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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Running 10 Miles and Other Symptoms of Mental Illness

Yes. I run in these.

This time last year, I was 2 weeks post partum, sitting at my kitchen table, bawling into a bowl of my Vietnamese mother-in-law's homemade pho. I was 206 lbs, swollen in places I didn't even know could retain fluid, and feeling vaguely like a walrus an hour after Thanksgiving dinner.

I was not a happy walrus.

As my MIL started lecturing me about crying, in Vietnamese (at least, I think that is what she was lecturing me about), I tried to pinpoint exactly what I was crying about. This is not an easy task in the throes of post partum blues and sleep deprivation that would make a Navy Seal feel sorry for you. I managed to come up with an answer, though.

My life required more energy than my body was able to give it.

Life altering decisions made in moments of utter personal strife should be the first red flag that one is embarking down a path to insanity. Fast forward to this past Sunday, when the levels of insanity I have reached since those steamy, tearful moments a year ago in my kitchen came into 20/20 focus.

I ran 10 miles. Double digits.

Several people have now asked me what it feels like to run 10 miles. I think it would be easier to describe what it doesn't feel like. Emotions run the gamut in a spectacular pendulum between a sensation of actual flight and a sensation of impending death. Most people tell me I am crazy for running at all, much less 10 miles. Crazy is probably an understatement.

I have a lot of experience with the first 8 miles.  Here's what those are like.

Mile 1 - Pantophobia

The first mile is the most terrifying. Every run is different, some good, some bad, and some REALLY bad. The first mile gives me the time and creaky joints to consider just how bad it might get. Is this going to be the run I get hit by a car? Break a bone? Get sudden, explosive runner's diarrhea and poop my pants?

The first mile is the time I fear ALL THE THINGS.

Mile 2 -Clinical Depression 
(Characterized primarily by regret.)

Mile 2 is the mortal mile. My heart has reached the uncomfortable "this sucks so bad" target range, I'm far enough away from my car/house that it will be devastating to do the walk of shame back, and an overwhelming amount of regret floods my body.

Why running?
Why couldn't I have taken up darts?
Or knitting?
Why couldn't I just be happy fat?

Mile 2 is when I regret every ounce of ranch dressing I've ever eaten, and pray that the car I was afraid of hitting me during the first mile is just around the next corner.

Mile 3- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
(Check everything. Now do it again.)

Mile 3 is the moment when I know if I make it just one more mile, I'll have covered a respectable distance. The 5K. Well...3.1 miles. That extra .1 is important, because this is when ALL THE NUMBERS MATTER.

Heart rate. Miles per hour. Minutes per mile. Time. Distance. Song track.

I start checking and rechecking, because it gives me hope that if I can just finish this third mile then even if I have to quit, I could still provide quantifiable data that I didn't waste my time.

Mile 4 -Bipolar Disorder 
(Specifically huge mood swings & racing thoughts.)

Mile 4 is the distance decider. By the end of mile 4, I'm either going be convinced that I am totally done and will probably never run again, or I am convinced I could run another 20 miles. Additionally, I am either completely depressed over my lack of stamina, or over the moon with how far I've come physically and how epically life changing this run is going to be.  In order to stay in the game, I have to try and clear my mind.  This becomes difficult, when my mind goes something like this:

"Holy crap, my heart is going to explode.  I wonder what my heart looks like right now.  OMG, that is disgusting.  Why do I think things like that?  Jeffrey Dahmer thought things like that.  I wish they'd replay that special with Jeffrey Dahmer on MSNBC.  Is NBC a conservative station or a liberal channel?  I can't remember.  Speaking of liberal, I wish I would have applied that anti-chafing cream a little more liberally.  Chafe is a funny word.  I wonder what fingers I use to type the word chafe..."

Mile 5 - Depersonal Disorder 
(Who is that chubby girl running way down there?)

