Running and Anxiety…

Another one of those posts that has been a long time coming…another post I hate to write because I have to expose my vulnerability. But it’s necessary. Events of the day made it so, pushed me to the edge I guess you’d say.

(image from Google image search)

I’ve always struggled with anxiety–I’ve always put a lot of pressure on myself and worried about letting people down and not being “good” enough (whatever that means). It got really bad in high school, I was pretty much a mess–very high strung overachiever constantly on the verge of breaking down; my brain was chaotic, spinning with negativity that I tried to drown out with a constant flood of activities. I tried to not be home, not be alone, in hopes that being distracted would make me feel better. It did not work. I ended up in therapy, and eventually on meds, which at that time I needed far more than I wanted to admit. They slowed my mind down so I could function almost normally.

I went to college. Came off my meds, and found other ways to cope. The college environment, for all it’s challenges, was much better to me. I was much more suited to it than I had been to high school, and so I did well. Still struggled, but it wasn’t as bad, I could manage. And I do to this day. I’m still an overachiever, I’m still really hard on myself. But I function mostly normally in society. In some ways–a lot of ways–running really helps. Effort is rewarded, even if I’m not particularly “good” at it. I can see improvement which encourages me to keep going. And chemically speaking it helps keep a hand on the anxiety that wells up with the fears that I’m not “good” enough.

But sometimes, for all the confidence that running has given me, the anxiety rears its ugly head in my running life. Today was one of those days. I still have a lot of social anxiety–I don’t know where it came from, I definitely was not like this as a child–I’m very uncomfortable in groups of people where I don’t know anyone and the activity is unstructured. I tried going to a few of the Saturday group runs and they didn’t go particularly well for me. I could never hang with the pace group I set out with. I didn’t know anyone, so I usually ended up alone, worried about getting lost (which only added to the anxiety I felt). Eventually I stopped going. Figured it just wasn’t for me, I was meant to run alone. Even when I’d run with friends in the past we’d always had our music on, we didn’t talk, so it was fine. It was what I knew. Then I started going to the Wednesday night group, and slowly I made friends. It was a smaller group, more intimate, less intimidating. I ran with some different people and gradually warmed up, talking more, and I found that I really like running with people. Eventually (and I’m talking after several months of running together) they talked me into giving Saturdays another shot–they’d all be there, after all. So I did. And it has been really good for me–if I know that even one of them is going to be there, it’s worth showing up for because it eases that anxiety about not knowing anyone, running alone, and ending up lost.

Then today one of my people suggested that we join up with another group on Wednesday. I could not keep the anxiety from welling up inside me. I was never so thankful for the buffer of the internet where I could carefully choose my words, type and delete, and not show the panic in my face as I fought back tears. It’s not the change in location that freaks me out, I can figure that out, but that group of unknown people. The familiar dread of my earlier Saturday group runs–where I couldn’t keep up, where I ended up running mostly alone, worried about getting lost, etc–came rushing to the surface. I was shaking, trying to keep my composure at work, pissed at the friend (who has only ever come to one, maybe two runs himself and may not even come on Wednesday) who was egging the group on. I wasn’t the only one freaking out, but I felt like a jerk, which only compounds the anxiety.

I chatted with a couple of the friends–one who was also unhappy/uncomfortable with it and the one who was egging it on even though he is likely not to show. That helped some, took the edge off to know that I wasn’t alone. I could get some of my fears out. Get some perspective. The friend who suggested it relented–sort of–about all of us going, though she hopes we’ll reconsider, she has one person going with her at least. I explained that I need some time to wrap my head around it, but I’m not actually saying No. And at this point, I’ve basically decided to go. I’ve found that the things I resist the most in my life are the things I need to do. Worst case, I don’t like it and I never go back–I’m trying to be open though I am skeptical. But the fact that my core group will be there, so I won’t be alone, will make it okay. If nothing else, we’ll stick together and look out for each other, and run someplace different.

Until next time, friends.

Catching Up…Again…

Clearly I haven’t written much lately, but I’ve been busy and running. Things have been a little rough. I’m getting more comfortable with the idea of this mile challenge, and looking forward to the one mile portion of the Turkey Trot to gauge where I’m at (since treadmills are good tools but running on roads is very different). I’m struggling hard core with my marathon training long runs, they’re just not going as well as I want (or feel like I need) them to. However, I’m at the point where it’s do or die…less than 2 months to get my act together and I need to focus and go all in–which admittedly I haven’t done up to this point, for all my talk. I have a small handful of races before the marathon, but I have worked them in and will run around them if I need to (GULP).

I’m on track for 40 races this year–which is incredible even to me.

