Last year after the Princess Half Marathon, my running drastically dropped off and I fell into a depressed slump. I expected the same thing to happen this year so I was prepared. This time around, I was determined not to give in to that. Unfortunately, I was not successful (I almost wrote “failed” but that’s such an ugly word… and has too many negative connotations to it!).
At first, I was able to run regularly and I was enjoying the unstructured nature of running without a training schedule. Approximately two weeks ago, that plummeted. The thought of lacing up my shoes became abhorrent and I have struggled to even summon up the motivation to take Gabriel for walks (spoiler alert – those walks definitely have not happened). I am waaaaay behind my 22 mile monthly goal (right now I show approximately 6.7 miles total on my Runkeeper) and I’ll be playing catch up over the next nine days to get myself up to my commitment.
I was prepared for this – but that doesn’t make it any less stressful. Unfortunately, this extra post-race slump has hit me at one of my “low” times. I have not just struggled with running. I’ve struggled with staying regular on my medication. I’ve struggled with keeping my moods in check. I’ve struggled with the looming date of our big stressful event for this year – Deployment. As each day ticks off the calendar, we’re brought closer to being apart. I’ve struggled with feelings of inadequacy, abandonment, loneliness and isolation. All are pretty irrational when you sit back and look at the situation as a whole, but the other big “D” word in my life doesn’t really deal with rational thought all that well. To be perfectly honest, its been hard not to let the negative self-talk take control.
This week has seen an uptick in miles as well as fitness oriented activities. I ran twice with Gabriel and also took a fitness class at our local trampoline park, Sky Zone Tallahassee. The runs and the trampoline session all helped considerably. I’m recognizing that I have been way, way, way too lax when it comes to taking my medication and I am going to be better about that. More importantly, I’m recognizing that I can’t let my running drop off. Running is so integral to my mental health and I feel like not running is almost worse than not taking my medication!
Its time to make some serious changes to get back to “me”.
Every Sunday night (pretty much since college), I have flipped through Post Secret’s post cards. Some of them are sad, some are poignant and all of them tend to touch your heart. I almost never miss out on looking at them on Sunday nights.
Well, yesterday I read a secret that really spoke to me. Most of the time, my work brings me in direct contact with college students. I deal with a lot of Resident Assistants due to the many dormitories we have on campus, as well. So when I saw this particular secret, it kind of hit a cord for me.
Almost 4 years ago, I graduated from Florida State University. I spent all four years as a student living in the campus dorms. I also spent all four years quietly dealing with my own mental health problems. I bounced back and forth between depressive episodes but I was scared and too stubborn to seek help. I was scared I would look “weak”, so for the most part I kept how I felt to myself. I was worried about how others would perceive me. And there was a part of me that felt like I needed to be “a strong resource”. I had a desire to be the person to lean on/count on. But for the most part, I was just too stubborn to admit that I couldn’t do it alone. I needed support from other people – I just refused to seek it out. I confided in a very select few people, but utilizing other resources was out of the question for me.
Before I was hired in my current position, I was hired as a student security officer. Pretty soon after my hire date, I attended my very first departmental meeting. It was pretty much what I expected – updates about where we were going as a department, updates about the plans we had as an university, etc – but what I did not expect was to hear a story that would put the first crack in my resolve not to reach out for help.
Most people don’t think of officers and mental health at the same time – unless they’re talking about an officer responding to a mental health call. But on that day, I heard the story of one of my friends – a law officer who was actively dealing with depression (and had been for some time!). His story touched me. And later in the year, his story gave me the courage to reach out to him when I needed help.
You see, I reached out to him above anyone else because I knew he knew what I was going through. I knew he would be able to relate and I also knew that he had navigated the mental health system and would have some insight for me. I saw the strength he had in a. telling his story and b. in seeking the help when he did, and admired that. So when I decided that I needed to let go of being afraid, he was one of the first people I thought to go to.
So, unnamed RA… I want to tell you this.
If you need help, seek it out. There is true strength and courage in recognizing that you need it. I’m not telling you to tell all of our residents what you are going through, but I am telling you that knowing a little bit about your journey could potentially help them.
