Andrea and Craig welcome Nita Sweeney, an author, distance runner, writer and meditator who shares her tale of overcoming depression and anxiety through long distance running with her dog Morgan. She details the first basic steps everyone should take to start their battle against depression, getting out of bed and doing a basic self-care task such as brushing your teeth. Nita describes how at 49, being overweight and depressed she went from “couch to 5k” and how it changed her life. Another challenge Nita was able to overcome was the negative voices in her head that filled her with negativity and self-doubt, making her constantly second-guess her decision to improve. She narrates how she was able to defeat those voices and how to keep them from spoiling your drive and motivation. The co-hosts share some of their experience with running (and with pups) and how it benefited them, as well as their take on trail running versus road running. Listen to the episode to find out how you too can go from “couch to 5k”, become a marathon runner and overcome depression, anxiety, self doubt and even flourish along the way.
Visit Nita’s website: https://nitasweeney.com/
All things Nita: https://linktr.ee/nitasweeney
Check out Nita’s books:
Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running With My Dog Brought Me Back From the Brink
Free eBook: Three Ways to Heal Your Mind
You Should Be Writing: A Journal of Inspiration & Instruction to Keep Your Pen Moving
Nita Sweeney’s Bio
Nita Sweeney is the award-winning wellness author of the running and mental health memoir, Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running with My Dog Brought Me Back from the Brink and co-creator of the writing journal, You Should Be Writing: A Journal of Inspiration & Instruction to Keep Your Pen Moving. A certified meditation leader, mental health advocate, ultramarathoner, and former assistant to writing practice originator Natalie Goldberg, Nita founded the groupsMind, Mood, and Movement to support well-being through meditation, exercise, and writing practice, and The Writer’s Mind, to share using writing practice to produce publishable work. Nita also publishes the writing resource newsletter, Write Now Columbus. Nita lives in central Ohio with her husband, Ed, and their yellow Labrador retriever, Scarlet. Download your free copy of Nita’s eBook Three Ways to Heal Your Mind.
[00:00:00] Nita: So eventually I got up my courage and I leashed up Morgan, our yellow lab, and I carried a kitchen timer. One of those little digital plastic kitchen timers down into this kind of secluded area in our suburban neighborhood. And I set the timer and I stood there for a long time because I was afraid. I was afraid.
[00:00:33] Craig: Hi, folks. This is Craig Van Slyke. Welcome to the Rational Ignorance podcast, where we talk about ideas, values, and living life well.
[00:00:39] Andrea: Hi, I'm Andrea Christelle, a philosopher and outdoor enthusiast who lives in Sedona, Arizona.
[00:00:45] Craig: And I'm a business professor, author and rancher who lives in the middle of the woods in Eros, Louisiana. We're here to have fun, interesting conversations that help us get to the heart of what it means to live a good life.
[00:00:55] Andrea: Rational ignorance is an idea from economics that basically means there is a limit to what we need to know. So we'll skip the small stuff and focus on what really matters and help you move towards a flourishing life.
[00:01:11] Craig: Welcome to another episode of the Rational ignorance podcast. Today, we're going to cover two of my favorite topics, physical activity and dogs. Yay. For dogs. We love dogs around here. We're also going to talk about mental health, specifically depression and anxiety. We all know that physical, like physical activity is good for our physical health, but exercise can also ease the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Although, we're not really sure about the exact way this works, experts believe that exercise can benefit mental health by increasing confidence, releasing endorphins, and sometimes simply taking your mind off of your worries. This episode, we're going to explore how exercise and dogs can help us ease depression and anxiety by hearing from someone who is a living example of the healing effects of exercise.
[00:01:57] Andrea: We hope you enjoy and benefit from the Rational Ignorance podcast. If you do, please share your favorite episode with one other person this week. Today we are happy to have author and distance runner Nita Sweeney as our guest on the Rational Ignorance podcast. Nita is an author, distance runner, writer and meditator. Nita holds a journalism degree from the E. W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, a law degree from the Ohio state university and an MFA in creative writing from Goddard college. Since she started running and training for races at 49 years old, she has completed one ultra marathon, three full marathons, 29 half marathons, and over a hundred shorter races. She has also published three books, including her award winning and Amazon bestseller memoir Depression Hates A Moving Target: How Running With My Dog Brought Me Back From The Brink, which was published in 2019 and is available in bookstores and online.
[00:02:55] Craig: We're really happy to have you here on Rational Ignorance. As a former distance runner and long-time believer in the benefit of pups, I was fascinated by your story of how you overcame depression and anxiety through running with your pup Morgan and Morgan passed away peacefully a few years ago. So rest in peace, Morgan, your memoir is a testament to the power of persistence and grit. You've overcome a lot to reach your goals. Can you please just give us a synopsis of your journey?
