Talking about over-exercise without talking about anxiety seems a little bit like talking about a sandwich without mentioning bread. There are some who will read that and say, “I’m not an anxious person.” Sure, I know that there are those who do not identify as anxious, just motivated. I was that person once. But, two years into recovery from Overtraining Syndrome, I have begun to consider the roots of the motivation that I hid behind. More than a runner, I was a “runner”.
A runner is someone who runs. A “runner” is someone who flees. I was both, but now I am neither.
Running started out as a means to get healthy. Did you know I was a smoker? Only those of you who have watched all of my videos on YouTube will have heard me talk about being an unhealthy 23 year old. On Leap Year Day in February all those years ago, I put down my pack of cigarettes and cried to my future ex-husband, “I need to change my life.” The next morning, he and I were out on the road trying to make it through three miles of what felt like progressive lung liquefication in 100 degree heat. The pain was so bad, I never picked up another cigarette.
My intentions were good. The stronger I got, the stronger I wanted to get.
And then there was this escalation. As the stress and chaos in my life escalated, I turned more and more to training. Marriage stress became cycling became divorce became triathlon became pain became running became moving became ultramarathon. A simplification, perhaps, but hindsight has a broadening effect on the brushstrokes of life. I would have balked at the connection between my personal struggles and my training in the past.
I was motivated! Sure. If I was motivated for physical health, I would have recognized that there is such a thing as too much training after which, I’d be doing more harm than good. That’s not what an endurance athlete wants to hear. In fact, most information available to endurance athletes has the express purpose of encouraging increases in training with little or no mention of the possible dangers. We have to ask why we don’t want to hear this information. It is my opinion that the answer lies in the mental health benefits that we can’t and won’t let go of, but don’t always admit we need.
Being a runner often means that we are “runners”. We come to need the action, the movement, the training, more because it soothes us. When confronted with anxiety, humans either fight, freeze, or flee. Running let’s us do all three. We fight because we think we are overcoming barriers by pushing mileage. We freeze because running numbs us out, letting the brain wander aimlessly as the feet keep a beat. We flee because running literally takes us out of our lives and away from everything.
It is an intoxicating cocktail.
That’s right, I said cocktail. You know, that stuff you drink that makes your head spin and makes you smile and forget your troubles too? Yeah, running is like that. Running is that. Except, it’s acceptable to say we are addicted to running because it does something good for us. It’s not possible to talk about drinks that way, yet running and drinking can serve the same purpose for the “runners”.
Quitting running (like quitting any substance) means having no place to hide. It means when I want to GTFO, there is no place to go but inside. It means when heat gets too hot, all I have is me. I have this body, this mind, this heart. There’s no running away from my insecurity, fear, thoughts, anxieties. It’s on me to figure it out.
I used to think I was a badass for crossing finish lines. Now, I think I’m a badass for not crossing them at all.
I am no longer a runner. I am also no longer a “runner”. Instead, I have found what I need right here inside me with the reality of life without compensation. I’m not perfect. I have my moments of struggle. But there’s one thing I know for sure; the less I “run”, the less I need to….the less I want to...and my life is the only place I want to be.