This time of year is always a struggle for me and I think it’s because October is an in-between month. Somewhere in-between the buzz of a new September start, when days are still sprinkled with just enough hints of summer to keep me happy, and the bustle and glow of Christmas where we get another break and a bit of a re-set. But in October, after the leaves have fallen and ice coats the dying blades of grass, I find little to be excited about. In fact, I have to work really hard to stop myself from slapping Pumpkin Spice Lattes out of the hands of every girl who tells me they love fall colours and cozy sweaters. I just love summer so much, and I always struggle to watch it end. I live for hot days and dry trails and this summer gave us precious little of either. Sure, I had an incredible run season with plenty of mountain trips (The Self Supported Ultra: Rockwall Trail) and of course reaching my goal of finishing a 100-mile race (Sinister 7: 100 Mile Ultra 2019) but even with all that success, I wanted more. More sun, more time off work, more time to run.
What do you do with yourself when your goal race is long past and it’s too early to start working towards what is next? When your identity is wrapped up in running, how do you cope when you feel like you are doing more standing still then moving forward?
It’s very rare for me to struggle with my mental health, and I credit that, in large part to the fact that I run as much as I do. There is complex chemistry happening inside my brain that explains why I can keep away the threat of anxiety or depression, but in simplest terms it comes down to this: running keeps me happy and sane. So when my running decreases and my inspiration grows a little tired, I can feel the edges of my mind start to flirt with anxiety and the grey skies reflect back a little more sadness then normal. It seems to hit me every autumn when spindly tree branch fingers point accusingly at the low sky and colourful leaves disintegrate into dead brown, all of it pointing towards the long cold winter ahead. I think we can all agree that it is hard to get excited about that.
Aside from just the shift in weather, this fall has been tough for other reasons too. Kids back in school, including one hit full force with the realities of starting Jr High. I’m back at work after the summer off, at a new site which brings with it a new learning curve and new team of colleagues to adjust to. Busy kids schedules with swim team, soccer, piano, volleyball, choir and drama pulls us in several directions six nights a week. Our hectic schedule means that often my only time in the day to workout is between 5:30-7:00 am, alone and running on road in the dark…less then exciting. A lot of my favourite run friends haven’t been putting in many miles due to injury so I haven’t been doing as many group runs lately either, which is tough because we all know how important it is to surround yourself with community. On top of all that, lately I have been walking alongside some friends in difficult situations, which leaves me wanting to hold the pieces of their broken hearts together; knowing there is little I can do takes its toll.
The reality is, I need to run to cope with the daily stress my life brings. And on weeks that my mileage drops, I suffer. I’m not training for anything specific right now, I have a few races on the distant horizon, but for the most part I’m simply maintaining base fitness, working on strength and range of motion and trying to stay as motivated and connected as I can.
So here are a few things I’ve been doing to try to thrive in this in-between time, these are the things that are keeping me sane and at peace in a world that threatens to unravel me.
I keep running. Obviously. Whenever I can and as much as I can. And while I would much rather be on a mountain with the sun on my skin, I have to accept that not all runs are going to be that amazing. So sometimes my runs are short and painfully boring, but 5km around the track while my son is at soccer practice still touts the same physiological benefits; heart rate up, sweat forming, muscles working. Mostly my runs are early and lonely and in the dark, but most days, that is the only time I get to myself so I enjoy it as much as I can.
I keep looking for new challenges. This means I sometimes make reckless decisions to do stupid things. For example, I’ve signed up to row a marathon in the end of November. Let that percolate for a second…Row…A…Marathon. On a rowing machine. You ever used one of those things? It’s a full body torture device. A friend of mine is hosting a MarROWthon at a Crossfit gym and when I heard about the challenge, I knew I had to do it. I have a rowing machine and I’m actually pretty good at it, so I’m going to go for it. 42 200 m of rowing hell. (It’ll be fun.) I’ve also signed up for the Coronation Triathalon in May. Which is a little terrifying because this means I have to learn an entire new sport in seven months, and I really don’t like water. So, this could be interesting to say the least. If all else fails I can walk along the bottom of the pool for 1000 m, then I can fly past everyone on the bike and run to redeem myself right?.
I stay socially connected. Trail family is exactly that, we are like family. It’s a small world and we got to look out for each other. Most runners I know struggle this time of year for the same reasons I do. Race season is mostly over and many are injured or on the cusp of it and in desperate need of rest and recovery. Which means it is more important then ever to connect, even if that means finding non-running excuses to get together, or maybe it means you still run together, you just go slower then usual to make sure you have enough time to catch up.
I look for ways to stay inspired, and certainly some incredible people from around the world have been giving the run world plenty to get excited about. Eliud Kipchoge’s sub 2 hour marathon, Brigid Kosgei’s new women’s marathon record, Maggie Guterl outright winning the cruelest and most bizarre ultra imaginable at Big’s Backyard Ultra, and of course watching Alberta’s own Dave Proctor come in a strong third after Maggie. Camille Herron setting a new record at the 24 hour championships and watching Moab 240 athletes come in one by one after days on the trail. I love seeing what other people can do in the run world almost as much as I love testing what I can do.
October will pass, and so will November, and soon enough I’ll get excited about winter running and feel like I’m pulled out of this funk. In the meantime, this is a good reminder to stay in flow; to remember that running, just like life, comes in waves where a high season can just as easily be followed by a low one. It’s not wrong, or right, it just is. And for now, I suppose that is okay.