Impostor Syndrome

If job searching after working for one company for five years is like jumping back into the dating pool, starting a new job is like the first day of school, but on steroids. And much like a new school year, I looked forward to starting my new job back in March because it meant a fresh start. But more than that; I had the chance to adopt a new persona.

You see, for five years at my last job, I was known as the runner. But after the NYC Marathon, I wasn’t running. So I didn’t feel like a runner anymore. I had a serious case of Impostor Syndrome.

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When meeting new people at my job, the subject of hobbies came up a lot as an ice breaking conversation topic. But I avoided talking about running at every turn, even though most of my new coworkers had already seen the blog – hell, it’s on my resume, and the fact that I’d created Jess Runs Happy from the ground up helped land me my current role as a Social Media Manager. Instead, I focused on other things – my cat, my husband, Star Wars.

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It wasn’t so bad: I got to make a lot of new friends with varied interests by *not* focusing on running. And don’t get me started on all the new friends I made by hosting a surprise May the Fourth party. But as it tends to do, time passed. My injuries healed. I started running regularly. I had the urge to chase big scary goals again.

While it’s only been about two months or so, I’ve run more in these 8 weeks than I had in the previous 8 months, and I feel like I’ve learned something with every mile – especially as I get stronger with every run.

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Last week I ran three times, and improved with each run. I even ran 4 miles for time,  just to see how much better I could do than the previous run. I blew my old time out of the water and posted a 4-mile time I haven’t seen since pre-NYC Marathon training a year ago.

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I’m getting nostalgic about marathon training. I’ve got blisters from new socks again. That old black toenail is acting up again. I’m eating more carbs and going to bed early on Saturday nights to run on Sunday mornings again.

I’m proud to say I’m a runner again. 

I don’t know what made my Impostor Syndrome go away. Maybe it’s all the happy mood chemicals flooding my brain thanks to regular running; maybe it’s a fluke and I’ll have another bad week or month or year. Whatever happens, I’m going to ride the wave as long as I can and I’m looking forward to it.

I’m cleaning out the running gear that doesn’t fit anymore. I’m packing my bags every other morning for my evening run and avoiding those late night snacks I’ve grown so used to. I’m signing up for races in the future so I have something to work towards. What matters is I’m feeling more and more like my old self, and that feels good.

 

Ready Player One

Although most of you have probably figured it out by now: Since the NYC Marathon, I’ve been pretty disillusioned with sharing my running journey online.

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*sarcasm* shocking, right?

I guess it comes down to the fact that I started to get tired of playing the game, especially around Instagram.

Looking back, the amount of time I spent on that app is embarrassing. I wracked my brain coming up with a creative Instagram-worthy photo angle for every run. I wasted a half hour after every run selecting, editing, and captioning a picture. I worried about what I wore because I’d already worn black for my past three runs and needed to inject color into my IG feed. I found myself sitting at dinner in a restaurant with my husband, with my nose buried in my phone while I picked out hashtags. I was injured, but I still went on painful runs – sometimes just to “keep the feed fresh”.

And even though I did those things, I still lost followers.

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Then I lost my job and fell into a depression. For those of you who haven’t had the good luck (again with the sarcasm) to experience depression, my idol Carrie Fisher summed up what it feels like with heartbreaking clarity while in the middle of her own manic episode in Bright Lights:

“You know what would be so cool? To get to the end of my personality and just, like, lay in the sun. I’m sick of myself.”

At my lowest point, I was so sick of my self that Instagram seemed like a cruel joke. I hardly felt inspirational. I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror, let alone take yet another picture of myself and share it with 16,000 people – the majority of whom I have never and will never meet.

I lost the courage to even try.

Because I dropped out of the game (and yes, it is most certainly 100% a game that Instagram will always win because they control what accounts get exposure), I lost nearly 1,000 followers since November. And I’m losing more every day. I can’t figure out the algorithm no matter how much or little I post or what hashtags I use.

