The power of a sabbatical
|January 7, 2018
|Posted by Melinda under Uncategorized
Let’s talk about sabbatical. I just finished one that lasted approximately 8 weeks (from Thanksgiving to New Years) and I find myself emerging on the other side more creative and balanced, less anxious, and with a clearer purpose of what I want and how to get it.
Oh sure, this sabbatical started without my permission. Fear of a stress fracture led to a suspension of any running activities but I quickly realized that the period of time between Thanksgiving and New Years is a rather thankless time to be training or doing anything anyways. Unpredictable weather, social obligations, lots of darkness. Two weeks into my forced time off I realized how much my body appreciated having a chance to heal and grow stronger and I realized other areas of my life probably needed it too. It was a perfect time to take a sabbatical.
Sabbatical is different from pure recovery. It’s true that we need time off to be nothing but couch potatoes. Let’s call that recovery time. That’s what you do when you run 100 miles and do nothing but sleep, eat, and post on social media for the week after a race. Or when after the completion of stressful chapter of life you decide on a period of nothingness – Netflicks, icecream, and PJ’s for the win!
I like to think of a sabbatical as a “time of thoughtfulness”. It’s not time-off to get all my to-do list items done, or to relax (although I got some of both done). I think of a sabbatical as a time where I suspend certain activities in order to create mental and physical space.
I know for many people a sabbatical means not working – often your job is the biggest drain emotionally and takes up the biggest chunk of time. For me I’m lucky to have a career and job that (mostly) isn’t.
What I realized is that “training” occupies the majority of my every day thoughts, actions, energy. Planning my next run or ride, driving to a trail head, actually running and riding, writing about it, getting enough sleep, managing my nutrition, managing family relations to make sure that my training isn’t impacting them too much, figuring out how I’m going to manage my time to get everything done that needs to get done when you are running 100’s and have two horses. It’s a delicate balancing act to make it all work and there’s very little time for any other creativity or activities that aren’t related.
I didn’t have any expectations of what I would accomplish when I made the decision to not only stop running, but also stop *training in general. And I didn’t have anything specific to fill the hole. I didn’t make any commitments to daily music practice, or writing, or anything else. I just let myself be.
*”Not training” included having no nutrition goals, no ride planning, no 2018 event planning, no schedules, no cross training, no mental training, and no writing about training or endurance or running.
Eight weeks later I’m here to tell you….Releasing myself from training for 8 weeks created an amazing space and I did some REALLY GOOD STUFF.
In fact, I’m committed to taking a training sabbatical yearly, probably during the same Thanksgiving-New Years period.
I’m sharing my revelations and accomplishments in the hopes that maybe you will be inspired to take a Sabbatical from whatever is the main consuming force in your life.
I learned to meditate.
It turns out that when I’m not riding or running or thinking endlessly of what crazy extreme thing I’m going to do next in running shoes or in the saddle I need a non-physical way to deal with stress. Turns out that meditation does a better job reducing stress and lowering my anxiety than physical activity. I strive for 10 minutes a day, although will do just 1 minute if that’s all I can squeeze in at the end of the day, since I’ve read even that amount will help. I’ve made a commitment to meditate daily and so far have stuck with it.
I wrote a book.
o_O. Yes. I actually have a first draft version done of a book!!!! I’ve started a couple over the years but have never actually gotten a WHOLE FIRST DRAFT DONE. I’m sure to my Readers disappointment it has nothing to do with riding, running, endurance, ultras, or veterinary medicine although it is non-fiction. My plan is self publish on Amazon and then write another one. And another one. They aren’t going to be the best books ever but for $2.99 I’ll do my best to make it worth it to my Readers and I’ll put something out there that I can be proud of.
I credit the mental space created by the sabbatical that allowed me to have the creative energy and time to start and finish an actual draft. I’m incredibly proud of myself. This is something I’ve started and never finished over and over and it finally happened.
When it’s done and available I’ll post a little announcement here on the blog if you are interested or want to support this blog through buying it. It’s a book about how to play any instrument you choose. Sort of a “bar napkin” guide to playing music without too much theory or other details unrelated to actually playing the music getting in the way.
In case you think that I spent the 8 weeks writing this book with all that “time off” and that’s how it got done….errrr….no. It was during my sabbatical that I got the idea to write this book. I then spent the 2 hour drive up to my parents for Xmas making a rough outline (no, I wasn’t driving). I actually starting writing the book the first week after my sabbatical ended. The sabbatical was very much responsible for me writing the book, but that’s not actually when it got written :).
