It has been a long time since I ran a 5k without kids… maybe at least 4 years. I don’t run 5k’s because you are supposed to run them fast. I prefer to run slow and steady for a longer period of time. I’m too old to run fast. Or so I thought.
As most of you already know, I have been in a bit of a funk lately. No real reason for that, unless you count getting displaced by a hurricane, losing most of your household goods and having your family split apart. But enough with dwelling on my woeful circumstances. My concern most recently has been my history of depression coming back to haunt me. Whether or not people want to believe it, depression is a real illness and should not be taken lightly. It is not just about feeling sad. Other symptoms include hopelessness, helplessness, guilt, fatigue, loss of interest in normal activities (or activities you once thought were fun), difficulty concentrating and making decisions and loss of appetite.
It has been about 14 years since I have taken medication for depression. Instead, I have used exercise as my medicine and it has worked. There were times I worried about it coming back, like when I had a protruding disk in my back and was unable to run (and barely walk) for 3 months. I did my PT religiously and then I found a way to gradually get back into running… by doing triathlons. From there I took it all the way to a half Ironman. Yes, I fight back and I fight hard.
Two days after the hurricane hit and I was stateside, I went outside for a run. I could barely run. I dragged my feet and quit after 2 miles. It was a tough week and I struggled with every run I attempted. Honestly, I felt like I could barely do anything. Then one day I went for a run in the woods and I felt the fight begin to stir within me. I kept fighting and some days I would win and other days I would lose. It has remained a tough battle even after all of this time.
Last week I signed up for a 5k on the nearby Navy base. It was free so I thought it couldn’t hurt. As I already mentioned, I don’t really do 5k’s. I just figured I would at least get out and run with a group of people. Then last night I felt an ache in the pit of my stomach and had second thoughts about going. I made up excuses in my head: “Well, I don’t have a costume” or “It’s free so it doesn’t matter if I show up or not.” Even this morning after I dropped off the kids at school I was still debating in my head. I went back to the house and just planned on running alone around the neighborhood. Somehow I managed to tell myself to at least drive to the base and I could just change my mind if I wanted to. I had to go the Exchange anyway.
Next thing I know I was lined up at the starting line. Once again, I just told myself I was going to get a run in with a group of people. I mean, I even had taken a weight training class the day before and my legs were still hurting. What could I even do if my entire body ached? The countdown started and my adrenaline and need for competition kicked in. I know by now that I can’t just “run” a race. I have to race a race. I started off too fast as I always do (but I always coach people to start off slow and finish strong… just so you know). Then all of a sudden my emotions surfaced. It wasn’t joy or sadness. It was anger. All of a sudden I was just pissed off.
The sorrow and woes had turned to anger. The many stages of grief. Right. I summoned up a new mantra: “Fuck you Maria!” I repeated it over and over again in my head, and maybe out loud a few times (but only when I could actually breathe). When my body started to shut down, I fought against the pain and lack of air in my lungs. As I got to mile 2, my mind was definitely on the prize. I knew I had to win one of those trophies that I had seen on a table at the start. At that point, it was definitely possible. I knew there were only 4 or 5 woman ahead of me. I just wanted to prove to myself that I had the fight within me and I could overcome all of the crap that has rained down on my family. I know it seems crazy to obsess over a cheap trophy, but it symbolized not just a win in a race, but a win in this internal battle. I fought so hard that last mile. I thought I was slowing down so I kept pushing hard (and I found out after I finished that my mile 2 was actually the same exact lap time as my mile 3).
I walked away with that trophy after placing 2nd in my age group. My finishing time was 23:10 and I am pretty sure that is my second best (if not best) 5k time ever… and I am not getting any younger! Um, and let’s just go ahead and throw this out there: I was faster than most of the Navy guys.
Even though I have a headache from the heat and lack of proper hydration, I feel much better today. I feel like I have a fight stirring within me again. I will continue to have the strength to do what needs to get done and I will even go beyond that in any way I can. The next step is to find a purpose now that extends beyond my motherly duties. Running keeps me on the right path and it will take me to where I need to go. With that thought, I hope everyone faced with difficulty figures out what gives them the strength to move forward.