But a funny thing happened since I came out the other side of that whole depression thing: I finally want to run more.

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After nearly 10 months of being disillusioned with running in general and not even thinking about racing, the other day I got an email from the Run Newport folks about running the Newport Half next month and actually got excited.

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The thought of a half marathon gave me butterflies.

I got the jimmy legs thinking about the thrill of the starting line.

I started looking at training plans.

While I’m in absolutely no shape to run the Newport Half (because it’s in less than 6 weeks and I haven’t run more than 4 miles in about 10 months), I’m probably not going to be running it (but I WILL have an entry to give away, woohoo, stay tuned!). But I WILL start slow, starting now.

It’s going to take courage to try again, but I’m ready.

I’ve committed to run 2-3x during the week after work and slowly build up my long run mileage on weekends. The plan is to get to 6 or 7 PAIN FREE miles for a few weekends in a row before I even sign up for something.

It’s not a plan, per se, but it’s more than I’ve done in 10 months, so there you have it.

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Once it became more of a plan in my mind over the past few days, I found myself excited to blog about it – and even more excited to share my story on Instagram once more.

I don’t know what race I’ll be doing or even when I’ll run it. Throughout training, I won’t spend a half hour picking out the perfect filters or an extra half mile trying to get the right running selfie after every run. But I WILL be sharing my journey again, and I’m excited to have you along for the ride if you’d like to join me. ❤

Mile 26

Real Talk: The TCS New York City Marathon left me turned off about running. With having to put our cat to sleep the day after the race and dealing with injuries for months post-race, I never felt that post-marathon high.

I deleted almost all of the pictures from that day off my phone. But for some reason, I couldn’t delete this one: the Mile 26 marker.

I still remember how I felt when I snapped this picture. Every inch of my body hurt. It was dark and rainy, spectators had all gone home. When I saw Mile 26 I thought “Who cares. There’s no triumphant final push left in me, why should I take a picture?”

But I did, and every time I clean my camera roll, I still won’t delete it. It took me 7 months, but now I know why: because it was the lowest point I’d been at in months… BUT I KEPT GOING.

I got that medal. I pushed through a mental and physical hell I created for myself over 25+ miles through the five boroughs of NYC and I survived, just like I’ve survived every other “lowest” point in my life. It’s a reminder that there’s always something to look forward to, even if I have to go through just .2 more miles of hell to get to it.

When you get to your Mile 26, just keep going. I know it hurts. But it’ll be worth it.

The Lies We Tell Ourselves

Be honest: there are probably a few lies you’ve told yourself but don’t want to admit to. Today I’m going to come clean about two of the lies I’ve told myself in the 5 months since the NYC Marathon: 1) I wasn’t injured and 2) I don’t really want to run anymore anyway.

If you’re a regular reader, you know all about my lack of motivation after the NYC Marathon. A lot of that had to do with this injury that I didn’t want to admit to. After my post-marathon runs turned into pain fests just a few miles in, I took time off. Shortly after the New Year, I lost my job and my motivation to run. I tried to run every other week only to have that leg flare up, and soon I was in pain even when I didn’t run; shooting spikes of fire radiated from my butt to my knee while I sat on the couch or drove to the store.

I started working again in mid-March, around the same time I attempted to push through the pain for a 6 mile run to prep for my upcoming half marathon at the end of April. It was a terrible run and I had to walk last 3 miles. The resulting pain was the worst it had ever been, and left me unable to walk for a day and a half (and limping for 4 more days). That’s when I realized Truth #1: I really WAS injured.

So about 3 weeks ago I went back to my chiropractor. And he’s helping. S-L-O-W-L-Y. The work we’re doing is painful and can only be done in little bursts every few days. I’m not allowed to even try running. All the forced downtime has me frustrated. I feel weaker than I have in years. I’ve gained more weight than I care to admit. I officially dropped out of the NJ Half Marathon in April.

