As part of my blog I believe it’s important to share common and shared experiences, by highlighting the link between physical health and mental health.
I’d like to introduce you to Elizabeth Clor (EC) who is inspiring me with her journey.
MM: You have run over 20 marathons including the prestigious Boston marathon, what was your motivation to qualify for Boston?
EC: My motivation for trying to qualify has evolved over the years. I ran six marathons from 2006-2008, each one of them was a PR, before I decided that I was going to train specifically for a BQ. At first, it seemed like something I was capable of doing, so I figured, why not go for it? My PR streak was proof that I was getting faster and faster. But then, after repeated failures, my motivation and determination to qualify became more intense. Boston was the marathon that the “fast runners” ran, and I was on a mission to prove to myself and the world that I belonged in that club.
More years passed and I still did not qualify, so I began to think in terms of just running my best and relieving some of the pressure. However, I truly believed that my best was a BQ, so that line of thinking didn’t really relieve any of my anxiety. Once I began working with a sports psychologist, I realized that not every marathon needed to be a BQ attempt. I could gradually take my 3:51 PR down to a 3:40, and that might take several more attempts. Ultimately, my motivation to qualify was not to prove anything, but rather to have that experience. I knew it would be one that would be really memorable for me.
MM: From your experiences in your book titled Boston Bound, how important is the link between physical health and mental health?
EC: It’s vital. I was not able to realize my physical potential because I suffered from race anxiety. This race anxiety resulted in an elevated heart rate and decreased energy, and it actually made me unable to finish a number of marathons. In training, however, when there was not as much pressure to perform, I would run very well. For example, I could do a 20-mile run at a pace of 8:40 in training with a relatively low heart rate, but when the marathon rolled around, I’d be too tired to run more than 10 miles at that pace.
MM: What is one lesson you’ve learnt from completing the Boston marathon?
EC: What I learned from completing the marathon is different than what I learned when trying to qualify. When it came time to actually run Boston, it was hot. Most people did not meet their time goals. Most runners were struggling during the last six miles. What I learned was that this shared experience created an unspoken bond with me and these other runners. Boston 2016 will forever be known as a “warm year” and whenever I meet someone in the future who has run it, we have an instant bond.
This type of takeaway is an example of how you can run a truly satisfying race without actually meeting your time goal. And that was an important lesson that I learned in the three years leading up to the race. I learned to look for things that weren’t as black-and-white as time goals or paces. But for things that were really enriching to my human experience.
MM: From your own experience with depression what was the breaking point for you to make a positive change. And what advice would you give to people to break negative subconscious behaviour?
EC: I definitely hit rock bottom with depression in May of 2012 when I DNF’ed (Did Not Finish) a marathon for the third time. A huge cloud came over me and I felt really hopeless about my ability to ever meet my goal. And this was a goal that I had dedicated 4 years of my life to at that point. All that effort, wasted. These were the thoughts that caused me to be depressed, and I realized that running was bringing me more sadness than joy. I had been depressed in the past when races didn’t go well, but this time, it really felt like it would be impossible to dig myself out of the hole.
The first step in breaking this behavior is to be aware that it’s harmful, and that you actually control your emotions. It’s tough to put in to practice, but your emotions do not control you– you control them. I won’t go as far as saying depression is a choice, because in many cases it is not. But the thoughts that bring on a depressed view are certainly controllable with enough practice.
MM: Having a mental health illness could be seen as a weakness, but in your experience how is it actually a strength?
EC: It’s a strength if you can direct it positively– in which case it’s no longer an illness but a skill. For example, perfectionism was the major culprit for me. I was not able to tolerate things not going exactly as I wanted them too. I now know how to be a perfectionist when it will help me achieve something, but to turn if off when it comes to accepting something beyond my control. So “adaptive perfectionism” is really very powerful.
Elizabeth’s book Boston Bound and social media details are below: