Post Race Blues

Sorry if you were expecting some science – I do have a couple of posts lined up, I just need to get around to writing them! In this post I want to get something off my chest that really affected my life over the course of the last few months. This is going to be somewhat of an emotional outpour than anything else that I’m too uncomfortable to talk about in real life…

As you may or may not know, I completed the Berlin Marathon at the end of September 2014. Despite persistent and crippling calf craps after the half way point, I actually managed to get around the course in an OK time (for a first-timer at least)! The feeling I had at the finish line was an very bizarre mix of relief, happiness and self-loathing for allowing myself to participate in anything that could cause so much pain!

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As you might imagine, after the race the thought of even moving at any pace faster than walking was VERY unappealing. So I just forwent exercise in any form. I was happy in doing this for a short while, but it very quickly became apparent to me that something was wrong. I started to feel disgusted with myself and the way I was living, but my laziness meant that I’d gotten out of shape and this made me feel scared about staring to run again. I had put on a lot of weight and was out of shape so didn’t have any motivation to run, so I got more out of shape and less fit as the weeks went on, trapped in a vicious cycle of self-deprecation and disappointment.

Thankfully, my research seemed to be at some kind of high point where lots of things were working and I was getting some good results. This may have been the one thing that kept me going – by working long hours and entirely focussing on chemistry I was able to forget about the negative thoughts I’d developed about my lifestyle at the time, but the people around me had started to notice that I “wasn’t being myself” and constantly asking if I was OK.

I’m generally not the type of person to openly express my feelings and was in denial, insistent to my friends and coworkers that I was “fine” and that I didn’t need their help. During this time I was doing a lot of self-reflection and started to make some changes. I deleted Facebook after realising that almost everything that came up on my feed was utter rubbish and that I didn’t care about it. I elected not to celebrate my birthday after realising that there is literally no point. In previous years I never got any meaningful presents and the cards always went straight in the bin. I hated the attention it generated and the horrible questions of people wanting to know what you got and what you did which always to me just seems nosey or fake. Besides this, given the way I was feeling at the time I didn’t feel it was appropriate for anyone to have any sort of celebration in my name. But despite these, and some other changes I still felt awful.

One day I finally broke. Someone asked if I was OK and it dawned on my that I really wasn’t. I couldn’t even answer. I had to leave work, get a friend and go to a cafe where I just unloaded everything that I’d been feeling since the race and fully broke down. I felt like an idiot, sat in the middle of a cafe bawling my eyes out on my friend but I just couldn’t stop. She kept asking me what had made me so upset but no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t put my finger on it. I felt like shit (excuse the language) but had no idea why so couldn’t do anything about it. When I eventually stopped crying we talked things through and it pretty much came down to the fact that I’d stopped exercising and was working such long hours that I had no time to see my friends.

I never actually believed in the runners’ high. Whenever I finished a moderately distanced run I was exhausted, shaky and felt a bit sick. I thought the supposed high was a myth, or that I just wasn’t affected by it, but the lack of endorphins pumping through my nervous system when I stopped running regularly obviously caused my body to go into some sort of ‘depression mode’ if that exists, and it kind of explained how unhappy I’d felt over the previous months. I realised I would have to start doing some sort of exercise again, and much as the thought of running again was scary, I knew it was what I had to do to make myself better.

In that cafe, I resolved to do two things:

  • Start running again
  • Make more effort to make time to see my friends

The latter was easy. At least once every couple of weeks we’d meet up and have dinner at someone’s house. Although I see most of my friends at work every day, we’re ultimately still at work and people have other things on their minds. This was an opportunity to see the people closest to me in a different setting and I found that this put me in a much better (and healthier) mental space. Despite this though, my body was in a state. I’d put on about 15 kg (30 lbs) since the marathon and was out of breath after just walking up the hill on the way home from work.

With no goal I was struggling to find the motivation to do any running so I did the unthinkable and signed up for another marathon. After paying my race entry fees and going on my first run since Berlin, it became very clear to me that a lot of work needed to be done to get around this one and this is really helped to motivate me to try to get my fitness levels back up to where the had been last year.

I am now in a much happier and healthier place and look back on the last few months as almost hilarious! To have gotten myself into such a state over something that was solved so easily is pretty laughable! I will forever be indebted to the friend who took me to the cafe, though. She is one of the few people I consider as a true friend with whom I can be completely open without worry of judgement or her telling people what I tell her and I truly hope she feels the same about me.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading! Sorry for all the emotions, but it’s something I really needed to get off my chest. I assure you that most, if not all, future posts will again be about science and how chemistry can affect our lives and the world around us. Until next time!

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About ChemistDan

A second year PhD student based in Sheffield researching the reasons behind the molecular blinking phenomenon that allowed for the development of super-resolution optical microscopy.
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