This month, millions of viewers tuned in to watch the New York City Marathon. They eagerly watched as elite, and amateur athletes alike took to the course. If it was their first time tuning in, they probably watched in awe as the massive crowd climbed the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge entering the city. As they should, it’s quite a site to behold.
I didn’t watch the race. I heard it was great. I heard who won, the celebs that ran for charity, all of it. But I didn’t watch. I couldn’t.
The race that should have been
Why didn’t I watch the 2015 NYC Marathon? Because I was supposed to run it. I was supposed to be there, freezing my butt off in a makeshift trash bag poncho on Staten Island. I was supposed to climb that same bridge, I was supposed to feel the burn in my calves from that last incline in Central Park, I was supposed to cross that finish line. That was my race, but I stayed home.
The spirit of the Five Burroughs
The NYC Marathon carries a particular mystique for me. It was the race that first captured my imagination and it’s the race that compelled me to lace up in the first place.
I still remember Shalane Flanagan making her marathon debut that day. She turned a lot of heads and for a good chunk of the race it looked like she would take first. I then watched in awe as the elite men stoically ran the course. The crowd was massive and yet still so encouraging. I had never seen something like that. Still, the elite men and women were un-phased. They came to compete, and it was time for them to go to work. ‘Wow,’ I thought. ‘I couldn’t imagine ever doing that.’
But then I watched intrigued as the amateurs started. The massive crowd of men and women all there to have fun and celebrate a sport they love. Suddenly, the whole thing seemed so attainable while being super scary at the same time.
Shalane ultimately took second place. It was the best finish for an American woman in twenty years at the New York City Marathon. Watching her run changed my life. Seeing the amateurs run made me realize that a ‘normal’ person could run a marathon. But watching her run with the skill, determination, and grace with which she handled that course captured my imagination in a way I hadn’t experienced in years if at all.
By the time Shalane crossed that finish line in Central Park, a new runner was born. He was this fat guy with a busted up back who couldn’t run more than 20 seconds without pain. But that guy was a runner now. That was for damn sure.
That day, I committed to running the New York City Marathon in two years. I had no clue what a lottery system was or that it was next to impossible to get a race entry the year you actually wanted it. I just knew I couldn’t currently run; I had been scared of running my whole life, and I was going to run the New York City Marathon. So that’s what I set out to do. I decided that, whether I got entry into NYC or not, I would be able to run a marathon by race day.
Fast forward and two years later, I found myself in Central Park, in the healthiest shape of my life. I was in NYC on race day ready to run 26.2 miles. I had achieved my goal; it was time to run my race and celebrate how I had changed my life.
There was a little bit of a problem, though. The Weitz Family wasn’t the only thing to hit New York that week. By now we all know about Hurricane Sandy and the devastating results. Among the many closures and cancelations that week, was the last-minute canceling of the marathon. Here I was in New York, ‘all dressed up’ with no race to run.
Not one to let a hurricane ruin two years of preparation, I still ran my marathon that day. My family cheered me on as I joined thousands of runners who decided to run an unofficial marathon on the original course in Central Park.
The cancelation eventually lead to a guaranteed entry in the 2015 marathon a few years later.
But my depression’s sidelined me ever since I ran that day in Central Park. And this past year has been nothing but false starts as I tried desperately to prepare for this year’s race. The whole year I never ran farther than two miles at a time. And really most days I just took anti-depressants and stayed inside. My anxiety and depression have just crushed me the last three years, and the result was sitting at home on race day. MY race day.
I’m pissed I wasn’t there. That was my race, my medal, my experience, my celebration. And it all went out the window.
The real cause for concern
I’ve said that depression and anxiety will take anything from you that you are not willing to fight to keep. This is proof. I didn’t fight hard enough. The race wasn’t big enough of a deal for me to overcome my depression. It couldn’t get me past my anxiety and out the door.
I wasn’t as upset about missing the race as I could have been, though. A lot of that’s due to answered prayers. (I later found out that, because my wife is amazing, she had friends and family praying for me the entire day so that I wouldn’t be too devastated. Just another item on the long list of ways that woman is a rock star.)
But there was more to it. You see, NYC can be another win for my depression. Whatever. What truly bothered me was that, on race day, I couldn’t have been further from wanting to run. Not race, run.
In five years, I had gone from wanting to challenge myself to run a marathon, to running a marathon, to quitting running, to almost committing suicide, to starting to rebuild my life, to not wanting ever to run again. That’s a fairly rough journey.
But I remembered that depression will take what isn’t nailed down, and so I reflected on my running. Was I done with it or was this just depression anxiety trying to steal something else from me?
I marinated on it and prayed about it. I even talked to my therapist about it. I wanted to really get an idea of what this was and what I may be leaving behind in closing the running chapter of my life. Again, was it depression or was it time to move on to something new?
