Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Searching for Joy

Comparison is the thief of joy.

Not only have I found this saying to be true when it comes to comparing yourself to others, but in recent months I've come to realize that this is also true when comparing your current self to your former self.

I started being so hard on myself as I noticed my pace slowing and distances that were once easy becoming more difficult. I frequently found myself running alone during group runs because I could no longer keep up with my friends. I started having to take walk breaks during even my "easy" runs.

Running, which was once a refuge and a source of joy, became another area of my life where I just wasn't good enough.

So what am I doing about it?

Once I was finished feeling sorry for myself, I took stock of my current situation. I realized three things pretty quickly: 1.) that I needed to focus on taking baby steps instead of hurling myself straight into speed work and long runs, 2.) that I needed to stop dwelling on the past, and 3.) that I needed to, as much as is possible, eliminate external factors that make me feel bad about myself.

This all led me to make some changes to how I approach running.

As I mentioned last week, rather than getting frustrated that I can't easily run 10 miles anymore, I'm starting from square one and have committed to relearning how to run. I am currently in the midst of a couch to 5k training program. This allows me to a.) have structured runs with a set schedule and b.) have a specific and attainable goal to work towards.

I have also stopped running with a group, so that means no more early morning runs with my friends or evening visits to Fleet Feet for their weekly group fun runs. Although I miss my running buddies and the social aspect of those group runs, it is really nice being able to run my own pace. I'm not struggling to keep up with anyone or having to turn around before the rest of the group. For me, running alone has also brought back a kind of peacefulness that I didn't even realize I was missing when I run.

I have also stopped running with any sort of GPS. I leave my Garmin at home and haven't bothered with Strava in months. I have also turned off the GPS on the 5k training app that I'm currently using. I know that I am slow, and the fact that it bothers me as much as it does means that the last thing I need right now is to be reminded of my pace or distance. It was initially hard giving up my beloved Garmin, and I frequently found myself looking down at my wrist out of habit. After a while, though, I stopped worrying about pace. As it turns out, I discovered that running without thought to pace or distance can be very freeing.

So that is how I am currently approaching running. I refuse to compare myself to anyone else, including my former self. And it seems to be helping. I haven't found the joy that I have lost, yet, but I am starting to feel better.

I am still struggling. I won't lie about that. But I feel like I'm making progress. Hopefully by the end of November, I'll be able to once again run a 5k without stopping. Then I can find a new goal to word towards.

And my search for joy will continue. 

Monday, October 15, 2018

Relearning to Run

Hi, my name is Rebecca, and I'm currently learning how to run.

Or relearning how to run, I suppose.

I started running in 2013 and made a lot of progress over the first few years. It seemed that every month I was able to run faster and farther than before. Then everything started going down hill in 2016. My depression and anxiety spiraled out of control and I got injured while training for my first marathon but insisted on continuing my training and running the race. I started getting slower. Then last year, shortly before my second marathon, I started to hate running because it was yet another area of my life in which I felt like a failure. I was once again hurting, and I was angry at myself and felt defeated, and I was jealous of those around me who were thriving while I was struggling.

I ended up missing several races this year due to either illness or anxiety, but then things started looking up as I ran a couple of 5k races with friends who were new to running. Having another person there was not only motivating, but it also helped me remember that running could be fun.

I was running again. Or at least trying to run again. Many times my runs turned into walks, as my fitness level is no where near where it used to be.

Then last weekend, I went out to watch part of the Chicago marathon. I've never had the opportunity to spectate a race before, and it was amazing. I decided that it was time for me to recommit to running. I signed up for a Turkey Trot that day and began a 5k training program the following morning (Zombies, Run! 5k Training - the same 5k training app I used when I decided to run my first race 5 years ago).

So here I am, relearning how to run. I'm taking things slowly and trying not to think about the past, the successes or the failures. Instead, I'm just trying to keep moving forward and putting one foot in front of the other.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

2018 Ravenswood Run 5k Recap

I did it! I ran a race! 

