Saturday, October 15, 2016

My Trail Towards Healing

My Trail Towards Healing: 

 Running, Just Another Addiction (Part 2)

The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change. - Carl Rogers

Some of you may recall an article I wrote for Ultra Running Magazine in November of 2014 entitled Running: Just Another Addiction? where I debated whether running (particularly ultra-running) was a negative or positive addiction.  In the end I summarized that it could be used both ways, but for me and many others who had serious negative addictions in the past, that running was the ultimate expression of life:

So there you have it. Yes, I am addicted to running. And honestly, if I had to quit I probably would go into a slight withdrawal. Still, it is a very different addiction than one that leads to a path of self-destruction. As long as you maintain a strong balance and always refer to your heart for guidance, this addiction is a good thing. This addiction leads to happiness and freedom. My running addiction is an expression of my love of life.

(And if I had to, I suppose I could always take up cycling or some other sport…)
Here I am, nearly 2 years later, forced to answer  the "if I had to".  What happens when one has to let go of running?  
My goal for this blog is not to go too much into the backstory, but focus on my path towards healing.  But I do feel like I have to mention how I got here, especially as ultra running and the ultra mindset continues to grow in our society.

While I never directly said it to anyone besides a close few, most of my friends/blog followers already know. For quite sometime now,  I've been challenged by chronic over-training syndrome.  I' had honestly been in denial for years.  While I still hold my words  in the UR article as true and believe I had good wherewithal, I was too far in by that point.  I don't blame ultra-running for my bodies breakdown.  It was simply the tip of the iceberg to nearly 16 yeas of hurting my body:  starving it, exercising for a ridiculous amount of hours every day, short-cutting sleep, and sending messages to it that stated "you are not good enough".   Finally, my body has called, actually screamed "Stop!  Slow down! Rest!"  but most loudly "I need love!"
For a bit more backstory into this destruction you can check out my last blog: Too Many Mountains
While I have been trying to rest my body for quite sometime now and barely running, I was still working out in some from for 1.5-2 hours a days. It also included hiking 20 14ers this year. My body finally called it quits when I tore my calf muscle, first re-injuring running and then completely tearing it by unclipping from my road bike (my go-to replacement from running). Not having a working calf muscle takes away a whole lot of options for activity, especially as chances of making it worse are quite easy.  
Luckily, this time I got the point.  In a way, tearing my calf  was a relief .  Finally, I have a true reason to just SLOW DOWN.

Before I take you through the positive effects slowing down has had on my body, I do want to briefly touch on the mental struggle of realizing running may no longer be part of my life.
Over the past year, I've been dealing with the fact that I may never be able to run competitively again.  As of yet, there are no stories of people challenged my chronic over-training syndrome coming back.  Plus, my hip issues thus far been un-treatable.  I was able to come to terms with it, knowing I was lucky enough to be able to run...though still skipping the rest period I knew it could benefit from.  Then, this summer I was struck my back pain and then my torn calf.  The thought came to me: what if I can never run again?
Here I am, 4 weeks after tearing my calf muscle, not having run a step or getting on my road bike.  And I am content.  Happy.  Sure, I do miss running through the coloring trees, but I can still experience them in a different way.  Even without running, the mountains, the trees, the rivers are still part of me, I am still part of them.  Actually, more than ever before I feel in tune with the changing of the season.

In mind, body, and spirit ,I am healing.   
Just what has rest done for my body?  Here's just a quick peak:
Sleep:  I can finally sleep normally again, going to bed fairly quickly and sleeping soundly.   When I do wake up in the middle of the night, I'm able to fall back to sleep.  With this I have to mention that I was never severely cutting back on sleep, just an 30 min to an hour less than I needed most nights.  
Weight: I had been holding onto extra water weight, mainly appearing in my stomach and cheeks.  It wasn't until I stopped pushing my body that it started to disappear.  Ironically, a fear of mine had been gaining weight if I cut back on exercise.  This is even after I knew the studies that sleep promotes weight loss and having a sister preach the benefits of getting enough sleep for over a year.  (Not to get too science-y,  but this most likely had to do with my cortisol levels returning to normal, making my insulin levels normal, and in turn my body quit it's fat storage survival mechanism.)
Appetite: With this I have to add that my appetite has adjusted some.  I'm still not really sure what is normal for me.  I was craving peanut butter all this week.   Still, there are times when I'm realizing that I'm really not hungry and am able to let the thought of food go.  Other times I still feel like I eat a lot...and I let myself...and I haven't gained any weight.  Here again I proved some solid research to myself: diet and not exercise is the key to weight-loss/health.  Go plants!  (I also recently read an article that stated adding 300-500 calories to your normal caloric intake for a short period when recovering from over-training may help reset your metabolism.)

