It’s been a while since my last post and a lot has transpired since then. Several racing goals where accomplished in 2016 while others fell to the wayside as I had to take a couple months off from running due to an injury. Life had its ups and downs as it does for us all. I continue to battle depression and anxiety with mostly positive results of late. Instead of going into more detail on the months that have passed since my last post I am going to write a bit about the future.
Going into 2017 I’ve set some lofty goals for myself by signing up for the following races. In April I will be running the Gorge Wateralls 100k. This was my first 100k race two years ago and although I did complete the race I hobbled several of the last miles to the finish. I feel I have unfinished business with this course. In May I will be running the Smith Rock Ascent 50k in my own backyard of Central Oregon. I look forward to racing another challenging 50k race with numerous local runners from my hometown of Bend. In July I hope to be racing in the Mt. Hood 50 mile race. Currently I am on the wait list to get. This will be my first time running this course near the iconic Mt. Hood. Lastly I hope to complete my first hundred mile race Pine to Palm in September. I had signed up for the race last year but a severe case of shin splints derailed those plans. I am stoked for what lies ahead.
As those of you who may have read some of my previous posts I am an individual who lives with some mental health problems. I suffer from anxiety, depression and suicidal ideations. This is an ongoing struggle with many up and down days, weeks and months. I found excercise and especially running has been very beneficial in combatting its negative effects. When I began running I didn’t find many sources available to assist me in my particular situation. As I’ve come forward in the past two years to start openly sharing my experiences I’ve found there are more and more runners and people in general who suffer similarly. In response I am going to create a website aimed at being a source of information and inspiration to others. I hope to also make it a place where others can share their experiences too. I’ll post more information once I get it online. The name of the site will be RAADS standing for Run Against Anxiety Depression and Suicide. Stay tuned for that and happy trails to you all.
Elite runner Adriana Nelson was out for an easy 4-mile run on Thursday evening in Folsom, Calif., when she came across a man she sensed
Source: Elite Marathoner Prevents Apparent Suicide Attempt During Run
I along with some 40 million other adults in the U.S. Suffer from anxiety and depression. (Source: National Institute of Mental Health) It’s a debilitating illness that has no easy answers or solutions. Just a constant battle in which I at times feel I am either winning or losing. But whether I happen to be on one side of the spectrum or the other or somewhere in between I know it’s ever flowing and changing. When I’m doing well, feeling generally good, you know a happy person, I tend to forget that this stasis is only temporary. Sooner or later it will start to go the other direction. And when I am at the other end, suffering a severe bout of the illness it feels like it’s going on forever. Over the years with the help of others I’ve developed coping mechanisms that I try to employ and help me along these turbulent seas. About six years ago I realized exercise was quite beneficial. It helped lesson the depressive episodes, made anxiety a bit less severe and in general helped me cope better. I soon turned to running regularly as this was my favorite form of exercise. Doing something I enjoy helps make it more likely that I’ll stick to it at a regular basis for the long term and thus be beneficial to my well being.
But today I struggle. I struggle to get myself outside for a run. In fact it’s the third day I haven’t run or done some excercise and during the last two weeks I’ve not been very consistent. I currently find myself in a place where my mental illness is getting the better of me and this makes everything in life more challenging. Work, family, daily chores and tasks and even going out for a normally pleasurable run all become more difficult to accomplish and deal with. This includes doing things to help myself through this current upsurge in depression and anxiety. So here I sit wanting to be better but feeling helpless in doing anything about it. I share this with you because the majority of the population does not suffer from this mental illness and yet some 18% of you out there are in the same boat as I. So to that 18% of you I say if you are in a bad state right now please hang in there and cut yourself some slack. You are not alone and you can get out to the other side in time. To a place where you are not feeling so overwhelmed and where life becomes more tolerable and even pleasant again. For those of you who don’t fight this illness please be considerate to those who do. It’s a hard illness to comprehend if you yourself don’t suffer with it. It’s important to give support to those that do. Even if you think you don’t know anyone who suffers this mental illness in reality you probably do and definitely come in contact with them. To put it into a runners perspective in Western States there are 369 participants in that 100 mile race. This means some 66 of those runners suffer from anxiety and depression. So in all likelyhood you’d be rubbing shoulders with, pass or are being passed at some point with a runner with anxiety and depression. So many of us suffer and it needs to become more visible and accepted by the general public. Too many of us suffer in silence and that needs to change. Although I really don’t want to I feel myself needing to go for a run. See you on the trail.