For the first time this year, my anxiety did not win. 

I ran the Ravenswood Run 5k on Sunday, and I didn't do nearly as badly as I expected. This used to be my favorite 5k, but I missed it last year due to a scheduling conflict. I'm glad that I was able to return this year, as I really needed the confidence boost that starting and finishing a race finally gave me. 

I picked up my race packet (bib number, shirt, and gear check bag) on Friday at Fleet Feet Chicago's Lincoln Square store. It was incredibly quick and painless, and I was in and out in about 5 minutes.  I was a little less than excited about the thought of the race. I was worried about a repeat of this year's Shamrock Shuffle, panic attack included. I was worried about how long it would take me to finish. I was worried that I had been assigned to corral A, and I don't belong in corral A. 

FYI, I found out after the fact that RAM Racing, who now owns and manages the Ravenswood Run, offers "preferred start corral" placement based on previous finish times at previous RAM Racing events (or runners can also submit their finish times from non RAM Racing events), so that is how I ended up in corral A. Surprisingly, you only need to average 11:30 per mile to qualify for this, and they automatically assign you to a "preferred start corral" (basically a corral towards the front or in the first wave, depending on how many corrals and/or waves there are for the race) if you have qualified via one of their previous races. Because Ravenswood Run is a smaller race, with only one wave and three corrals, it felt as though everyone who qualified for this was placed in corral A, as I was not the only slow runner with a big A on my bib number. 

I barely got any sleep on Saturday night, as I kept tossing and turning and couldn't convince my brain to be quiet. I ended up getting out of bed much earlier than needed (5:30am) for a race that I can walk to. If I wasn't going to get any sleep, then I might as well get up and start my day. I washed the dirty dishes in my sink, fed my cat, fed myself, took a quick shower...basically I was trying to distract myself from the idea of the race. 

Shortly before leaving my apartment, I checked the weather report and saw it was chillier than originally expected, so I switched from capris to tights and added a light weight long sleeved shirt to my planned race outfit. This is a decision that I would later regret.

The race started at 8am, so I left my apartment at 7am and started the walk to the race site. I figured I would arrive between 7:20am and 7:30am, which would give me just enough time for one final bathroom stop and then a quick stop at gear check before I would need to get into my corral. 

The lines for the port-a-potties were blissfully short, which made up for the fact that the line for gear check was insanely long. Once I had made it through the line and handed over my bag, I headed to my corral and managed to find standing room at the very back of the corral, being careful to stay to the side so that it would be a little easier for faster runners behind me to pass.  

I felt oddly calm standing in the corral. It seemed that all of my panic disappeared once I was at the race site. They did the usual announcements, followed by the national anthem, and then, before I really knew what was happening, we were off. The race had begun!

I was doing it! I was running a race again!

I quickly found a pace that I felt I could maintain and started trying to enjoy myself. There were thanks given to volunteers and high fives given to children. I was feeling good when I hit the one mile mark. In fact, I was enjoying myself a lot more than I have in a long time on a run. I still had the nagging calf pain that seems to have become my constant companion, but it wasn't as bad as usual.

Then, right around the half way point, I got hit by the sound of my own wheezing, which is usually my first indication that asthma attack is looming. I slowed to walk and spent the next couple of minutes getting my breathing under control. Once I started running again, I made sure to occasionally do a full check in with myself - was my breathing controlled? was my calf pain still manageable? head up, shoulders back. just keeping going.

Mile 2 was over, which meant that I was in the home stretch. Just a hair over a mile to go. I was shocked by how good I felt. I just wished that I had gone with my original planned outfit, as I was very very warm. I unzipped my quarter zip and pushed my sleeves up as much as I could. I cursed myself for over dressing.