[00:03:23] Nita: Sure. First, I just want to say thank you for inviting me to talk. These are, you know, the thing I love to talk about the most. So I had been chronically depressed for many, many years and at 49 I was overweight. I was pretty much unemployable. I had tried to publish a book. I had practiced law for a number of years. I've done a lot of things. I'd hit a really low point. And I hopped on social media one day and saw a post from a friend of mine from high school who was, around my age about my size. And she said, "Call me crazy, but this running is getting to be fun." And I thought she had lost her mind. She was really, she'd gone over the edge. This was too much. We had both had, we were like horse girls in high school where we had horses and did that kind of thing. And I was in marching band, but neither one of us was athletic at all and hadn't been really as adults. So I started following what she was doing and it was couch to 5k and interval training plan. And eventually, not right away, I went to the website and it said 60 seconds of jogging. Now I swear if it had said 60 seconds of running, I would have thought that's ridiculous, can't do it. But there was something about the jogging, that it wasn't serious that it wasn't hard, I don't know. And 60 seconds. So eventually I got up my courage and I leashed up Morgan, our yellow lab, and I carried a kitchen timer. One of those little digital plastic kitchen timers down into this kind of secluded area in our suburban neighborhood. And I set the timer and I stood there for a long time because I was afraid. I was afraid. And eventually I hit the timer and started jogging. And it's one of those things where it didn't change everything overnight. But something about taking that step led me eventually out of the really bleak place I'd been in. I was suicidal. I was agoraphobic, so it was actually hard for me to leave the house. I was paranoid. So I went down into the ravine because I was afraid the neighbors, who were probably at work actually, but I was afraid that they would laugh if they saw someone my age, my size, try to run. And yet I also knew that something had to change. Things were really bad and I was sort of willing to try that. I was in therapy. I still take medication, a lot less medication. And I had a regular meditation practice. I do writing practice. I had a lot of things, you know, I have a wonderful husband. Who's very supportive. I have family, all the things, but I didn't have physical activity. And for me, that apparently was the missing piece because once I got to a place where that was more regular things started to change. So that's kind of the story. And the book is, the book weaves that story with kind of my writing journey and then the story of my niece who died, which was another part of the whole package of how I ended up running outside the neighborhood. That's what got me outside the neighborhood was, charity running for charity for her, to raise money for cancer research. And it sort of weaves all those stories together, but the main, the through line is couch to marathon. And when I was writing the book originally, I thought that maybe people would be interested in seeing a middle-aged woman take up running. And as we were editing the book and I continued writing, I realized that the story is actually about a woman trying to save her life. And that's where the that's where the spark actually came and where people got really interested.
[00:07:29] Andrea: Nita, it's such a great book. I really do want to recommend it to everyone. Depression Hates A Moving Target is just a great chronicle of your whole story. But, you know, when I read it, I heard not only about the physical activity, which we could get in a number of ways, but it also seemed like you also really built up a community around you. And so I feel like it wouldn't have been the same story if it were just Nita running by herself every day, but it also seemed very much about the communities you were building, the friendships you were developing and the sense of identity, even at the races. You say several times, and then I was a runner and then I was an athlete and even like Morgan and I were runners together, right? Like even, even Morgan's identity changed. So I wonder how that affected your mood or your just overall sense of being, because it seems like these communities and friendships were very much a part of the journey in addition to the physical activity.
[00:08:35] Nita: Definitely. That's a great question and excellent observation. I consider myself to be an off the scale introvert. So I'm not much of a joiner, but I did sneak into a running community online before I would let anybody see me physically running. And that started that sense of building where people talked about the fact that they were slow runners and they didn't care, they were just happy to be moving or that they did races, which at that time I couldn't even imagine. And so it started by sort of tiptoeing into an online community. And then the place I kind of broke out of my shell. I mentioned it before my sister, who is the mother of the niece that died. It was her only child who died of cancer at 24, Jamie. She emailed me after I made the mistake of telling her I had started running because I wasn't actually telling people cause I was, you know, I just had a lot of paranoia. And I'd also disappointed a lot of people over the years where I would start something and we would think, oh, this'll fix her. And so I didn't want this to be that thing again. So I finally did tell her and I don't know, maybe a couple of months later she emailed and said, there's this 5k to raise money for the cancer that Jamie died from. And my immediate response was, oh, no, I'm a private runner. I don't run in public. Yeah, I don't. I, no, no, no. And it took me a while to kind of get over myself and realize that this was bigger than me. And when I went to that race and I saw people of all ages, all races, all shapes, all sizes, all paces, but some in the spandex, some in the sweat pants, everything in between, it just sort of opened up my mind about what the running community is.
