Lessons from 2020 – Never let a crisis go to waste

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There is no doubt that this past year has been a roller coaster ride. As our daily lives saw a drastic change, so did our relationships, our work (furloughs, laid off, and working from home) , and our perspective of what is truly important. Nevertheless, I was inspired and humbled by what witnessed from my family, friends, and the endurance community.

As this year comes to an end, I find myself reflecting on the lessons (trust me, there were many). It was a train wreck of a year. I know we all suffered and endured hardships. I don’t have to remind you of all the heartaches, chaos, social and racial injustice, and civil unrest that our nation endured. I think it is fair to say, 2020 impacted each and every one of us at the core of our existence. Nonetheless, it forced us to adapt to a new kind of normal, to prioritize, and most importantly it united it us all.

As some of you may know, I am a licensed clinical counselor, but I am not here to talk about that, I am here to talk about how the pandemic affected endurance sports. I have always known that endurance sports (and simply exercise) can be a very effective treatment for many mental health disorders. I have been racing for almost 25 years. It all started with running local 5k’s and quickly moved onto marathons. Running became my outlet to deal to severe anxiety and stress. It got me through heartaches, single parenthood, college and two master’s degrees while I navigated a life as a newly immigrant in a foreign country with a small child and minimal family support.

In 2002 I move to Illinois to pursue a career in academic research and mental health counseling. As a young professional woman with a small child, I had limited opportunities to meet people. So, I joined the local running club. I continue to run with the Chicago Area Running Association (CARA) for many years and in 2010 I found triathlon and the Well-Fit Community. Needless to say, I found a welcoming community through endurance sports and established long life friendships.

Fast forward to 2020 and our world was turned upside down by the pandemic. Our daily life was drastically changed at all levels. And for the first time in 20 + years I could not race. I had a full planned out racing season in 2020 including an ironman in Barcelona and big goals to qualify for 70.3 world championships again. So, when the pandemic forced a city wide shut down in March.  I was in shocked. WTH just happened? I can honestly say it caught me off guard. But I continue to run, and I bought myself an indoor trainer for biking (I was lucky I could do that).  When the mayor of Chicago closed the lakefront path and the parks, I LOST IT. I was furious. I did not know what to do with myself. Lucky for me, I am surrounded by a great community of family and friends who became my rocks. I don’t know what I would have done without them.

So, in the end, I had to adapt, just like everyone else. I had to be creative and have a growth mind set. I had to keep moving and training somehow. I found my running pod (two running friends who were my neighbors and now my closest friends). We ran early in the morning and found new running paths around the many Chicago neighborhoods. I also had my biking pod, my partner and a couple of great friends willing to bike out in the suburbs on the weekends rain or shine. I am forever grateful to each and every one who run, walk or bike with me over the past 9 months. I also found a new sport; I learned how to rock climb and had the opportunity to go to Colorado and Devil’s lake Wisconsin  for some outdoor climbing. It was the most exciting thing I have done in years. I highly recommend. But by far the single most important thing I learned during the pandemic was to enjoy the simple pleasures of  running and biking. I continue to work with a coach but there was no pressure, I was just happy to be able to move and be outside.

The pandemic may have knocked me out but in all honestly it was a much-needed pause, an opportunity to slow down and to enjoy moving. I had no idea how much I needed that, after a decade of hard-core racing,  I was so burned out. I had lost the enjoyment of what I was doing.

Running continues to be a huge part of my life, it just looks a little different. I wholeheartedly love running, I always have and always will. The difference is that I was able to rediscover my whys. Ultimately, my love for running has little to do with winning and medals and everything to do with mindfulness, peace, community and building confidence.

As we leave this hot mess of 2020 behind, I am ready to take a deep breath and shift my mental, emotional, and physical gears into 2021. I don’t know what next year has in store for me, but I promise it won’t be boring. Let’s take a pause to celebrate the new year, to be grateful amidst the challenges our global community faces. Remembering how much joy we can share together though endurance sports and its community. We hope to see you out there on a racecourse soon. Tell us how you endured 2020? Cheers to less social distance, more meaningful connections, more hugs, traveling, and adventures in 2021

 Happy New years!!
Erika Ostrander, MA. MS, LCPC
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Erika has been an endurance athlete for over 20 years. She fell in love with running in her 20’s in graduate school, working full time and being a single mother. Running became time for reflection. She has run over 30 marathons and countless triathlons; qualified for 70.3 World championships. To qualify for Kona is her next goal! She loves being a mom to a wonderful young lady and a fur puppy (cocker spaniel). Travel and exploring new places to train around the world is a passion. She is a licensed clinical counselor who specializes in the treatment of anxiety, depression and trauma. She spent 15 years in academia and has recently taken a role as a clinical director to focus on her clinical work. Erika believes in the therapeutic benefits of endurance training for people who struggle with mental health illness and stress. She is patiently waiting until we can all travel and race safely again, until then she recommends staying active, healthy. and consistent.

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