These things took about a month to normalize (going back to when I first started slowing down prior to my calf tear).   I'm sure there are a lot more things healing internally that I can not yet detect as well.  Then there are a few things that have not yet normalized.  I've experiencing a lot of digestive issues lately.  Part of my assumption is that my stomach is dealing with the toxins released in my body and trying to push them out.  My period is still messed up as well.  Because of my eating disorder, I didn't start my period until age 15.  Since then, I can't remember a period of more than a few months when it was I understand that it may take a while.
As I start to move into how slowing down has benefited my mental health, I want to seque with a mind/body connection: nearly everyday, I've repeated to myself "I love and accept my body at this very moment.".  It took me quite awhile to really adopt that phrase as truth, but I believe the love and acceptance I have found for myself has been the key to my healing.
As for the mind...
Again, if you read my last blog you know that I was all over the place.  Now however, my mood is stable.  I'd say my baseline is "content/happy".  Even when something bad happens, my mood doesn't sink into despair. I don't even have to do anything to prevent it, it's just natural.  Sure, I still feeling sad and lonely at times, but I just allow it.  I acknowledge my sadness, accept it as a feeling that has the right to be in my mind, and eventually it dissipates.  
Overall, my perspective has shifted from pessimistic (ex. something bad happens to me- it's my fault, the world is ending) to optimistic (ex.  something bad happens- I may have made a mistake, no big deal; It'll be okay and the world will keep spinning).  
In other words, my depression from just a few months ago has just about disappeared.  My anxiety still  likes to poke it's head out  a little more often, but it's not persistent.  My thoughts aren't going in circles and driving me mad. For the first time a few days ago I just sat (read: meditate) with my feelings of anxiety, the feeling of my heart beating fast and the tension in my head.  Once I let those feelings be felt, my head began to clear. Crazy, I know.  (I can't take the credit for all this...nearly all my instructors at Naropa have been preaching acceptance and compassion for the past month and a half.)
Without me pointing everything out, I hope you can start to see the amazing connection between the mind and body.  Spirituality comes into play too...I pray to Mother Nature a lot (which I realized while writing a paper for my Mindfulness class actually means I pray to myself a lot), but this blog post is long enough.  Simply stated, it is not a coincidence that once I started listening to my body (or forced to listen) that my mind began healing too (and vice versa).  I still don't know what my future of running will look like...but I've found peace in that too. 

I still love running, but I found myself with the ability to love myself without the label of "runner".  (I had a school assignment where a partner asked me "Who are you?" for 15 5 minutes, I was really searching1  In the end, it was a beautiful process.)  With that addiction broken, I have opened myself up for a whole new kind of adventure.

What I have found is this:  I am not a runner (label), but I am the expression of freedom the running gives me.


A few take away for my runner friends:

-Make sure you take time off each season.  I'd say at least two weeks off running, but a month might be even better.  During that time, don't replace running with heart pounding activities.  In other words, don't go right into spinning and HIT won't be doing yourself any favors!

-Have friends who are not runners, or even endurance athletes.  Personally, my grad school cohort has been a bit of a savior for me.

-If you find yourself out of running because of over-training and/or injury, consider therapy.  Most of us are quick to go to the PT or get a massage but forget about our mental health.  If you have identified as "runner" for years, not running can be a huge loss and leave you questioning "who am I?".  A good therapist can help you maneuver this new path.

-To my surprise, I found a handful of decent articles online when I Googled "chronic over-training syndrome".  They don't all have to do with running, but I still found them to be quite informative (and gets into the science a bit more).

I could write a lot more, but both Sandi and myself, as well as numerous writes and online articles, talk about general over-training so I will skip doing so here.

Finally, here are a few watches/reads I found interesting dealing with chronic injury and overtraining:

Anna Frost, coming back from burnout and injury in 2013:

Sandi, on her comeback from burnout and Achilles surgery:

A 2014 article by Geoff Roes, one of the main people runners think of when hearing "chronic over-training":

Tips and insight from several famous ultra-runners who have come back from injury:

Let your soul shine bright.
(Disclaimer: To let your soul truly shine, it might take some digging through all the "labels" you've buried yourself under.)



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