As I park my car on May 4, 2019, I see the landscape that will be my home for the next day. It is a beautiful location, ideal for a wedding or graduation celebration. I feel as if I am stepping into another world. Central to the estate is the manor with its beautiful southern plantation-like house. Surrounding it are gardens, a hedge maze, a gazebo, and a shaded grassy knoll. I am not here however for a wedding or other such celebration. I am about to run the Hot Foot Hamster 24 hour race at Nardini Manor in Buckeye, AZ.
The name is fitting because I will be traveling around a 500 meter gravel track for as many times as I am able, like a hamster on a wheel. A 24 hour event offers a unique opportunity I am unable to find anywhere else, not even on the trails in other ultra events. When running through Zion or the Sonoran Desert, there is entertainment and inspiration in the sites and sounds around me. But today I will get to know each and every scratch on each and every brick looking at the same sites over and over.
Living with depression is like living in a hamster cage. Endlessly spinning my wheels while seeing the world pass by on the other side of the glass walls. The cage closes in on me until my only hope is to curl into a ball in hopes that when the sun rises tomorrow the walls will no longer be there.
Some days the sun rises and I find the cage door open. These days, I feel the sun on my face and all is right in the world. Nevertheless, in the back of my mind, doubt and anxiety linger. The constant fear of waking up back in that cage never quite dissipates, with one exception.
Discovering ultrarunning has opened a door into a different life. It is no wonder many find ultrarunning when seeking freedom from the likes of depression or addiction.
I feel surreal traversing the same steps over and over and over again. It has a relaxing effect because I have no other job but to put one foot in front of another. This singular focus allows my brain to quiet down. The voices that say I am not enough, I am a terrible mother, could never hope to be an athlete, and can never gain the love of my mother cease to ring in my head. There is no room for them.
I used to worry that boredom would allow in negative thoughts. But an ultra event has a different effect. In order to survive, I have to bar the negative thoughts. If I cater to negative thoughts my chances of surviving plummets. Therefore, I must cultivate positive thoughts despite the challenging conditions.
So what does this mean? It means that a timed ultra event is the perfect place to allow my brain to rest while simultaneously retraining it to let go of those negative thoughts. What perfection! To think that something as simple as running and walking in a circle for hours on end could be a critical piece of the mental health bubble.
Such a shift in thinking is profound for those who suffer from depression. My brain is wired to amplify the sorrow. A dramatic shift happens when I put mufflers on that amplifiers. My brain begins to rewire and amplify the joyful moments instead.
In hindsight, perhaps that hamster on his wheel has found the key to happiness after all.
The journey continues…….