I haven’t been doing a ton of running since my half marathon. It was a disappointing race, for sure, but if I’m being honest with myself (and you), I’ve been mentally checked out for a while.
First, it was the mystery injury last summer that derailed me both physically and mentally. When you’re wary that every step you take, every kind of shoe you wear, or any kind of time on your feet could be the thing that could trigger a relapse, it gets harder to do anything without an insane amount of energy. Getting back in the saddle of training helped. Every step I took that didn’t hurt, every run I finished that didn’t require a post-run massage, every week I finished where I didn’t give a thought to my foot — those were real victories for me, but they came at a mental cost. I’m still aware of my foot pain from time to time — typically when wearing heels for the first time in a while, or in the beginning of easy runs after periods of prolonged inactivity — but it’s better, and I’m feeling safer in taking those steps. I still worry what more regular mileage or longer training runs might do, but I try to remind myself that worrying about the hypothetical reaction to something that hasn’t happened yet is a pretty boring use of my time.
Second, it was life stress. I work in an academic setting, and my job is funded entirely through federal grants. In case you’ve been living in a better place, devoid of technology and fear, federal research funding has… dried up a bit. While I always knew that this particular grant and role would end in 2016, the funding climate meant that budgets have been slashed every year, and that for the last 18mo, I’ve been living on the edge of my seat. In Spring 2015, I was told to expect funding elimination in July 2015. I got word at the end of June 2015 that my funding could be extended through January 2016. In the first few months of the year, I was working month-to-month without certainty as to continued funding through July 2016. [My lease was due for renewal in February, and I was legitimately faced with the reality that I might have to move in with my parents if funding wasn’t extended. I ended up taking a bit of a gamble and renewing my lease, knowing that I could turn around and sub-let it if I suddenly found myself unemployed.] In May, I learned that an awesome opportunity was gone with the wind after a new project’s scope was cut, and that I was only funded through Dec 2016 (and that funding was 100% gone after that point – like Captain Hook’s alligator clock, the deadline loomed large). That means that for the last 18mo, I’ve been going to work every day wondering how long I get to keep this job, constantly looking for and interviewing for other opportunities, and simultaneously throwing all of my leftover time, energy, and money into an ambiguous “what if” hole in case funding dried up faster than anticipated. I’ve been bracing for unemployment for about 18mo, and it turns out that that kind of stress and anxiety takes its toll (on me, but also on T, who bore witness to my anxiety with a lot of grace and empathy, and a fair share of tear-stained shoulders). It’s actually a wonder that I didn’t get shingles again. The idea of running felt like one more thing I didn’t have time for, and one more responsibility that my brain couldn’t handle. The paralysis in high-stress situations is real for me, and running was one of the first casualties.
Happily, that roller coaster has ended, as I just accepted a new gig doing technical writing and communications for a national association. It’s non-profit, which was important to me, and the team seems warm and collaborative and ambitious. Perhaps more importantly, I’m leaving the grant-funding uncertainty behind. Since accepting the job offer, I’ve slept better than I have in years. Truly.
I’m finally able to stop throwing my time, money, and energy into a hole of unknown size.
The relief I have in feeling like I can plan for the future and invest in myself is indescribable, and it’s real. I’ve started putting one foot in front of the other again, and it’s hard and it hurts a bit, but it feels right. It also helps that my new commute is about 20 minutes (versus 50-75 min, currently), which means post-work runs don’t mean 9pm dinners (and pre-work runs don’t mean 5am alarms — hahah let’s pretend I ever ran in the morning for a second). I ran almost 8.5 miles across two runs this weekend, and I’m excited to start investing my time and energy into a more regular running schedule. I’ve also been inspired to use this “clean slate” of mine as a way of building in the strength work and related self-care that leaves me a stronger, injury-free human.
I don’t have much in the way of formal racing on my calendar right now, but I’m excited to do more trail running this Fall with T, and I’ve already thrown Chicago’s Shamrock Shuffle onto my 2017 calendar. I’m ready to start this next phase like I’m running on gun time, not chip time…