It's been a few months since I wrote a blog post or released a podcast episode. Since my 100 mile race in June, my running has been one long slow taper into going out whenever I feel like it and not training for anything. I realize now the time, energy and focus I put into my race took a lot out of me which when compared to my last post, Questioning Burn Out, seems totally contradictory.
Although I probably could have pushed through and done another fall 100 mile race, I simply did not have the inclination to do so. I was enjoying the feeling of not having to train, of deciding to spend my time doing other things. Ultrarunning became a huge part of my identity since I took it on in 2015. It gave me so much I didn't expect like community and the opportunity to break self-imposed limitations both in the running and in other areas of my life.
I started to question who I was underneath this identify. Would I still have friends and social opportunities if I stopped training? What was I doing it for when my body hurt every time I went out the door? I started running a whole lot less. The recovery period from my June 100 miler basically lasted until the end of November. Having put on winter fat for hibernation, I now find myself at the point where I don't want to simply curl up in my cave and on an unseasonably warm run a week ago, I actually felt the joy of being outside as the sun set. My body didn't hurt one bit. It was just me, the trees, the forest, the creek and the sky at dusk. Yay!
Since then, I've found my mojo to get out there and start building back my leg strength by doing hill training. For the first time in months, I joined some friends on a 20 km trail run this past Saturday. Yes, my body hurt as much as it did after 50k training runs earlier in the year, but it was good to be out. Challenge is necessary when one wants to regain one's fitness. Plus, I would be worse off at upcoming holiday social runs if I didn't spread the suffering out beforehand.
Back to the podcast, as mentioned, it has been months since I released an episode. Back in September, after releasing my last episode, I read a book which should have been the perfect manual for those who choose to take the road less traveled. I had a lot of expectation around it. The title was perfect and a friend loaned it to me. He said it was very important to him during a time in his life when he was taking on indomitable forces. He had things underlined and written in the margins. It was all about following the call to adventure and forging your unique path. I was well into it when another friend mentioned she knew the author and and could introduce us if I wanted to interview him. I was over the moon!
I spent the weekend finishing the book so that I could know it in it's entirety before being introduced to the author. The first part was bang on, but then he said something which totally didn't fit the spirit of what I knew about the road, something formulaic and fear-based which didn't jive at all. All the interest and enthusiasm I had to interview him drained right out of me. The disappointment flooded me as I entered into a no man's land - I was simply not inspired to interview anybody at all.
It's also probably worth mentioning that I have been to more funerals/celebrations of life this year than any other. I'm not saying that the lack of podcasting was a direct result, but it did make me question what really matters and what I want to do. I knew that I didn't simply wanted to fill the already overfilled virtual world with more content and that if I was to interview somebody, I had to really want to do it, not because it made sense mentally, but because I knew I would enjoy it and that it would be meaningful for others too.
In October, I was busy producing a video to honour a philanthropist. After that project ended, I thought I'd try to keep the ball rolling with my production work. I set up a meeting which by all outside measures should have been productive and inspiring. However, much like the experience with the book, I was completely deflated. Hell, truth told, I felt so down I barely got off the couch for a few days. The one good thing that came out of it was that I had an idea of somebody I'd like to interview, somebody I'd talked about during that meeting.
When I got home I reached out to this person and he said, yes! He was so positive, upbeat and kind that it was balm to the wound that opened during the meeting. That interview was scheduled for the end of December. However, it still being October, I wondered about November. Maybe I would interview somebody else before then? But who? No lightning bolts of inspiration struck. That is, not until the end of November.
I was heading out the door for a run, my mind wandering and reflecting on the ever present question about what do to with the podcast. Shutting it down didn't feel right so I simply shrugged my shoulders and continued on. I pressed play on Slade Roberson's Shift Your Spirits, 5 Self-Help Books I don't Hate. Coincidentally, in the introduction of this podcast episode, Slade shared a story about asking for and receiving guidance, getting unanswered questions answered. He talked about how he didn't know if he should take an editing workshop, how he asked for guidance and the resulting signs and circumstances that helped him decide. It was a beautiful and simple story. Despite feeling rather disconnected from guidance, I felt like I was getting some nevertheless. Then he mentioned, that he was available to be interviewed on other people's podcast. BINGO!
