netflix and chills

My fickle immune system has been at it again. I had started feeling really great physically (finally!) and began dipping my toe into ramping things up to a moderate level- playing with pace, longer runs, more frequent workouts. I ended my “base” training cycle with 6 easy miles last Saturday, excited and mentally ready for the more challenging grind of half marathon training, as I have several races lined up this Spring/ early Summer.

Then Sunday something felt really off. Did I forget to take my meds? I have been on antidepressants for years and missing a dose or two can seriously knock me sideways. I couldn’t tell but I took my pills for the day and headed to the gym for a strength workout and some easy cross training.

When I got home, I was hit with a tidal wave of tired.

Like, so, so tired.

I laid down on the couch for a few hours before moving to the bedroom for another several hours. Aside from meal prepping, I don’t think I was vertical again for the rest of the day. I felt like I had the flu- but without all the other symptoms except for some body aches and extreme exhaustion.

Monday was more of the same, and it was freaking me out. I decided to skip my workout later that night and fought back tears because I didn’t feel right and I just didn’t know why.

Around 6 that night, it all became clear: congestion, ear pressure, swollen throat, sneezing all ascended upon me so fast I barely had time to process what was happening before I was miserably lying in bed, in complete disbelief that not only was I sick again, but this was going to be ANOTHER bad one. Why, cruel universe, why?

For the next couple of days, I was sentenced to my bed, unable to move. I couldn’t have worked from home if I tried. Life was all tissues and snot and You on Netflix. (Which was good! I think. I did have a fever.)

Once I was upright again, half-functioning, and back to work, I experienced a lot of training envy. I saw all my Instagram friends crushing workouts and I wanted to be crushing it too.

“I could run.” I would assert myself

“No, Sam, you can’t. You had a 103 fever yesterday. Shut the fuck up.”

This heated argument went on inside my head Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. I lost a full week of training, but I have to keep telling myself that losing a week’s worth of fitness is better than winding up with walking pneumonia for the better part of a month. I’m so stupidly jealous of people who get these mild colds and sniffles and can hammer through a workout in spite of feeling run down. I have never, ever been able to do this with success.

Which brings me to an important point- it is so important to listen to your own body. Yes, people say this all the time and despite this conventional wisdom, very few of us actually do it. We are overcome with training anxiety, fear of losing the fruits of our labor, of losing strength, losing our athletic mojo. I see you out there- back at it minutes after your fever just broke. Maybe you are a genetic powerhouse. Maybe you can do it and not relapse. The more power to you! But it is hard to watch you out there, still crushing it when the rest of us are soaking our beds with sweat as our fevers spike, break, and spike all over again forever and ever for days.

Anyway, things are on the mend- I did my first workout last night. A tempo run was planned but my energy dipped hard late in the day so I did the ol’ switch-a-roo with the training schedule and did my strength workout followed by some easy cardio. Tonight will be attempt #2 at Tempo. Wish me luck!

don’t call it a comeback

No really, don’t.

I don’t know what the hell to call whatever is happening to my body, but for the first time in probably my whole life, I don’t seem to be bouncing back with incredible ease, which has been the one saving grace through a lifetime of tragedies, setbacks, and loss. I have the resilience gene.

Or at least, I did. And maybe I still do, but this “comeback” to running and my once super-fit life has been such a slow, painful climb that it’s allowing much larger amounts of fear and self-doubt to creep into my already frustrated thoughts. If I was really honest, I’d say I was angry. So in the spirit of going into 2019, a year ripe with lofty goals I have set for myself, with the best chance of achieving those goals, I need to lay it all out on the table. I’m fucking mad.

And despite dealing with some shade of anxiety or depression, sometimes both, almost daily, for 2/3 of my life, I have usually managed to sew threads of a positivity into the things I do, my thoughts, my interactions.

I like myself. I am a glass half-full person. I love early mornings and the sound of the rain and maintain a sense of Zen even when I am sitting on the Long Island Expressway in bumper to bumper traffic because someone pulled over to use their cellphone and everyone just had to look. I’m completely annoying that way. It’s who I am.