[00:10:34] Nita: And then eventually as I wanted to do longer distances, I realized that I needed more structure because partly because of my mental health issues, I needed a better training plan. I needed people around me that knew about shoes, knew about nutrition, knew about hydration, all that kind of stuff with running when you're running longer distances. And, so that's how I ended up in this community. Again, kind of tiptoeing my way in. I went, the group I belong to now is marathoner and training and they had a speaker, Bart Yasso, who's kind of a famous runner. I wanted to see him and so I emailed the marathoner and training director and said, can I just come and listen to him speak? And I wasn't actually in the group. And he said, yeah and then join us for the run afterwards. And so that was like, I kind of just tiptoed in. But now I realize that's a huge part of my recovery and my maintenance in you know, my mental health, depression and bipolar is having that support system. And I joke I actually introduced the group, I don't know when it was. We have like big the first day of school at the beginning of each season. There's two seasons a year. And they let me speak one day. They always have somebody that was, introduce everybody to the group. And I talked about how it's like a family. You know, you think you joined a running group of what you actually joined was a family. And that's what it's been, you know, they've been there for me. A lot of times I've been there for other people when they've gone through difficulties. My husband had a heart attack two years ago. And boy, those people came out of the woodwork and you know, with food and red signs in the yard, all kinds of crazy stuff that they helped me with. So, yes. But it's interesting because I was the kind of person who might not have thought I needed a community and I got there. I got to the community because I thought I needed information about running, but what I ended up getting was emotional support.
[00:12:40] Andrea: Right. So I want to ask you another point about community that I think ties into that, but I want to go back to something that you said earlier, which is about showing up at the race and seeing people like dressed all different ways, people with all different paces and looking differently, because that really ties in to one of the themes that we're doing on flourishing right now, which is that it's really an individual activity. And I think that so often in society there are these stereotypes or paradigms that we often feel we have to live up to that no person really actually lives into. And so by showing up at this race, it actually gave you an opportunity and it's so helpful for us to have opportunities to actually encounter other people and individuals and appreciate them for who they are and where they are rather than having some idealized notion of what a runner is or what a runner looks like when there were very few of these idealized notions actually out there. And actually we're all people and it's really beautiful and encouraging to see people just as they are and show up and appreciate our diversity. I just want to notice that these races gave you an opportunity for that. The other go ahead.
[00:13:58] Craig: Oh, it's alright, I just wanted to interject that. I think that's a unique aspect of running and I guess you could put walking into this as well. I did triathlons for a number of years and you can ride with a group, but it's kind of hard to chat with them and to really get to know them. So I would ride with these people every Saturday and I kind of knew two of them out of the 40 or 50 that would be on the rides. You know you can't talk while you're swimming. So that's largely an individual activity, but with running, you can run in a group and in any city of any size, there are going to be all kinds of running groups of different abilities that makes it really easy to fall in with the community.
[00:14:40] Nita: But you're right about the fact that with running, especially if you're doing long slow distance, where you're supposed to be able, I mean, one of the hallmarks of knowing that you're at the right pace is whether you can carry on a conversation. And same thing with walking, you know, lovely to go walk with friends and have a talk. And I mean, that's just a, it's just a wonderful thing. And yet with swimming you can't quite do that. So.
[00:15:06] Andrea: Nina. Let's, we'll get back to your story. I want to ask you, when you’re describing your thoughts after completing your first marathon, which is a huge deal, like congratulations on that again, because the first marathon is, is so exciting and such an achievement. I mean, I felt like I was right there with you when you got your 26.2 sticker, you really carried us on that journey all the way through the book. You were like, I am going to get that 26.2 sticker. And you threw yourself into something like that, focusing on what was in front of you instead of the voices in your head. Can you talk a little bit about that? About what were those voices in your head and how did you push that aside? And what does it look like to focus on what's right in front of you?
