Pain and Progress

Progress is often non-linear. A lot of times, it is impeded not only by physical challenged and limitations, but also mental hurdles that must be overcome.

Last week, I was having one of those weeks. I had a mild cold, and I just wasn’t ‘feeling it’ when it came to running. I felt like I was stuck in a rut. I had plateaued when it came to total distance. I had been stuck on a top distance of around 7 miles for my long run for 3 weeks. I had also plateaued when it came to speed. I have always run about 6 to 6.5 mph during my longer runs, but I couldn’t seem to get it going during my speed work. I would get up to about 7.0 mph and feel maxed out (I’m not talking about sprinting, I’m talking about running a mile or two).

Last Friday, I was scheduled to do 8 miles for my long run, but around mile 5, my right foot really started to hurt. Half a mile later, an inner ‘alarm’ was sounding, telling me if I didn’t quit running soon, I was going to be sorry. Now, I’m no stranger to pain during running. There are times when I can work through it, but this was not one of those times.

I stopped at 6 miles. I was disappointed, but I knew I had done what was right for my body. I didn’t dwell on what was ‘wrong’ with me, but I was still bewildered by the foot pain. I decided to do some research on pain, and I stumbled upon this lovely article. It’s a bit lengthy, but very insightful.

Five Strategies to Help Your Pain (Part 1)

What I learned is that pain, like progress, is often also non-linear. We don’t always experience pain because there is actually something physically wrong. There are a number of complex reasons why an individual might experience pain. That’s not to say that, just because a person may not have a physiological problem, that the pain isn’t real. All pain is ‘in the brain’. But, I digress.

The next day was warm-ish for Ohio in January, so I set out on an outside run to try and get at least a few more miles toward my weekly goal of 20 total miles. I almost didn’t make it off my street. I realized that, mentally, I was just done. I did not want to run. I’ve said this before; every time I run, I am faced with a decision to either stop, or keep going.  This time I came so close to stopping. The closest ever. But somehow I knew that if I stopped today, that might be it. I might not run anymore.

I kept going. I had borrowed my husband’s GPS watch, and he had turned off the speed function. I am so glad I had no idea how fast I was going. I slogged out the first 2 miles, stopped by my driveway, got a drink, and ran another 2 miles. I had to do another 2 miles to hit my weekly goal, but I wasn’t even thinking about that. I was listening to my body, and my body told me it could do more. So I did. I finished the last 2 miles, tired and happy.

While I was running, I realized that I had been afraid. Afraid of running outside, where I couldn’t control the elements, didn’t have instant access to water, etc. Afraid of the distance, of the pain I might feel, and of getting an injury that could prevent me from running. I had a mental barrier, and I finally broke it.

That started a week of some of the best running I’ve done so far. When it was time for my weekly speed work, I let myself fly. I realized I had been holding back there, too. It’s funny how much your mindset can affect your physical body.

Yesterday I ran 8 miles, and I could’ve kept going. Today I ran my second fasted 5K, with a time of 27:30. And I increased my total weekly distance to 22 miles.

Most importantly, I’ve learned that I don’t have to let fear of pain keep me from making progress. Pain is not the enemy. Pain is an indicator. It means, ‘listen’. I’m listening.

 

Facing fear

After seeing the title of this post and the picture that accompanies it, you can probably guess that what I’m going to write about is fear about the upcoming race-the Glass City Half Marathon-that I’ve been training for. But I can almost promise you that what I’m actually afraid of is not what you think, and it’s about more than race day jitters.

What I’m about to share with you is going to be really hard for me, and it might make some of you uncomfortable. Nevertheless, it’s something I feel I must do. Because it’s exhausting to hide a part of yourself for years, even a part that you feel people will not understand or accept.

So why am I so afraid of race day? Because I have Social Anxiety Disorder. Simply defined, this disorder is the extreme fear of being scrutinized or judged in social or performance situations. People with SAD are afraid of things like public speaking or performance, or being around unknown people or in unfamiliar places (think unpredictable public places like city streets, crowded malls, etc). While I definitely deal with those two fears, the worst anxiety I experience is called paruresis-the fear of going to the bathroom in public. Now I know that most everyone has an occasional case of bashful bladder. However, SAD disorders go way beyond simple shyness–in fact, some people who suffer from SAD don’t even define themselves as shy (myself included).