And it’s that part of me that is so afraid to admit that I’m having such a hard time seeing the good in what is happening to me, this extra challenge that life is handing me. Who is this person who can’t look at this as an opportunity to change course and try harder? I don’t know her. And I don’t like her. I dislike her so much that I also have to admit I am welling up with tears as I write this.

Some say you have to fail to move forward. Hell, I do. I say that all the time. I’ve written entire essays on getting comfortable with failure because it’s truly been the key to my success in my professional life. But standing at the intersection of weight gain, injury, illness, and a chaotic holiday season, I’m feeling lost. I am having a hard time, and I need to get out of my own way.

I did not run today. The fire inside me that’s still there, just dimmer right now, whispers “you mean you didn’t run yet today.” And I agree with her, and I probably will run, but at this moment, I am sad that this has all gotten to me the way it has.

And in spite of my emotions and a body that so far, has fought me with a fierceness I was honestly not expecting, I am going to keep showing up until I find my rhythm again. I have no other choice.

the other 4-letter word

I give infinite credit to runners who can seemingly move their bodies into gazelle-like gallops day after day, year after year, at any time, under any condition, no matter what physical stress is ailing them. Those run-streakers you see on Instagram that are hash-tagging Day #846,435,3537 are simply incredible to me. You are beautiful genetic freaks of nature, and I bow down to your super-human abilities. 

I have not been blessed with a “runner’s body.” At least, not a long distance runner’s body: Instead of long and lean, I am short and stocky; thick with dense muscle and built for quick bursts of speed, jumping high onto stacked boxes, and dead-lifting bars piled with heavy weight. But my spirit is all Runner, and I have pushed this body year after year through long distances against its will. And like any relationship spanning 20-something years, I have loved it, hated it, and loved it all over again. 

My immune system is a fortress of strength for 10 months out of the year. But every year, right around Thanksgiving, under the stress of the approaching holidays, a month of heavy travel in October, and the abundance of social gatherings to indulge in, that fortress very literally crumbles to dust and I can spend up to 2 months piecing myself back together. So this year, when I got sick, I took off my Saucony’s, put on my slippers, and obediently climbed into bed and did not move until it was safe.

Ok, not exactly true.

I cried, I stressed, I poured over Instagram getting serious FOMO watching runners complete blissful 3, 5, 10, 15 mile runs. I asked for feedback and help for reassurance that I was not just being a wimp, that I was doing the right thing sacrificing fitness in order for my body to heal. Why is Rest such a stressful thing for many runners? We joke that it is a 4-letter word, but seriously- why is something that is so good for us when it is needed make us feel so guilty?

For me, the roots of this stress are somewhat deep. I have gone through two major depressive episodes throughout my adult life which made it difficult to motivate myself into personal hygiene, no less physical exercise. During this last bout, I gained over 40 lbs. Getting back into a fitness routine of any kind, running or otherwise, was extremely hard. I was heavy, out of shape, and frustrated that I had ever let it get so bad. It’s taken over 2 years to come back to a steady routine, and now that I have the life back I so desperately wanted, I’m terrified of falling off the wagon again. 

In my mind, I know the rest itself is not failure, but it’s the not getting back up once I am well enough that is. And knowing exactly when that is can be a challenge. 

I leaped from my bed this morning like a child on Christmas morning, wide-eyed and anxious to see if Santa knew what a good girl I’d been all year. After 10 days of dutiful rest and copious amounts of forced extra sleep, I had finally made the decision last night to that I was going to dip a careful toe in the running pond and see what happened. 

And like any good runner, I was prepared for all the conditions.

  • I dressed the part, wore all my favorite winter running things: Teal REI shell, cozy grey cowl neck mid-layer from Reebok, North Face thermal tights (Black, of course. Because slimming), Balega socks, fully charged Garmin. 
  • I stretched all the stretches.
  • I prepped i.e. blew my nose for about 15 minutes straight to ensure proper breathing. Being sick is so gross.
  • I knew I wasn’t going to be running long, so I defaulted to the standard “Favorites Mix” on Apple music that refreshes every Tuesday. 
  • Pet the cats. Kiss the boyfriend. Out the door. So ready!!!

Guys, it was hard!

