(Note: this is a post I wrote for The Mighty, but since their turn around time is 3 weeks I thought y'all deserved the story a lil bit faster.)
In early September of 2016, a friend playfully challenged me to join her for a race on June 11, 2017. She was planning on doing the half marathon (13.1 miles) and assumed I’d be doing the associated 5K (3.1 miles). I had done several 5Ks in the past, and I playfully asked what made her think I too couldn’t do the half marathon. True, I had never done one before, but that’s just a minor detail. A decision was made rather quickly and I paid for registration for the half marathon on September 8, 2016. I started pre-planning to walk/run the race immediately with a goal of just finishing. The plan was to start pre-training in January, then follow a 12-week plan that would start March 20, 2017.
My pre-training didn’t happen due to increased depression through the winter months. When March 20th came around I forced myself to start training, knowing I’d eventually regret it if I didn’t. I did my workouts 3 to 4 days a week out of a 5 day a week training schedule, which my more experienced friends told me was completely fine as long as I didn’t skip my longer distances. I stuck to the plan pretty well for the first eight and a half weeks.
On Thursday of week 9 I saw a new psychiatrist and started a new stimulant (as an adjunct to my antidepressant medication therapy) the next day. The following day (Saturday) I “accidentally” did a half marathon…during a thunderstorm, nonetheless. One might ask how one “accidentally” does a half marathon. Here’s how: I planned to go out for my scheduled 11 mile “long” training walk, the temperature felt good despite/because of rain on the horizon, I brought a rain poncho, I felt good, I kept going until I reached 13.11 miles according to my GPS watch in part because I was able to tune into my audiobook and just keep moving.
The next day (Sunday; day 3 on the new medication) was a MAJOR fundraising event for the non-profit organization I volunteer/work for and for which I was on the organizational committee. There was a ton of work leading up to the event and on the day of the event, but a big part of my job was sending out thank you letters as soon as possible after donations were made. I would only go into the office for a few hours at a time and get a bunch done because I was so intensely focused on the task at hand. I realized that I wasn’t doing my workouts while I was doing this fundraiser “wrap-up” and other social activities that happened to fall into this time frame, but I planned to get back on track as soon as possible.
My breaking point came when, on the 12th day of taking this medication, I started my day at 7am and had a schedule to do “work-related” stuff from 7am to 9pm almost straight through. I only ate half of my breakfast that day because I had no appetite before giving a presentation at 10am, no appetite after, and so much focus on my work after that I just forgot. I had cancelled one thing scheduled from 4pm to 6pm so I could do my workout during that time slot, but when I realized at 4:30 that all I’d had to eat all day up to that point was hash browns at 9am, I decided food was probably a safer idea than a workout. There would be not have been problem with stopping what I was doing at work, getting something to eat, and returning to my work. My boss strongly encourages taking care of myself and I’m not getting paid so it’s not like it would take money away from me or paid time away from my work. I was just so focused on what I was doing that I couldn’t force myself to take a break even to go to the restroom until it was almost too late or get a drink from our mini-fridge on the other side of the room until I was painfully thirsty. I could be either intensely focused or intensely distracted. No in between. Also during the 12 days I was on this medication, I spent almost $1,000 ($957.18 to be exact) on top of paying almost $700 ($698.43) on my “usual” bills, including my credit card which has been maxed out for 2 months. My impulse control was next to non-existent. This might also be a good time to disclose I’m on disability and am on a fixed income of just over $1,000 per month. I had a little extra money from a fender bender which I planned on using to get my car fixed and money in a savings account from my tax return. I pulled some over into my checking account when I realized I would have about $25 in my checking account after my remaining bills alone by the next time I got paid...in 22 days. The worst part: I had worked out 3 times in the 12 days I was on this medication and my half marathon was less than 2 weeks away from the last day I took it.
When I realized all of this it was all at once. It came crashing down on me like a ton of bricks. The realization that the catalyst was this new medication hit me even harder. I called my new psychiatrist the morning after connecting the dots (or rather the dots were connected for me by my boss). I stopped taking the medication immediately and started my old stimulant back up two days after stopping the new one. But I fell into a deep depression. Once I realized how much destruction I caused in my life in so short of a time, I just wanted to cry and sleep all the time. How was I going to get that money back? How was the lack of workouts going to affect my half marathon? Would I even be able to finish it? I couldn’t not try simply because of the time and money I had already invested into it, but failure was also not an option. I had no energy to get back into my workouts. My boss encouraged me take some time off to get myself back into a healthier place mentally and physically, but that had a significant negative impact on the office at a time where the boss herself was having a family issue and couldn’t be there.
I did get back to my workouts. Not as much as I would like to have, but I also could be at risk for overdoing it in the 11 days between stopping the new medication and my half marathon. I worked out 5 times in those 11 days.
This story does come with a happy ending. With the help of my three running groups, my closer running buddies, and my boss, who is also a mentor and friend, I finished my half marathon with a time of 3:59:31.60. Remember that the only goal was to finish before they closed the course after four and a half hours. I started out strong, but since the temperature got up to the mid-80s and it was very sunny with little shade on the course, I got so hot I felt like I couldn’t physically continue. The only things driving me were my friend who was meeting me at set points to refill my drink or help me cool off and my friends at the finish line waiting for me. My boss/mentor/friend sent me a text message saying she was waiting for me. I told her where I was when I was about a mile out, and her response was to remind me of sea turtles. Every move a sea turtle makes, though slow, has purpose and ultimately a lot of power, which is why she uses them to remind her of recovery and life in general. As far as the money goes, I was blessed by an angel of a friend who helped me with some money. Enough that I don’t have to worry about my checking account going into the red before my next pay day and was able to replace the money I took out of savings.
There is a rule in running: nothing new the day of a race. It can be extended into nothing new too close to the day of a race. I now know to take it out even further for myself: no new medications while seriously training for a race.
Due to my ongoing financial situation, I only registered for two races this year: my June half marathon and another in September, with goals of just finishing the June one, then finishing the September one a little quicker. I am scheduled to do my next - second official - half marathon on September 30, 2017. Here’s hoping for better temperatures and better mental health!
(Photo courtesy of Tina A. with backdrop by 131 Event Productions)