You can be a strong resource and know that you need help at the same time. The two are not mutually exclusive.
I’m not a veteran. I’m not in the military. But I do have a mental illness – I am depressed and I take a daily medication to help control my symptoms. I’m not a veteran, but I do love one. In fact, my entire almost twenty six years of life have been in some way lived in connection with the military. For the first eighteen, I lived with my parents and moved from Air Force base to Air Force base when the military bade us to move. From eighteen to twenty-two, I was supported by my parents during college. I went wherever the military had them stationed for every trip back home during breaks. At twenty, I started dating my best friend – a solider. At twenty-two, I added “military spouse” to my self-proclaimed “military brat”. I’m invested because I have been there. I may not know what it means to suffer through war – but I know what it means to suffer through a mental illness. I know what it feels like to do it “alone” out of fear of what someone will think – out of fear of the “stigma” that comes with having a mental illness. This is important to me because I have lived my entire life surrounded by people in the military. This is personal for me.
Before I delve into today’s post – let me say this. PTSD is not the only contributing factor to veteran suicide. Veterans who served in any of the post 911 combat tours are not the only ones who are effected. Veterans and service members from all eras are at risk – and they are all important. Unfortunately, much of the literature out there does focus on post 911 conflicts due to the fact that we have become more willing to address PTSD and mental illness in our military population in recent years. Rather than giving our service members the impression that they should just ignore their symptoms until they “go away”, it seems like the military and our government has started to take mental illness in our military much more seriously.
There is a correlation between PTSD and suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. There is a good deal of debate about what exactly that correlation stems from. For example, some studies suggest that suicide risk is higher due to the PTSD while others suggest it might be higher because of other related conditions. Particularly for veterans, there seems to be higher risk for suicide in those that have been injured due to combat. There also seems to be a high risk for those experiencing “intrusive thoughts” due to guilt potentially over acts committed while in combat. Aggravating factors can include intrusive and triggering memories, anger/impulsivity, and negative coping strategies. (“The Relationship Between PTSD&Suicide” by William Hudenko, PhD, Beeta Homaifar, PhD & Hal Wortzel, MD)
Additionally, trauma based disorders such as PTSD can manifest in dependents/family members of veterans and service members after the veteran attempts suicide – whether or not they complete the act. According to an article on the VA’s webpage, “adults and adolescents are more likely to develop PTSD as a result of exposure to suicide if one or more of the following conditions are true: if they witness the suicide, if they are very connected with the person who dies, or if they have a history of psychiatric illness” (“The Relationship Between PTSD&Suicide” by William Hudenko, PhD, Beeta Homaifar, PhD & Hal Wortzel, MD). It is very important to note this due to the fact that our veterans are not the only ones who need services – their family members often need help, as well!
If you are a veteran or know someone who is a veteran, it is important to educate yourself on warning signs. For example, it is important to recognize this list published by the Veterans Crisis Line:
Veterans who are considering suicide often show signs of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and/or hopelessness, such as:
Appearing sad or depressed most of the time
Clinical depression: deep sadness, loss of interest, trouble sleeping and eating—that doesn’t go away or continues to get worse
Feeling anxious, agitated, or unable to sleep
Neglecting personal welfare, deteriorating physical appearance
Withdrawing from friends, family, and society, or sleeping all the time
Losing interest in hobbies, work, school, or other things one used to care about
Frequent and dramatic mood changes
Expressing feelings of excessive guilt or shame
Feelings of failure or decreased performance
Feeling that life is not worth living, having no sense of purpose in life
Talk about feeling trapped—like there is no way out of a situation
Having feelings of desperation, and saying that there’s no solution to their problems
Their behavior may be dramatically different from their normal behavior, or they may appear to be actively contemplating or preparing for a suicidal act through behaviors such as:
Performing poorly at work or school
Acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities—seemingly without thinking
Showing violent behavior such as punching holes in walls, getting into fights or self-destructive violence; feeling rage or uncontrolled anger or seeking revenge
Looking as though one has a “death wish,” tempting fate by taking risks that could lead to death, such as driving fast or running red lights
Giving away prized possessions
Putting affairs in order, tying up loose ends, and/or making out a will
Seeking access to firearms, pills, or other means of harming oneself
There is a serious epidemic among our veterans and service members. It is important for each of us to take a stand to reach out and help those that really need it. One of the first steps in doing that is through education.
