This spring will mark seven years of freedom from bulimia. As each year passes the memory of my destructive behaviors fades–it feels like a lifetime ago. A different woman ago.
While the behavior is gone and most of the underlying issues have been dealt with and past hurts healed, I still struggle with some of the issues that preceded the eating disorder in the first place. Primarily anxiety, insecurity and times of depression.
For the most part I manage them in healthy ways by talking with my husband, friends, journaling about some of my fears and anxieties and spending time outside running, hiking and walking. But sometimes I don’t manage them well at all and it comes out in the ugliest ways: yelling at my kids, heightened stress about the smallest things, trouble sleeping and a general sense of panic that nothing will workout and everything will crumble.
Packing with a moving deadline made July a crazy month. Every day I had a list of what had to get packed so that everything would be ready to go the day we had to be out of our home. I was a nut-case in the weeks leading up to our move, and no one benefited. It was on an especially stressful day, where I ran out of packing tape and boxes and had just put on the second movie of the day to keep the kids occupied that I got a message from Smartwool asking me if I wanted to attend a running retreat in Colorado.
My initial thought was, “YES! Take me today! Puuuleeeeeze take me today. Beam me out of this mess.” The timing seemed perfect. Moments later, guilt set in. “How could I leave my family during this stressful time? Who would watch the kids? How would they handle me being gone for a few days in the middle of all this transition?” And then I felt like I couldn’t possibly go and the timing was all wrong.
Ultimately, after a talk with my hubby we decided it was best to go. After all , the retreat, Run Mindful Retreat put on by ultra runner Timothy Olson and his wife Krista, was all about integrating meditation and mindfulness into your daily life as a way to manage stress. It was kind of what I needed.
I’ve never run an ultra and am not immersed in the ultra running world, but I am familiar with a few names and Timothy Olson was one of them, he is the current record holder and two-time winner of the Western States 100. He also has an inspiring story of finding recovery from drug addiction though running. He and his wife, Krista created Run Mindful Retreat last year and held their inaugural retreat in Boulder, CO. Since then they have hosted retreats in Malibu, CA and again in Boulder at the beginning of this year. The aim of their retreat is to introduce mindfulness and meditation to runners who already are tapping into that in some shape or form through their running.
“The true essence of running is being in the present moment, connecting with your inner body and quieting the mind so you can let the run flow. Having a daily practice of meditation can transform not just your running but your life and lead to a deeper sense of joy and peace, greater awareness of your body and allow you to live each moment fully.” (from the retreat website AdventureMindful.com).
I’ve always thought of running as “moving meditation,” that thought clearing time in the morning for me is essential to get my mind ready for the day ahead. But sometimes the run isn’t enough, my thoughts get jumbled and my runs are hurried or my focus drifts to sources of stress. I was eager to be introduced again to a daily practice of meditation. At one point in my life (before kids) my early mornings were a sacred time, I spent that time in prayer or journaling. I haven’t actively practiced prayerful meditation for a long time, but I know it is powerful: for each of my birth experiences I used meditation (known as the Hypnobirthing Method) to relax my body during labor. And one of my most profound experiences from the past was a “Day of Silence” I participated in at a monastery in Arizona. That day of quiet reflection and meditation was a turning point in my eating disorder recovery.
I knew that the Run Mindful Retreat had the potential to be a very powerful experience and a chance to reconnect to a practice of prayerful meditation and mindfulness that hasn’t really been a part of my life for years.
I arrived in Denver, CO on Thursday and took a shuttle with another Smartwool retreat attendee, Eric to Boulder. The shuttle made it’s way through Boulder traffic and then suddenly we were winding our way out of town into the mountains. We arrived at A Lodge, an adventure lodge nestled beside a creek, in a canyon just outside of Boulder. The serene setting proved the perfect backdrop for our times of meditation and many of the running trails we ran on were just steps started at the property’s edge.
Once there we connected with Leisa, another athlete sent by Smartwool and Adam, Smartwool’s videographer who would be shooting footage of the retreat and of Eric, Leisa and myself as we participated. Smartwool was putting together a video to be part of their “When In Roam” series, which you can view HERE.
Our first activity at the retreat was to introduce ourselves. And as each person stood and shared a little bit about themselves, I realized that the richness of the experience of a retreat like this isn’t limited to the workshops and the runs: it really is about the other people you meet. For the longest time I was shy and kept to myself, but now I love the thrill of being thrown into a situation with people I’ve never met. Everyone has a story, everyone’s life is precious and beautifully messy. We’ve all faced struggle and heartbreak and inner-demons we can seem to shake, and yet everyone showed up. Everyone had a different reason for coming, but we all shared a common love for being outside and a desire to be more present in each moment. Throughout the weekend I was reminded of this idea that has been on my mind lately, the “privilege of existence.” So often we take for granted our own lives and get caught up in daily stressors, we forget to see that our existence is in fact a privilege.
Each day of the retreat involved a group run. Timothy and Krista structured the runs so that attendees could choose between three groups of varying distances and paces. The groups were led by Timothy, Darcy Picue and Billy Yang and were fluid so runners could switch between the groups if they needed to. I was well-equipped for each run with my Topo Athletic trail Shoes. I wore the MT-2 for the long run on Saturday (although with the technical terrain I certainly could have benefitted from the Runventure), since they happen to be my personal favorite and the Runventure on Saturday.