Mile 5 is when whatever fluid is cushioning my brain gets siphoned off to be used in some other shrieking organ, and my muscles start to tear away from my soul.  This is when I am no longer actually in my body, but hovering above myself somewhere thinking what a moron that girl is for running this long, but also kind of enjoying whatever song she happens to be listening to.  I am vaguely aware that she started running for a reason, but at this point I am not sure if the girl I am seeing is running from a psychopath or if SHE is indeed the psychopath who believes she is possessed by a Wendigo and has to run until her feet are no longer on fire.  Either way, it's of little consequence, because there is nothing I can do to stop her.

Mile 6 -Psychosis
(Why else would you run longer than an hour?)

For most runners, six miles is generally what we can run in an hour.  So if I'm on mile 6, it means that I have or intend to run MORE than an hour. 

Imagine your favorite kind of cake (or pie, if you prefer, but if you do, know that many of these mental illnesses apply to you and you should seek help).  Now imagine that you are laying in a pile of marshmallows with nothing but a plate and fork and a gigantic piece of that cake.  Now imagine that you taste that first sweet, sticky bite and it is more than you could have even hoped for in terms of taste and texture and satisfaction.

Now imagine the total opposite of that feeling.

That is what running more than an hour actually feels like.

Our brain, believing that we are being run down by, assumably, a giant Tyrannosaurus Rex, convinces us that we are instead eating that cake, just to give us the will to keep going. There is absolutely no other way to explain why an otherwise fairly rational person would run more than 60 minutes.

Mile 7 - Delusional disorder 
(Yeah, I could totally run an Ironman. I'm kind of a big deal.)

Once I reach mile 7, I know I am more than halfway to half marathon distance.  This is about the time when delusional disorder sets in, and I become completely intolerable to be around.  This can be summed up in a variety of behaviors I may begin engaging in, including, but not limited to:

  1. Singing loudly (because I start believing I am a better singer than Bette Midler)
  2. Smiling idiotically (because I am practicing my finish line face for the Ironman I will no doubt be winning next week)
  3. Telling terrible jokes (because I am now funnier than Russell Brand)
  4. Yelling "Love you!" at anyone I pass (because I am too awesome for this to result in a restraining order)

Mile 8 -Grief 
(Over the death of reason.)

The eighth mile is when negotiation starts, being one of several stages of grief.

If I can just make it to that tree, please let me stop running.

I will never eat white bread again, if I can just stop running.

I will not sleep in this Sunday, if please, God, you will just strike me dead right now so I can stop running.

I also experience the other stages of grief in rapid succession: pain (obviously), denial that I have actually run this far and certainty that I am about to wake up and be disappointed, anger that someone who loves me didn't stop me from pursuing this insane hobby, and, finally, acceptance that I will probably, thank God, be dead in the next 10 minutes.


This brings me to the two new miles.  The last miles I had to conquer Sunday to achieve the coveted double digit runner status.

Mile 9 -Disassociative Identity Disorder 
(All of my personalities running in tandem and losing track of time.)

I'm not sure what happened during mile 9, because I completely blacked out when I did so.  Krissie was with me, so maybe she can shed some light on what happened during mile 9, but until then I am left to assume that my personality traits fragmented into several individuals who, as a group, were able to relay through this segment of psychotic distance together.

Mile 10 - Euphoric Mania
(I'm the queen of the worrrrrrrrrld!)

Mile 10 is when I fully appreciated and enjoyed the hilariousness of my jello legs, the sweat pouring down my cleavage, the heat embedded in the apples of my cheeks, and the laughter of my fellow runner.  I could recognize the worth in all those things for one reason.


Me after 10 miles of running.  Like a crazy person.

Mile 11+  - The Phantom Miles 
(The miles you run after you stop running, otherwise known as mental stability.)

Naturally, if the above was not hyperbole, no one would run 10 miles more than once.  Furthermore, no one would go on to run half marathons, full marathons, ultra marathons, Ironmen, etc.

So why do people do this running thing? Why do we keep running through shin splints, sore knees, upset digestive tracks, burning lungs, and side cramps?

We do it for the phantom miles. The miles you run after you stop running.

That's me running 10 miles of the Run The Bluegrass course on the far left.
Photo stolen from Krissie Bentley. Check out her blog. You'll thank me.