As I begin running the trail quickly begins to slope upwards. My footsteps are silent as I travel the forest path beneath the canopy of trees. Within minutes my heart is racing from the effort. In the first mile I gain 453 feet in elevation but this is just the beginning. The trail dips and I run hard, but in control as my pace speeds up and slows as the terrain dictates. The forest gives way to allow glimpses of some of the surrounding mountains which fills me with joy. My pace quickens eager with anticipation. After several miles the forest thins out to give me full view of my destination. The mountains’ jagged peaks lift skyward, sharp, jagged edges in the blue sky.
The trail once again turns back into the forest and again goes upwards. Ever upwards. I drink greedily as I try to quench my parched mouth and brush the dripping sweat away from eyes and face. I don’t have to go this fast but the effort seems right for a place like this. Being in special places in the natural world should come with effort and pain. Helps me appreciate the astounding beauty all the more. The hard effort also helps dissipate my own inner pain. With every step, every mile ,every foot of elevation gain my spirit is lifted higher and higher and the healing within intensifies. The trail is open now as the trees fall away. Still it rises even steeper now and I slow to a fast hike.
Bent over I lean into the hill with hands on my thighs. I feel them burn with fatigue as I try to keep up the pace. After some six miles I reach my destination. My effort rewards me with a cathedral created by nature. As the setting sun shines its light down between those jagged peaks and spires I hear the sound of the ice cold mountain lake lapping against the rocky shore.
This soothes me and my heart beats in rhythm with the water. Calm and slow now I walk along the shoreline. I find a rock and sit to try and take it all in. I can feel the wind bite my face and the mountain casts its shadow across the landscape. I am just a fleeting visitor here. As I leave I turn for one last look, one last listen to the stillness of this mountain scene.
I draw in one more breath from this rejuvenating place before heading back down the trail. I let gravity pull me. Down the steep trail letting go of fears and inhibitions. I feel like myself again as I gain more and more speed. I let the terrain dictate my pace and feel at peace once again.
September 2015 is suicide prevention month and I thought this is a good opportunity to touch upon the topic of mental health. I got involved with running 6 years ago without any intention of doing ultra marathons. My main reason was for the mental health benefits it provides. Let me back track a bit. Eight years ago I began coming down with some physical symptoms that no doctor seemed to have an answer for. I had a battery of tests done over twelve months, saw two Mds, a cardiologist and neurosurgeon and still had no definitive explanation. It was at this time my current Md suggested I might want to see a mental health specialist. After another twelve months of denial (as I thought this could not be the answer) I finally was at my wits end and asked for some referrals. I was soon at a mental health professionals office and was diagnosed to be suffering from anxiety and depression.
Over time I found that in addition to therapy and medication there were other things I could do to help myself. The biggest aid for me was exercise. It was not a cure for my health issues but it has helped immensely. In recent years there has been more and more evidence showing how excercise can help mental health. 13 Mental Health Benefits Of Excercise. As running was my favorite form of exercise I soon turned to trying to run on a regular basis. For it to be of greatest benefit for me I found I needed to run regularly so I began to sign up for races. Having these events on the calendar motivated me to get my butt out the door to train. I started out with one or two races a year but found myself taking weeks and even months off at a time with almost no training after the races and as my running dipped so did my mental health. So I added more races onto the calendar and increased the length and difficulty of the races. In time this led me into running ultra marathons. In the process I’ve made new friends, had longer periods of good mental health and get a reminder that I was capable of much more then I realized. I share this with you today because you or likely some you know also suffers from depression and/or anxiety as I do and they might not be aware of the benefits exercise can be to them. Along with helping improve my mood and reduce stress running has given me more confidence and better self esteem. I also found the courage to publicly speak about this for the first time after being inspired by two other well known ultra marathoners: Rob Krar and Nicky Kimball. In a unique video called Depressions Rob Krar talks about depression and its relationship to him and his running. I was fortunate to see the movie Finding Traction with Nikki Kimball in attendance to talk and take questions afterwards. She spoke a bit about her depression and I had the opportunity to personally thank her for coming out and sharing her personal life with others. I also had a chance encounter with another individual after one of my 100k races this year. Although he could no longer run ultras because of some physical limitations he still employed exercise in other forms to help himself with his mental health too. Making these connections with other runners I suddenly felt for the first time not so alone in my problems. There are others out there very much like myself, doing the same things and finding running to be a huge benefit to themselves. And these people have the courage to speak out about this to total strangers has spurred me on to do the same.