Saturday, November 21, 2020

All the Things I Never Wrote About (Letters from the Calamity, Part 1)

 It's been an extremely eventful year since I last wrote anything, really. 

Back in the late Summer of 2019 I had an absolutely terrible bout of anxiety, and while I kept doing a lot of things I really had a hard time prioritizing the care of my mental health. One of the things I stopped doing was writing. First I rationalized that I was still updating everything through social media, and then I just stopped thinking about it altogether. I completely lost sight of the fact that the reason I had been writing at all was for me. So I'd have a record of these years of my life. The goal of the New Dad Endurance Blog had been to archive my memories from this phase of my life, and now some five years into the ten year goal, I have to admit that I've fallen off the horse.

On September 15th, 2019 I ran the Pisgah Mt. 50k. It was the first ultra-distance event I'd ever raced, and I absolutely loved it. I was haunted by anxiety throughout the entire weekend (as I had been the month prior in training). My wife and kids traveled up to the race with me and we made a weekend of it. Stayed in Vermont, went to some restaurants, and then on race day they spent some time at the playground near the race start/finish. I had an absolute blast on the course even though it took me about six hours to complete. I didn't have much expectation for the time, honestly, I just wanted to cover the distance and feel decently strong about it. And where I live (below sea level, technically) I don't have tons of experience climbing. I felt pretty good about the time considering the 4,000ft of elevation gain on the course. It was amazing. I suffered. I loved it. I immediately wanted more of that. I also spent so much time on the training, and I loved the training. But I didn't really pay attention to other areas that are important -- mental well being, nutrition, and rest. I just trained a lot. So I don't think that helped the with the anxious mind, and negative thought patterns.

When we returned to teaching the next week I knew I wanted more of the ultra. My anxiety subsided as I got back into the day-to-day grind of teaching and running a music program. We were staging a musical (the first our school had done in a long time) and I was running the technical crew for the show. On November 22, 2019 I hit one year of running at least a mile everyday. I registered my streak with the United States Run Streak Association, which had been a goal of mine since I began the streak in 2018.

With more to distract me than ever, I didn't need to worry much about the anxiety. After the show in February, my wife started talking about this virus that was going on in China. And how if the US didn't handle things well we were going to be in some trouble. She started having her students sit further apart in rehearsals. At the time I honestly couldn't fathom what was about to happen. Then in March came the shutdown.

From March 13th on we were home. We taught from home. We watched students and their families come down with the virus (remotely). We taught our own kids at the same time. Through the whole thing I ran. I ran and ran. I ran in a mask, I ran in a buff. I ran. It was the only thing in my life that stayed the same, and that was comforting. But the pressure was mounting and the feeling of powerlessness was crushing. When our state government decided we'd continue remote learning I decided I'd start therapy. I found an app that let me do therapy remotely, and I signed up that same day. I wanted to stay ahead of the stress and anxiety I was really afraid of. I started a more dedicated mindfulness practice throughout the shutdown, which helped stay ahead of managing my stress a bit. I also registered for a virtual 50k in May, mapped out a course, and then started training.

Those things kept me on a pretty even keel, and spending more time with my own kids was amazing as well. We ate all three meals together everyday at our kitchen table, read stories in the evening, did arts and crafts and activities. For as hard as that time was (and there certainly were challenges) there were also some amazing things. In May I ran my virtual 50k. Because I chose a pretty ideal course, and I trained on that exact course, I ended up covering the distance in about five and a half hours. I was super happy with that, and immediately started thinking about the fifty mile. I signed up for a summer scavenger hunt.

With the summer also came a big argument on the reopening of schools. I have always been weary of people who don't actually work in schools telling us how things should run, so it did not surprise me at all that we were once again being asked to do more and more and with less and less reasoning behind it. We attended some protests (from our car) and continued to stay away from everyone. I mean, really. I have been in a grocery store once since March. It's a crazy situation.

In September this year, shortly after we returned to work, I ran 50 miles in one day. I had signed up for another virtual race, and while my training fell apart in late August, I wanted to get it done anyway. And I did. But it took me more than ten and a half hours. I have never been so tired in my life, and it was a struggle for sure. That doesn't mean I'm done with it or anything, I'm actually still thinking about going longer. I've hit two years on my running streak, which is something I'm very proud of.

We've been back at work for two months which has been much more tiring than I can explain. Our jobs are very, very different (as one would expect, I guess.) Doing multiple jobs at the same time is really a lot. We use the phrase 'burn out' a lot but that's absolutely what is going on with me. I started therapy with a therapist based in mindfulness approach in October, and that has been amazing. It has been a challenge keeping my mind focused on the positive instead of the more noticeable negative, but for the first time in my life I feel like I'm starting to get a handle on things. Growing up with a fair amount of trauma, I had a whole lot of work to do. I'm doing it.

Even though I'm exhausted I'm surviving this thing, and I think I'm doing OK. It varies from moment to moment, of course. It might be time to start writing again? I certainly want to talk long distance running in a time of no races, balancing that with parenting. I'm going to start off with some posts that detail some of the big events in running I had this past calendar year, and then I will revisit some of my yearly goal-setting posts.

These will be my "Letters from the Calamity" as we all try to work through the challenges the year 2020 has presented us. Feel free to tag along.