When Running Gets Dark

By Shannon Lelievre

We’ve changed the clocks back and the days are getting progressively shorter, while our nights grow darker. I’m no stranger to Seasonal Affective Disorder, but what do I do when running gets dark?

I ran my second marathon a month ago and it was a shit show. I was fresh off my first 42.2k run when a fellow Road Warrior asked me to share the marathon training journey with her. She added that we’d be raising money for a mental health charity which would give the long runs and muscle aches added purpose: how could I say no? I did it once already so I knew it was possible.

I did 95% of my training alone and was nervous about my ability. I didn’t doubt my ability to get my body to the marathon distance, but I wanted to do it well. And faster than the first time.

I met Chantelle for our big run and kept pace with my gazelle-like friend until she asked “Can you keep pace the rest of the way?” It was like a shadow had been chasing me for 15 kilometres and finally caught up. I said that I thought so but my pace almost immediately slowed down. Then I needed to walk. Then I had to pee. Then I needed to fuel. And then…and then…and then.

My body kept moving, but I was at war within. I had an argument with myself, arguing that I had no reason to ease up and that my mental toughness needed to toughen up. The shadow hung over me like a cloud…no, more like a cape, dragging behind me and always in my peripheral vision: just waiting to strangle me as it caught itself on the branches as I passed. 

I’ve fought depression for decades and battled anxiety my entire life. I’ve fought through head injuries and divorce, and climbed my way out of a trauma-induced blackhole. The fact I even made it to the start of this marathon should have been enough proof of mental strength to get me to the finish but it didn’t.

I slowed down. I mean way down…I think I walked the final 15 kilometres of the route. Chantelle was already home and relaxing and I could barely carry my body to the end. 

I texted her that I’d be late as I had “lost myself on the way”. I don’t know where I went but it felt like my months of training had abandoned me in my hours of need. I didn’t even have the ability to cry but I was heartbroken and embarrassed and wished I could disappear. 

I’ve been running since, but I don’t know where the light has gone? Did it set with the sun when summer ended? Running has always been a source of strength and healing for me, but I’ve only felt this lonely and lost once before and that was when I was told I was a victim of a crime that never happened. 

I’ve witnessed others achieve new distances and paces surrounded by cheerleaders and support and I continue to run alone. I recently tried to expand my circle of friends, but no one prepared me for how difficult making friends as an adult is: I was met with drama and disappointment and feel even more on the outside looking in. 

My body moved 42.2kilometres, and Chantelle and I raised over $2000, so I can acknowledge that it was an accomplishment. But a month later, I still don’t feel any pride in it. I didn’t register for any of the Bluenose Marathon races that took place this weekend because I didn’t feel like I belonged on any start line. I wonder if I didn’t run myself right into a depression?

I’m digging deeper than ever to find my way out into the light. It was nice this weekend so I found some trails, laced up, and felt the sun on my face. I breathed fresh air, stopped to enjoy the feel of trees and moss, and bathed in the sound of waterfalls. We still have almost two months until the winter solstice and our days start growing longer again, so I’m fighting the dark with all my strength. The sun still shines, albeit for less time, but I will keep seeking the light.