Though I haven’t been officially diagnosed, I deal with social anxiety on a daily basis. When I want to meet a friend for lunch, instead of anticipating a good time with them, I worry about where the bathroom is. Will it be private enough? If it’s a private bathroom, will someone need to use it while I’m in there? Will they be listening to hear when I’m finished? Will they think I’m taking too long? What will my friend who’s waiting for me to come back think if I don’t come back in an ‘acceptable’ amount of time? Will they send someone to check on me? (I’ve actually had this happen, in a bar…guess the friend was worried I drank too much and passed out.)

Traveling is a nightmare. I hate car rides, especially when I’m the passenger. Asking the driver to stop so I can have a bathroom break is unthinkable. I imagine them pulling over and waiting impatiently while I try to pee, and me trying not to think about them waiting impatiently.

This anxiety is something I cannot control. I know I catastrophize. I know my fears are irrational. I realize that, most likely, no one cares if or when I urinate. I realize no one is consciously listening to me pee. I know that most people are courteous and will wait patiently while I have my turn in the stall. But the part of my brain that is responsible for my anxiety isn’t interested in rational thought. It is the same part that issues the ‘fight or flight’ response. I have about as much ability to stop my anxiety in the bathroom as a person can stop their palms from sweating and heart from racing during a true traumatic event.

In addition to paruresis, I also suffer mildly from agoraphobia, which is the fear of public places. While my agoraphobia doesn’t usually deter me from doing things I want to do, like taking my son to a kid’s playland on a busy day, I will still avoid things like baseball games and shopping on Black Friday where there are likely to be large crowds. I also suffer from mild depression.

So, my biggest fear on race day–using the bathroom in public– is the same as my biggest fear on any given day, only magnified times 100, because I’m also dealing with agoraphobia, and, yes, your typical race day jitters.

I know after reading this post, some of you will have questions. I will try to anticipate those questions now, as well provide a couple of take-aways (things I hope you will learn from me sharing my story):

  • I don’t know how my SAD began. I did have an experience in a public restroom at a baseball game when I was very young, around 8 years old. It was a hot day, and I had drank a lot of iced tea. When I got into the stall, I couldn’t urinate, and I remember I got very upset. I remember it clearly, though I don’t think this was the ‘defining moment’, as I went on to experience no further anxiety until I went to college.
  • There is no ‘cure’ for SAD, though there are treatments like anti-anxiety medications and cognitive behavioral therapy. I am not currently receiving any treatment for my SAD, but I am on a low dose of Zoloft for depression treatment.
  • Just because I have this disorder doesn’t mean I’m ‘broken’. It’s just something I deal with. I don’t want your sympathy. I don’t even expect you to understand. I just hope you will accept me for who I am. Please don’t scoff at my disorder or try to minimize my feelings. You can’t ‘talk me out of it’, though I wish that were possible. As I said before, the part of my brain responsible for the anxiety I feel isn’t interested in rationality.
  • If I’m at your house, or we are in a public place together, and I go to the restroom, just know that I might be a while. Don’t worry about me, and, for God’s sake, don’t send someone to check on me. I swear I’m not dead 🙂

 

In closing, if you have made it this far, thank you for letting me share this part of myself with you. While it was not easy, it is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. I know that dealing with my SAD has made me a more empathetic person. There are so many people who are silently dealing with all sorts of issues every day. You can’t always know a person’s story just by looking at them. I know it’s hard, because I still do it, too…but when a person does something you don’t understand or like, try not to let your first reaction be judgement. You never know what the reasons for their actions might be.

And, NO, I haven’t signed up for the Glass City Half Marathon…yet. I’m not ready. And that’s okay. I did sign up for another race at the end of February, though. I need to get my feet wet (quite possibly literally, depending on the weather). Sometimes the only steps you can take are baby steps. It doesn’t matter–they’re still steps. I may not ever ‘get over’ my anxiety, but I refuse to let it rule my life.

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Who inspires you?

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Me (left) and Renee (right) after a run.

We all need inspiration. It can come in the form of a book, a movie, nature, or even an ordinary moment. Or, if you’re really lucky, it can come from a special person you meet. No matter where you get it, inspiration is important, and so I’ve decided that a least twice a month I’m going to write an entry about someone who inspires me.

