Searching for sanity

After taking a few months off from running following my last race in November, I found myself about mid-March mired in a pit of depression, which I blogged about a few weeks ago.  I’ve always known that running does more for my mental health than anything else I do.  So, I pulled myself up by my shoestrings, threw on my favorite running skirt, and started the long journey back.  And, it’s been a journey.  Until I stopped running for a while, I had forgotten just how much it helps alleviate anxiety, reminds me of the beauty of my life, raises my mood, and makes me feel invincible.  Truly, after a good, hard run, I feel bulletproof.  Work flows more easily, creative thoughts fight with each other to express themselves, the little aggravations of life (like the restaurant that over billed my debit card by $40 and won’t acknowledge the mistake), even the real problems of life lose their power to turn my tummy into a pit of burning anxiety and my mind into a swirling vortex of crazy.

My weekly mileage is still low, my pace is absurdly slow, and until today, every run has felt like a job.  Not a fun job.  More like a “clean the toilet” kind of job.  After it’s been used by men.  Still, I’ve continued to plug away.  I mean, someone has to clean the toilet, right?  I knew that at some point, it would feel a little easier and I would be reminded of why I love to run.

Today was that day.

I don’t want to paint an unrealistic picture of running.  It’s hard,  it’s hot, it hurts.  Almost always.  And, I don’t want you to think that I’m some gracefully gifted runner who flies along the path like a cheetah, feet barely making contact with the ground, hair flowing out behind me.  I know some of those runners, but I’m not one.  I plod along, scraggly ponytail tucked into the hole of my tattered, smelly running cap.  I’m carrying an extra burden of 15 pounds or so that the short hiatus from running and the food trough I fell into packed onto my short frame.  Sweat runs down my face in rivers and turns my pale (not creamy) skin into a blotch of red spots that make me look like I have a contagious disease.  I’ve never been fast; now I’m positively glacial.

Still, I plod.  Then, sometimes, like today, the plodding rewards me and reminds me why I continue to make this journey.  A run that had some aggravating factors before and during (not going to expound on that, just think “crazy people” – if you’re in business for yourself, you immediately thought of someone) turned into the soul soothing, sanity producing, anxiety eliminating run that I so desperately needed.  I  wasn’t running some fun, new route; the earth didn’t move; I didn’t have a celebrity sighting (and, by celebrity, I mean like Meb or Ryan Hall or Shalane Flanagan); I was only marginally faster than Thursday’s run; I didn’t even see any of the cool critters which often brighten my runs.

Even so, my soul was soothed.  My mind was comforted.  God showed up with His Asics on and ran beside me.  Love it when that happens.

If you never want to run, I get that.  I would never tell anyone (especially another old broad) that they need to become a runner.  What I would tell you is this:  If you’re searching for sanity; trying to pull yourself out of the pit; or looking for goals and trying to decide what the next phase of your life holds,  you will almost always find the answers on the trail.  Walk it, run it, or do some creative combination of the two. Just put one foot in front of the other and move.

Sanity lies just over the next hill.

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Determination

I haven’t blogged in a while, but I’ve been steadily moving forward, mile by mile, some days inch by inch.  I’m slower than ever, my legs don’t seem to remember that they can run long, and motivation is ever a fickle friend.   The slowness I can live with; I know the endurance will return; but, motivation is sometimes that mean girl whose a** I want to kick.  I know her well enough now to understand that her ebbs and flows are just part of the plan, and I try not to let it keep me from my task.  I learned long ago that discipline is more important in running than motivation, so I’m calling on all my reserves to remind me every morning as I get up to go about my day.  The mornings that she joins me on my run are inspired and beautiful; but I know I can run without her; and, it seems, I often do.  One way I entice her to run with me is to change up my routes, find new running paths, and look for fresh inspiration on every run.

Today was one of those days that motivation deserted me, turning over in bed at the time I needed to rise, and informing me that she was going back to sleep, so I was on my own.  I gave her a vicious shove and headed out without her.  I headed to our local rails to trails, my go-to trail when I have to run with no motivation.  It’s an easy run; very flat and shady; a run I can do on auto pilot.  At the stage my training is in right now, that’s often what I need.  Runs that remind my legs we can do this, but that don’t require a lot of mind games to accomplish.  

I headed out at my usual starting place (Jackson Road station), mind still not on board, and just ran.  I love our local rails to trails (Longleaf Trace): no dogs, no traffic, just people like me, intent on getting their workout in.  One of the really cool things I discovered about this route last year is that there are numerous trails that lead off the path through the woods that are well marked and easy to follow.  I LOVE trail running, but don’t go to many of our trails often, as they are quite a distance to drive, and my man doesn’t really like me to run them by myself.  The trails off the Trace, however, are a different story.  I’m never far from the main path, so running the trails isn’t quite the lone experience it is in the national forests that surround the other trail runs that are within my reach.  On a whim, I darted onto the first trail I came to, Turtle Loop.  It is a short one (1.5 miles) and that was just what I needed for today.

This is what greeted me:

turtle loop

It was at that moment that motivation decided she would join me. I smiled and welcomed her, and on we ran. The smell of a Mississippi spring is almost indescribable. More talented scribes than I have attempted it. The odor of spring honeysuckle takes me back to my childhood, carrying me back to simpler, sweeter times. Yes, the sweet smell of spring brings my allergies into screaming awareness, but I love it, all the same. The path melted away under my feet, taking me up several fairly steep inclines, but giving in return the promise of renewed strength and determination. Glorious, spectacular day. Motivation was running right beside me, drinking it all in. I was happy to have her along for the ride.

At the end of my run, as I returned to the Trace, I encountered a little guy who was, perhaps, a little too on point (I was running Turtle Loop, after all). This very determined turtle was climbing up one of the steepest inclines on the trail. I stopped and marveled at him a few moments, taking a photo and realizing how much alike we were, then I headed on down to the path to complete my run.
turtle_determination I’m quite sure that he made it to the top.

I’m thankful that I know that persistence trumps talent, because, as running goes, I have very little talent. I am, however, one very determined old broad who knows that determination can bring about results that talent can only dream about.

Keep moving forward, my friends.