On Being a Runner with Anxiety

In December of 2019, I came out to my friends. This was something that was suggested by my therapist, so at a gathering, I informed my peeples that I suffer from anxiety.

It is said activity is good for anxiety. Working out, hiking, running and more. I have said many times running is my therapist. Coincidence? I think not. I truly enjoy running. Especially when I am free range running.

For the uninitiated, free range running is just running to run. No pre-planned distance, no route, no time; just run where and for how long the whim takes you.

When it comes to anxiety, running is not the problem. In fact, running soothes my frenetic mind. It is getting to the running that anxiety steps in and makes a mess of everything.

Happy when I am running

I have three stages of running anxiety. The lowest is when I am going out for a solo run. My anxiety at this stage is more of a nuisance than anything. Then there is the group run, where I am meeting people to run at a specified place and time. My anxiety ramps up significantly by adding people to the equation. Then there is race day. This is when my anxiety is off the charts.

It’s In My Head

I normally do not sleep much the night before a race. It is not uncommon to have pre-race jitters the night before. In fact, many runners admit sleep comes hard the night before a race. But my brain is literally running the night before. I run the race over and over in my head, considering every likely and unlikely scenario; with one thing and everything going wrong and one thing and everything going right.

I worry whether or not I have chosen the right gear. I wonder if the pre-race morning I have laid out is correct – Am I leaving too early or too late? Have I allotted enough time before I leave? I even worry about high/low fiving a kid’s outstretched hand too hard or missing altogether.

It’s hard enough when you worry about a race the next day. Add anxiety to the mix and my brain is racing through the same scenarios again and again and again at a pace I wish I could run on race day.

Maybe or Maybe Not

I don’t cannot look at the weather until a day or so before a race. It will drive me insane. And it is not because I am worried about the weather. I subscribe to the wisdom that you can choose a race, but you cannot choose the weather. Whatever the Weather Gods decide is what you get.

However… I will waffle back and forth over what shirt to wear or how many layers with every degree change or wind speed change leading up to race day. This has nothing to do with color coordination whatsoever, because even without the weather element, I will question myself.

34 degrees at race start and I went with a singlet!

It is not that I am making wrong decisions. It’s just that anxiety makes me re-think the clothing I choose even though I know 90% of the time I will wear a singlet. Hence, I don’t look at the weather and I don’t change my mind 367 times about what to wear.

Where Does All the Poop Come From

Some folks may be in a position to say, “hey those things are no big deal, they happen to me too.” So let’s get to the poop. Did you know anxiety can affect your excretory and digestive systems? Welcome to my world on race day. I don’t just poop and I don’t just poop once. I don’t just poop twice. I am a minimum three pooper on race morning. And it does not matter how good/great the first one was.

I poop when I get up. I poop right after I put my racing togs on. I poop when I am ready to walk out the door. And when I get to the race, if there is any poop left, I will poop again, or at the very least I will feel like I have to poop again.

It amazes me that pre-race, runners are standing around, drinking coffee and munching on bars of some sort and I am searching for the shortest port-a-potty line.

Each significant action (for example, putting on my race day clothes; getting ready to walk out the door; etc.) causes my anxiety to ratchet up another notch and with it my digestive system works overtime to evacuate anything remaining via the fastest route. Normally, my butt. I guess it is better than throwing up.

But Here’s the Thing

At Surfside a few weeks ago, the first thing I had to do when I arrived is go to the bathroom. I had to go again right before the race started. Several years back when I ran the Oklahoma City Marathon, I was in the bathroom when the race started. Ack! The Oklahoma City example is not the norm, but it wouldn’t be unexpected. My experience at Surfside is more common.

But here’s the thing. They were both good races.

All that anxiety building up to the race melts away in the first mile. Once I get moving, the anxiety sheds off me like water off a duck (quack!). All is right with the world as I move up a street or down a trail, one foot in front of the other. My brain and the rest of me is at peace.

Peace to my Brothers and Sisters!

Because of my anxiety, it’s not always easy to get out the door for a run. But it is always worth it.