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Clay Williams Ultra Runner

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For all you Ultra Runners

Posted by Clay Williams on November 14, 2014 at 4:45 PM

Let’s talk about the Black Dog.

In 2011, the World Health Organization ran a depression awareness campaign that included a video about the “Black Dog” named Depression. Many of you ultra runners, especially those who have run 100 miles or more, have seen that Black Dog. Some only during the darkest part of the night during a long run, some on multi-day runs, and some between runs when there’s not an immediate goal or finish line in sight.

I have definitely seen the Black Dog, and I think a significant part of completing a really long race is learning how to deal with it when it arrives. I’m not a therapist or counselor, but I may be talking with a lot of people next summer about depression; I’ll be running a big fundraiser, so I’d like to learn more. And what’s motivating me is the thought that it would be cool to find a way to help new ultra runners to cope with the Black Dog when they see it for the first time. And wouldn’t it be cool if I could learn some things to help regular folks to deal with it in their everyday lives?

With that all said (written), I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours. I’m putting my story out there in public, how a felt, how a reacted, how I received help, and I’d like you to message me with your story. I will absolutely keep it confidential unless you tell me otherwise. Maybe it will give me some insight into the difference between self-inflicted depression and other depression, and hopefully will give me some insight about dealing with it so I can share with others (again anonymously of course). Maybe it will help you to share your experience by making you look at it and analyze it.

My email address is at the end of my story….

As I mentioned, I’ve seen the black dog myself, and not just during long runs. My wife, my daughter, and my sister all suffer from depression, and my two oldest brothers took their own lives. I have been in situations where a negative thought process takes over, self-defeating, energy-sapping, making me want to close out the rest of the world. Sometimes I have reached out for help or advice, sometimes I haven’t. The times that I HAVE reached out and spoken with someone about it, I have NEVER been met with any sort of negative response. Responses have always been encouraging and helpful.

The first time in a race was during my second 100 mile trail run. After running for about 18 hours on really tough forest trails, it was 2am, it was physically dark, and I was cold, hungry and exhausted. I was walking with a pacer (my pacer extraordinaire, you know who you are), my world was lit only by a little lamp on my head that lit a four foot wide piece of trail in front of me. In between aid stations my world spiraled down into a small prison of pain, exhaustion, unending hills and rocks and roots, and uncertainty that my body could carry me to the next aid station. Even though I had done this same race the year before, and was in better physical condition, the mental “darkness” simply consumed me, and allowed me to convince myself that I couldn’t go on, that it was better for me to quit, give up, and just be a loser. I can only describe the feeling as “dark”, I had never felt that way before, it was just a consuming darkness. I remember spending at least an hour convincing myself that I would feel ok with recording a DNF, as long as I could just stop the race and go to sleep somewhere. But my pacer could see where I was, could see that I was in a bad place. And I think my son, and the folks at the next aid station could too. They all reached out to me, trying to convince me I was going to be fine. I was very adamant that I wasn’t fine. I’ve heard depression described as trying to peel a potato using another potato. And when you talk to someone about your trouble, they say “you really need a potato peeler!” and they just give you another potato. I felt like that, I was being given another potato, and I just wanted to quit and hide. But they kept encouraging me, and eventually I got up from my chair at the aid station to prove that if I stood up I would just fall over. But I didn’t fall, so I walked a little to prove that I couldn’t walk far, then I ran, and after another 15 miles I finished the race feeling strong again.

What did your Black Dog look like? How did you tame him? I’d love to hear from you.

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