When Slade interviewed me earlier this year, I knew I wanted to interview him one day too. He's a really cool guy and besides being a great storyteller, he's the type of person you simply want to sit down with in a café and chat. I knew it would be fun to interview him and that he'd have a lot of great things to share about the road less traveled. So, there was the answer - fun interview and meaningful content - both checked. When I got back from my run, I messaged him and he said, yes.
I completed the interview last week and have been putting it together, but as I wrote the shownotes for part 1 realized that the back story behind it's creation was an open invitation to write a blog post. So, here it is.
I'm not so sure I was feeling burn out as much as asking myself what it is I really want to do, what gives me joy and feels purposeful i.e. what do I do when I take "should" out of the equation? Two new podcast episodes came out of asking those questions. Hope you will enjoy listening to them as much as I enjoyed creating it.
If you're subscribed to the podcast in iTunes or another app, you'll receive notice as soon as it's published which is hopefully in the next day or two, as long as I don't feel I need to take another impromptu step (like this blog post) before it's release. *wink*
Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen - Ralph Waldo Emerson
One such trick is repetitive thinking about how exhausted, tired or overwhelmed you feel. Taking a break, resting, and relaxing in our fast-paced, often overwhelming modern life seems like a smart idea, doesn't it? After all, how many times have you been told or told yourself you simply need to get away from it all?
In the personal development world, we are often reminded to slow down, tune in and deeply listen to our bodies. Thus, this seemingly sage advice can be oh so insidiously used by the mind to simply STOP you in your tracks when the going gets tough.
What if the mind is creating the thoughts and feelings of overwhelm simply because it doesn't want you to go beyond what it recognizes as safe and comfortable?
The idea of "getting away from it all" goes hand in hand with the reptilian brain's run and hide reflex. Often when one has put a lot of time and effort into something that seems far fetched, this reflex can kick in. It can be oh so tempting to hide under the guise of self-love. However, taking a break in the interest of self-love may simply mask a lack of commitment and fear of the unknown.
You may start to focus on how burnt out you are, how stressed, how beneficial a reprieve would be, etc. (In honesty, my mind started to wander in this direction while writing this blog post) While all these thoughts may have their physical manifestations, what I have learned through ultrarunning is that your mind is powerful tool and the body will follow the course of your thoughts. When going beyond where you have gone before, it then becomes very important to question the stories you are telling yourself. Perhaps, the thing you really need to do is keep going!
Quitting in the interest of rest, recuperation, being kind to yourself, self-respect, self-love, etc. can be a persuasive argument and is one to tease apart carefully. For example, it may be worth asking yourself, "What if I am simply approaching a decision point, one in which I fully commit to my goal and am willing to do whatever it takes to get there?"
Giving up for the sake of seemingly valid reasons can also happen when one is on the verge of breaking through to a whole new level of experience. Before you quit, ask yourself if you are willing to go through all the steps you've made another time or if it makes more sense to stay with it.
I'm not suggesting we all become mindless workaholics ignoring the signals of our bodies on a consistent basis while soothing ourselves with addictions such as over-eating, drinking alcohol, playing video games for hours or dare I say even so called healthy ones such as running. (Did I actually write that?)
I am also not saying that rest and relaxation is unimportant, but maybe the timing of when you chose to rest and relax will feel even more sweet when you have pushed yourself beyond where you thought you could go. I know that's what happened to me in my 100 miler. I don't think I've ever slept as hard or as soundly as I did the afternoon after I finished it. It felt so so good to bob around in the swimming pool at the hotel the next day. I knew that the years I'd put into running and the 6 months of intensive training for this particular race culminated in crossing the finish line.
"Every journey begins with a single step." - This old adage recurs in my mind lately as the date of my my first 100 mile running race approaches in June. I tell people about it and often hear things like, "100 miles? Heck, I don't even drive that far!"
Then, after the shock wears off, the curiosity sets in and they ask things like, "How often do you train? Do you actually run the entire time in a race like that? How long would something like this actually take?"
Those are the questions from the people who don't run ultras. Then, amongst ultrarunning friends, this is a baby step, especially among the veteran ultrarunners who do things like run around on a track for 6 days in a row all day long or have run thirty 100 mile races and are training for a 200 mile race. It's all relative and all a matter of perspective. Yet, for me, it's a big thing, something I've built up to after starting to run ultramarathons 2 years ago.
