Saturday, March 2, 2013

Whoever decided that February would only be 28 days was smart

I've only survived 23 Februaries, but I would have to say that it is the worst month of the year. Thankfully, it is also the shortest month of the year. With the coining of the phrase "Seasonal Affective Disorder" a lot of people like to excuse their moodiness with something official-sounding. The thing is, people actually have this disorder, people like me, and it is different than the simple winter blues. Feeling a little tired and passive is different than wanting to curl up and die.

The coming of winter used to terrify me, because I knew that I was going to experience something horrible and there was nothing I could do to control it. I remember talking to a doctor who tried to put me on meds and I voiced the concern that I would become dependent on these drugs. She said, "Oh no. We will start you on the meds every September and then crank up the dosage. By May or June you will be able to go off of them." Really lady, I would be drug free for maybe three months of the year. When I did try the meds they gave me side effects that were as bad as the SAD. No thank you.

Every subsequent year, though, I've been able to notice patterns that make me regain that feeling of control that I was so afraid to lose every winter. Knowledge is power, right? By sheer will, I can remain myself through mid-January. But come February the symptoms starts to creep up: apathy which leads to self-loathing, which produces an unbearable hopelessness. I've come to learn not to share my feelings in these times because in a few months it will all seem so foolish and unfounded. Then towards the beginning of March, after countless months of inordinate amounts of sleep, comes the insomnia... like right now. Some nights I can't fall asleep and some mornings I wake up inexplicably early.

And how does this all relate to running? Well, I've definitely noticed a motivational drop these past two weeks. We finally got some good snow in the front range and I'm reminded why I never want to move back to Wisconsin. The truth is, I love running in snow, but my training dictates that I accomplish a certain number of miles in a certain amount of time. After a week of pavement-pounding I started to go crazy and hit the trails for my final long run before the Salida Marathon. I ran up through my beloved Apex park in shorts, post-holing to the knee, rubbing the skin on my calves raw, and falling in huge snow drifts.

Bushed from the effort I started taking the Lookout Mtn Road back down to Golden only to be overcome with curiosity about a trail that I had never run before. I took a few steps down the trail, looked at my watch and felt guilty, started running back up the trail, felt stupid for caring too much about numbers, ran back down the trail, repeated the process, then noticed a guy in his car giving me weird looks, then bombed back down the trail. It was slushy. I was soaked. It took me almost twice as long as it should have. But I was somehow pleased with the effort.

The thing is, people don't run because it is easy. Even in optimal weather on perfect trail conditions, it's not like I head out thinking, "Gosh, this is just going to be such an easy 20 miles." So instead of letting imperfect conditions become an excuse, I think about how it is going to make me tougher on all of my future runs. We are out there to endure, right? I started to notice this after leading a few backpacking trips. The most memorable trips that students raved about weren't the trips with ideal conditions. The trips that students didn't forget were the difficult ones where they were stretched to their limits.

I've heard a lot of people and some therapists employ a method of positive thinking. I had one therapist who had me do an exercise where I jumped up and down until I felt happy because she said that was the posture of happy people. When people try to ignore the bad thoughts and replace them with good, but irrelevant, thoughts, they are robbing themselves of the experience of enduring. If someone gave you a difficult calculus problem you wouldn't try to solve it by focusing on how nice your pencil was or how it was great that you get to live in the age of calculators. So when life dishes you out a hard problem, face it head on and relish the process.

When I wake up and I know it's going to be a down day, I acknowledge that I feel bad. I acknowledge that the next day I will probably feel bad. I also remind myself that there will be a day I won't feel bad and on that day I will have such joy that everything will seem easy. When I'm running, I use the same trick. When I'm in a low spot, I acknowledge the pain, I tell myself that the pain will continue, and I remind myself that it is going to pass.

So if I could go back in time and take away those horrible Wisconsin winters where I was overcome with SAD, I wouldn't. The best runners I know are the ones who have been through hard things. You have to make it through hard things before you can feel confident that you can face more hard things. Sometimes I FEEL like I can't go on, but I KNOW that I can. That applies to both life and running.


  1. "When people try to ignore the bad thoughts and replace them with good, but irrelevant thoughts, they are robbing themselves of the experience of enduring."

    Well said, Allisa. Hard to practice acknowledging the pain, but definitely worth it.

  2. As I trudged through knee-deep, quad-building snow at Blue Mounds this morning, I had two thoughts on my mind: I must endure to reach the end otherwise I will never get to Barth in the warm and toasty car AND wouldn't Allisa love this hike through the sun, shadows, and snow of Wisconsin! - jodi z