The truth is I’ve started writing this blog post about 50 times and it just didn’t solidify for me until this weekend. Things have been crazy at work (not in a good way) and that pushed me harder in my workouts this week. I know I should do a proper race recap for the Brookline Breeze, but it was kind of an unremarkable race for me. The weeks since, however, have been mind-blowing in a way. Since that last post, I’ve been running with people more and I’m finding that I really like that. I went out with my buddy and another chick from our running club and while a lot of the run itself was awful and a struggle, I had a blast. I cut my mileage short that day because I was miserable, it was hot and humid, they reassured me that I had plenty of time and not to stress about it. Which of course, I still am, but that’s neither here nor there. It was nice to share the misery of that run and have fun despite it.

The next week my husband and I went on vacation, so I largely ran alone since he and I do NOT run together. And that was also good. Got massively sunburned during our beach day and had to take it easy so no long run that weekend either. Seriously stressing at this point. And I found I really, really missed my Wednesday night running buddies. But we had a great trip.

I came back and my work life took a nosedive. I’m a workaholic. I’ve always worked as much as I could at this job because I loved it and the rug was ripped out from under me when I got back. I still have a job, but it’s almost unrecognizable at this point. I’m trying to roll with it and stick it out, I know this is largely growing pains for our division and I’m optimistic that it will get better, but oh god, seeing things done so badly is painful. I just want to scream–I literally did my Master’s work in Organizational Development and they’re going about it all wrong. It’s so frustrating and a 180 from what I’m used to there. So I’ve been channeling that frustration and energy into my workouts and at least those have been going well. Returned to my Wednesday night group and it was great. I realized this week that when I started going I could barely manage 3 miles without wanting to die, and now I’m up to a solid 5 miles. It’s fun to see how much stronger I’m getting just by showing up and doing the work. Still I’ve shied away from the group runs on Saturdays–they never seem to go well for me, my social anxiety kicks up and it throws my world off it’s orbit. The girls talked me into showing up on Saturday.

So I showed up on Saturday. And it was fine. The crowd is a little smaller this time of year than when they have their Pittsburgh Marathon training runs. And having people to look for and talk to eased my anxiety over being lost in a crowd and not knowing anyone. It was an adventure, let me  tell you. Three of us stuck together, and we ran the first 7 miles with the group–should’ve been 10, but we ended up starting off with 2 guys who only meant to run 5 but followed us and didn’t bring maps, so we got them back to the garage and used the opportunity to refill water bottles, take some gels, use the bathroom, etc. One chick needed 20 miles, the other one and I both needed 16, so we planned to stick together–misery loves company. Along the way we encountered an Indian wedding procession, complete with groom on white horse being followed by a crowd through the streets of Pittsburgh. A female figure competitor getting bikini shots taken on the South Side. We ran into my buddy who was not running but tailgating for the Pitt game. Then we encountered the warm up performance by the visiting teams marching band. It was the most random sequence of events. And we were all kind of miserable, but it was still fun. And I largely kept up–at least until the last couple of miles. Once we got back to the trail and I knew I wouldn’t get lost I was less concerned about getting separated and I pulled back. I was hurting and needed to walk more (though I have to wonder if we’d not been on trail where I felt ‘comfortable’ if I would have run more to not lose them…). Regardless, I’m very glad they talked me into going to the group run.

Monday, I did the Steelers 5k for the first time. I was doing awesome and was on track for a PR for the first 2 miles, but I lost it in mile 3. And I was really okay with that. I’m not really training for speed right now. I had a good time. My time was respectable–not a PR but still a lot faster than last year at this time. And I’m really proud of my effort. I worked.

I also realized some things about myself this weekend. I feel like I’m really finding myself as a runner. Finally. It’s not who I always thought I was, and it’s not who I thought I *wanted* to be. I always thought I preferred running alone. It turns out that I don’t. I always thought I wanted to focus on long distance stuff. It turns out I don’t. I never thought I could be fast. Turns out I was wrong, there’s potential there. I have all of these options open to me that I never realized I had, because of the box that I’d put myself in. I’m committed to this marathon and seeing it through, but I no longer care about the time goal I’d set. I’m definitely going to shift my focus for the next year. Stick to half marathons and shorter because I love running all of the races and I hate turning things down for the sake of getting in a long run. I want to do more speed work and see what I’m capable of. I want to finally break 30 in a damn 5k. I want to run more with people because other people push me to be better–not just my buddy, but anyone who is a little faster than me or stronger than me. And if they don’t force my hand on pace, they at least make it way more fun. I’m gonna stick to the stuff I like, and the stuff that makes me feel good and love running, and stop doing the stuff that I think I *should* do.

More soon. Happy Tuesday, friends.