One recent morning I was sitting with my pups, drinking coffee, writing in my journal about nothing and everything, and it hit me: when I went to Flagstaff to train, the fitness I gained didn't prepare me to run my best race (yet).
Instead, I learned how to not drive myself insane while isolated.
When I left for Arizona I wasn't in a great place. I felt as though I lacked a clear purpose, I didn't have a routine I loved, every day felt the same, I was using TV and sleep to escape my "problems," and I was developing co-dependent relationships with people, dogs, and running.
Perhaps the biggest reason I was looking forward to my trip was not the uninterrupted time to train, but the uninterrupted time to work on myself. I've said this before and I will say it again: the best time to create a routine that you love is when you are completely out of your routine.
Some of the best changes I've ever made have come while on vacation. During our honeymoon I realized the merits of running in the morning and having the rest of the day to play. Also during our honeymoon I picked up my morning journalling habit. When we went to Minnesota for our anniversary I re-discovered that I enjoy running in the morning. During down time from running I build (or re-build) habits into my routine. This time around I'm working on functional core, meditation, and breaking my day into two parts: time for me and time for work.
In the grand scheme of things, I am very grateful for how I have felt during this pandemic. While I am absolutely anxious/nervous/scared/uncertain, I recognize that if this had happened last year I would not have the tools to cope with isolation. I am an extrovert. I get stir-crazy. My idea of a perfect Saturday afternoon is to sit in a coffee shop and make friends with the people sitting around me.
Two winters ago was perhaps the lowest I have felt since college. Dave was traveling an absurd amount and I was alone from 6 AM Monday morning until 6 PM Friday night, weeks on end. My training partners were both injured. I never saw anyone during the week and I was too sad about it to make myself get out of the house, except to run by myself.
To be honest, when I left for Flagstaff I was scared I would feel this way again. I was terrified I wouldn't be able to be alone in my thoughts in the mountains with no car, no emergency contact in town, and nowhere to go.
Instead, being thrown into the fire (or this case, void) forced me to develop new skills and coping mechanisms.
I cancelled my Netflix account.
When you are sitting in a quiet home, surrounded by a stack of books, with a direct view of the mountains and some of the most breath taking sunsets, you reach a point where you ask yourself why am I REALLY watching Netflix?
I very distinctly remember the day I decided Netflix wasn't freedom, but a chain. I had gone for a long run, made dinner, read a few chapters of my book, and had a couple hours to kill before it was time to go to bed. I wasted 25 minutes searching through recommended movies and shows before settling on something I don't even remember the name of (a man's wife cheats on him with a furry so he wears a bear costume and is mistaken for Big Foot and continues the ruse because he likes the attention). The synopsis sounds much more entertaining than the movie itself. I remember I was halfway through and I checked to see how much time was left, because I was so bored. I didn't even like what I was watching - it was merely filling space in my life.
At that point I realized my time is infinitely more valuable than feeling the need to consume movies and tv shows simply because they are available. I have never been one who is able to do things in moderation (except, ironically, food and drink), so cancelling Netflix was my only option.
It's definitely weird not to have Netflix now, especially with everyone posting their movie and tv show recommendation. But, I am infinitely more productive than I was before I left for AZ. I watched all 10 seasons of Friends in a span of 4 or 5 months. I would literally watch an episode of Friends as a reward for replying to emails or bringing up the laundry. It wasn't healthy, and I know I would be turning to that escapism now if I hadn't broken the cycle.
I became comfortable with silence.
I grew up in a household where silence didn't exist. At any given time there is a radio tuned to WGN in the kitchen, a television blaring a soap opera in the family room, a smaller television playing a spaghetti Western in the living room, and probably a television or record player turned to full blast in the basement. If one of these gets turned off (or, heaven forbid, turned down), utter chaos ensues.
