Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Dealing with the Runner's High...

Yesterday’s entry was initially meant to be a stand-alone entry, however, during the course of some reflection after having written it, I think there is another element as a runner, I want to discuss: Addiction.

Some people are wired to have addictive personalities. In other words, for those programmed that way we become addicts in one way or another. Addictions can take many forms and for those suffering from seriously destructive ones, it is a constant struggle. (As a pop cultural aside, I highly recommend Elementary on CBS as Sherlock Holmes struggle with addiction is a present theme throughout the show. This past season dealt with it in some intense ways.)

You would think as a straight-edge vegetarian, I would be lacking in addictions. That is not the case, as I too have addictions. Mine might not necessarily be as destructive. (Lets face it all addictions are destructive on some level based on the nature of negative consequences.) For me, one of the addictions, I struggle with is an addiction to soda. Growing up in a household that was only slightly above living paycheck to paycheck, we had a lot of the ‘nutrition’ available you would expect in that type of home. This included lots of soda. In and of itself, soda is not necessarily a bad thing. Other factors can influence the outcome….

My particular home was far from what one would call ideal.  Yes, we had cable. But I had a 6 x 7 room where my mattress was just directly on the floor (it made my space roomier). I did not get a computer until the fall of 1996 and it was a used 286. It did serve its purpose of being a word processor. (Before then, I had to use an old typewriter that became increasingly difficult to get ribbon for.) I mention all of this because we hear how poor households are likely places to have poor dietary habits and medical issues as a result. Despite where I am in life, you could say I am proof.

All of the content in the previous paragraph were components in a very stressful household. We made the best of things and I got a lot from my formative years. Yet, it was an environment that was not good for me. Once in 6th grade, I had a meltdown in the hallway regarding a group math assignment. My perception of it included feeling like I had to do extra work. Well you could imagine, in stressful environments, we search for comfort. Since soda felt like a real treat, it created a perfect avenue for addiction by way of a coping mechanism. That is just exactly what it became. Greater stress = more soda. When Code Red Mountain Dew came out…..at one point, I was downing 2 liters a day. I’ve struggled a lot with keeping this addiction in check. 6 years back, I decided to cut out coffee and soda at the same time. Doing both was helpful for a good while. I still haven’t had coffee since the day I stopped. However, soda came back after a few years. I do not drink nearly as much as I used to but recently I realized a huge correlation of stress with soda (and energy drink) consumption. Since then, I have begun to really push the urge to have a soda down. One of the ways I have done this is by having a tea in the morning instead of a large cold sugary drink. And I am not a fan of tea unless it is iced. My day began to have an association of starting with an energy drink. So in order to battle one addiction, I am replacing it with another routine.

What does this have to do at all with running? Well, running was another outlet to combat stress through high school. Having success and joy through running created another avenue to be addicted as a result of acting as a coping mechanism. Since running is known to help reduce stress this is great for most people. For me, this was also my real means of social interaction at the time. And if it was not for my stepdad, I would have never had this avenue. (Running has been very good to me.) So for addictive personalities, the sensation of happiness gets tied to a specific set of parameters.
So while running has given me goals to strive for those goals themselves have become a sensation to aim for. This is both constructive and destructive in addicts. To play out the statement “You are only as good as your last race”, if that race is not good, I want to immediately go find that good sensation. And even if it is good, I want to feel it again. I don’t think this is far off for many people for who running is an escape whether it is competitively or recreationally.

To tie this all into yesterday’s entry, while knowing I should not be running anything major that may act as a stressor, I want to get out and race. And that is because the addict in me says feeling that high will erase that stress. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Inconsistency 2015: Anxiety, Stress, Change and Stubborness Amongst the Miles

So the title of this post is a bit long winded much like this might be....strap yourself in as we delve into the mind of a thickheaded numb-skull. (If you haven't guessed, who that last part refers to, it is this guy. :::points to self despite you not being able to see it:::)

Since Umstead I have not written here with the exception of one entry that I have since deleted. It served its personal purpose but I felt it was not appropriate for sharing. Some of the same themes will be mentioned here so you will not have missed anything.

