Why do I run? I think the honest answer to myself would be because if I didn’t run as much as I do then I would be passed out on in some ditch from too much alcohol or drugs. That’s a strong statement, but it’s true. I was never close to this but the possibility always hangs over my head. About 4 years ago, when I was 28, when I finally could not take the constant up and downs I was dealing with in my head on a monthly, weekly, and daily basis and went and asked for help. I was surprised when a number of professionals said I had bi-polar disorder (Type II, thankfully the milder version) but deep down I sort of always knew.
The constant mood swings have always demanded an outlet. I was lucky enough to discover athletics as a teenager and even luckier in that with the depression mood swings comes an unrelenting desire to achieve (see Ted Turner or Terry Bradshaw for example). I was able to achieve my goal and win a prestigious wrestling championship in high school after 4 years of training for it and even got a Division I scholarship where after two more years of the sport I switched my “pain dulling” to intense university studies and an eventual career in investment management. Boy, did we run during wrestling though, from wind sprints on a high school track to a 15 mile run during my 28-day intensive wrestling camp. We ran strong and hard, and yet I was too young in my teens to appreciate the inherent beauty of the sport. Leaving wrestling however, has never stopped my desire to outpace the anxiety via many different life ventures from going into the Peace Corps to putting myself into ever more precariously imprudent situations hiking around the US and the world. Oh but anything to kill the anxiety and the swings, anything to kill the pain! Chasing the new and bigger goals and highs, whether it’s a longer hike, a month long survival school or a more challenging work assignment, in itself creating another vicious cycle of goal chasing anxiety could very well describe most of my early to mid 20s.
Thus I land in San Francisco in 2005, slightly overweight, looking for a brand new challenge. Running? No problem! Not able to run 2 miles? Sign up for the San Francisco Marathon! And then something happened: I found peace and tranquility through running. Sure, it was another life goal to chase, but for those increasing minutes and later hours, when nothing else mattered: work, relationships, finances, the calmness would take over. Oh running, how I fell in love with you then, how happy we were together. Still I did not appreciate you and your purpose in my life. I allowed you to slip and become another anxiety chasing stage of my life. After the 1st marathon, the San Francisco in 2006, a beautiful memory if there ever was one, came the 2007 Coeur D’Alene Ironman, more triathlons, increasing pressure on myself to get faster, more weekly miles. More! And more intense! Running went from a beautiful gift to a burden that caused constant stress. More pain, more dulling needed, and I am sorry to say running that I got bored with you. I found excuses to not go for long runs, short runs, group meet ups. The unfounded fear of having a bad run and the days of depression that came after became too much and I almost quit you for good.
Fast forward to fall 2009, where in a “oh yeah! well I don’t need you” post a sad, serious break-up fit 5 months earlier, I am signed up for the Richmond Marathon in Virginia. I am undertrained, have zero expectations and say to myself, if I can run 10 and walk 16, I would be happy. And then something happened: I ran a perfect race! A perfect high of 3 hours and 53 minutes on a beautiful fall day. I kept waiting for the body to break down and stop and it kept flying higher and I kept enjoying it. Cautiously, to prove to myself that it was not a fluke, I ran the North Face Endurance Challenge 50k, my first ultra marathon, just a few weeks later. Same attitude, same result. Except this time the added element of finding out that running on trails is amazing. The next two and a half years were some of the most trying years of my life: post break up blues, graduate school, constant looking for the right job in investment management and a year of underemployment. My bi-polar issues, despite the beauty of modern pharmaceutical medicine for which I am eternally grateful, are through the roof. Anxiety levels and depression stages, nothing new, but just bigger and more intense. Except for the one constant: running. The thousands of miles of trails I ran, the hours I spent calmly walking and running through the woods, the people I met doing it. It was and IS all so beautiful.
I ran dozens of ultra trail races since then, and each one I start with no expectations other than to enjoy myself. I never force myself into a situation where running would cause me stress and anxiety, but I still like to push the distance and occasionally, on carefully selected occasions, personal limits. I’ve come in at the top of my age group and dead last in races and I’ve loved it every single time. I’ve taken the lessons learned in life with running and applied them to my personal and professional life. Go the distance, identify and get rid of anxiety causing elements (and people) and most importantly enjoy yourself! Personal and professional relationships have gained greatly, my life is calm and my love affair with running goes on stronger than ever. Yes, bi-polar sucks, I hate it and it’s a constant struggle, but running, especially trail running helps me deal with in a constructive and now healthy way. While this may be a different attitude than what a Nike or a Reebok advertisement in Runners World will tell you but my advice is: Enjoy the run and don’t let it control you.
In as much running has helped me, the one event that has always been there for me is the San Francisco Marathon. It was my first marathon, my fastest marathon, my sister’s first marathon (with me) and a most incredible experience running with Marshal Ulrich last year. Every year it gets more and more amazing and I am proud to run it for the 5th time this year, as an Ambassador for the event. Of course it would not be without a twist, so this year I will be running it TWICE in one day as part of the “Worth The Hurt” campaign while fundraising money for the Snowdrop Foundation, a children’s cancer charity. Running has given me so much that it is only fair that I return the favor and (in a shameless bout of self promotion) I ask all of you to please donate as much as you can to the good cause (link below)! Thank you so much for reading my story and I hope running and the San Francisco Marathon can mean as much to you as they do to me! https://www.worththehurt.net/users/view/306