Winter Blues and Running Motivation

A good thing about today is that I have a meal in my crockpot bubbling away, and it will be ready when I get home from laundry/gym/library/errands and before I go off to my Thursday run. I haven’t made Butternut Squash Risotto before (another recipe from THIS BOOK that saved my life last winter) but the sage and cumin spice-combo smells delicious.

A bad thing about today is that it’s still November, and winter isn’t going away for MONTHS!

My Seasonal Depression is mild and manageable without medication, which makes me hella lucky! But as the days get colder I still notice myself feeling down more often than usual, and feeling more tired, even though over the summer I was doing more things with more intensity and with…not less fatigue but different, more positive fatigue. I have a pretty full schedule of life-giving events that I never miss, and sometimes over these last few weeks I find myself not wanting to go…even though I KNOW I’ll feel better when I get there. So I go, and I do.

Some of this is to say November hasn’t been a big writing month, even though in my post just two weeks ago I told you about my big November writing goals. I stand by my decision not to do Na-No this year because there just isn’t a new book in me right now, but without that bar graph and relentlessly increasing word count the writing has not been happening. It’s been a little more about survival—making it to the runs and social events, making a plan for tracking my expenses and making a budget, trying to feed myself more healthily and inexpensively. This doesn’t sound like that many things, but sometimes that’s just where you’re at, you know? I work early mornings at a coffee shop, and I LOVE the morning shift because I get out so early in the day—but if you’re not careful about getting enough sleep, a workweek can feel like a bit of a deathmarch, something to get through until that next day you can sleep in. During the summer on Wednesdays, the first day of my weekend, I just slept for hours and then woke up and ran for hours. And I actually miss that long run training schedule, because you feel just a little less pathetic about the week’s worth of dishes piling up in your sink when you ran twenty miles that day.

Running! The ebb and flow of fitness is a weird thing. I started being intentional about running and fitness just about two years ago, which is a very short time in the scheme of things, and I’ve had the luxury of getting fitter and faster for the majority of that time. I did my second marathon this September (2018) and got a Personal Record by 45 minutes. Going into that race I was the fittest and strongest I’ve ever been in my life. This was just a little over a month ago, and I’ve continued running and lifting things, so most of that strength hasn’t gone too far away. My miles dropped off when I stopped doing race-specific long runs, however, and now I’m trying to get them back up and build a stronger base for the winter. It’s demoralizing to feel exhausted after a 20-mile week when just two months ago you crushed a 47-mile week for your highest-mileage week ever. But you can’t always be at your best/most/fastest/highest/farthest ever, though I do think I have an awful lot of personal bests still to come. You have to keep yourself going by trusting the process over the long haul, and trusting that you’ll get there for your next big thing (I’m leveling up for my next race, if all goes well: a 50-kilometer trail race in the spring). And looking at the little things helps too. Last night was the coldest night for running so far this year, and for 3.3 miles I averaged 8:55 minutes per mile. This isn’t fast by a lot of people’s standards, but I remember a similar cold night in November or December of 2016, back at the beginning of this journey, when I ran my absolute hardest for a similar distance. I remember huffing and puffing on my way back to the bar, really putting my heart into it and running until it hurt—and I averaged 10:30 minute miles. And I was proud! And I should have been! But it’s cool to see how far I’ve come, and good to remember the huge difference between now and then, especially when I feel like I haven’t been working as hard as I could been have over the last month. There’s a lot more months ahead, and lot more hard work to go!

And a lot more cold weather before spring. Brr.

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A Lost Month, and Beautiful Things

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Floor at Wat Pha Sorn Kaew, Buddhist Temple in Khao Koh, Thailand

Okay. We have some catching up to do.

First of all, culture shock is real, and I lost August. Not entirely lost—I traveled to Chiang Mai and Bangkok, I wrote some, and planned and organized thoughts for the rest of my novel. I went to school every day, and joined my friends for dinner and lunch and afternoons at coffee shops. When I wasn’t with people or fulfilling a work obligation, though, I was lying on my bed watching Gilmore Girls, and even when I was with people I mostly felt really, really bad. I identified with many of the things on this “13 Lies Your Depression is Telling You” list, I felt like a terrible teacher, and I wanted to go home.