Back to the quote. It's adapted from a saying attributed to Lao Tzu translated into English as, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." However, in the original text it actually refers to "1000 li". A li is an old Chinese unit of measurement which roughly equates to 360 miles. That means it's actually a journey of 360,000 miles. Like I said, it's all relative. Maybe the numbers get more digestible the longer you have been on the journey. The point is, unless you are on the path and have been on it for awhile, any of these distances could seem impossible.
Frankly, I am intimidated by the idea of running 100 miles straight without sleep as it's something I've never done before. In fact, I've only run half that distance in a race type setting in the past. It's completely unknown territory. If all goes well I will complete it in about a day. And, no, there won't be any time to sleep. The cutoff to finish and get a 100 mile belt buckle is 32 hours. Gonna get me one of those!!
Reflecting on when and where my single step towards the 100 mile marker began. Although I ran for fitness sporadically from my university years until my late 30s, I never ran more than 5 miles at a time, but when I crossed over the big 4-0 threshold, I decided it was time to start checking off some items on my bucket list, namely triathlon and marathon. I posted some thoughts about this process in the following blog post back in September 2015 - RUNNING A MARATHON AND BEYOND
Other posts on the journey to 100 miles:
Those last 3 posts link to photo diaries created from my 900 km+ completion of the Bruce Trail last September. The Bruce Trail follows the Niagara Escarpment from Queenston Heights Park on the Niagara River near Niagara Falls and stretches all the way to Tobermory at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula at the Georgian Bay. Tobermory is the jumping off point for the Fathom Five National Marine Park, a haven for lighthouse buffs and scuba divers exploring shipwrecks.
It's hard to sum up what it was like running the entire trail in 4 seasons, but suffice it to say, it gave me a deep appreciation of both the rugged beauty of nature and the human impact on the environment in the province I reside. It also gave me the base mileage to consider running 100 miles. That distance was the next logical step my journey as an ultrarunner.
Ho Ho Ho! It's that time of year again. Today, was the first day of the season that I had to wear a base layer of merino wool while walking my son and our dog to school. And, because I was relatively prepared, it didn't feel as cold as it did last night even though it was 10 degrees (Celcius) colder. The first step of many in getting used to winter and coming around to appreciating it.
Getting back inside, I looked at the Christmas tree my children and I decorated. Every year, I love to sit beside the tree and write or simply lay there looking at it, smelling the quietness of the forest, comforted by the glow of lights and the feeling that comes when I look at ornaments chosen for my children each year since they were born or ones I received long ago from my mom or grandparents.
Yet, this year, my tree has more to impart. You see, I found, the "perfect tree". I had no idea how perfect it was until I had it sitting in the stand, cut the bindings off and let the branches settle for several hours as it expanded to fill the space I imagined and more. I got a really great deal on this tree too, even better.
If you want your tree to take up water, general wisdom would have you cut an inch or so off the base when you get it home, before you put it in the stand. Alas, this tree's trunk was pretty darned big and none of my saws were going to cut it so I had my son trudge over to our neighbor's to procure a saw. I tried to get through using that saw while he laid on top of it, held it down and braced it for me. It was like trying to cut a steak with a dull butter knife. So, back I went to our neighour's explaining my plight and asking if he had a bow saw, the kind that looks like something you'd use to shoot an arrow if it had a blade instead of a string across the bottom. He scratched his head and thought maybe he had something like it in his shed, but he would have to get all dressed up to get it. He told me he'd bring it over to me when he found it. He's a sweetheart and I felt like a big nuisance, but I accepted his offer - my perfect tree was worth the trouble!
Bow saw in hand, again I recruited my son to keep the tree steady and managed to slowly, yet surely cut that 1 inch chunk off the bottom. Victory! My son took the saw back to our neighbour. Then, I remembered I was missing the flat round red grid-like piece that needed to be screwed into the base of the tree to keep it steady in the holder.
Down I went down to the storage room, annoyed that somehow all the pieces hadn't stayed together in storage, wondering exactly how many boxes I'd have to move to find it. I emerged about 10 minutes later, got the drill out of the garage and proceeded to attach that red circle to the base of the tree. A little niggly feeling told me that the line I'd cut wasn't flat, but by then the saw had been returned to my neighbour and I thought, "Ok, I've been through enough. The saw is back at the neighbors and if necessary, I can simply adjust the tree stand to make the tree sit straight in it."
