Running My Own Race

Azy Jenna RunningThis picture represents pure running bliss. It was taken at the 2011 Beaches Jazz Run as my sister and I are about to complete a 20K run. I had been out at a Bachelorette party the night before and was running on 4 hours of sleep and a mild hangover, but this race was one of the best I have ever run.  I look really freakin’ happy in this picture, don’t I?

Having been off running right now for 1 month and 11 days, I’ve had far too much time to think about the philosophy of running and how my personality and sense of self has been shaped by the sport. If I look back on my relationship with running the past year, I can see a lot of struggle, a lot of fear, and a lot of pain. I can also see triumph and joy, but those positive feelings were largely overshadowed by the negative ones. I never expected that being a runner was easy, but I also didn’t expect it would be so hard. I ran through everything, pushing myself, because I thought all my problems were in my head and that I would be weak if I stopped. But if I look back, it makes perfect sense that my body would turn against me because I wasn’t listening to it. All those post-run dizzy spells and panic attacks weren’t just in my head, they were real, physical symptoms that I wrongly ignored. On Monday February 10th, my body forced me to stop, but I should have stopped and listened a long time ago.

When I first started running 4 years ago, it was fun! I often ran with my sister and we had no concern with our time or pace. We ran through along the Azy Jenna running yesLisgar Trail by our house in Mississauga and we chatted along the way, signing up for a few races a year and having a great time. My fondest race memories to this day are of the finish lines I’ve crossed with my sister. Running was a common interest and challenge that brought us together. When I look back on my race times from 2010 – 2012, they were the fastest times I’ve ever run. No, I wasn’t getting up at 6am 5 days a week and I wasn’t following a strict training program. I was just running for joy and loving every minute of it.

Things took a turn in late 2012 when I was facing a lot of work-related stress and my anxiety returned with a vengeance. This when I started to get run-induced panic attacks which would often force me to cut runs short and head home crying. I didn’t stop running because everyone told me that running would help ease my anxiety and get rid of a lot of the nervous energy I was carrying, but unfortunately it did the opposite. Instead of slowing down, I signed up for more races, dreamed of getting faster (even though I was actually getting slower), and tried to ignore what was going on inside my head.

Looking back, what I probably needed during this time was a break from running. It wasn’t making me feel good anymore and instead of forcing myself to keep going, I should have stopped. Just looking at my proposed race schedule for this spring makes me cringe a bit. From March 30th – May 25th I had myself running 2 half marathons, one 30K race, and my first full marathon. With the mental and physical state I was training in, this was just a set-up for disaster somewhere along the line. Making it to that May marathon probably never would have happened. I’m not saying that this schedule isn’t right for anybody, it just wasn’t right at all for me and I was being very naïve and ignorant of a whole bunch of warnings signs that I should have noticed.

Having said all this, I actually can’t wait to get back into running, it’s just going to be a little bit different this time.  I am hopeful that my allergy tests on March 31st will shed some light on what happened and that I will get the green light to lace up the beautiful new, neon pair of Asics I bought from Black Toe Running. My running goal for the immediate future is going to be simple: fall in love with running again. I’m not going to tie myself down to a strict training schedule, I’m not signing up for any marathons (maybe just a half), and my focus will be less on speed and distance and more on moving in a way that makes me feel good.

I hope I am lucky enough to have many years of running ahead of me. Whether they are fast years or slow years doesn’t matter much to me now. What matters is that running brings me the same joy it did 4 years ago when it was just me and my sister running along the Lisgar Trail, chatting and laughing and loving every minute of it.

Azy Jenna Running 20K

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9 thoughts on “Running My Own Race

  1. The effect of stress and anxiety are so underestimated and we are made to feel guilty if it effects us – I know the devastating effects it can have. You are a strong person Jenna and I’m so glad you are ok! hope the 31st goes well!!!

  2. Wow, I read your post on your allergic reaction too, it’s good that you’re taking some time off from racing! I’ve been doing the running thing for many years and have had some years where I just run free, with 0 races in mind. It’s refreshing, and it’s not shameful at all. There’s no problem in doing that, sometimes you just need to fall in love with running again.

    I’ve also been through a few phases where running has caused anxiety instead of reduce it, caused by a combination of things. Sleep, heat/cold, hydration, diet, stress, anything. So I agree that running is not always the answer. Sometimes we need to take a step back and chill out 🙂

    • Thanks Mike. Totally agree with you and it’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who has experienced some anxiety caused by running. Just got back out today for a slow, cautious 3k and it felt good, but I know I have a lot of building back up to do. Just going to take it nice and easy. Running free sounds like a great idea 🙂 Good luck with your races this year!

  3. I hope you can rediscover your love of running! I completely agree that stress and anxiety can take things away from you that you love – thanks for sharing this experience and I wish you all the best.

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