When you are running through the pain and the exhilaration and all the endorphins coursing through your veins, you are truly alive. More alive than you are at rest. So when you consider all the things that happen when you are not running, they become so much more precious and vibrant.  That euphoria carries over, not just in the car ride home from the trail (although, I did spend much of that twenty minutes screaming "WOOOOOOHOOOOOOO!!!!!!" at the tops of my burning lungs).

You carry it with you everywhere.  You start to see everything through those hypersensitive lenses that 175 beats per minute give you.

Today, 48 hours later, my body feels like I have been wrecked by a train.

But you know what?

I can't wait to run another 10.


Lydia @ Inhabit the Beauty said...

Ann, I love it. Just love it.

Katie, RN said...

this. exactly. love the descriptions.

Mat Cauthon said...

Congratulations on your 10 miles. I'm just starting back into running and am on Week 4 of the Couch to 5K (C25K) after about 2 1/2 years off. Never quite made it to 10 miles. I think the most I managed before my mind tricked me into quitting was about 6 1/2.

I LOL'd reading this. The first couple weeks are hell. Oh sure, you feel great about your accomplishment, and as you start to build up a little endurance, you start feeling better about yourself. But the first few weeks my thoughts are mostly "just to the next telephone pole" or "I won't even look at my watch until I reach that blue car. or the one before it"

It was an amazing feeling at some point near the end of my first go-round with C25K when I realized I was just running. Not counting minutes, seconds, paces, telephone poles or any other game to keep me going through this segment. Just running. That was a great feeling.

Congratulations again on your 10 miles. And good luck on the next 10 :)

Ann Bransom said...

@Mat - That is awesome! I am a total run evangelist, and I love to see people start running, or come back to it like you are. The good thing (or bad depending on how you look at it) for you this time around is that you already know you can do it. You've proven that to yourself before. In my opinion, Week 4 of C25K is the WORST, so after this week you are home free!

Good luck and thanks for reading!

Mike Kayser said...

Just curious, since you're trying to scare people like me, what do you think of using a treadmill for exercise? I had thought of buying a new bike due to the low price and familiarity (rode one everyday to school and work in high school), but I was thinking I'd be more likely to exercise if I could be doing other activities at the same time. I also have a foot problem (only one foot) so being able to find a comfortable starting distance would be important too.

azteclady said...

I can admire and sorta kinda understand the concept--but you'll never see me running.

but huge congrats on reaching double digits and best wishes for continued success and progress!

Ann Bransom said...

@Mike - I started out on a treadmill for probably the first 5 weeks I ran, so I think getting a treadmill is a good idea. It also removes the excuse of not being able to run in the really bad weather. Word of caution, though. I guarantee if you run outside for a few weeks, you will be hooked on outdoor running and you will start to refer to treadmill running as "dreadmill running". So don't get one that is expensive. Just get one that does the job.

As far as distance, I think everyone should start out walking two weeks then doing C25K. It is the easiest progression from no running to running 3 miles that you can do. It will help you avoid injury and build up the muscles and tendons in your foot so you don't get hurt. Good luck!

@AztecLady - Come to the dark side. We get to eat as many cookies as we want. ;)

Anonymous said...

I love this ....this was really how i felt when i started running and now i love it tho ive never done 10 mi ive only completed 5 .12.....10 mi is most definitely next on the agenda

mingocat said...

Thank god am not the only person who feels like they've been mowed down by a combine harvester after ten miles! Using your bum to get up and down stairs is fun at age 3 but not so great at age 42!

Anonymous said...

holy sh*t, u think way too much during running

the only thing i think about during my 10 mile run is: sticking to the plan and make sure to follow the right route (i dont use music or anything)

lily ruiz said...

Wow! Good for you. I have had different experiences when I run ten miles. I kinda just say " sitting here and complaining about it isn't going to get it done. " then I just suck it up and go.
I guess everybody's experiences are different except when we finish our 10 mile and we feel invicible and on top of the world.
Keep it up!!