I knew it wasn’t going to be easy- I had done my best to maintain some strength doing body weight exercises, core work, and some yoga poses daily but I was very aware that my breathing was going to be compromised. And was it ever! I found myself having to alternate between nostrils and my mouth to get breaths. I was sweating almost immediately. I couldn’t get lost in it like I wanted to because I had to focus on the logistics. 

It was one of the longest miles I have ever run, but it was an important mile for me mentally. I broke the seal. I am back. And I feel really awesome and immediately less sick than I did before I ran, because that run confirmed that the rest was really rest and not the early stages of giving up. 

Tomorrow my plan is to do some easy cross-training, maybe the elliptical or the bike and some light weights and then another short go at running the next day. One day at a time, right?

a case for structure

On my run this morning my mind started to wander, as it often does when Apple Radio serves up too many new-agey indie rock songs in a row and the sun is nowhere close to being up, and out of nowhere I thought of my old friend Amy and a cute little exchange we had during the short time we were together as freshman at college in upstate New York. Her beau at the time was a year her junior and about a 4-hour bus ride away, and like many young relationships things between them were a bit confused and scattered and she was passionately proclaiming to me just how she was going to fix it:

“I want to do something really spontaneous! After class on Friday, I am going buy a bus ticket, get on that bus, and rush straight home to him and tell him exactly how I feel!”

“So, you’re planning to be spontaneous?”

“Yes.”

And I laughed. Both back then, in that adorable moment and this morning like a complete crazy person through the streets of Long Island by myself.

And then it got me thinking about how well-intentioned I can be about just riding the preverbial wave of life where it takes me and how that is so, so, so much easier said than done.

With the new year approaching and a few races on the calendar, this little run streak has had me thinking about how I will prepare for those races. Unfortunately for me, this little wrinkle of a thought has morphed into a full-scale training plan, complete with meal plan and cross-training schedule. I have a very hard time visualizing a goal when I don’t have a plan in place for how to get there, and at times this level of planning mimics what I imagine to be some kind of fitness-focused mania.  But without this structure, without this discipline, I too often forego the end goal altogether, which is to be a healthy and vibrant person.

I have learned a good deal of important things about myself in the last 5 years. I started 2014 at the very height of my health and fitness,and then by 2016 I found myself, as Hemingway once said so succinctly “gradually, then suddenly” plummeting into a depressive episode so severe that I just stopped caring about myself altogether. I gained 40 lbs during this time from all the excess of drinking and eating and stress and the absence of sleep,exercise, and self-care.  The Hot Mess Express, coming through! And the last year has been a slow, steady climb out of that hole and back to feeling more like myself. I still have a long way to go. But all of these positive changes have been fueled by structure.

I am not an organized person. This is actually too kind- I am a complete slob and probably the least motivated person on the planet. But when I am on my game, you would never know it (unless I let you into my closet, because you’d totally pick up on the slob thing. But not the rest.) I have learned my most important lessons about life and about myself by leaning into my internal hunger for disorder, fucking up, and then figuring out how I could trick myself into not fucking up that particular way again. I have developed some very interesting tools over the years, and when it comes to taking care of myself, the only way I avoid failure is by creating a detailed plan, complete with escape clauses that allow for life to happen, and then showing up everyday to execute that plan.

Do I wish I was the type of person who could just live life intuitively? Eat when they were hungry?  Run without a watch? Hell yes! But that is not who I am. Left to my own devices, my penchant for chaos and complete Type-B personality lands me face deep in a burrito bowl and 9 snoozes on my morning alarm. Because I’ve never met a cannoli I didn’t like and anxiety brands me with a scarlet “A” every day of my existence I don’t get to just ride the fucking wave, I need a cruise ship and a scheduled list of activities at every port of call or bad things happen.

So as funny as I thought it was back then that my sweet friend Amy was planning to be spontaneous, I realize now she was onto something. That planning thing? It saves me. 

Here was this mornings playlist!

  • Binary Mind, Ra Ra Riot
  • Little Secrets, Passion Pit
  • Burials, Dirty Heads
  • Remember When, The Black Keys
  • Audience of One, Cold War Kids
  • Sweet Disposition, The Temper Trap
  • Lay It On Me, Vance Joy
  • What You Know, Two Door Cinema Club
  • I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor, Arctic Monkeys

And here are some some throwbacks to my younger fit-life: