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Why signing up for a race that never happened is one of the best things I’ve done for my mental health.
This April, when health problems I’d been having resolved, I decided to sign up for the TC Loony Challenge. The Loony is a running race during Twin Cities In Motion Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon Weekend here in Minnesota. The Loony comprises 10k and 5k races back-to-back, followed by a 10-mile race the next day. Three races. Two days. 19.3 miles.
My returned health came on the heels of nine years of trying to get pregnant, being pregnant, and nursing, making the Loony a perfect bookend.
You see, I’d run the Loony once before, in 2014. Back then, I was newly pregnant with my first child. After five pregnancies, three kids, and a medical emergency after my last birth, I was ready to run it again. It was time to reclaim my body and see what it could do for me.
Once I signed up, I knew I’d race no matter what kind of shape I was in come autumn. The problem was I hadn’t really trained for a race in nearly a decade. But I knew going hard for nearly 20 miles without training is a recipe for breaking your body. Since I wasn’t keen to injure myself, I ran.
For over five months, I ran with friends. I ran alone. I ran early in the morning. I ran on vacation. I sipped sparkling water from my branded Loony tumbler. All the while, fueled by the vision of myself healthy and strong as I cross the final finish line at the Capitol on the second day.
Thanks to all that preparation, the first day of the Loony Challenge went off without a hitch. I felt great running the 10k and then the 5k. I could taste my victory.
And then, on the second day, it was a record-setting 92 degrees on October 1. So just before 5:30 am – for the first time ever – race officials canceled the marathon and 10-mile races.
There would be no euphoric ending. There would be no race at all. I was disappointed, of course. I really wanted to finish what I set out to do. But also — and this surprised me — I felt grateful. Being ready for race day was just the carrot and stick I needed to restart my dormant cardio habit. That habit helped me come back to myself. Not just physically but emotionally too.
I hadn’t remembered the runner’s high that sets in about 30 minutes into a run. I’d forgotten how it fades gradually, imparting that day and the next with a boost. I hadn’t realized how much easier that regular jolt of joy would make it to handle the ups and downs of my days – even the crushing disappointment of a called-off race.
I shouldn’t have been so shocked. Thanks to my work as a mental health writer, I’ve had occasion to read all about the science of exercise and mood. According to one typical study, college students who started a cardio routine said they were less depressed and stressed than before. It’s findings like these that have inspired entities like the Mayo Clinic and Harvard Medical School to recommend cardiovascular exercise to help manage depression and anxiety symptoms. But knowing the science and seeing it work for you are two different things.
On that fall day, I didn’t get the ending I expected. But I did meet my goal. I felt healthy and strong. And who wants a finish line for that?
A version of this story appeared on Medium.
New Writing From Me
I use the words introvert and extrovert all the time by way of explaining the ways I like to socialize (and don’t). So imagine my surprise when I reported out this guide on introversion for Everyday Health and learned there’s way more to this concept than pop psychology suggests. Learn more about what the latest science really says and read: What Makes Someone an Introvert: Definition, Personality Traits, and Self-Care Tips and….
…the companion guide I wrote, also for Everyday Health, What Makes Someone an Extrovert: Definition, Personality Traits, and Self-Care Tips.
Books I Think You’ll Like
Ever read a book at exactly the perfect time? That was this book for me. I’ve been so ready to learn how to be nice to myself in a way that feels true and good. I wrote about part of my journey to self-compassion in last month’s post, which was partly inspired by what I’d read from psychologist Kristin Neff. Now that I’ve finished her book, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristin Neff, I can confidently and heartily recommend that you read it too.
The Evening Hero: A Novel by Marie Myung-Ok Lee is a well-researched novel about a Korean American doctor reconning with his past. It’s great if, like me, you’re not Korean but love learning about life experiences different than your own. It’s also lovely if you marvel at good storytelling — it’s a very carefully constructed book (Which makes sense, since Lee is one of the few writers granted a visa to North Korea since the war). And there are bonus nuggets for us Minnesotans, since about half the story takes place in our state (a rarity in Bookland!). These three reasons are probably why the booksellers at Beagle and Wolf Books & Bindery in Park Rapids, Minnesota had the paperback prominently displayed during my family’s annual cabin weekend Up North.
Haymaker in Heaven: A Novel by Edvard Hoem (translated from the Norwegian by Tara Chace) is another winner from from Beagle and Wolf Books & Bindery. With similar themes as Lee’s novel, this one explores the forces that drive people to immigrate (this time from Norway), the complexity of leaving home, and what it means to be family. It also takes place partially in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest, another local connection for my northerly neighbors. It’s a quiet book that echoes when it’s over.
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