Crushing KMs and 2016 goals

13697023_1045612325474873_3095487871918566861_nBlue Mountains, Ontario. All photos courtesy of The North Face.

A few weekends ago, I ran my first 50k ultramarathon – The North Face Endurance Challenge at Blue Mountains, Ontario. I had no idea what to expect going into it, beyond knowing that it was going to be a challenge. It turned out to be so much better than I imagined it would be.
Don’t get me wrong. It was hard. It was really fucking hard. But it was also beautiful and exhilarating and wonderful.
636050461481989480The thing that I have always loved about trail running versus road running is the variety. Instead of a regular and consistent gait, using the same muscles over and over, you are using your whole body to push you up hills, to skip over rocks and roots, to run down mountains. While the distance was a serious challenge, it was this variety in effort and landscape that ultimately kept me going. Over the 50k, there were some seriously steep rolling hills, and challenging forest switchbacks, but there were also beautiful expansive grassy meadows with a single, soft track running down the middle; easy, flat forest trails, with young spry trees forming a light-dappled tunnel of green overhead; and long-stretching lake and valley views.
At 26k, I hit a wall, and I was 100% certain that I was not going to finish. I arrived at the aid station thinking that I’d run further than I had, and felt so defeated to learn that I still had double the distance to go. I couldn’t fathom it.
I don’t know what kept me going at that point, but I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, moving forward. My mantras for the next 16k became “run when you can”, and “come on legs”. I hiked up the steeper hills, and every time I was tempted to keep walking, I would kick myself into gear, and repeat these two mantras to myself. I focused on the beauty of my surroundings, and the joy of being outside doing something that I love. I focused on the other runners I know, through friendships or through legend, and carried them with me. I focused on my own strength, and my will to get through this thing that I’d set out to finish.

636050460739805458Finding my happy place.

And then at some point it got easier. I rolled into the 42k aid station feeling light and energized, happy and free. It was the home stretch, and I ran it joyfully. Near the end of the course, there was one very long, very steep downhill. We’d run it once before early on, so I knew what to expect going into it; my knees and quads were screaming at me, but somehow it was easier the second time around knowing it was the last difficult challenge to overcome before a quick straightaway to the end. I’m sure the other runners around me thought that I was crazy, but halfway down, I let out a loud, “FUUUUUUCK THIS HIIIIIIIIIILLLL!!”, then painfully laughed my way to the bottom. I picked up pace, and sprinted in to the finish line. I don’t know that I have ever felt stronger and more sure and proud of myself. When I finished my first marathon, I was surrounded by a huge crew of people that I loved cheering me on, and it was such a struggle to make it to the end. And here I was, pushing myself to the end of this 50k trail race on nothing but my own will, with springy legs and a light heart.
The next day, it was hard to walk, but I couldn’t help but start the Google search for my next ultra, and think about how I can’t wait to do it all over again.

 

Mental health and community

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Photo by Academy of Lions

Thank god for community.

If you’ve read through a few of my blog posts, you probably know that I am a person who lives with a generalized anxiety disorder. And that every now and then, this is also coupled with depression.

Under usual circumstances, I am very careful about balancing my life so that I can mitigate the negative effects of these mental health issues. But over the winter, I was unemployed, and broke, I let my gym membership lapse, I got a month long severe sinus cold – which further interfered with seeing friends and physical activity – and I fell into a depression.

For me, and I’m sure for many people, my anxiety and depression manifest themselves as a complete withdrawal from the things that matter the most to me, and incredible amounts of insecurity and self doubt. From a logical standpoint, I know that the things that I am thinking about myself are irrational and untrue, but this doesn’t make them any easier to deal with.

When I’m in the depths of depression, every venture outside of my house feels like a farce. Every interaction with anyone who matters (whether friend or colleague) feels like I am putting on a one woman show of “someone who is ok”. And when I do let it slip that I am not coping all that well, I get so incredibly nervous that I am coming across as needy/incompetent/a mess, that I completely fumble my thoughts and words, so that I am met with confused head tilts, which only makes matters worse.

I wouldn’t consider myself spiritual, and I don’t believe in THE SECRET, but I have had enough experiences where “the universe” gives me exactly what I need, that I do believe in serendipity, and also the general goodness of the humans around me.

I was sitting at home yesterday thinking to myself, I NEED TO GET A REGULAR WORKOUT SCHEDULE AGAIN, OR MY MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES ARE GOING TO BURY ME. Then later that afternoon, I got an email letting me know that Academy of Lions would now be offering Community Classes; I immediately signed up for three this week. Just knowing that I would be having a solid workout in a gym that I really love, and that I would be able to access classes regularly even in my incredibly broke state, took such a burden off my shoulders. I went to class that afternoon, and a few minutes in, I could already feel the fog lifting. For me, really serious exercise is not an option – it is literally what keeps me alive.

Once I get working again on a regular rotation, I will be very happy to pay my monthly gym fee to go and work out. But while I am going through this transition, I am so incredibly thankful that community classes are a thing that exist, and that my community offers them.

So if you’re a gym owner, or yoga studio manager, or whatever, I know that it might seem counterintuitive to offer regular free classes when you could simply be registering paying clients, but the loyalty and positive word of mouth that you will garner from giving back will be well worth your while. And in the process, you might actually save someone’s life.