I don’t hide my struggles. I’m quite open, on my blog here and in real life, about how I feel when things are going badly as well as when things are going well. It is hard to write in detail about the bad patches, mainly because no one really wants to hear a litany of moaning. But the flip side is the shiny (fake?) over-enthusiastic hashtag ridden Instagram posts that we all see every day. They are not helpful, as they fuel the sense of self-doubt: am I alone in feeling like this? (NO). Does everyone else find it easy? (NO). Am I just weak/pathetic/not-good-enough/useless (NO). I know that the impetus behind most of “those posts” is not to make others feel bad, but to boost the self esteem of the poster but soliciting praise and approval. And fair enough, we all like praise and approval. But the tone that is set is of a fake perfection, airbrushed and filtered, curated carefully to bolster an image.
Running is often touted as a way out of depression and mental struggles. But what happens when it becomes a symptom or even a trigger for these? We all know the stories of running out of the darkness, but what about when the darkness refuses to lift, and envelopes you even in the middle of a run? When pain or exhaustion conspire to take you out of flow and into that horrible place where you are conscious of every jarring, slowing, labored step. This isn’t the subject of internet memes and Instagram fantasies. But it is quite real. The driven runner, who does not know how to stop, pushing their body past its limits with an unquiet, screaming mind. I wonder how many such runners are out there.
I can understand some of this: A few bad runs, a bit of injury, illness and overtraining: I’ve stopped and cried mid run because it all felt so awful. I took a week off running and felt better, but I know I was near to the bottom of the well. I didn’t believe in overtraining before, but lord knows I do now. I’ve felt it brush past me. I don’t necessarily think it is physical, however. I think it was more a mental burnout: pressure, self imposed targets, forgetting where the pleasure lies. I was dragging myself across the countryside, because I didn’t know what else to do. That feeling where you are getting less fit the more you run, because your body is too beaten down to build itself up.
So, don’t believe the Instagram version of running. It can be violently ugly. But a bit like a bad race: there is always a finish line and bad patches don’t last. I went to a funeral this week of a running friend and clubmate who died tragically of cancer, a young fit runner, his death came not six months post diagnosis. He was cheerful and full of life up to the end, even coming out to walk parkrun, where in the past he would have been towards the front of the pack. A lifelong runner, he knew the joy and pain of running, but kept close to the joy, even through injury and, in the end, terminal illness. Would that we all could be the same.