A few months back I set a goal of breaking a Sub-90 Half Marathon. My previous personal best is 1h53mins. That is a ludicrous goal for a 36 year-old weekend warrior.
I promised I would write about the journey to demonstrate how I put into practice, many of the tools and techniques from our coaching and support programs.
This might be a running journey, but it could very easily be applied to anything anyone has ever tried to achieve that was difficult.
For more context, you read about the journey thus far in these blogs:
#01 – Sub 90 Half On The Banting And Keto Diet
When I last checked in (four months ago), I had plantar fasciitis in my left foot (inflamed tendon leading to immense pain in the heel) and crossover syndrome in the same foot (when two other tendons rub together too much and become inflamed).
My left foot was a hot mess and running was becoming too painful for me to continue.
I also had a left big toe injury that was flaring up, which was the possible cause of the other two injuries.
I had steroid injection into my big toe knuckle (least fun I’ve had in years), and was told to rest for up to three weeks.
Well, three weeks turned into 6 weeks. At the end of that month my wife and I got COVID, which put me out for an additional three weeks.
By the time I was allowed to train again, I had been out of the game for seven weeks. Pretty much walking only, and zero other exercise. After those seven weeks, I was looking at a mountain to climb just to get back to where I was, let alone to where I was expecting to be in my training.
Below is a chart of my weeks of running over the last year. You’ll see that in November I was peaking, but fell off the map in December and January when I got COVID. Feb and March have been a seesaw or zigzag of good weeks and bad weeks.
The Post COVID Depression
It is now quite well known that one in every three to five people experience long-lasting symptoms of depression and anxiety after they recover from COVID.
I have been sad before, and I have felt lazy too, but the last time I was truly depressed was in high school.
It was really bad this time. I felt like my life was nowhere. I didn’t want to see people. I was irritable and snappy to my kids and my wife. I was lazy – sooooooo LAZY. And, I felt like shit. I was numb and exhausted.
I have heard people give advice to depressed people in the past – ‘Just go for a walk’, ‘See some people’, ‘Get some good sleep’, ‘Get some exercise’, ‘Spend some time in the sun’, ‘Get your nutrition right’.
But while I was in that slump, the thought of doing those things made me angry and sad. In fact, my actions were the exact opposite of what I knew I should be doing.
I did nothing. I ate everything. I stayed indoors. And Ignored phone calls. I didn’t want to see anyone, and I didn’t want anyone to see me in the state I was in.
The worst part was that I was running a group at RMR, and as the coach, my role was to keep everyone motivated. Every text and statement I threw into the group setting felt like a lie because it felt like such a fraud.
It was so strange, because intellectually, I knew that if I persisted with socialising, exercise, sleep, good nutrition and some nature would eventually help, they were the very things my mental state was trying to run away from.
The Lowest Point
The real dark depression only actually kicked in after I actually started exercising again. I felt quite lucky that I had gotten away unscathed by it all. In the week I made my comeback I actually ran twice on one day (I had double-booked runs with two separate groups of mates).
I figured I would need to torch this negative feeling with a double dose of everything to make it go away.
But I felt like shit. My legs had lost all of their strength, my lungs were nowhere, I was short of breath up every hill and my joints were achy. The worst part of all was that the post-exercise rush of endorphins never came.
One of my favourite benefits of exercise is the way I feel after I’ve done the deed. I usually feel on top of the world. It is like I’m invincible. My lungs feel clean, my body feels alive, and I usually feel connected to nature (I rarely run outside of the forest).
But, after pushing myself up hills and down hills, across rivers and doing that all with mates, all I felt was more anger and more deflation. Like when loadshedding kicks in before the end of a great movie, or when someone else overcooks a really good piece of meat you brought to their BBQ.
‘It could have been so great. But, it sucked, and now I’m pissed’
I would finish my runs, and feel worse off for doing them.
