Last weekend I ran the Sonofa Gunofa race put on by Nova Scotia Trail Runners at Five Islands Provincial Park. The first thing I have to say about this is that it is such a great event. Race directors Jodi and Karine put on a well run and super fun event. It is such and open and supporting atmosphere, and best of all they even bring their pup Ella to cheer everyone on (she is the sweetest!). The event is approachable for people of all abilities whether it is your first trail run or you are a seasoned veteran.
This was my second year running at this event. Last year was my first trail race ever, and it was so much fun. This year was just as good of a time.
I completed 4 of the 5.7k loops, the last one I did not finish in under the hour time limit. There was a lot of elevation and I was not properly trained to keep up that speed, it was a little outside of my comfort zone. When I realized on the last lap there was no way I was going to make the cutoff time I had a little cry on the trail and a mini pity party, then I got honest with myself.
I realized that I have nearly always achieved my goals, and honestly I achieved them without a lot of work. Now that means two things, and one of them is not that I do not work hard. One is that I did not set hard enough goals, and two that I didn’t learn to work hard and consistently enough for what I want.
Running is a fun hobby for me, and I can go out and run 20k or so on the weekend in the woods for fun no problem. I however do not do it very fast, and don’t go much over that distance. I happen to be fit enough from spurts of training and playing over the last years that I have a base level of fitness allow me to go out and do long weekend trail runs, climb our baby sized east coast mountains regularly and pretty much anything else I want for fun. Up until this weekend I thought I was doing great!
Somehow I came up with the hair brained idea that I could do 8 loops and complete my first marathon distance run. Why not, it’s a fun course that you have so many people doing exactly the same thing with you. And hey, I can go out and throw down 20k no problem so this should be a blast. Difficult maybe, but doable. The problem was the time limit, 5.6k an hour is so much faster than I usually run on trails. I literally couldn’t keep it up for that long. I’m certain that I could go the 45.6k I wanted if I had more than 8 hours to do it. I already know I can be on my feet with no problem for 7.5 hours. I did that climbing a mountain 3 weeks ago, and surely 8 or 9 won’t be a problem.
This pretty much sums up my approach to everything I tackle in life. I’m sure I can do it, whatever it is. A little bit of grit, hard work and determination go along way. Until they don’t. You can push yourself surprisingly far when you put your mind to it, but that doesn’t mean you are doing it right, or smart, or in a healthy way.
The time cutoff at the race taught me a valuable lesson. The quality of my running counts a lot. It takes time to build up the cardiovascular system so you can go out and run that in an appropriate heart rate zone. It takes consistent time on your feet to strengthen your muscular skeletal system to be able to handle a faster pace for a longer time. I understand the theory of training and I know I’m not an exception to the rules. Apparently I need to be slapped in the head to really and truly understand. If you read my last post where I talk about my anti-inflammatory remedy you will see a similar theme, I need to by smacked in the head to get it.
I also learned the importance of understanding the goal you are reaching for. I realized as early as when I had my cry on the trail that a 1 hour 5.7k with 200 meters of climbing was a stretch goal for me for the first loop, never mind 7 more. I didn’t really understand what I had set out to do that day when I lined up at 9am, I just had faith that if I worked hard enough I would get there.
Interestingly, when I reflect on that race experience and apply some of those insights to my career I see myself approaching so many situations the same way. I have always been great (to be clear, not just good but great) at just putting my head down and pushing through to the next milestone. This worked well with the project based nature of my job because I got a project and went at it like a dog with a bone until it was done. Then I would repeat it with the next one. I could always be counted on to get the job done one way or another. Then I would just start on the next one and repeat, and in reality have multiple of these cycles going on at once.
The reality of that approach is that I wore myself out. I wore myself down both physically and then mentally, because the two are connected. I went on until the stress was so much I made myself sick. I didn’t see the signs myself along the way, and it was a long way on the road to healing before I started to understand what happened.
During the race I knew I was going to struggle. The first loop was so fun, and the second was still fun but noticeably difficult. My sprits were high still, but I had this nagging knowledge that I was not going to be able to do what I had set out to do that day. On the third loop I was determined to not give up, but my body wouldn’t shut up and follow instructions. It was screaming at me that I was being an idiot, and it was right. I still started the fourth loop, and to my credit (and in line with how I approach everything) I did take a new approach to that one, but it didn’t work either. I didn’t make the cutoff. My legs were not strong enough to keep going.
At work I never missed a goal. I met my metrics consistently project after project and year after year. I delivered on time and on budget. If a project would finish a bit below target, I would push hard on another to make it balance out. If it was behind schedule I would push and work harder to pull the proverbial rabbit out of the hat so it finished on time. I always pushed through.
I pushed through until my body told me I couldn’t any more. But it didn’t do it by my legs buckling when I walked down a hill, that would have been too easy. It told me by not being able to sleep, not being excited for the day when I woke up in the morning, by crying (or yelling) at the drop of a hat and sometimes not being able to stop. I could cry at something so simple as someone opening my office door and asking how I was doing, that happened once. It told my by shutting down when my stress level got too high. I actually started getting light headed and confused and could not think straight. That is how my body told me it had enough. I don’t know how it feels for other people, but this is how it felt for me. Until one day I was so confused and disconnected I knew something had to be wrong, but I had no idea what was going on with me. Luckily I went to my doctor and got the help I needed and started to take care of myself so I could get healthy again. It has been a long road, but one I am very glad I have traveled.
I have learned a lot over the last 4 years. I have learned what it feels like to be happy, what it feels like to be in control, what it feels like to make healthy choices and to build lasting relationships. I have learned what an active lifestyle can do for your health, both physically and mentally. And this weekend I learned that setting huge goals and pursuing them with everything you have will help you grow as a person. It will help you address challenges that are unrelated to the specific task at hand, and you will learn so much about yourself in the process.
Next year I will do that race again, and I will finish 8 loops smiling and feeling like I can keep going. I will do that because I will put in the work. I will take my time and earn my gains. I will not do it by pushing so hard and relentlessly that I get to the end, because I know now that won’t work. But gently, by putting in the time and enjoying the journey and not always being single-mindedly concerned about the destination.
It took me lining up at the start line of a race I had a huge goal for and not being able to finish to truly understand my journey with mental health. And it has taken me four years to tell any part of this story to more than a select few people. We all need to talk about mental health more. There are so many people out there who are suffering silently, or who maybe don’t even know they are suffering because we just don’t understand the symptoms or how to get help.
We also don’t talk about how important being physically active is in the context of how much it can affect your mental health.
Let’s all start talking more, I know I will be.
I shouldn’t fail to mention….
One of the main drivers behind what we are doing with New Leaf Endurance is to help people to understand the significant impact that diet and moving has on your whole life and to provide support to people working to grow. Yes, we are primarily running coaches. But we have a wholistic approach to training, and as a certified Health and Wellness Coach I bring the theory of wellness coaching to all of our clients. If you work with us we do not just provide you with a training plan. We work with you to understand where you are in your journey and to meet you where you are and support you towards your goals both on and off the road/trail.