Let me introduce my friend Renee, and tell you a little bit about why she inspires me. I first met Renee about a year ago when my son and I were walking around our neighborhood. It just so happened that she and her son were also walking around the neighborhood at the same time. Her son was flying around on his bike, and my son began to chase after him. Little did I know, this was the beginning of a great friendship, both for my son and for myself.

As I mentioned in the previous post, my son has Asperger’s syndrome, and the fact that he took notice of Renee’s son was a good enough excuse to ask for her phone number. Then she told me she was training for a half-marathon, and I really got excited. I was not running at the time, and missing it, and was hopeful that I could at least run vicariously through someone else.  And then….she told me she was also pregnant! I was blown away that a pregnant woman would want to run at all–I remember having no energy in my first trimester.

Well, our friendships blossomed, and so did my beautiful friend Renee. Unfortunately, her doctor told her she had to stop running, and I know she was disappointed to miss the half she had been training so hard for.

She had a beautiful, healthy little baby boy this past October. Only one month later, she started running again. Again, I was impressed. I know she must’ve been so tired some days. But she got out there and did it anyway.

She’s training for the half again, and I really don’t have any doubt in my mind she will do it. She’s got the grit and the determination. She’s got the desire. That’s 90% of the battle right there.

Renee inspires me. She’s inspiring me to get my pansy butt outside even when it’s cold (for me, cold is anything below 50 degrees). She’s an amazing person, and that’s not lip service.

Who inspires you?

 

 

How my running journey began.

I don’t have a running background. I started running in my mid-30’s. The most running I ever did before that was when I ran cross-country in junior high. I was terrible at it. I even dropped out of a few of the races because I just couldn’t make it the required 2 miles. Running just wasn’t my thing. I liked drawing and reading (still do). I wasn’t the least bit athletic, nor did I want to be.

This is how I stumbled into running: about 3 years ago, my husband and I decided we wanted to try to have another baby. We already had our precious son, Elliot, who had just turned 3. I decided I wanted to be as healthy as possible for my pregnancy, so I started exercising. I used an elliptical and occasionally walked on a treadmill. Every once in a while, if I was feeling extra peppy, I would jog. I discovered I liked pushing myself a little, and started increasing the jogging intervals. Eventually I could run a mile, mile and a half, sometimes two. Running isn’t so bad, I thought.

Enter running hiccup #1. I got pregnant. It ended quickly, badly, painfully–an ectopic pregnancy, which needed surgical removal. It was almost 2 months before I was back in the gym, jogging again. (We never got pregnant again, but that’s another story for another day.)

Later that same year, my son was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism. It was a difficult time for our family, as we struggled to understand the diagnosis and what it meant for our son’s future. It was the beginning of a ‘marathon’ of waiting–waiting for an evaluation from the school district to see if he qualified for services (he did), waiting for all the paperwork to be processed so we could get funding to pay for those services, and waiting for an opening at the clinic. Dealing with all the red tape was a test of patience and persistence, but I was determined like I had never been before about anything–my son was going to get what he needed, dammit.

And my running gained something it didn’t have before: purpose.

I decided I wanted to run a 5K, something that benefited children with special needs. I ran my first 5K in the fall of 2014 for Sunshine Children’s Home. Crossing the finish line was an amazing feeling.

Unfortunately, I injured my leg during the race. I pulled my IT band (muscle on the outside of your upper leg) and physically could not run for several weeks. It was to date the most painful injury I’ve had. That was the beginning of hiccup #2. I had gotten a job about a month before, and the new responsibilities combined with taking care of my son, general housework, cooking, etc. were taxing me almost to my limit. My husband also was taking college classes at night, and so was away four nights a week. It was a difficult year, and looking back I’m not proud of some of the ways I handled the stress. But I’m looking forward.

When this past summer came and my job ended, I started running again. By the end of the summer, I was starting to toy with the idea of running a half marathon. Training for it has been eye-opening. I am constantly in awe of what I can accomplish that I never thought I could, and excited about what I might be able to accomplish in the future. The sky is really the limit. There is always a higher mountain. Running is a habit I want to keep for life. I know there will be hiccups. They are unavoidable. They may slow you down for a day, a week, maybe even a year. But they can’t stop you forever.

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This is me in my cross country uniform, circa 1992.