As a result, I’ve spent much less time on social media. So much so that I’ve lost more than 400 followers on Instagram in the last four months. Apparently, a girl who muddled her way through 26.2 miles in a pathetic 6+ hours back in November isn’t as interesting when she has to stop running and fight her way through injury, weight gain and depression. Such is life.

But not spending hours running or scrolling through my social media feeds has helped me spot those lies, along with a few other things.

One: before the marathon, I spent WAY too much time on social media. A wholly unhealthy amount of time. Many hours a week. I’d be at dinner and found myself scrolling “just a little more”, and paying attention to the real flesh and blood people in the room just a little less.

Additionally, I realized that I’ve been coping with this injury by creating lie number two: convincing myself that I don’t really enjoy running anyway.

With an injury that has no defined finish line and seems to keep coming back, I found myself – in classic depressive fashion – isolating myself from the usual injured runner banter. I stopped interacting with runner friends. I got complacent. I said meh, running isn’t all that great anyway. Which led to I’m not that great at running anyway, and ultimately, I just won’t bother with running anyway. 

I had actually convinced myself that I didn’t really like running that much after all.

Because resignation is easier than treatment and rebuilding.

Giving up is easier than doing one-legged squats to build up those glutes.

Quitting is easier than fighting through another round of soft tissue work where the doctor and the nurse each take a part of me and bend and twist and dig.

And it’s a hell of a lot easier than the work I’m going to have to do to get back into the shape I was just a half a year ago.

But yesterday, something changed. Over the weekend I traveled to Boston to cheer on my sister-in-law Meredith as she took on the Boston Marathon (and CRUSHED IT!) and spent a few hours in the hotel gym on Sunday doing squats and leg lifts and crunches and push ups and planks and swimming. Then on Monday I walked. Tuesday I was sore, but by Wednesday, I felt strong again.

Not “I can run a marathon” strong, but I didn’t wince on the stairs. My core felt tight instead of weak. I drove home from work with the windows down and realized – I can’t wait to run again. The idea popped into my head completely unbidden for the first time in months. And I smiled.

Because I know I’ll run again. It’s going to take time, and I’m going to need to do a LOT of work to get back even a fraction of the strength I lost. But I’m willing to put that work in, because I don’t want to feel weak and soft and injured anymore. I’m ready to feel strong again. I’m ready to be a runner again.

Newport Half Marathon Race Recap

After a great experience as a Blog Partner with the Newport 10K in May, I was invited to run the the Newport Half Marathon in September and jumped at the opportunity. Sunday started out muggy and warmer than expected; Mere was running this race with me (well, she finished like 90 minutes before me but you know what I mean) and as we headed into Jersey City we prayed the sun would stay behind the clouds for our race to keep the temps low.

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Spoiler alert: it did!

A note about parking: a big factor in my race decisions is how easy it is to get to. My nerves are already shot enough on race morning, I’m not about to drive myself insane circling a city for a parking spot or navigating a bunch of detours. Anyone who’s driven in northern NJ will tell you that it’s a bitch and a half, so I was skeptical about a race IN Jersey City. But these folks are total pros, and even though we rolled up to the race area a bit later than I wanted, we still managed to get a parking spot in the huge deck very easily thanks to the clearly labeled streets and tons of race volunteers. A++ for that, Newport Half Race Team!

After parking, we stopped at the porta-potties (again, plenty of clean options available, another A+ for the event crew), hung out for a bit, and waited for the start.

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Full disclosure: while waiting, I had a bit of a panic attack. The craziness of the pre-race crowds two days in a row, combined with the lack of sleep and extra physical pressure I had been putting on myself all came to a head and I just wanted out. I didn’t want to be there. I felt itchy all over. My skin burned and my insides churned. I couldn’t catch my breath and I felt like crying. So I sat on the curb while everyone around me chatted and took a few deep breaths to work through it.

I didn’t plan to wait until World Mental Health Day to publish this post, but it’s fitting that I share it now. Anxiety doesn’t always look like hysterical tears or someone hugging themselves and rocking; sometimes it’s a quiet, forced smile or a stoneface when everyone else is laughing. I’m not going to gloss over my mental health issues to paint an unrealistic picture. We need to break the stigma of talking about these things, and I want to help do that, one blog post at a time. So yes, I had a small panic attack before the start. After a few minutes I was able to pull it together and we went on with our morning, but if you ever feel overwhelmed and scared, just know that you’re not alone!

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Once we realized the crowd was moving to the start corrals we headed over with them and seeded ourselves. It was a smaller race so the corrals were about 50 feet apart, which was nice. Mere said farewell and headed to her corral and Mike stayed with me to send me off at the start, and away we went.

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Right away, the humidity was an issue. It was hard to breathe and my muscles were super tight from racing Seaside the day before. I took it slow because I still had the goal of adding miles at the end of the race. But by mile 3, my right calf and ankle felt like they were wrapped in super glue: tight, hot, and angry. So I pulled over to a curb and stretched for a good minute or two – clearly this was not going to be one of those “omg I am so strong!” races. I was OK with this.

After mile 3, I was feeling better, my ankle and calf had loosened up, and even though I was drenched in sweat already, I fell into a groove behind these two girls at my exact pace, who had to be twins – they had nearly identical builds and ponytails, even their gaits were similar.

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I took my first gel at the water stop near 4.5 and finally stopped for a bathroom break at about mile 6 in the park. Then we turned onto the waterfront path at 6.5 and came face to face with Lady Liberty and the NYC Skyline – and I kid you not – Taylor Swift’s Welcome to New York randomly came on my iPod and the run immediately took a turn for the better.

I sang, I danced, I pointed at the skyline – hell, I cried some happy tears – all while running straight for that beautiful city in front of me.

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I’m sure the folks around me thought I was insane, but I didn’t care. Seeing the city was just the refresher I needed to get me through the rest of the race. We curled through the park for another few miles, and about halfway through mile 9 we cruised through a water stop manned by a crew of teens who cheered us on with big smiles. I had to laugh though – as I took my second gel and walked through, one of the teens sitting on the curb nearby shouted to her friend across the course, “Oh my god, my legs are SO TIRED!” to which I replied without thinking, “YOUR legs are tired???” She immediately blushed and covered her face and laughed with everyone around her – “I’m sorry!! I mean I ran yesterday so I’m sore! But you’re running so much more than me, you’ve got this!!” It’s always fun to interact with the volunteers 🙂

Around mile 10.5 as we neared the city again, I started to feel some twinge-y pains in my left ankle, possibly from overcompensating for the sore right ankle earlier in the run? Either way, I slowed down a lot here, and even stopped to fish a rock out of my shoe at one point. Then just before mile 11, we turned the corner where a small group of spectators stood. A woman was there with an older woman and a younger guy, and she was holding a sign that said “Almost there!” Of course, I laughed and said with a smile, “You’re not allowed to say that until Mile 13!”

Well, apparently this woman had enough of being heckled by runners the whole race, because she immediately snapped back at me in a super-nasty tone: “IT’S AN INSIDE JOKE.”

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I laughed in her face and waved her off. Um, an inside joke with who? One of the thousands of runners out here on the course with me? How about if you don’t like the comments you’re getting, you put that sign down until this inside joker of yours passes by, and you keep that sourpuss to yourself, mmkay?

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ANYWAY, it was right about then that Formation came on my ipod and I kicked it into gear for the final 5K. I texted Mike to let him know I was about a half hour away and took off at my now slower pace to keep that tender ankle from rolling. At mile 12 we hit the waterfront and cruised along there for the final mile and a half, and I crossed the finish line at 13.5 miles in a semi-decent time for a training run on tired legs.

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Overall it was a perfect course and a well-organized race, just like the 10K. If you’re looking for a nice flat half marathon with pretty views (and a medal, too!), definitely check this one out.