Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Dark Side of Running: Kathy Ormsby

If you haven't heard of Kathy Ormsby, it's because no one talks about her. The LA Times probably has the best coverage of her ordeal. If you only thought runners were crazy, read those stories and then you will know runners are crazy. I first heard this story a week and a half ago at NCAA D3 track and field nationals. I was blown away. I've run for 12 years and only now I heard about this? She just left the stadium in the middle of the race and jumped off a bridge?

As I thought about that over the next week it began to make a lot of sense. Sometimes when I am running long distances on narrow roads with cars whizzing two feet away and I am tired, I imagine that if a car came along, like a 1980s Buick or Lincoln all big and boxy, if it hit my legs I would get to rest. I would have an excuse not to train for at least six weeks, probably more. It's not something I dwell on and certainly not something I want to have happen, but I have had that thought maybe dozens of times. Secondly, I am tired almost all the time. I stay awake past 11 PM maybe two or three times a year. When I am not running or exercising I am often laying on my couch too tired to do anything physical. There's no end in sight. It's not like I am going to quit being as active as I am just so that I feel less tired at night. However I now understand why perhaps 70-80% of runners quit competitive running after college. The stress is too great. They see what it takes to get to the next level and it's a lot, more than most want to give.

You have to love running to do it for any length of time. Otherwise you will take too many days off and not have the motivation to lace up the shoes on the hard days. However, on some level there is a deep dissatisfaction one must have. As soon as you are content with where you are, you are done. If that dissatisfaction is too great however, one might just possibly jump off a bridge.

Who is to say what the perfect balance of happy and excited versus dissatisfied and hungry? This isn't just about people jumping off bridges. Some people just DNF or fall apart in a race. I have seen it several times as a coach and it happens at the D1 and professional level as well. People manage to regroup and return after a mental setback, but the mental side of things is huge. What is the mental difference between a DNF and jumping off a bridge?

I don't claim to have many answers. This new knowledge does give me insight, that I will inevitably use to keep others positively motivated, even if that means telling them not to run.

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