Sometimes all you can do is keep running.
by Sara Gross
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Today I actually ran with shit. A huge mound of it that Mikey left on the beach. Beach running is hard enough without shit involved. And the beach we run on is not flat and pristine. There’s loose sand and rocks and the tide was coming in. There was no striding out on hard-packed sand. As my old coach would say, ‘It’s good for “proprioception”’ (which was his fancy way of saying balance).
So there I am, running along working on my “proprioception” and Mikey squats and releases a mound right on top of a log. Some bits roll off down the back and some are left perched on the rounded edge and I clean it up with my bag and continue my forward motion that can barely be called running with a huge bag of crap bouncing in my hand.
I used to be a professional triathlete and now I run with shit. And I mean that literally and metaphorically. Metaphorically because having had the opportunity to pursue my goals, to try to reach my potential, to win races (well, at least couple), I recognize that my path has been one of privilege. And now I feel a strong desire, a need, to give something back. To do something that will ensure that others have opportunities as well.
I don’t think I’m special. A lot of people feel a strong desire to give back. And the shit I carry is not THAT heavy in the scheme of things. It’s not the weight caused by war or famine or poverty. The shit I carry is more about what I see around me, the stuff that is close. The fact that there are still people who believe that women don’t deserve equal representation at a World Championship event – men and women who will point blank say that the women aren’t good enough. The weight of the fact that only 8% of girls in my country get enough physical activity, and after the age of 12, that drops to 2%. The numbers for boys are more than double. 19% of women in Canada get enough exercise vs 35% of men. The numbers aren’t great for men & boys either, but it’s worse for girls and women and there’s a reason for that and that reason is not unrelated to the inequity at a world championship.
As a culture, we celebrate female athletes in a 4-year cycle with the Olympic Games. Yet their male counterparts are in the media every day. I’m saying all this only to describe the shit, my shit. And to say that, while it’s not building schools in Africa, we still have a very big cultural problem to solve.
This is all a little heavy for my first blog in awhile, but I am suffering from a case of the Novembers. It’s been gloomy and rainy for pretty much the entire month here, grey and dark even by Victoria’s standards.
It’s February now, I know, but the noun “The Novembers” and the verb “novembering” have been part of my internal dialogue since my University days and can be used during any month.
“The Novembers” is a noun that describes a state of being that comes on after a long period of gloomy weather and shortening days. Your energy and mood are slightly lower than usual, but not low enough to be considered depression.
“Novembering” is a verb that describes how we proceed through November. It’s the action of moving forward despite the gloom, despite suffering from “the Novembers”. We keep on keeping on.
We november by getting up every day and doing the things we need to do despite everything, because we can, because we are determined. When the alarm goes off at 5am in the dark cold to go to masters swimming and you feel the Novembers leaching in, you don’t think too much, you don’t analyze how bad you feel, you simply get up anyway and start novembering. So you see how you can november in November, but you can also november in any other month. February, for example, requires A LOT of novembering. February, at least in the northern hemisphere, is like the darkest dark right before the first light of spring. Definitely a time to november.
When we stop novembering, that’s when real depression can seep in. I suffered from depression when I was 19-years-old. The legit, clinical kind. I was overcome by a deep sadness for seemingly no reason at all for a number of months. One thing I remember is that some days, running was the only respite I had from the darkness. That somehow, while running, my mood would shift from intolerable pain to tolerable pain for 30mins to 2 hours at a time.
Over the last couple decades, when a friend goes through something similar, I have often tried to remember how I got myself out of the darkness and for the life of me I can’t.
And I wish I could so that maybe my path out could help others. But all I can remember is doing the work with my counsellor, digging into the past and learning from it. I can remember making plans for the future and following through on them. But I mostly remember running. And just doing the little day to day things that need doing; going to class, laundry, cooking, being, novembering.
A friend of mine is going through a tough break up, a can’t eat, can’t sleep, ‘i know he’s a jerk but what if this was my last chance for love?’ kind of break up. The kind that makes you wonder if life is worth living at all. Watching her go through it is a good reminder to me how sometimes, we have to take a step back and take care of ourselves. How sometimes all we can do is show up for work, hang out with friends and maybe hit the gym once in awhile. And then slowly, if we keep novembering, things improve until one day we feel better and we can’t even remember how we got ourselves out of the darkness when all we did was keep moving.
Being at a low point can, at times, be a blessing. When you need to step back, regroup, lean on your people. When you can’t see past the darkness into the light or even tell which way is up, that is when the greatest changes happen, when we stop trying to control the minutia and start opening ourselves up to what might be next.
And so, I pick up the shit and I run ugly down the beach and eventually Mikey and I are on solid ground again. The shit is in the bin and we run home. And I feel lighter having remembered that the shit I carry isn’t heavy at all. And that while I might feel a bit low and sluggish, my Novembers are quite mild in the scheme of things. And all I have to do is keep doing the things I do anyway.
And the next time Mikey and I run down the beach it’s a little easier. I reap the rewards of my improved proprioception and the warmth and light of June starts to break up all this unwelcome November.
And all this is to say, that when you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders, when the metaphorical bag of shit feels heavier than usual, just remember to always keeping novembering.