Fuel: Lessons From A Year Not Running. Part II: The Psyche

July 11, 2017

In my last article I chronicled what I learned about my body after a year off from running. This issue, I’m diving into the inner-workings of my psyche and how I managed my mind without running.

The Grey

The internal battle. The voices in my head. The rollercoaster of emotions. Even in my most stable of days I still experienced the grey. It’s not like I had all that much to be upset about. Sure I couldn’t run, but it’s not like it was a permanent thing. Nonetheless, I found much of my day filled with anxiety, frustration, and sadness. I could not get out of the dark grey fog that had engulfed me. I know that sounds totally ridiculous and I agree, but honestly it was a feeling I just couldn’t shake. As an introvert, the most important part of my day is my quiet time when I run. It’s where I can think and clear my head, and spend time with myself without talking. When I suddenly did not have that time to process my thoughts, a sandstorm of feelings and emotions circled through my head. No matter how hard I tried to calm down and sort through them, my thoughts would not leave me be. This needed to change. I didn’t want to mope through the entire year, so I made it a goal to get out of the grey.

Punching Demons in the Face

I started small, with barely tangible steps forward. I asked myself, “What would make you feel good today?” And to my surprise, there were actually a lot of things that made me feel satisfied, purposeful and happy. I found that doing things to help other people made me smile. And spending time watching my dog run around the woods made me smile. Smelling the flowers, watching the clouds, feeling the wind and sunshine on my skin – all those little things brought me joy. They were small moments and somewhat fleeting, but it was a start.

Of course there was still the problem with thoughts circling in my head. My first attempt was to create stillness in my body and mind, but it backfired and drove me further into madness. So instead, I sought to find a creative outlet that used my physical self to create something. I started with journaling, but found that words complicated my thoughts. I didn’t want to write them down, I just wanted to process my thoughts and quiet my mind. Next I tried creating art, in the form of painting. Even though I lack artistic skills, I found it didn’t actually matter what I created; it was more the act of doing. By placing my brush on the canvas and letting my mind wander and create, I found an acceptable substitute for running. Of course it wasn’t exactly the same feeling as a trail run, but for the short term it gave me an outlet. Take that, demons.

Stephanie cruising comfortably in 2013 at the Gorge Waterfalls 50K. Photo: Glenn Tachiyama Photography

 

Emergence

As the weeks turned into months and paintings filled my canvas, I found myself pleasantly content. I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but sometime over the summer I forgot that I was sad. I was actually enjoying myself. I honestly didn’t think that was possible for me without some form of physical activity each day. Yet, there it was. And it was glorious. I woke up and didn’t feel rushed with an agenda. Each day I made sure to carve out some time for myself to let my mind unravel. Whether that meant creating art, a slow walk with my dog, sitting in the sunshine, baking, or canoeing with my mom in the boundary waters, I found happiness in my everyday life. And once the cool, crisp air signaled the arrival of fall, I took my first running steps. A grin of joy spread across my already smiling face. I had my outlet back! But I didn’t really need it. It was a moment of freedom when I realized I wasn’t dependent on a single activity to create happiness and purpose in my life. Today, I’m thankful to have running back in my life, but I don’t have to rely on it for my happiness. I’m fortunate to have learned so much about my mind, and how to embrace the simple things that put a smile on my face. As I said in my last article, I’m thankful to have gone through all of this. An injury is never ideal but the life lessons learned can translate into a deeper sense of self, and better outlook on living life with gratitude.

 

About the Author

Stephanie Howe, Ph.D., is a nordic skier turned trail runner, and enjoys racing distances from 50K up to 100 miles. Stephanie splits her time between racing as an elite runner on The North Face team, and working as a coach and sports nutritionist. She recently completed a doctoral program in Nutrition & Exercise Physiology at Oregon State University. You can learn more about Stephanie on her blog at www.stephaniemariehowe.blogspot.com and about her coaching and nutrition at www.endurancebystephanie.com.

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