BY: MARGARET SMITH
Recently, I let myself get into a mega-funk (my daughter’s term for one of my “mom moods”). On December 22, my family faced a new – hopefully temporary – reality as the federal government shutdown. Both my partner and I are government employees – I have funding, my partner does not – and while we are lucky to still have an income, we had to scramble to figure out how to make things work and pay our bills. When the dust of the immediate chaos settled, my mind drifted to my routines, hobbies, nutrition, and things that I enjoy. It was then that I hit a very “first world” low - as I nibbled my last Picky Bar and scooped the last of my “Garden of Life Sport” vanilla protein powder into my Nutribullet for my daily smoothie (note some sarcasm here please), I let out a big sigh. Gone. ALLLLL gone. The frozen fruit, my collagen peptides, all of it, finit-o. Mentioning this to my partner, I instantly felt ashamed knowing that we still had everything we needed for our everyday lives even if I had to cut out my nutrition favorites. But as a self-proclaimed athlete, I still felt frustrated, worried, and super demoralized.
In true Oiselle fashion, running is a source of joy in my life. I love cycling and CrossFit too. My fitness routine clears my head, keeps me healthy, and adds structure to my life. Goals are important to me and races act as my agenda to guide my training and travel. No matter what is going on in my life, sport has been my outlet to vent frustration and achieve small, morale-boosting personal victories when everything else seems out of control. The past few weeks have been filled with creative ideas and conversations with our bank, our daughter’s school, my CrossFit gym, and others about what we can do if the shutdown draws out. It’s also been filled with long runs, bike tune ups (I’ve gotten good at servicing my own bike), and hard WODs to alleviate my anxiety.
As an athlete, being cash poor feels devastating (again, in a very “first world problems” way) when you cannot restock your essentials – as training ramps up I rely heavily on my favorite bars to keep me chugging along the trails. My favorite endurance drink and protein powders keep my body fueled and feeling good. But, after blushing over complaining about something I can easily do without, I did some thinking about my attitude and realized it had to change. I was being a brat and had pigeon holed myself into one way of thinking about fueling and working out.
Healthy eating and proper nutrition are challenging on a tight budget but certainly not impossible. Adding a few quick items like oats, lentils, beans, and quinoa to my cupboard means I can make magic happen with some savory seasonings! Changing from almond to peanut butter is pretty seamless and oats are an excellent recovery food. I also realized that my favorite coffee shop, whose muffins I crave and devour after my long runs, sells them at 50 percent off after 3:30 pm. My freezer now has my favorite blackberry granola muffins waiting patiently for the weekends – this is a seemingly small thing, but mentally, a muffin goes a long way.
After mostly alleviating my fears about nutrition, my mind turned to fitness. For strength training, I attend CrossFit classes and love how it makes me feel powerful during long hill climbs. I’ve paid my gym fees through the end of January but will have to stop if the shutdown lingers on. Luckily, just up the hill behind my house is a makeshift outdoor gym with a pull-up bar and I have a 40- and 20-pound kettle bell and a sand bag in my basement. I also have a weight vest that has gone unused since joining my CrossFit box – it’s time to do some air squats! Knowing myself well, I have asked my partner to motivate me to engage in solo workouts using these resources when the time comes. (Who knows, maybe he’ll even join me?) But in the end, burpees and pull-ups will continue to happen.
However, mentally, the worst feeling was the FOMO. I think everyone knows what it feels like when a race you’ve set your sights on either fills up before you can register, doesn’t select your name in a lottery, or has a qualification time that you didn’t reach. I have gotten in the habit of associating goals with races and it has been heart-wrenching to watch from the sidelines as races fill up. Many of the coveted ultras and gravel cycling races host their lotteries or open up registrations just after the new year leaving me shut out of 2019 goal races like Vermont 100 and Dirty Kanza 200 (a gravel cycling race). Just having a race on the calendar is a huge morale boost but I asked myself why do ALL my goals have to be linked to a bib number or race entry? I shouldn’t be having FOMO, I should be relishing in the challenge of finding adventures that are not limited to beating cutoff times or lottery numbers.
I needed to shift my thinking: bib numbers are nice but not required for trail adventures. So, I started to think about my local area – I live in Baltimore – and sift through our hiking guides. This past summer, ultrarunner extraordinaire, Michael Wardian ran an FKT on the C&O Canal Towpath. He ran the entire 184 miles so why couldn’t I do that as my big gravel cycling “race” for 2019? Maryland also boasts 41 beautiful miles of the Appalachian Trail (AT), running from the Potomac River to the Mason-Dixon Line. Why couldn’t I do an up-and-back for 82 miles of tough trail running? Of course, I can do it! There’s nothing stopping me!
So, today I posted my feelings and the embarrassing FOMO in a Facebook group of ultrarunners – I needed to vent to people who would understand me and not judge my feelings (again, my family is healthy and has what it needs so I feel guilty about having these feelings when others have less). I also wanted to see if there was anyone else affected and what they were doing. What other creative ideas were out there? Within moments, updates were blowing up my phone. Great adventures filled my feed and I felt the cloud lifting. A race director even offered me entry into one of my bucket list races – isn’t the running community amazing? Below are a few of my favorite suggestions:
- The National Parks are closed. Head out on the trails with a group of friends and do a running trail clean up.
- Find a local Fat Ass race – these are typically 50k-ish unofficial races where the food/aid is pot-luck style.
- Volunteer. Often race directors give out race entries in exchange for volunteering and it is really important to give back to the running community.
- Contact your local REI and see if they have any trail clean-ups going on and bring friends. These are often organized by the Park Service so this could help fill a service gap.
- Offer to be a pacer for a runner at one of the big races you want to do yourself. It will give you an opportunity to see the course and help out a fellow runner. Often, big races set up a list of runners willing to pace for people that are unable to find their own.
- Pick local adventures or trails you’ve wanted to try but haven’t – this is what I am doing with the MD portion of the AT.
And just like that, joy has replaced resentment and I have renewed pep in my step. Despite knowing that a positive attitude is healthy, it can be really difficult to actually create a mental shift when life gets overwhelming. How many times have we been told to always look on the bright side, to keep our chin up, to see a glass half full, or that attitude is everything? And how many times do we actually follow through and work towards a smile? I know I don’t do it enough. Taking the time to reevaluate my perspective led me to 2019 goals that are exciting and homegrown. Of course, I remain concerned about the future, but the process of finding new recipes, researching my local area to find creative challenges, and hearing the advice and support from fellow #beastcoast runners lifted a lot of the frustration and anger I felt. In fact, it’s set me on a new mission to broaden my horizon and look beyond race schedules to find places and spaces I want to experience with my amazing running community. Who knows? 2019 might be my best year yet.