Finally, the finish line was in sight. I tried to speed up a little, and before I knew it, the the race was done. I was so happy to have finished! I felt great! The gear check line was just as long as it had been to drop things off, so there was some standing around and waiting, but that gave me time to drink some water, because I was incredibly thirsty. Once I had my bag, I was starting to get chilly again, so I threw on my sweatshirt and went to hand out by the finish line to cheer on others until I had to head home to get ready for work.

It was a good day.

My finish time was 34:59, which, let's be honest, is not even close to my best 5k time, but I'm still very happy with it. Just getting to the starting line can and has been a challenge, but I think I'm finally heading in the right direction.

I still have a lot of work to do, but maybe next year I can return to the Ravenswood Run and finish faster and stronger.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Future Race Plans

The F^3 Half Marathon didn't happen for me due to illness.

The Shamrock Shuffle 8k didn't happen for me due to anxiety and a panic attack.

That is two races this year that I was planning to run that I didn't run. Disappointing? Yes.

 Am I going to try to race again? Absolutely.

I may not be interested in running as many races as I have in the past, but I do still want to race. I find that I need specific goals to work towards to keep myself motivated, and signing up for a race gives me a specific distance that I have to run on a specific date. I just need to choose races a bit more carefully, which may mean signing up closer to race day, even though that means paying a higher registration fee.

Additionally, I'm hoping that if I can get myself to another race and manage to cross the finish line, then perhaps it will help me deal with the anxiety/panic that I've been experiencing lately when it comes to racing and running in public.

I am currently signed up for three races, all of which are 5ks: the Ravenswood 5k, the Run for the Zoo 5k, and the Proud to Run 5k. I'm not terribly excited for Ravenswood or Run for the Zoo, but I am very much looking forward to Proud to Run, which I'll be running with one of my co-workers. It will be his first race, and I always enjoy helping people discover a love for running and run their first race.

I am debating whether or not I want to do a half marathon later this year, but I don't want to sign up for something unless I'm 100% sure I want to do it, so my three 5ks will be a bit of a practice run for future possible races.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Did I Shuffle?

The Shamrock Shuffle was Sunday.

So...did I run the race? To put it simply, no. No, I did not run the Shamrock Shuffle this year, even though I was registered. I broke my own tradition of running the Shamrock Shuffle every year and my own rule about always running the races I sign up for as long as I am not sick or injured (and even then I sometimes run).

To be honest, I don't really feel that bad about it.

By the time I got home from work on Saturday night, I was starting to feel better about the idea of racing on Sunday. I was even starting to get a little excited for the race. Before going to bed that evening, I packed my gear check bag and laid out my special Shamrock Shuffle gear - Shamrock Shuffle neck gaiter, green sparkly visor and skirt, four leaf clover compression socks, etc.

When my alarm went Sunday morning, however, I was no longer excited. I got up, had breakfast, got dressed, and made my way to the train. I felt like I was on autopilot. Then, sitting on the train on my way downtown, the panic set in.

I just couldn't do it.

I couldn't deal with the crowds or the noise. I fet the tears coming on. I tried to catch my breath. I was on the verge of a panic attack. I had signed up for a race that I've run and enjoyed before, so what was the problem? It was only an 8k. It wasn't like I was on my way to a marathon. Why couldn't I pull myself together?

I got off the train and transferred to one heading back towards home. Once home, I changed out of my running clothes and went back to bed. My cat, Hannah, snuggled up next to me, and I fell asleep.

I woke up a few hours later feeling infinitely better. I felt refreshed. I expected to be disappointed in myself, but I surprisingly felt fine. There was no resentment towards those I know who ran. There was no feeling of remorse for having missed another race.

I headed out for a run alone that evening. I haven't enjoyed a run that much in a very long time. I ran without music or distraction. Listening to the sound of my own breath and the sound of my feet hitting the ground was exhilarating. I felt free. I felt as though a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. It was incredible!

