Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Anatomy of a Slump, Part II.

Or, How I Battled Back From The Brink Of Disaster And Lived To Blog About It.

Yesterday, I blogged about my post-marathon slump. It's not really something to brag about ("Ooh, look at me and my epic failure!"), but I feel it's important to share my struggles as openly and honestly as I share my successes.

Slumps. Funks. Binges. Spirals. There are many names for it, but the basics are the same. A poor decision or two leads to more, and the bad choices fuel a descent into madness. Life becomes a series of anti-healthy moments, with skipped workouts and poor eating leading the way. And as bad as that sounds, it's only the beginning.

There are two very important things to understand about slumps. First, the longer you are in a slump, the more difficult it is to find your way out. They are self-perpetuating.
I feel bad about not working out. And since I feel bad about myself, I don't have any motivation to work out. Instead, I'll sit home and over-eat. And now that I over-ate, I feel bad about myself, so I'm not motivated to work out.
Second, the true power (and danger) of a slump is how it separates you from the tools you need to end it. The things that normally help you feel better - a healthy meal, a good workout, interactions with your support system - are no longer a part of your day. When you most need to rely on your tools, you don't have them.

In this respect, struggling through a slump is like being in a relationship with an abusing control freak. For those who haven't been in that situation, I'll explain the similarities. Control freaks attack a person's support system ("She isn't a real friend to you, you should stop hanging out with her."), isolating them from the very group of people who would help them break free. It's like taking your keys away and then berating you for being locked out of your house.

Think about that for a moment. The very things that could help you - motivation, inspiration, encouragement - are the things that seem lost.

So what do you do? How do you break out of a slump? It's easy. And it's difficult. It's easy because it just takes a single action, just one, to break the cycle. It's difficult because we've stopped believing we have the power to do it.

My lowest moment was Tuesday, May 29th. I had skipped my scheduled half marathon the day before (#EpicFail), and I let that be just the first of many reasons I beat myself up.

  • I paid to register and didn't run. Way to waste money I don't have.
  • Oh, look, here's the bib I would have worn. It's trash now, isn't it?
  • I wanted to run 12 half marathons in 2012, and now I have to find another one. Why, because I skipped this one like an idiot.
  • What's this? Oh, it's an email from the race asking about my experience. Thanks for the reminder that my only experience was to sit on my butt and not run.
  • Look, more emails from friends asking about my half marathon. Yep, get to tell them I'm a loser, too.
It all seems hopeless, right? And yet, I'm writing this blog about breaking out of a slump, so you know that something amazing happens to change it, right?

Yes and no. Something happened, but it wasn't all that amazing. It wasn't dramatic or major or much of a big deal at all. But it was something.

As I sat there wallowing in my gloom, one thing stood out. I had a plan to run a dozen half marathons this year and now I had missed one of them. If I still wanted to accomplish my goal, I needed to find a replacement event. So I started looking. Turns out, there was a half marathon scheduled in Las Vegas for the very same weekend I was going to be there for my Marine Corps Reunion. What are the odds?

I posted a link for the run on our Marine page, and immediately another Marine buddy said he wanted to run it, too. He registered us both right away. (And since then, a second buddy has signed up, so three of us are going to run it together. Flight of Fire Half Marathon, here we come!)

See what happened there? I focused on one specific goal, my desire to run a dozen half marathons this year. That provided a course of action: find another race.

"So I started looking."

Me, after running the 10k at the gym.
That action connected me back to my support group, the very same Marines who first motivated and inspired me to change my life two years ago this month. Breaking the cycle by seeking out a new run helped me engage my support system, too.

Once I was signed up for the run, other pieces fell into place. The next evening, I packed up my gym bag and workout gear and set it out so I would be ready to run the following morning. And I did. It was a 5K at the gym, but they were the first miles I had run since the marathon. And they felt great. I actually ran 3.28 miles in 30 minutes, so I was at a 9:08 pace.

The next day, I was shaky. I was feeling good about the day before but wasn't quite feeling like I was "back in the groove." I skipped the morning workout and felt crappy about it all day. Finally, late in the day, I decided to stick to what had made me feel better. I went back to the gym for another run. And this time, I ran a 10K in 54 minutes at an 8:45 pace. I was crazy fast!

Since then, my eating is back under control, I have continued to run and workout, and I am blogging and checking back in with my Spark Buddies and my Facebook Fitness friends. I did get on the scale last week and I am just under 189, so my ten days of gluttony and sloth added 4 pounds. But so what? I can drop those in no time.

More importantly, I feel like I am once again in control of my actions. I am NOT the mistakes I made. I am the culmination of two years of hard work, and that means I am powerful enough to battle back through any slump or down cycle.

A shirtless picture? You bet. I earned it.
If there is one take-away here, it's that life is not an all or nothing situation. It is a series of small choices that, added together, define who we are. That means that breaking out of a slump can be as easy as ONE good decision.
  • Drinking eight glasses of water today will make you feel better.
  • Feeling better will inspire you to make a better food choice.
  • Better food choices will fuel you to take a 15 minute walk.
  • Walking will motivate you to get on your bike or go for a run.
A slump doesn't happen overnight. It is one bad choice after another after another. That means that turning it around is just one good choice away.

I made my choice. Will you?