I realised I felt worse after exercising because I realised how far behind I was compared to how far I felt I was supposed to be. I felt like I was starting from scratch. I was angry that I was so far behind. And, I was angry that my entire goal had basically been shat on wholely and royally by so many things that were out of my control.
I wanted to quit the goal of a sub-90 half by October, because quite honestly, I didn’t think I would achieve it.
The Turning Point
There were a few things that enabled me to turn it around.
I did not quit – Even though I hated it, I kept running. I didn’t stick to any kind of schedule. I just used what my body gave me on any given day. If all it had for me was a 5km walk, I took it and banked the win (whether I hated it or not).
I made it as fun as possible – I often listen to audiobooks when I run to tick two boxes at once but it can suck the fun out of it. I fired up a playlist of my favourite tunes and took my mind of the ‘growth’ part of life for a bit and just tried to find the fun again.
I moved the goalposts – there is hypocrisy and/paradox here. I say you definitely need a crystal clear goal with a fixed date in it to achieve something. I also say you need the time stamp on it to make sure you feel the pressure and push yourself to achieve it. But, sometimes that deadline can suck the joy out of it, and especially in the case where the time goal is no longer realistic, it can call off the whole project before it gets going. With two months out of training, and the sensitive post-COVID lungs, my deadline may now be unrealistic. So I’m just moving it out by two months. No one will die if I give myself more time. It is certainly not a failure. So who cares?
I talked about it – I’m the happy and motivated guy around my usual crowd so I often feel like I need to be that guy even when I’m not feeling it. I suspect many depressed people also put on a facade to hide what they’re really feeling. So I tried to do that, but I just felt more disconnected from people. After a short time, when people asked how I was (the people who mattered), I would be honest and say, ‘I’m cool, but I think I’ve got a bit of the old post-COVID depression’. No sugar coating it at all. I was honest, and when I was honest like that, my mates were honest too. The guy who gave me COVID was actually also dealing with it, so we started comparing notes and laughing about how we both figured our lives were pointless and that we’d rather be in bed eating pizza and binge watching Netflix.
I also told the group of clients I had in my Hero Program support group. I thought it might be awkward for them to see their leader struggling. But, I think they saw it as authentic, and possibly saw me as a human being rather than some living expression of health, fitness and happiness.
I remained accountable – It is unfair to say this is something I did while I was depressed. I had friends before I started on this thing. But, I also wrote this blog series before I had all of the injuries and the COVID. But, by telling you, my friends and my family what I was up to, I actually created a level of accountability for myself. I could have quit, but I know I told you that I would hit hurdles, and I also told you I would show you how I get over them to succeed no matter what. Would have been pretty lame to quit then, wouldn’t it.
I went back to basics – even though all I wanted was to be really really unhealthy, but I followed the rules – I stopped eating the chocolates that had crept back into my life, I started going to bed at a reasonable time and stopped watching TV in bed. I exercised, even though I hated it. And, even though I felt anti-social, I reached out to mates and started socialising.
Within a month, I started feeling better. And now, I’m almost back to normal. I love running again, in fact last week I ran a 50km week – something I haven’t done in four months.
So, I could say that I’m almost back where I was in November. I haven’t managed to wake up at 4:30am for some early morning work yet, and I haven’t gotten to writing in my journal yet. But my trajectory is pointing in the right direction again, and for now, considering the COVID, the toe injury and a few other things, that’s just fine.
To recap on what I have done, and am still doing to claw back:
- I did not quit
- I made it as fun as possible
- I moved the goalposts
- I talked about it
- I remained accountable
- I went back to basics
In November, I was ready to upgrade my training and take my life to the next level. I was firing on all cylinders. Now, I’m only barely keeping it together.
My biggest learning to date hasn’t been anything to do with getting back to peak state, but rather about accepting the state that I am in at the time and doing the best I can do with that.
I have found that most of my frustrations derive from my expectation of my life and myself, and not really from the actual state. And, the faster I am able to accept where I am, the faster I am able to change where I am.
It has taken four months of ‘journey’ to arrive back to where I was four months ago. And, that’s ok.