If you have been following my escapades this year, you know it has been a completely mixed back of results and training. Prior to Umstead, I had a second place at Phunt followed by a DNF at Batona followed by a month of bronchitis setting up a wonderful DNF at Black Canyon. I topped off that series with an epic 3rd place at Ugly Mudder losing in the last 100 meters because I lost some footing after having broke trail for the majority of the race. Not long after, I started righting the ship getting in weeks of good training and having some positive small local 5K results in the lead up to Umstead. 

Since Umstead, I've been running but doing it like a blockhead. Race wise, I've won two 10K's and the Mt Penn Mudfest 15K. However, the past two ultras have resulted in another pair of DNF's at Rock the Ridge and Dirty German Endurance Fest (both while being signed up for the 50M distance.) With Rock the Ridge, piriformis issues led to a drop at mile 23-ish. While feeling comfortable about the decision as a couple years back, I had to stop running for about a month as I pushed through a similar issue until I could not walk without a limp. Didn't want to go there this time. On the downside, it was a great course and for the most part of the day, the temps were perfect. I mention this because just yesterday at Dirty German, I dropped out after 34 miles. Primarily, the heat and my head did me in. DG is a 3 loop course run in Philadelphia's Pennypack Park. Most of the course is shaded which is a plus. However, with temps starting at 70 moving into the 80's with humidity near 100%, it made it a tough day. On my first lap, I did my best to run smoothly. I felt I was not overdoing it. I was even taking it easy on the short climbs by hiking them. However, really early into my second loop, I felt like I was redlining to keep any sort of pace. Going into such a spot so soon, mentally broke me with physically dismantled me...

For about two months now, my stress has been high due to things at work and home. Since the things are connected they have been compounding each other. Think of it as exponentially increasing stress. Factor in potential change and a tidalwave might as well hit. Each of us have our pluses and minuses. One of my minuses is reaction to change even small things like moved furniture and compounding stress. I've gotten better over the past 7 years with change. Stress is a different story. I am a compartmentalizer if you will. As a highly analytic person, I keep balance by placing each thing in tidy little boxes. Disruptions to the organization can be shocks to the system. Furthermore, being more introverted enhances the effects. It's self-analytical scrambling to put the pieces back. Now, this may make me sound rather frail. And in some ways when the weight becomes too much I am. But one of my positives is my capacity to endure. I do think that has to be a requirement to be an ultrarunner or any type of runner for that matter. 

Normally, the mere act of running would help reduce the stress. What makes this current stretch different is that my stress levels are the highest they have been since mid 2004. While running usually benefits, the timing, I believe has left me behind the eight-ball. The wise thing to have done after Umstead would be to take it easy on myself running. Yet, the presence of stress put me in a position that I needed to run. But the runs were not helping. All I would think about was the stress. Eventually, I would periodically experience some symptoms of anxiety during my runs in addition to 'daily-life'. 

This came to a head yesterday at Dirty German.....once I started having trouble, my inner-tyrant, took hold as I started to think about the non-running stressors. This brought me down enough mentally that it had a physical impact. Couple that with the heat and I was in trouble. What ended up happening was not pretty. I run my second lap at a pace 3 minutes slower per mile. I think it also was my worst 50K split. I began to worry about my ability to finish the race where I was mentally. As a result, I pulled the plug.

Now, the act of taking another DNF smarts too because it feeds a negativity the inner-tyrant can grab hold to. So right now, I have to resist the urge to cave to its whispering.

Upon arriving home from the venue, yesterday, I took a look at why I am having these results and it boils down to sheer stubborness. By putting my nose to the grindstone thinking running would magically make all of my stress manageable, I set myself up for failure. Or I should say a harsh lesson. As a result, I've come to a conclusion that right now, I need to adjust my running to alleviate stress. And that actually means reduce the running intensity at the moment. The biggest aspect of my schedule is knowing that I should not run Cayuga Trails 50 despite being signed up. (Viaduct is also possibly out.) It is a tough realization since I had to drop from injury last year. However, I do feel I could be on the border of Overtraining Syndrome if I keep going as how I have been. So my training for at least a few weeks is going to be next to nothing. Or simply when I feel like it will be enjoyable. This may mean small races or might mean no racing at all.

Take the step back to move forward.....

(And for the record, this entry is not about me making excuses but coming to a realization. I want to add that at the end of the day, I'm where I am in this because I made the decisions that led to this.)