I still can't quite pinpoint what caused my panic, but I know that skipping the race was the right thing for me to do. There will be other races to run.

Right now I find solace in the knowledge that I can still find joy in running. Even if it comes less often than it once did, that feeling is still something that is worth chasing.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

A Race I'm Unsure About Running

In my last post I talked about how you don't have to run races to be a runner. You just have to run.

I talked about how once upon a time I loved running races, but lately races just haven't been fun. Racing has begun to feel like a burden and reminds me of all my shortcomings. I said I was going to be more careful when selecting races and choose only the races that I was really excited to run or ones that I could run with friends.

So guess what managed to sneak up on me?

I, like many runners in Chicago, run the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8k every year. It was always a lot of fun with a great course through downtown Chicago, great energy from runners and spectators, and I usually love the 8k distance. I had forgotten that I had signed up for the race this year until I started getting emails with the participant guide and reminders about packet pick up. Now I find myself, the day before the race, sort of dreading it.

Last year, the race wasn't fun for me. In fact, it was pretty terrible. I was planning on running with friends (a sure way to improve on a race day experience), but that didn't happen because the folks I was planning on running with ended up assigned to a corral in wave 1 and I was stuck back in wave 2. My friends were unwilling to move back to run with me, and you aren't allowed to move forward to earlier corrals, so I had to run alone. I also ended up being slower than usual, so what I had hoped would be a PR ended up being far from it (my slowest ever Shamrock Shuffle, in fact). During the race, I couldn't get the negative thoughts out of my head. I was too slow, too fat, I wasn't a real runner, etc, etc. By the time I was finished, I just wanted to go home and never run again.

So here I am, with a bib number that I don't know if I want to wear, debating whether to run or not.

I don't want to be a negative person. I want to be happy and have fun. But you don't always get what you want.

To race or not to race?

Monday, March 5, 2018

Deciding To Race or Not

As I watched friends begin their spring half marathon training this past weekend, I was hit by pangs of jealousy. I wanted to be out there with them, running my first long run of the spring season, getting excited for an upcoming race. But I've chosen not to do any distance races this spring. I'm only currently signed up for three races this year, two 5ks and one 8k, and I'm honestly on the fence about all but one of them, and the one I am sure about is the only one that I'm running with a friend.

Though I have been a big fan of racing in the past and regularly talked about how fun it is and how everyone should run races because racing is for everyone, regardless of pace, I've been starting to change my tune a bit. Deciding whether or not to race is a personal decision, and everyone needs to decide what is best for them.

I once loved races. They were fun and motivating and helped me track my progress, but I honestly haven't had fun at a race in a very long time. What was once motivating has become demoralizing. An experience that was once joyful and exhilarating has become horrible and anxiety ridden.

When I got sick the weekend of the F^3 half marathon in January, I was initially sad that I wouldn't be able to run the race that I had trained for all winter, but my sadness quickly turned to relief, because being sick gave me an out. It meant that I could skip the race without feeling guilty. It meant not being confronted with proof of how slow I've become.

The only race I truly enjoyed running last year was the Hot Chocolate 5k, and the fun part wasn't the race itself, but watching my friend Sarah finish her first ever 5k. I have a standing promise to all my friends and co-workers that if they ever decide they want to try running, I will run their first race with them. Sarah took me up on that offer in the fall and chose the Hot Chocolate 5k for her first race. On race day it didn't matter if we took walk breaks, it didn't matter what our finish time was, it was just a joy to run together and see a friend achieve a goal. We had fun walking, running, talking, and laughing.

Moving forward, I will think more carefully before signing up for races. I will consider not only if I have the time and energy to put in the proper training, but whether or not the race is going to be good for me and if it is something I really want to do. I want to walk into a race with the right mindset, feeling good about myself and my running. Chasing and achieving a goal is a great feeling, but there are more goals to work towards then those that include a finisher's medal.

Running races does not make you a runner. Running makes you a runner.