When SAD hits the conditional

This time of year is winter here on the west coast of Canada. I live in a strange micro-climate where we are known as the wet coast because of the amount of rain we receive. We sometimes get one day of snow a year – certainly no white Christmas.  But our winter also consists of relatively mild temperatures (you can still run in capris), strong winds, and sideways rain. Winter here can suck.

Usually I get caught up in a pretty strong case of SAD this time of year. I’ve felt it this year as well… when the days get dark and the weather won’t perk up and all I want to do is hide under my covers and watch British mysteries on TV. This year was no different, but what I noticed the most was my lack of motivation to do anything, even running.

Leave me alone. I'm wearing my pajamas and I don't want to go running.

Leave me alone. I’m wearing my pajamas and I don’t want to go running.

I’m usually always keen to go run, come hell or high winds. I will run in heavy-duty rain; after all it’s only water. I will run in the dark, but less willingly. But this year had another factor: I ran a Fall marathon.

People did warn me about the post-race blues. I’ve heard that recovery takes a day for every mile of your race. So by the end of November I figured I’d be pretty strongly in the clear. Instead, I was running less. And my mind didn’t care.

When I get into a slump I often resort to bargaining. I tell myself that IF I do something THEN something else will happen. It’s like the hypothesis and conditional statements in a math problem. IF x=9, THEN x+1=10. (I kept it simple so I could understand this as well). I used to do this a lot in high school. We had to run a 3 km loop and I hated it. So I would bargain with myself to get to the finish.

The conversation would go something like this:

Conditional Me: If you run to the end of this road, then that cute guy will look at you.

Rational Me: Why would that cute guy look at me if I run this far? And who cares if he looks at me?

Conditional Me: He will look at you and he will LIKE you too. We just have another 5 min more to go.

Rational Me: I don’t think this will work, but I am going to try just to prove you wrong. You suck.

This is known as extrinsic motivation. We need to convince our minds of some kind of reward to distract it and convince it to keep going so that it finishes the task at hand. Often the motivational lies mantras I use when running long distances (or in pain) relate to food, chocolate, or some kind of relief. I remember one run where I was in such pain I promised myself that when I finished 2 more kilometers I would stretch out my hamstrings.

Many a time have my thoughts strayed to this image.

Many a time have my thoughts strayed to this image.

It’s silly at times, but so are our minds. Our bodies will want to quit first, so we need to convince our minds to keep going. Usually I can rely on intrinsic, process-orientated motivation. I can tell myself that running hills is great for my lung capacity and will shape my butt. That can be all the pep talk I need. This only happens at the beginning of a training cycle and when the weather is good and I am well rested. As the weeks go on, I think that a bigger butt will be more comfortable to sit on, and who the hell cares anyway?

So today I went out with two running buddies for our long run. We ran 24km and it rained. It’s the longest I have run in 2 months. There was no wind and I was with good friends.  I ran to prove to myself I could, because I had company, and because it was good for me. I also got a new Garmin watch for my birthday, and I am still keen on trying it out.

Two footprints are better than one.

Two footprints are better than one.

Whatever the reason, today it worked. Running two hours on your own can be a long time, especially when you start when it is still dark out and everyone you know is sleeping. I am glad we ran because it went great. Next time I run I can remember this good feeling and getting out will be a little bit easier, even if it is windy.

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24 thoughts on “When SAD hits the conditional

  1. My motivation to keep running sounds more like a drill sergeant screaming insults at me. He’s an ass and he tells me that I’m weak and a wuss. That makes me mad enough to tell him to screw off and keep going. I might need therapy.

  2. Good job of getting out there and having a good run. I’ve been sick and haven’t run in a week and I swear NOT running becomes just as addictive as running. I’ve enjoyed being a schlub! I got so much reading done, and I actually watched movies on TV, something I rarely do. I have missed my friends, though, and suspect that’s what will get me out the door next week. Peer pressure is a great motivator!

    • Being a schlub sounds FANtastic. Why would you ever want to change? Oh, I know, I know, there are more ways to feed an addiction.
      Sorry to hear you still aren’t feeling well. You have an important day to rest up for. Take good care and THEN let the peer pressure motivate you.
      Lovely to read and watch movies too!

    • Bobspeed,
      It’s unpredictable what works, but I hope you find what works for you. I definitely find the lack of sunlight and short days are hard. Getting out – in daylight- as much as I can does seem to help.
      Little by little the sun will return.

      Take care.

  3. That’s exactly the conversation that goes on in my head too!
    I did my first longer run in three-four months today. 10km in an hour, which is by no means awesome but I am so happy to feel back on track.

  4. I’m not a runner. I do yoga and Tai Chi (bad knees) so I don’t quite understand the high runners get but I do understand how good I feel after a yoga workout or a Tai Chi class. I’m glad you were able to get in a good run and maybe it will help you to go again next time you don’t feel motivated. SAD is a real condition. Here in San Antonio we don’t have it so much because we stay sunny most of the year but the winter months are a bit more cloudy and rainy, usually. My nephew in New York suffers from SAD and the winters in Buffalo are painful for him.

    • The good feeling after yoga us very similar to a runner’s high. It’s just a rush if endorphins that really makes you feel great.
      I know SAD is real and valid. In some places the climate just turns really grey for part of the year and we are affected. Not an easy fix.

  5. The dark days of winter can plummet my happy-producing serotonin levels, too. I have a bright light in my exercise room that I use when I work out. Of course, you are dedicated and run outside, so that wouldn’t do you much good. :)

    • Ah, “bright lights, bright lights!” Isn’t that what the Gremlins didn’t like, before they turned evil?

      I do run outside, but often it is before the sun is up or long after it’s set. I’ve often thought about a full-spectrum light to help get through the darkness. Do you find it helps?

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