My love-hate relationship with running
I thought about what running meant to me and why I liked it. The fact of the matter is that I’ve never liked running. That’s what I like about it. I enjoy the fact that I don’t enjoy running. The struggle, the mind over body that comes from endurance, the personal competition, all of it is a nice uncomfortable distraction from my depression.
I’m not depressed when I run because the screaming of my muscles drowns out the awful thoughts in my brain. It’s like a masochistic vacation for however long I can keep it going.
Upon deeper reflection, I remembered that running was even more of a blessing than just a harsh distraction. God’s always used running to help me understand the different things in my life. Running becomes an illustration I use, a lens, that allows me to see my world clearer.
When I come to a difficult point in a relationship, a project, or even my mental illness, I’ll remember a time when I was running and hit a similar challenge. Reflecting on how I managed to survive or even overcome that helps me understand the complexity of my current predicament and see it clearer.
So, when you see that I can gain wisdom and understanding when I run, then running carries a bit more weight than simply medals and destination races. With that light, I realized that I still needed to fight for this running thing.
I realized that I no longer needed to get back into running just for a race. I needed to run for my health, my sanity, and my continuing education (that wisdom). With that, I now understood there was more on the line.
Running is now something worth fighting for again. And that’s really the point of this post. Your mental illness will rob you of what matters most so fight for it tooth and nail and don’t ever give up. Running is now on my list of things I have to fight to preserve.
But how do I get back in the game? New York couldn’t do it for me.
An expensive, famous race is clearly not enough to move my butt out the door and run. Besides, my anxiety is so bad I can barely run next to a street so how would I have survived that crowd of runners on Staten Island?
If a race isn’t enough to motivate me to overcome this obstacle (my depression anxiety) then what is? I prayed about it and continued to reflect on it for a couple weeks.
Enter the Streak
Then, I read in Runner’s World about an annual streak where people run at least one mile per day from Thanksgiving to New Year. That was an intriguing concept to me. ‘Hmmm Is that something that could spark me up again?’ I thought about it for a few more days and then explored it further online. Turns out streaking is pretty common and people do it all year.
Right now doing a streak for an entire year seems a bit much but the RWRunStreak, from Thanksgiving to New Year, seems like a good challenge.
I like that streaking is immediate. I guess a race is too far off on the calendar for me these days. So I need something to pay off fairly soon and quite often to keep me motivated.
Second, while I’m sitting around hoping to train for a marathon, I’m just getting fatter and sadder. It’s that all or nothing perfectionist in me. I’m waiting for the ideal while doing nothing positive to drive me ultimately toward my goal. I should still choose to do anything positive instead of nothing.
Attempting a Running Streak is an action step that I can take NOW to better my health and to fight for something that is important to me at the same time.
No matter the duration, this streak is an attempt at falling in love with running again. This is how I’m going to try and keep running in my life when my mental health is trying to push it away.
So far it’s working. Since committing to starting the streak I’ve become more excited about running. I haven’t been this pumped to run since I ran NYC the first time. That’s a huge sign that I’m on the right track.
I already can’t wait for day one.
The Rules of the Streak
Beginning on Thanksgiving Day, I will attempt to run at least 1 mile per day until New Year’s Day. As my fitness (and boredom) grows, I can run farther if I want but I will probably stay conservative to ensure that I keep the streak going.
In the spirit with which I’m doing this, if I need to run-hike at any time I will, and that’s okay. The whole point is that I lace up, get out the door, and start running so if I have to run a bit and hike for a bit then whatever.
Each day I will be journaling my run on Instagram for accountability. You can follow me on Instagram to see how I’m doing. I’ll also be using the hashtag #SadRunnerStreak.
Additionally I’ll blog about milestone runs on Sad Runner so you can read about them and learn from my experiences. Lastly, I’ll log my runs via Nike+ and FitBit for distance tracking and accountability with friends.
I’m scared I won’t last, but I’m just going to keep trying. My goal is to hit at minimum a week. I’ve never done more than two days in a row before so the thought of seven is intimidating to me. But sometimes you have to be comfortable being scared. That’s how you can win the fight.
Let my running streak inspire you
Whether you run or not, I invite you to look in and see how I do. Let it inspire you to fight for whatever you don’t want to lose. That’s what this is. This isn’t just a challenge to see how long I go; it’s an attempt to fall back in love with a sport that gives me so much.
What is depression or anxiety taking from you? What are some creative ways you can nail it down? It may not be a streak. It may just be getting back into the swing of a good habit. It could be trying to reconnect with a friend you’re pushing away. Whatever it is, you have to fight for it and sometimes you have to come up with creative and seemingly crazy ways to keep it around.