It turns out that your brain can become addicted to the things you grew up with as a child, so the opposite can feel very uncomfortable. My AirBnB in Flag had very strict quiet hours from 9 PM to 8 AM. This was almost a deal-breaker for me when I read the listing. But, not only was it nice to be able to hear myself think, the silence had a healing quality as well. Instead of going to bed after hours of just one more episode, I learned to go to bed after reading just one more chapter.
where I spent 4 weeks in solitude
Today, I am drawn to the silence. My favorite place in existence is the bottom level of the Whole Foods parking garage downtown. It is the only place in Indy I have ever experienced where there is absolutely no noise. Sometimes I drive there just to sit and listen to the wonderful meditative absence of sound.
I learned how to entertain myself.
Another fear I had before leaving for Arizona was that I would drive myself crazy without someone to entertain me. I definitely looked to Dave, or my friends, or my dogs to entertain me without realizing I needed to do a better job being in charge of my happiness. I would get so frustrated if Dave worked late or wanted to do things around the house instead of sit down and watch Netflix with me.
Spending time by myself taught me how to be more self-reliant. I journalled. I yoga'd. I read. I cooked. I planned the trips I would take downtown. I called friends and family. I worked productively. I watched the snow and did nothing.
I stopped going out to eat.
I am one of those obnoxious people who consider themselves a foodie and insist on instagramming their meals. For Dave and me, one of our favorite hobbies is going out to eat and having indulgent meals. In Flagstaff I focused on spending as little money as possible given that I was there during Christmas shopping season and was spending quite a bit of money on 28 days in an AirBnB. Off the top of my head, I can think of 4 or 5 meals total that I ate outside of the AirBnB. I absolutely missed going out, but I also enjoyed spending that money on things like Christmas presents and really nice crusty bread with fancy brie cheese from the grocery store.
I embraced small pleasures. Since I tried to spend as little money as possible, the small things that I usually took for granted became my favorite simple pleasures. An incredible cup of coffee, a pot of tea in the sunny window spot, and the best chilaquiles of my life stand out to me as the best things I spent my money on while away. My favorite activity after working downtown was to walk through Crystal Magic.
That doesn't feel too different than life right now. Dave and I stopped at Quills on Saturday for a cup of coffee (iced tea for him) while we were running errands and that $2 cup of coffee made me so dang happy.
I missed my family.
I knew I was going to miss Dave while I was in Arizona, but I had no idea how much I was going to miss my dogs. I also missed Thanksgiving with my family for the first time in 31 years. While it was hard at the time, technology made it easier. I facetimed Dave and the dogs frequently, and my mom even learned how to video chat when she and my dad were watching Lucy. I talked on the phone with Dave or my mom almost every day. Technology doesn't replace real life interactions, but it does do an incredible job helping to fill the void.
I got used to running alone.
During a typical 100 mile training week I have company for 60 - 80% of my runs (depending whether Dave is traveling). In Arizona, I had company for 8% of my total miles. I got used to depending on myself for getting out the door. It certainly helped that I had to plan my day in advance, especially if I was going to make use of the bus system. I learned what worked for motivation, and what didn't. Mostly, I became more comfortable with the discomfort we try to mask with people, music, noise, and material things.
I would be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed that I spent 4 weeks in solitude hoping for a big aerobic payoff and I didn't really get the chance to showcase it. I know it's there. In the 3 weeks I took off from running and the subsequent 4 weeks I have run 15 - 25 miles per week, I can feel that my lungs and legs want to go faster and farther. Instead I am dealing with a glute/hamstring thing right now that is limiting how much I can run.
I can feel that my pelvis is out of alignment and while I am mostly able to do some DIY tricks at home, it doesn't seem to want to stay in alignment. I also have a big knot in my glute med that I can't seem to release with any of my at-home tools. I think a big problem is that I am used to regular massage and maintenance PT and I have had neither in 8 weeks. I have been reluctant to go to PT because it has felt somewhat irresponsible, especially given that running isn't exactly a top priority right now in the grand scheme of the global crisis. But, being in pain IS affecting my mental health, as a good friend pointed out to me, so I do have a PT appointment tomorrow. I am hoping that a couple dry needling and alignment sessions will have me back on track.
I am more motivated than ever to get back to work, to do the little things, to approach running and racing with a different mindset, and to see where that takes me.