I’ve just returned from an incredible experience, the first ever Well Vet Weekend: a whole weekend dedicated to well-being in the veterinary profession – and it was really amazing. I wanted to come straight home and write all about exactly how amazing it was, from sharing my new experiences, (like yoga nidra and meditation!) to exploring all the things I’ve learned to improve my well-being. I wanted to write about facing my fears by leading the first run of the weekend, and even scarier, doing a talk about how running has helped my mental health. I certainly wanted to sit down and write something really positive.
But first I had to do something else. I was due to run 18 miles for my long run in my marathon training plan this week.
On Friday evening I had headed down to Cambridge to recce the route for the next morning, cue 6 miles of running around trying to find obscure turnings in over-grown hedges! At 7am on Saturday I led the Wakey Wakey run, and we ran a beautiful 5 mile trail route (I will write about this properly soon I promise). On Sunday we headed out on a 3 mile loop with the incredible Rob Pope, otherwise known as the real Forrest Gump (if you want some serious running inspiration check this out: goingthedistance.com). Now all of this was far more important and meaningful than a silly little training plan, so I didn’t stress out about it at all.
We talked a lot over the weekend about perfectionism being a common personality trait in vets; we also talked about burn-out. Neither of those things occurred to me as the anxiety over ‘the missing 18 mile run’ crept up. The fact that I was exhausted, it was already 5pm, that I hadn’t even un-packed, that I’d run 14 miles over the previous three consecutive days didn’t mean anything, I needed to make up that long run.
So off I went. And after a mile I was finding it hard. Running is always hard, but the certainty I have that I am doing something truly positive for my body and my mind always carries me through. But today that voice was different, I became aware (and gradually certain of the fact) that what I was doing was completely the wrong thing for me. My anxiety to complete the missing run carried me through another few miles, but at some point my legs stopped running and I became realised I was walking, and then I’d stopped completely. I couldn’t move another step.
Twenty-four hours earlier I’d stood up, shaking from head to toe, and delivered a talk to my colleagues about how running had changed my life. I spoke about how positive it had been for me, and I encouraged them to find the confidence to dig their trainers out too – I promised them great things. And there I was, paralysed in the middle of the path, feeling like an absolute fraud.
As runners we learn to ignore the voice in our head that tells us that it’s ok to stop: if we didn’t how would we ever run any further or any faster. As veterinary surgeons we cannot just go home when we are tired, give up when a case is tricky, walk away when something goes wrong in surgery. Maybe this is the thing about self-care that is much harder than it sounds: how to decipher when that voice telling you that “it is ok to stop” is wrong, and when it is right. Because well-being is certainly not about never challenging yourself, never working hard or never pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.
So was today’s run a failure? It certainly felt like it was when I rang my boyfriend in tears to come and pick me up from where I stood. Did I just give in to some negative voice in my head telling me I couldn’t do it? Or was it a bit more meaningful than that. Have I really have learnt something this weekend, that quite literally, stopped me in my tracks?
Yes, running is hard. But here’s some other stuff that is hard: letting go of reaching a goal when you’re a perfectionist, admitting to both yourself and others when you’re struggling, allowing yourself to fail.
I wanted to write something super positive and uplifting, because I came away from the weekend bubbling over with excitement and positivity. I sort of feel like I’ve let the event down by writing something that doesn’t reflect that energy. But actually well-being and self-care aren’t just buzz words, and sometimes truly finding them isn’t uplifting and exciting and kick-ass – sometimes it is a quiet relief, an unburdening, an act of finding that it is ok to simply be you. That you are enough.
Don’t get me wrong, I will do that run, next week. It just wasn’t right for me today. I know that the tools I have learnt this weekend will help me get to where I need to be this time next week to tackle that 18 miles and absolutely smash it. I haven’t let myself down, I’ve simply listened – because that voice in your head is actually pretty smart sometimes! And I’m not worried that, because I’ve bailed out once mid-run, that I won’t be able to hack it when the going gets tough in the marathon.
I can’t wait to write about all the positive, exciting and uplifting experiences I’ve had in the past few days, but it felt dishonest not to share this first.