I decided that after all the hassle I had finding the tree, enlisting help at the store to squeeze it into my car, getting needles and tree sap everywhere, asking my daughter to help me get it out of the car and carry it inside, needles still falling everywhere, having my son sweep them up, making more of a mess with sawdust and more needles, sweeping them up, asking the neighbor for a saw that wasn't right, having him go out in the cold to his shed to get me the right one, cutting that 1" off the tree, hunting for the red base, attaching it, getting my daughter to help me stand it up, fastening it in the stand - I HAD HAD ENOUGH! That tree was going up, up, up!
Et Voila! I could see the tip of it was slanted before I took the twine off of the branches. I hoped that maybe it was just the tip and that somehow I could straighten it out by giving it a nudge. The twine came off. The tree opened. It was definitely leaning to one side. It was a big beautiful tree and it was leaning to one side. It was perfect. It deserved to make one last stand in all it's glory before being put out at the curb in January and I FAILED MY CHRISTMAS TREE.
Last night, the kids and I decorated the tree, sipping peppermint hot chocolate, munching on homemade ginger snaps, listening to Christmas music and reminiscing about each ornament as we put them up. After my son went to bed, my daughter and I laid on the couch, me looking up at the tree, she looking up how to make origami trees online, making three of them.
This morning I woke up really early, coming downstairs to write by the light of the tree. Looking at it from sitting on the couch, it looks really big and full, substantial if not a little standoffish as it was leaning away from me, but I can't tell from this angle that it's clearly slanted. Still the feeling, I FAILED MY TREE.
Surrounding this feeling, it's not lost on me that I just did some work with my INNER JUDGE yesterday, not understanding the reason certain things happened, criticizing myself for making the decisions I did, making myself wrong, feeling like a BIG LOSER, an EPIC FAILURE, wrong for even trying when things didn't work out, basically crushing a very lovely part of myself in the process.
Then, this morning, after sending my best friend a picture of the leaning tree, discovering she's at the airport waiting to jet off to to Singapore for 5 weeks, a trip booked over a month ago, not realizing I didn't know she was going anywhere. Surprise. Shock. Feeling like maybe she doesn't consider me the close friend I consider her to be. Realizing, I don't know what's she's up to. Wondering why she didnt tell me. It wasn't as if we haven't been in touch, even though we live a couple time zones apart. She just didn't remember if she told me. She not understanding why I couldn't just be happy for her and why I had the reaction I did. Why? Why did I feel this pain in my stomach? Why did I feel dejected? Sad? Out of touch? Completely unaware? Out of the loop? Going through text messages, seeing I had been in touch, had been asking her what was going on with her, her replying "Same ole, same ole." Why does this hurt like it does? This feels a lot like FAILING MY TREE. What the heck?!
What's the common theme? The INNER JUDGE loves to be in control and to do things properly. It's not ok with having things less than perfect. It feels deeply INADEQUATE when it's faced with NOT KNOWING. The INNER JUDGE would have me crawl into a hole, feeling like I have no real friends and can't even put up a beautiful tree right.
So, this is where the work gets real. We can become aware of aspects of ourself that are self-abusive. Then, when things start to hurt, maybe instead of blaming ourselves and retreating, we can stand with curiousity and compassion, asking what's really going on and what the part that's hurting needs to feel better.
My PERFECT LEANING TREE will be a reminder this Christmas to not only have compassion and goodwill towards others, but to try and direct some of the Christmas spirit towards myself. HO, HO, HO indeed.
I'd love to know what people think about this issue. Got any "leaning trees" of your own?
My photo journal of finishing the Sydenham section of the Bruce Trail. I ran this section at the beginning of August, 2016.
There you are humming along, getting things done, making solid progress towards your destination and whammo! FULL STOP. It seems like there is simply no way to continue or at least not in the direction you were headed. Obstacles, redirects and unexpected events are simply part of life. What to do when you stall out, hit the wall or otherwise lose momentum and have no clue how to get going again?
Some things to try:
Hope you try some of these suggestions the next time you hit a wall. Do you have other tips that work well for you? Please feel free to share them below.
I believe we can rise to our personal and societal challenges by embracing the spirit of adventure and the enduring wisdom of nature.