I had a breakdown on my two mile run yesterday.
I started my run not feeling so great. The first quarter mile, my thighs were burning and aching, and I felt that every step was labored and heavy. Everything within me kept screaming “Stop and go back to the car”. I kept running, speeding my pace, and ignored the desire to quit. After the quarter mile, my legs didn’t hurt quite as badly. I checked my pace on my Garmin. I was running faster than I usually do. At around the ¾ mile mark, I felt so thirsty that it was becoming uncomfortable. That isn’t normal for me. I usually don’t get that dry, but I made a 3 second stop at the water fountain for a quick sip and got my pace back. I was almost at the one mile marker, and my time was looking amazing (for me). Across the pedestrian bridge, around the curve and up the hill to the bridge I went, speeding up as I got to the hill. My one mile buzzer went off on my watch and I checked my pace as I turned to go back. I’d completed that mile in 13:11. Not too bad!
Wanting to beat my 13 minute mile from a couple of weeks ago, I pressed a little harder. I sped up and checked my pace. I was running at a 9.14 minute mile. I was feeling pretty decent at this point even though I was still thirsty and getting hot. My footsteps became lighter and I was feeling as if I had found my groove. But then, my mind stopped concentrating on my breathing pattern. I forgot about paying attention to my foot strike. My mind had started to wander. I had tuned out the music that was turned up high on my ear buds. I began thinking. Negative thinking. I was thinking about things that had happened years ago. Lost loves and abandoned friends streamed through my head. I thought about problems that I’d had at work 10 years ago. I thought about people I loved who have passed away. I thought about the wrongs that I had done to others. I thought about the wrongs that others have done to me. I began to get angry, and I felt my eyes filling with tears. I pressed even harder, running as I’d never run before.
I was a half mile away from my end point, and all of a sudden those tears began to stream down my cheek. I couldn’t breathe and was gasping for every breath I took in. I was crying full on, pissed off, hurt. I was sobbing. I stopped running and began to walk the last half mile back to my car. The thoughts kept coming, one after the other. I cried harder and harder as I made my way closer to the car. I finally got to my car, sat down and laid my head on the steering wheel and sobbed until I could gain enough composure to drive back to work. I drove back, parked my car, and posted the incident on Facebook:
My work phone rung only minutes after I returned to my desk, and on the other end was who I now consider my guardian angel. He told me that I’d “hit the wall”, which was normal under extreme exertion, and said that when I break through the wall that everything in the past can now get through as well. He told me that I had all this excess baggage holding me back that was being dropped, and that I wasn’t running FROM something, but that I was running TOWARD something – the new me. He told me so much more, and had me built up. I’m so appreciative of this man and his wisdom.
When I finally got home I pulled up my trusty Google search. “Hitting the wall runners”, “emotional while running”, and a few other key phrases. I read a few forums and a few good articles. THIS ONE, from RunnersWorld.com, and THIS ONE from PubMed.gov outline physiological causes behind psychological issues when endurance running.
I also found THIS GEM on a Reddit forum:
[–]boojieboy 25 points 3 years ago
I think the emotions that people experience after severe exertion like long runs are probably due to momentary frontal lobe insufficiency, resulting in momentary disregulation of emotions. Why crying in particular is what most people seem to experience, rather than euphoria, sadness, or what have you, is not clear to me.
[–]boojieboy 13 points 3 years ago*
The relevant idea in cognitive-neuroscience is called "transient hypofrontality" LINK
Basically, the theory is that when you exercise you drive your body into a state of heightened physiological arousal (i.e. you get excited) and this pushes your frontal lobes to supply an interpretation of that arousal. High arousal states tend to be interpreted as being either extremely positive ("euphoric") or extremely negative ("sadness") and, in a situation where the resources your frontal lobes draw upon to do that job are depleted, it can result in an unstable mix of those two ends of the emotional spectrum. The outcome is often a surge of what most of us understand as a kind of exquisite bittersweet emotion (a mix of both positive and negative), the natural expression of which is (da DAH!) crying. It won't last very long, and the period of time during which you are most vulnerable is within an hour or so of the completion of the exercise bout. Once your cognitive resources recover (i.e. you suck down a huge dose of carbs, ninja edit: and take a nap!) the frontal lobes recover their strength and stability is restored.
Everything that causes the issues discussed in the articles I’ve read line up completely with what happened yesterday. Looking back, here’s what happened:
- I normally have 4-5 bottles of water between 7-12 before my run. Yesterday I was extremely busy and I only had ½ bottle. I was dehydrated.
- I didn’t eat anything before the run. The last “meal” I had was a lite English muffin, plain. I had that muffin at 5:30 AM. I wasn’t fueled.
- Yesterday was the warmest day that I have run. I was overheated and not acclimated.
- I was pushing myself harder and faster than I had before. I finished my 2 miles in 14:08. My fastest pace recorded on my Garmin that day was 8:16/mi. Let me add that I finished up my 2 miles WALKING the last half mile, and still almost made my lowest lap time ever, missing the mark by only: 13 seconds. Had I finished the run, I was on target to hit my first 11 minute mile. I was overexerted.
Everything above explains perfectly what happened to me yesterday. Although I can’t say I “enjoyed” the run, I'll always say that no run is a bad run, I learned so much from the experience. I’m getting faster. I’m learning my body. I’m not only getting stronger physically, but mentally as well. I’m learning just how important water and fuel is to a runner. I’ve learned that running is helping me drop old baggage and that the “new me” is where I’m headed. I’ve also learned that there are people out there watching out for me and that are good enough to speak up and help me get through it. And I appreciate it oh so much.
Thanks to my guardian angel, I now know that I’m definitely not running FROM anything. I’m running TOWARD it. At full speed ahead.