I planted a garden.
In the WINTER. I’ve never done such a thing before. But, living in a zone 9 with mild winters gardening in the winter makes much more sense than the summer gardens that shrivel up and die the first time I forget to water them for one day. The soil is actually workable and the water need isn’t outrageous. Everything happens a bit slower which is good since I tend to ignore it for whole days at a time. As part of my sabbatical I actually had time to spend more time outside my house during daylight hours doing yard work. Instead of merely barely staying on top of the yard work chores I found myself with extra time and energy to make some changes so I actually enjoyed being in the yards. I fenced off half the back yard so the dogs don’t have access to the entire thing all the time (and destroy any thing nice I put in). I found a used book at the book store about square foot gardening and decided to give it a try. I chose unused space to put in 12″x12″ gardening squares and planted everything from seed, just to see if I could. Then I moved to the front yard and cleaned up the neglected landscaping and planted some “edible landscape” stuff. Mint, lavendar, rosemary, and a blueberry bush are now planted among the existing landscaping. It’s been 4 weeks and some of my seeds are sprouting and I can see the shallots making an appearance!
The actual maintenance of the garden is low, it was the planning and execution that took mental energy and time. Now that’s done, I’ll be able to reap the benefits of that time spent all year long.
I stopped multi-tasking.
I made a commitment to not multitask. One thing at a time. I had plenty of time so why not be thoughtful about what I was doing?
My baseline anxiety went down again.
After not multi-tasking, when I would try it was painfully obvious just how bad the brain is at juggling several balls at once. The constant attention switching was exhausting. It was so easy to make a mistake. Life was less enjoyable.
No more multi-tasking. It’s OK to say to someone “just a second to finish this so I can give you my full attention” (and then do it). Or to put something down and away from your mind to focus on the second thing. I’m keeping my phone off my body and when I am looking at it, if an obsessive pattern starts (like reopening apps that I just closed because I just want to be on my phone for no real reason) I deliberately set it down and walk away.
I’m taking a family mini-vacation every month.
Just one night in the motorhome to a location 2-3 hours away, once a month. It’s going to go a long ways towards supporting the “Family” level in my training pyramid. I’m not sure I would have come up with this if it wasn’t for spending the time at home during this season. But, it’s absolutely brilliant and perfect for my family. We already have a destination for January and I’m making a list of future possibilities (if anyone has ideas for me that are 2-3 hours from Sacramento CA, I’d love to hear them!).
I can’t wait to start training again.
It’s a healthy “can’t wait to start”, not a desperate “I have to run because I don’t know what else to do”. Currently I’m doing 20-30 minute runs and keeping an eye my *groin injury. Runs are easy and casual. I’m doing daily(!) mobilization and range of motion work. My nutrition is better than it’s ever been. My pyramid feels stronger than I can remember in recent history, probably because of the attention the bottom layers have gotten during the sabbatical. I feel ready for my 100 miler in July (I got into the Tahoe 100 miler!) despite not running in almost 2 months. That’s an incredible place to be mentally after that much time off.
There’s 2 races I have planned this year – Tahoe 100 miler (July), and the Folsom Lake Ultra Trail 100k (September).
*no stress fracture or major muscle tear per the MRI. There’s some arthritis in my pubic symphysis that is probably contributing to the pain, and the rest of it is probably an adductor muscle strain – not tear! Doc is recommending PT because of the abuse I put my body through, so should be starting that soon.
The horses are what I’m the most unsure about.
I don’t know what my riding looks like this year. I’ll take it as it comes and I’ll either do a lot, very little, or something in between. *shrug*. It’s hard for me not to feel anxious or stressed right now about what I’m *not* doing with my horses, but in reality it’s fine. Farley likes retirement and ML is slightly bored but there when it works out (and continues to be on her best behavior)
I suspect that because this year is supposed to be less tumultuous than any of the past 3 years (no babies, no graduations, no job changes, no buying houses, no moving, my husband *not* getting another flight rating this year…. )I might actually find space in my life to spend more of it on horseback. I sure hope so. I miss my four-legged friends. If anything this sabbatical has reinforced how OK it is not to do anything specific with them in the immediate future. Be more thoughtful, less reactive, and wait for the right time. I have a feeling everything with Farley and ML will work out the way it’s suppose to – whatever/whenever *that* is.
So there you have it. The result of creating space in my life for 8 weeks.