In the past two weeks (has it really been that long since my big race?!), I have been asked quite a few times about my next step. What’s my next race? What will I be training for now? For the most part, the answer has been… nothing. I spent at least 6 months training for the biggest race of my life. That’s six months of training runs and very long runs. I gave up a lot of time on my weekends – sometimes as much as 6-7 hours of just pure training! So I have really been focusing on a. recovering from the marathon (I still have the slightest bit of pain in one of the tendons on my right foot) and b. running for the pure joy of running again.
So far, I have been pretty successful.
Wednesday morning after work, I laced up my shoes and went for a quick run around campus. I pushed the speed a little bit – something I had tried not to do while training due to focusing on lots of miles and enduring them – but for the most part just enjoyed how it felt to be out on the road.
First run back selfie
Rocking my marathon shirt
I felt a little Clark Kent-ish when I went for my first run back. I layered up to combat the cold and tossed my Brooks shell over my Disney marathon race shirt. Wearing the marathon shirt helped me to recall my super-marathoner powers, so it put a little extra pep in my step as I covered my miles.
Back to “what now”.
I honestly don’t know. I’m definitely not ready to dive into another big training cycle. I would like to keep my base going so I will probably try to stay on a regular schedule of running and scheduling longish runs on my weekends off. But I don’t plan on anything super taxing for at least a little while.
For now, its time to focus on running just to run again. Its time for me to run again and its time for me to work on getting my message out to the world.
I had thought about tacking this to the end of my marathon post, but that seemed like I was short-changing the people who this post is about.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you to each one of you that texted me, e-mailed me, Facebooked me, sent a warm thought my way… just… thank you.
I periodically checked my Facebook while I was on walk breaks during the race. The support from each of you practically overwhelmed me. I knew how much this meant to me – but I guess I didn’t realize how many of you also knew how big of a deal this was for me!
I could not have done this without each of you. I could not have made it 26.2 miles on my own. I wrote many of your names on an index card to pin to my back… each one of you was someone I carried with me in my run. You kept me going and that is something I am hugely grateful for!
Over a year ago, I read about the RW Sub-30 Club in one of my Runner’s World magazines. The idea seemed intriguing – a group focused on supporting one another as they attempted to achieve a Sub-30 5K. I headed to Facebook and submitted my request to join.
Since then, the group has morphed into something so much more than a time goal. This Facebook group has become one focused on love and support. We rejoice in each other’s accomplishments, mourn each other’s losses and raise each other up when we see that someone is suffering. We commiserate about our injuries and share tips/tricks of the trade. We listen to woes both running and non-running related.
In short, we have become quite the little “virtual” family!
I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to meet a few of these amazing people during the Walt Disney Marathon weekend. We met up for a pre-race dinner at the Art of Animation resort. It was a blast getting to talk about the race with these people in person!
It was extra special to get to meet Ali from Hit The Ground Running. We have become friends over the past few months. We share in each other’s running journeys while also talking about our non-running related lives. It has been great to get to know her and I was really excited to meet her “IRL”!
To me, Sub-30 stopped being about achieving a faster 5K time a long time ago. Sub-30 is about positivity, motivation, support and (most of all) it is about family.
***Forewarning – this is going to be a picture heavy post.***
My alarm clock went off waaaaay too early Sunday morning. 2 am? Who is awake at 2 am? (Oh wait, me, usually). I dragged myself out of bed and started to get ready. My ever-patient and loving husband also woke up at 2 am to come spectate as I ran my first marathon! (He’s pretty awesome)
We stayed off property this time so we had to drive to Epcot instead of utilizing runDisney transportation. I had been kind of nervous about this, but it was pretty easy and simple. We followed the directions in the event guide and got there on time even though we had to make a couple of pit stops along the way. Getting through the new security check points was pretty easy, as well.
