’s just tricky.
But if I can walk that line between beautiful disaster and complete and utter chaos… I’m right where I want to be…. Happy.
As always, thanks for reading, guys & hey, can do me a huge favor? If you clicked over to this blog from Facebook or Twitter- leave your comments HERE! It sucks when people talk about my posts and I cant even be a part of the conversation. I LOVE and appreciate the feedback. It helps a lot. Happy running:) -ash.