I don’t know how much of this was the isolating effects of culture shock, and how much was mild depression. I’ve always struggled with ups and downs and probably always will, and going to Thailand in the first place was a response to some pretty serious negative feelings about my self-worth. I didn’t feel like I was capable of anything, so I went to the other side of the world to prove myself wrong. I’m not necessarily knocking this as a solution, but… you’re still you, even in Thailand, and all those bad feelings won’t instantly go away.

I’m doing amazing now, though, and I’m really grateful to everyone who sent me emails and skyped and chatted on facebook and talked and ate meals with me during my bad month. The human contact was so needed and appreciated. Somewhere along the line I got really cynical about a lot of things, and I made a decision a few weeks ago to be more grateful and less self-defeating. To believe that things can be done when I start them, instead of assuming laziness and failure from the outset.

Here’s what I’ve been up to:

Running. Thursday will mark three weeks successful completion of my 5-runs-a-week routine. I run around our school building (.4 miles a lap!) and the students laugh and smile at me. They wave and shout “Hello teacher!” when they see me, every time they see me, which is sometimes three or four or even six times per run! This is a good system because I always run a little faster after a student makes me smile. My favorite was when a group of M1 girls (seventh graders) said, “Teacher, fighting!” as I went by. That’s my new mantra, whenever I’m out of breath and want to stop: Teacher, fighting!

Strength training. Three days a week, I’m doing push ups and squats and crunches. Like, more than I knew I could do. I’ve flirted with pushups in the past, and exercise machines and stuff like that, but this is the first time I’ve realized how it works. You do this. It feels like this. This is uncomfortable, but instead of stopping you do a few more, or a lot more. Sweat drips onto your yoga mat, your muscles surprise you, and you feel fierce. In a few days, you come back and do even more.

[Reality check: I still can’t do more than three full push-ups in a row. Instead of letting that discourage me, I’m killing it with the modified ones and I’ll work my way up to full ones very soon.]

Other stuff. Stretches and yoga, which get mixed in with the running and strength training. While on a school trip, I got up early to do yoga on the balcony while the sun rose over a misty sea. My yoga instruction is entirely from youtube videos, but maybe all these people who are talking about yoga all the time are actually onto something.

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Environment. My brother told me a while ago that a clean house fights depression, so I’m trying to do things to make my surroundings feel nice—even though I’ll only be here for six more months. It’s difficult because my house is dirty and desperately needs a coat of paint, but I’ve been putting things on the walls and investing in cleaning supplies. I haven’t kept up with the cleaning quite as well as the exercise, but I’m picking things up more often and working on some projects. I’m sewing fabric curtains for an ugly piece of furniture, and I bought a new bed set and a folding table to go by my bed. Little things, but worth it for the happiness I get when I use them, and the happiness that comes from feeling at peace with my surroundings.

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I’ve also done some traveling these last few weeks to the ocean and the mountains. The ocean, man. I lived a ten-minute walk from the ocean for last past two years, and didn’t realize how much I missed it until I saw it again. And yesterday’s ride on a mountain highway to a stunning temple 117 km (70 miles away) was awesome, and now I’m remembering my plans for longer bike trips. Things feel possible again, and it feels especially amazing because nothing felt possible in August.

There’s a lot more to say, always is, but for now enjoy some pictures from yesterday’s road trip!

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The five sitting Buddha statue at Wat Pha Sorn Kaew

Me and Anna, my friend from Germany who has been teaching at the school and sharing my house for the last two months. It was her last weekend in Phitsanulok, and I'm so glad we got to do something fun together!

Me and Anna, my friend from Germany who has been teaching at the school and sharing my house for the last two months. It was her last weekend in Phitsanulok, and I’m so glad we got to do something fun together!

Stairs!

Stairs!

Mountains!

And mountains!