I was originally going to write a post about how training for an ultra marathon has been invigorating and life changing, about how it has really helped me deal with work stress and other issues that pop up in everyday life, and about how the discipline and focus that comes with running applies to all areas of life. Essentially, I was going to write about how I feel that I am winning at life – winning at work, winning at exercise, winning in my personal life and winning in self esteem.
However, that was before Sunday night’s unexpected emotional breakdown, where I was definitely in no winning state, and realized how utterly exhausted I was after bursting into tears for no reason at all.
Well, it wasn’t for no reason – I will admit, I was tired, I was hungry, and I was involved in a heated debate that I didn’t really want to be part of. It was a Sunday evening and I had a week of work to ‘look forward to’, I hadn’t eaten in six hours and I had been socializing for several hours (outside, in the cold, and not drinking whilst others were) when all I really wanted to do was curl up on the couch and watch The Bachelor and fall asleep by 8pm.
Most people would have been fine in that situation – they would get by or they would even enjoy their evening and have fun. They might have a drink, or two, or three, they would have a smile on their face and get involved in the debate or remove themselves from it and start up another conversation elsewhere. But most people haven’t been training for an endurance event 6 days a week, with 6am starts most mornings and getting home after 8pm (to run, gym, yoga, stretch, foam roll etc) as well as working a full time job (40 hours per week, but more like 60-70 hours last week) and trying to keep their relationships (boyfriend, friends, family) alive.
I am in the latter category…the category of crazy people who one minute is running on adrenaline and ‘runners high’ and the next is exhausted and can’t string words together. I am the person who on Sunday couldn’t handle the totality of the situation – whether it was the lack of food, the tired mind, the tired body, or the stress I was feeling about needing to organise my week and make sure I had lunch planned the next day – I just lost it. And afterwards, I realized why – I’m not that regular person just getting by. I am an endurance athlete training for an endurance event. All of my energy is going into that event. My physical, mental and emotional energy is being drained daily and replenished by the love and support of those around me (as well as through gels, protein shakes, quinoa, bananas, peanut butter, smoked tofu, frooze balls and other edible goodies) and it is a finely tuned balance that is difficult and tiring to maintain.
A byproduct of this is that I require much more sleep than I ever used to, and a restless night really affects me. Being awake past 10pm affects me more than it ever has. Not only do I get tired but I stress about being tired and how that will affect my performance the rest day and my training run on Saturday and what’s more, if that will affect my performance on the big day.
I also can’t make decisions in a rational way or in a hurry – on Saturday evening I popped into the grocery store to buy pumpkin and eggplant for dinner (in order for Rob and me to make a DELICIOUS recipe from Deliciously Ella – I purchased her first cookbook and our goal is to cook one meal out of it every week and make our way through the entire cookbook, this week was her Coconut Thai Curry with Chickpeas…SO yum. Sorry where was I…). Oh yes in the grocery store.
Rob texted me the shopping list (pumpkin, eggplant) and said that he also wanted cookies…and popcorn. So I then spent over five minutes in the cookie aisle agonizing over what cookies to buy because (1) Rob wanted cookies but (2) didn’t specify the kind of cookies he wanted and (3) I don’t buy cookies because (4) really I like homemade cookies and (5) I also didn’t know what type of cookies he felt like but (6) if I did buy cookies then even though I didn’t feel like cookies at the time I might want cookies later so (7) I had to think about what type of cookies I might want to eat as well even though (8) at that moment in time I didn’t want any cookies (this is the kind of thought process that went on in my head while standing in front of the Tim Tams…). I ended up calling him and asking what he wanted because I didn’t want cookies and none of the cookies were on sale and so I asked him to decide because I couldn’t make a rational decision. In the end we got Rolo chocolate and no cookies…
On top of this, I have become even more weird about my food than ever before, as I make a concerted effort to ensure I get sufficient levels of protein, natural carbs and good fats in me every day. I log my food, I log my exercise, I log my socialising, I log my work. My log is the fun police. My clothes are too big due to the running and gyming and subsequent logging of controlled eating. I stretch in my office, I have a foam roller at work and I wear compression clothes 80% of the time – even wearing compression calf sleeves underneath my work pants the Monday after a big weekend run.
Let’s just say, all of this, even taking out the running and gyming itself – it is exhausting. Thank god I have a training schedule to keep to because if I had to decide on a day by day or even week by week basis what I was doing – I wouldn’t survive. I barely get by as it is. I mean, I have been too exhausted to even sit down and write a blog post – not emotionally exhausted but just the fact is I have no time, after working, running, eating, logging my eating, unpacking my gym bag, repacking my gym bag, prepping lunch for the next day, doing laundry, texting my boyfriend and messaging my Mom and sister every so often (but not often enough) and trying to see one friend per weekend if I can fit them in.
There is so little time left for anything else. And obviously when I do fit in those other things…my mind can’t take it. I can’t take five hours of socializing on a Sunday evening, My body has had enough and is saying no, no friends, no drinks, no fun. Not for the next 19 days at least, until the run is over.
I knew that cardio could negatively affect your immune system, and I have experienced that when training while sick, how weaker you are when you try to exercise, and how much slower you are at recovering after. But I never expected it to be such an emotional rollercoaster, not while out of my running shoes at least. Nor did I expect it to have such a big flow on effect into my personal life – but I guess part of that is because I am determined, stubborn and focused, I don’t do things at half speed, I go at things 110% – if I am training for a 60km race I am going to train the hardest I ever have and put everything into it. Really it is my stubbornness and my drive that made me exhausted, and led to Sunday’s demise of ‘rational normal Jen’.
So I guess in the end…training for an endurance event like Tarawera really has taught me something that I can translate into every day life. Yes it has taught me discipline and focus and has been an amazing outlet to let out some steam and a way to explore more of New Zealand’s beautiful scenery and nature, but it has also taught me to learn to say “no”. To learn that I don’t have to say yes to every opportunity, to every person that wants to catch up or have a drink, to every piece of work that comes through the door, or to every extra curricular activity that comes my way. To learn to look after myself, cherish myself and my one body, because it is the only one I have. Learn that it is ok to be selfish, it is ok to put myself first, and that people will understand.
More than anything I need to keep my eye on the goal, the main goal, the one goal, and I need to change my mindset and learn to think in the following way: “Jen, you are in training mode. You are training for an endurance event, an ultra marathon. Live your life with that in mind.” Because there are only 18 days to go, and once it is done, I can do whatever I want and live my life however I choose.
So world, I am giving you notice now, for the next 18 days, I am putting me first (so please don’t take offense!!).