As we were pulling into Epcot, I checked the weather. When I had gone to bed the night before, it said that there was only 10% chance of rain. Now, The Weather Channel was advising that there was a possibility of a thunder storm around 7-8 am. I started to panic a little bit – I had left my visor back at the hotel room. This meant we would need to make a quick stop at the merchandise tent. Luckily, they had a visor that went well with my Minnie costume!
Wes and I said our good-byes and I headed to my corral. I feel like the time went by really quickly. I think my nerves made the time go by fast. Before I knew it, my corral was only a few corrals back from the starting line!
The first couple of miles were kind of hard for me. I always struggle up until about mile three. My legs can be pretty stiff and in longer runs I use those first few miles to warm my legs up. Sunday was definitely no different! By the time I started getting close to Magic Kingdom, my legs had started to loosen and I was getting into a comfortable 1:1 running to walking groove.
My favorite part of the Princess Half Marathon was running through Magic Kingdom (especially under the castle!). This time was no different (well, maybe aside from the finish… I was pretty damn happy to be done!). There is nothing like seeing the parking booth sign lit up against the sky… knowing you are about to enter your favorite place in the world.
When you get to Magic Kingdom, you enter the park near the Town Square. You immediately make a right turn and you are on Main Street USA. There is something so beautiful about running down Main Street with the castle right there. I stopped to take a quick picture of the castle and then turned right to run into “Tomorrowland” (home to “Space Mountain”).
When I ran through.
The route then takes you from Tomorrowland into Fantasyland. You run past Ariel’s and Belle’s castles. You turn toward Cinderella’s castle and prepare to run underneath (definitely an emotional experience).
MarathonFOTO, after running under the castle.
When you finish up at the castle, you head through Frontierland and then exit Magic Kingdom. That is when things started to get hard for me. Miles 7 through 12.5 are run on a long stretch of Disney’s road system. Your next stop is Animal Kingdom, but that is a pretty long while away. The sun is out and the humidity is high. Asphalt is hard on my feet and the soles of my feet started to ache pretty badly. I was struggling against my mind.
By about miles 9-10, I had hit my wall. My ear phones had malfunctioned to the point that I ripped them out of my ears and stuffed them into my race belt. I was tired – going to bed at 8 pm the night before and waking up at 2 am was starting to take its toll on me. My feet hurt very badly. I was mentally frustrated at my body’s betrayal. Two weeks earlier, I had run 22 miles with barely any problems! Why was I feeling like I was breaking down before I had even hit the half way point?! Animal Kingdom felt like it was a million miles away.
But I kept moving. I focused on putting one foot in front of the other. Wes was at Animal Kingdom, stationed just outside of the park. I stopped focusing on getting to 26.2 miles and I started focusing on getting to him. That was a much easier goal to accomplish.
Animal Kingdom route
Entering Animal Kingdom
Entering Animal Kingdom renewed my drive a little more. I was in the second out of the four (technically five if you count ESPN?) theme parks I would run through that day. I briefly entertained the thought of stopping to ride “Expedition: Everest” but quickly discarded that thought. I don’t know if I would have been able to convince myself to get moving again if I stopped! Ha!
I ran into my friends Will, John and Michelle as I cruised through Animal Kingdom. It was great to see them and we exchanged sweaty hugs. I discovered that Michelle was injured and was amazed that she had continued to move on. I was so proud of Will & John for staying by her side, as well! These three are part of the Sub-30 Club I mentioned in my earlier post – and they really embodied what it means to be a part of the Sub-30 Family. They encouraged me to keep moving and I did (but not before snapping a couple of photos).
The Tree of Life!
Will really was Mr. Incredible!
You exit the park through the Dinoland portion. There was a photographer there that (of course) caught me during one of my walk intervals. Still a great photo!
I exited Animal Kingdom, looking forward to seeing Wes at the park entrance. I had missed him at Magic Kingdom (it was like looking for a needle in a hay stack!) and was hoping the same thing wouldn’t happen again! Luckily, I caught him and was able to give him a nice sweaty, salty kiss before hitting the route again.
