You all know I love adventure. The thrill of exploring new places and pushing myself to new limits is exciting to me. But thanks to a pandemic, an uncertain start back to school and changes at work, I have been staring down many weeks and months void of adventure. Void of lots of things actually. I’m trying to focus on the positives while navigating this storm, and there is lots to be thankful for. Mostly though? I’m feeling a lot of…well…feelings.
Its not uncommon for me to find myself in an autumn rut, where the thrill of summer is gone and we are bracing for shorter days and a whole lot of cold. And all of that was feeling 1000x harder this year; between the pandemic altering our whole world and my accident this summer (Northover Ridge to Emergency Room) I have been feeling major energy shifts, pushing me to uncomfortable new places where nothing quite makes sense anymore. I couldn’t even put my finger on it, but rather have felt like I was an outsider watching my usual strong, vibrant self evaporate into a fragile shell, riddled with anxiety and intense moments of sadness. I’ve never struggled with my mental health before, so this all felt like uncharted territory. And I’ll be honest, I wasn’t thrilled about how I was coping with it. I knew I could do better. Be better. And that I needed some serious self-parenting to get myself sorted out.
So in the absence of an exciting adventure to keep things interesting, or maybe more accurately, to keep me distracted, I decided to take things to the opposite extreme. What can I learn from the beauty of discipline, of outright boredom even? I’ve given myself challenges for the month of November before and have always found them beneficial, so I decided it was time to explore that again this year. So for the 30 days of November, I committed to running everyday and not eating sugar. My own ‘November Project’.
What? Why the hell would I do that? How does that help keep my mental health in check and help me make sense of my ever-changing world?
Well…it doesn’t really. Not at face value anyway. After all, I eat pretty healthy and run most days anyway so it’s not a major change, but I wanted to explore further growth through those practices to see what else I could learn. I know that I tend to avoid dealing with thoughts or emotions by seeking out distractions or temporary quick fixes. Food, sugary food in particular, being a big one for me. So the purpose of cutting out sugar had nothing to do with weight loss or calorie restriction or even the physical benefits of healthy eating, rather it was an exercise in impulse control. An exercise in actually feeling ALL of my feelings. No distractions, no quick fixes…just moving through the waves of things as they came up.
That is really, really hard.
But guess what? Feelings are meant for feeling.
Read that again.
They demand to be acknowledged. They demand a response. Even if the response is to sit with them as long as needed.
Sugar, social media, alcohol and even running are all such easy ways to distract…avoid. And every now and again it’s a good idea to hit reset and examine how/why I’m using those things to coast through my life instead of truly feeling all the feels that make us human. The good, bad and really ugly ones.
So why the run streak? Particularly if I acknowledge that running is often used as a crutch or another method of distraction for me. I didn’t set myself a target distance goal, or any rules around what each of those runs should look like, instead my goal was to find meaning in every run.
As my friend Glenda said to me: “You already trust your body. Now time to trust your Knowing”
Here’s what happened over the last 30 days.
I leaned into every emotion and examined the thoughts and patterns that were triggering them. And then I acted accordingly. Whenever I found myself pacing the kitchen wanting an indulgence (hello chocolate!) I took a deep breath and took stock of what was actually going on.
-Loneliness (feeling disconnected from people I craved connection with)
-Boredom (Covid cleared my calendar almost entirely and I prefer to thrive on busy-ness)
-Anxiety (watching plans for our future waver with uncertainty)
-Purposelessness (a job I normally love has been reduced to a fraction of its usual meaning)
-Sadness (Really. Fucking. Sad.)
How absurd that we think that any number of distractions or substances can take those feelings away. They demand to be felt. If left unacknowledged they will only come back louder until they are too loud to be quieted by the next quick fix; sugary or otherwise.
At the start of the month, I admit I didn’t think that I would get a lot of value from committing to run everyday. I love learning new things about myself and the world through running, but most of those lessons come from really big adventures or runs that have a lot of significance (like Run On or Recovery runs) The lessons from day-to-day, mundane runs are harder to glean, and frankly, not as much fun. So I simply committed to being open to whatever the month held and whatever lessons were waiting.
So what meaning did I find in 30 days of running?
I said yes to new group runs and made some new friends. I listened to podcasts, and heard such powerful messages that they stopped me in my tracks. I ran during the first big snow storm of the year when every fiber of my being resisted stepping out the door, yet I was surprised to find an intense peace in the winter wonderland. I joined a birthday run for a friend, honoured to be a part of her 50km for 50 years celebration. I organized a team for Warm Hands Warm Hearts virtual run and collected 57 backpacks full of donations for the homeless. I ran my fastest 5k in a time trial early one morning (read it here). I ran a half marathon in support of the Edmonton Food Bank with Turkeys on the Trail. I ran a marathon for a friend’s 42nd birthday. I led Trail Sisters a few times, a group aimed at making trail running more accessible and empowering for women. I was even lucky enough to get in a mountain run with Tania in Jasper. I forced myself out the door to run on days when my body screamed for rest and was reminded, yet again, why rest days are important. I slept through a morning run, regretted it all day, and paid for it by struggling through an evening run, learning, yet again, why discipline is important too. I learned about fermented foods, and grief, and the American electoral system, and about ice flows on the river, and about cloud seeding in Dubai, and about how to process a deer you’ve shot, and how sometimes the hardest thing you’ll ever do is run in the opposite direction of that which no longer serves you. No matter how much you wish it wasn’t so.
Now it is December and I’ve learned that both run streaks and sugar deprivation will come to an end, as do all other things in life that are both beautiful and brutal. Brutiful.
A few friends had heard about my ‘November Project’ and had decided to join me with their own variation of the challenge. Some committed to no sugar, or no alcohol, or no news, or added push ups or other fitness goal. One friend, Curtis, threw out the idea to do a marathon on November 30th to celebrate the run streak. It would be his first and he was pretty excited about it. But since I had already done a marathon that month, I decided to up the ante and suggested we run out the month with a 50k. He was all in.
So Monday night, after full day of work, a few of us met downtown and started following the river in the dark. We finished 50 kilometers just before midnight and celebrated with cookies (chocolate!!) and a home brewed beer under a full moon and clear sky.
These shifting energies and feelings that demand attention are not easy. They are downright painful in fact. But I’m done with avoiding and distracting and am ready to keep on moving forward, trusting that good days and mountain top adventures are still in store for my future when all the dust has settled.
When that day comes, you better believe I’m taking chocolate to celebrate the journey.