Sarah Mac Robinson is a runner, mother of two and freelance storyteller and writer. She is a 2016 Olympic trials qualifier in the marathon with a time of 2:42:36. Over the years she has acquired wisdom from all realms of her life and most recently has been focusing on participating in activities other than running that help with mental health support.
Here we are. One year of COVID. In those first months of lockdown, I focused on running, stacking my mileage, getting fit. All summer I barely missed a day. Then the waves of ennui crested and crashed, wiping out weeks of training. And it continues like this, weeks of motivation, weeks of crushing exhaustion.
I needed to find other ways to feed my spirit. Here are some of the best ways I’ve found to dislodge the sticky ennui, support mental health, and feel alive.
COLD WATER SWIMMING
I saw author Elizabeth Gilbert post on IG that she and her writer friends end the day with a cold water plunge. I was probably cooking dinner at the time for two kids that were about to refuse it, “we don’t like this!!!” and I muttered under my breath some expletives and how it “must be nice to quarantine with your writing besties, the only plans being to do your work and splash about.”
But I’ve learned if something makes me angry, it means something. So I texted my friend Jess and we started cold water swimming with a couple of seasoned CWS in November. At first it was every Friday at 7am, now the goal is once a week when we can.
Equipment:Swim capSwim earplugsGogglesWarm water in a thermos to pour over your feet and hands afterWarm layers that are EASY to put on (Wool! Hat! Mittens!)TowelIf you’re in a colder climate, our water here is mid 40s and air similar, swim booties and mittens are a must.How to:
Wade in slowly, breathe through the panic — regulate your heart rate, then plunge in. Swim for between 10 and 15 minutes. Googles on, look around for sea life. I’ve found 10 – 13 to be the sweet spot for me. The pain subsides and I want to stay in longer but if I do I pay for it.
Getting out is the tough part. The pain in fingers and toes is excruciating and you need to act now to avoid afterdrop. “Afterdrop is the phenomenon of your body temperature continue to drop even after you get out of cold water and into a warmer environment – so that you feel colder 10 or 40 minutes after you exit than you did in the water.” (Outdoor Swim Society)
Photo Credit: Craig Smith
Dry off immediately, pour your warm water on your feet and hands. Get out of the wet suit and dress quickly. Eat something – sugar will help raise your body temperature. So, make sure you pack your UnTapped Waffles and packets of syrup. Then warm your body by walking or even jogging for 10 – 15 minutes.
Definitely go with a friend! There are plenty of sites to find a group in your area. Check out Outdoor Swim Society or just search “find a cold water swim group” you’ll be surprised what you might find.
WINTER CAMPING / ALL CAMPING
Summer camping is my favorite activity. In fact, I stayed at a fussy mountain lodge for a night at the end of summer and all I could think about was how I wished I was in my 2-person hiking tent. But I’d never tried camping in the winter.
The trick here, again, is equipment. I love hitting used sporting goods stores for deals. But here’s what I suggest you invest in:
Sleeping Pad: Essential, because you lose body heat to the cold ground under you. Look for an insulated, high R-value air pad. REI has great resources for choosing.
Sleeping Bag: These are easier to choose, the rating is just in temperatures. Because you can always unzip to cool off, get the lowest temperature you can!
UnTapped: I love bringing oats and UnTappeds for a warm easy breakfast!
Photo Credit: Sarah Mac Robinson
HIKING / FOREST BATHING
Get out in nature, nature can be your backyard or fire escape. Breathe deeply. Repeat as often as possible. Even if I just take the kids for an hour to the local forest, we all come home in improved moods. Or when I feel my emotions destabilize, I will step out outside my house and take 3 slow, deep breaths. When I return I can usually deal better.
ATHLETES FOR YOGA
Athletes for Yoga is the only yoga I have the patience for because it actually makes a difference in my sport and life. It’s targeted to athletes (runners, cyclists, triathletes…) and wastes no time. I’ll have a tight hip all day, do one 15-minute video (Booty Lock Mitigation is so good) before bed and wake up ready to keep training! I use it everyday — even if it’s a 5-Minute Reset it makes a huge difference.
Photo Credit: Rebekah MacKay Video: athletesforyoga.com
There’s never been a better time to practice shaking it up, to try something new even just once. I’d love to know if you give any of these a go!