As I hit the road again, my spirits really started to flag. The bottoms of my feet were on fire. The asphalt was absolutely killing me! I kept telling myself that I needed to stop at one of the medical tents… and of course, when you need one it seems like it takes forever to find one! Between miles 16 and 17, I located a med tent. I grabbed up globs of Biofreeze and tottered over to an empty spot on the grass. I sat down and yanked my socks and shoes off. I slathered the cold stuff on my feet. I also slapped it onto the backs of my knees and up my thighs. My legs felt good but I thought it was wise to pre-preemptively treat any soreness. The 1000 mg of Tylenol that the med tent staff were offering was practically ambrosia. I had started to develop a slight headache (not from dehydration – probably from fatigue) and Tylenol is definitely my go to for headaches! Plus, I was really hoping that the Tylenol would help relieve some of the pain in my feet.
After self treating myself at the med tent, I felt good to go. My mile time for that split was shot (it was over 20 minutes… bleh) but it was definitely necessary! It took a little bit for everything to kick in, but once they did… I was good to go again. I had been dreading the “ESPN” portion of the race because I had read that others thought it was the most boring. I’ll be honest – I felt like I soared through that portion!
While at ESPN, you run through Disney’s different sports complex. I really enjoyed running on the race track. My aching feet welcomed the break from the harder surfaces! Running in Champion’s Stadium was pretty cool as well. I thought that I was going to have a pretty good picture from marathonFOTO in there, but I actually look like I am falling asleep on my feet and I have a goofy look on my face… ha!
When I realized I had less than 6 miles to go, I almost cried for the first time. Up until that point, I had been doubting myself. As I drew up to mile 21, I started to believe. I could do this. I would do this. I was going to finish!
After exiting ESPN, you make your way up a nice hill to head to Hollywood Studios. The Green Army Men from Toy Story are on the hill to offer “encouragement” as you run. I trotted past them and heard, “Come on polka dot! Run!” That definitely got a chuckle out of me and that’s hard to do during an endurance/long distance run!
As I entered Hollywood Studios, my feet started to bother me again. But I was less than a 5K away from finishing and you were not going to get me to stop for anything less than a seriously debilitating injury! I was looking forward to running through Hollywood Studios. I have not been there since they removed Mickey’s Sorcerer’s Hat or since they closed down some of the older rides (like the Backlot Tour). It was kind of bittersweet for me to run through the costume portion of the Backlot Tour (even with the disco craze rave lights going on!). I really enjoyed the Backlot Tour as a kid and will miss having it there! It was also pretty strange to not see the giant blue starred hat as we ran by The Great Movie Ride. Oh well… everything must move on in this crazy world of ours! Unfortunately, non of the photographers captured me in this park and I wasn’t going to stop!
After Hollywood Studios, we ran along Disney’s Boardwalk. This was lined with lots of spectators and that really helped to keep me going. I love that they cheer you on… they’ll call out your name as you race by and it just lifts your spirits up! The Boardwalk portion filtered into…
Entering Epcot was emotional for me. I wasn’t done… but I was close. I was so, so, so close and I knew that I was going to make it. Entering Epcot was probably actually more emotional for me than finishing, to be honest. I found a burst of energy and felt my feet pick up. I was grinning from ear to ear. I was going to make it! Six months of training was not going to go to waste. Six months of forcing myself to go out for long runs in the wee hours of the morning. Six months of commitment and willpower… and it was finally coming to fruition! I was going to make it.
I thought I was going to cry when I exited Epcot and rounded the corner that would lead me to the finish chute area. Spectators were cheering and Wes was waiting. The finish line was right there. I had been running for over six hours and it was about to come to an end.
I will be honest. There are few things as exhilarating as that moment when your feet first hit the final timing mat at the finish line. And for me, that moment really showed my internal demons that I am strong. If you put an obstacle in my way – I will beat it.
Will I do it again?
During the race, I kept telling myself, “Never again.”