Our first run on Friday had three options: 16 miles, 9 miles and 5 miles. I opted for the nine mile group, knowing we would be climbing about 2500 feet in elevation it seems as if the run would take 2-2.5 hours. We started our run and I had a chance to run with the 9-mile group leader Darcy Picue, one of the most decorated and accomplished women in ultra running (Check out this video about her UTMB race last year.). Our pacing was slow and relaxed and the group paused frequently to stay together, chat, take in the amazing scenery surrounding us and snap pictures. We progressed up the trail towards Green Mountain and at that point I caught the tail end of the 16 mile group. They asked if I was joining them. I felt unsure, I knew I could probably run 16 miles and tack on another 2000 feet in elevation gain, but what shape would I be in after? The altitude was affecting me a little, making each ascent a little tougher.
I deferred my decision until we reached the top of Green Mountain and then decided to join the 16 mile group, who planned to run on to Bear Mountain and snag another peak before coming down the mountain and running back to the lodge to round out 16 miles.
I am so glad that I joined the 16 mile group-if only to prove to myself that I could do it, while the run was tough the views from Bear Mountain were worth it. On the way back down I struggled a bit, I was low on water (I drank so much water on every run, it was crazy!) and had certainly not had enough fuel. GU’s just weren’t cutting it for me. Around the 11 mile mark I started dragging. Thanks to Timothy and a few other runners in the group who hung back with me, I was able to get down some GU’s and water and was off and running to finish up the last few miles back to a car that was waiting at the 13 mile mark. I decided to call it a day there, while a handful went on to run the remaining three miles back to the lodge.
Recovery after the long run was key and I was sure to use my Dr. Cool Wraps and also tried out a new recovery tool called the Moji Foot Pro, which is a foot roller that can also be frozen. So lots of recovery and ice to ease my tired muscles and feet, knowing I still had a few more days of running to go.
Saturday’s run was a shorter “recovery” day that took us up a path just behind the A Lodge and through rolling fields. Attendees could choose again from three runs 10 miles, 5 miles and 2.5 miles.
It was a welcome change and a chance to stretch out my stride after a day of climbing. Our group spent more time stopping to chat with Timothy, our group leader for the day and he dished on how he balances being a father to two young boys with all his training. He recently made the decision not to participate in UTMB (Ultra Trail Mont Blanc) because his young son asked him not to, since it would have been one more week of international travel. Timothy commented on the fact that he is very mindful of the time he takes away from his family, even on his daily training runs. If he needs to he shortens his workouts for the sake of his family. To me, that was more impressive than any of his running accomplishments.
While the rest of the group went out on Sunday for another mountain run, myself and the other Smartwool athletes stayed behind so that we could catch our shuttle to the airport. While we were waiting I had the chance to go out for another quick three mile run along the canyon trail, just outside the lodge property. The time alone was exactly what I needed to process the retreat, hone in on a few “take-aways” before getting on the plane to come home.
The Meditation and Workshops
After our introductions on Thursday night, Timothy led us in a brief meditation on a bluff above the canyon where the A Lodge is nestled.
The brief moment introduced the group to mindful breathing, and once we focused in on our breath we were able to scan down the body relaxing ourselves and our minds. Often times we think of meditation as maintaining a “blank” mind, free of thoughts and distractions. But Timothy’s approach to meditation is much more realistic: if there are thoughts and distractions you allow them to come and go, focusing in on them if they are important and letting go of ones that are not helpful. This “free-form” approach to meditation makes it that much more accessible to someone who has never practiced it before.
When I closed my eyes for the meditation that first night I found myself in a familiar place. The quiet, calm place that I had been before in my own times of prayer and guided meditations for birth.
We continued each day with these quiet moments of meditation. Sometimes they would precede Timothy’s workshop talk and other times we would do them after. Each time I felt like I gained practice in quieting my mind, releasing stress and honing in on a few important ‘revelations.’
The workshops were equally beneficial, as Timothy and Darcy, who was Saturday’s guest speaker, touched on finding motivation and setting intentions in your running and life, as well as finding peace and balancing the emotions that arise on a daily basis.
My major motivation going to the retreat was not running related, while I was looking forward to the runs I was more eager for the meditation piece. So many times I transfer my stress and anxiety to my children. As a stay at home, homeschooling mom I’m the person they are in contact with the most throughout the day and if they underlying sentiment to our interaction is stress and anxiety, then our days will reflect that. And honestly, they have been. Especially this past month. My goal in going to the retreat was to hone in on some daily practices that would allow me to be a peaceful, calm presence in each moment that I am engaged with my kids.
I walked away with some “tools” to use and a few insights that came in those meditative moments into the source of my own emotions.
The weekend ended being exactly what I needed and so much more. It was about running and yet not about running all at the same time. It changed me and it has changed the way I view running. I’m forever grateful to Smartwool for sending me to the Run Mindful Retreat, it was a fantastic experience, one that I am eager to repeat.