[00:15:51] Nita: So the voices in my head, even after I had run all the miles that it takes to train for a marathon, would say things to me like "You can't actually do this. You, you, you you're really not a runner. You just really can't do this." They would say things like, "Your heart's gonna explode. You're gonna pass out." Or still, "You look funny, you look silly. People are laughing at you." I mean, they kind of run the gamut and I'm not sure. You know, a book is sort of a frozen slice in time. And so I wrote it from my awareness while I was writing it. But what I see now is that my history as a meditator helped a lot with dealing with those voices because what I can do and what I was, what I was doing to be able to take that next step was to notice that the voices, the sounds, whatever you want to call them in my heads, it's not the kind of voices where it's you know, a person now like I wasn't psychotic. They were more the same kind of voices everybody has, mine are just much stronger, and the voices would arise and I would be able to say, oh, isn't that interesting? There it is again, that friend who thinks they're protecting me, that part of me that thinks I'm doing something dangerous. There it is. I will watch it do its little dance and then it will pass and it will pass faster if I get moving, if I get up and put my shoes on. And so I will talk to myself, I would say, Nita, just get up and put on your running gear. And then I'd have my running gear on and I would, the boys will say, well, now you really look ridiculous pretending to be a runner. I mean, it really, it just would come on. And then I would say, Nita, just go stand outside or just get into it. If I was driving someplace, just get in your car and start driving. And and so I I've studied a long time with a woman named Natalie Goldberg. And she's a zen priest, I believe. We teach writing practice and we talk about these same exact voices, but they're just with writing. And what she says is in writing practice, you keep your hand moving. And so if you imagine that your right hand is this creative hand that really wants to write, really wants to write, but the left hand is yammering away about how stupid you are and how this has already been done and dah, dah, dah. But if you get the right hand moving, the left hand will still chase you along, but it will never catch you as long as you keep your hand moving. So that's kind of part of the Depression Hates A Moving Target idea, yeah, so the title came from years of having friends, just like me. I'm kind of a mentor to some people in the recovery community also. And we would call each other on bad days. And I would say, are you in bed? And this one friend especially would say, yep, two, two o'clock in the afternoon, can't get out of bed. And I'd say, okay, let's just remember depression hates a moving target. Hang up, get out of bed when you're out of bed, call me back and then we would do that. Sometimes it would be okay, you're on the side of the bed.
[00:18:54] Nita: Go to the bathroom, you know, get up, brush your teeth, call me back and just say that depression rates, a moving target. And that's the same thing with the thoughts that if I would just do exactly. And when, I mean what's in front of me, I'm not talking about thinking about mile 10. I'm talking about thinking about putting on your shoes, the very thing that's right in front of your face. So that's how I live my life actually, but that's how I got through with the training and the running and ultimately the race, the marathon itself.
[00:19:25] Andrea: That's such a great story. It reminds me of a quote from your book actually, where you say overthinking can turn decision-making into paralysis. So like, I see that big, like, if you can overthink something and I hear you saying, like, just, just do the next thing. Don't overthink it. That will turn it into paralysis, just do the next thing.
[00:19:47] Nita: And make the next thing so small that you can't fail. I mean, make it so small that it's, you know, you're in bed, can't get out of bed, just remove the covers, just take the covers off. That's the first step. And then the next step is swing your body around so that you're sitting and then the next step is stand up. I mean, when you have mental health issues to the degree that I have had them, you have to chunk it down like that because the overwhelm, it, it will just completely destroy you if, if you don't that, that's what worked for me anyway.
[00:20:28] Craig: That's, when I think that's another powerful message of your book. The power of those small steps and of just persistence. Yeah, there's an old joke, you know, how do you run a marathon one step at a time and you kind of alluded to the same sort of thing, putting one foot in front of the other until you hit the finish line, but that really is how you do it. You know, so
[00:20:47] Nita: Let me joke about left foot, right?
[00:20:49] Craig: No, that's right. Yeah. Left foot, right foot, you know, you're just, all I need to do is get that next foot or, you know, take one step forward. And it's just a whole bunch of those to run the 26.2 miles. But how did you come to realize that? I mean, that's very powerful, but can you tell us a little bit about how you came to that realization?
[00:21:06] Nita: I think it was because I had been meditating for a long time and that's, with meditation it's one breath at a time. I mean, you, you focus on the in breath and then the out-breath sometimes you count your breaths as a way to develop focus and calm and concentration, and that tied in so easily for me. And also just because I have the mental health issues that I can't go, I mean, yes, I plan, but in the day I have to be very careful to be as much in this moment as I can, because my mind will overwhelm. So yeah, I mean, I think that's, I, it also kind of seemed obvious to me, but I what's interesting is it's not obvious to everyone. And I think that's just partly the way I'm wired, the way my brain works. But I think it comes from a lot of years of sitting on a cushion and doing walking meditation and sitting practice and having teachers talk about that, you know, the depth of a breadth of a single breath, how much is in a single breath and going deep in that.
[00:22:10] Andrea: So Nita, I wanted to ask you a little bit more about your meditation practice and you know, that the book Depression Hates A Moving Target is really about you, you know, starting this running journey, you know, getting all the way to the marathon. I want to ask you about your ultra marathons before we leave for sure. But, but you weave into the book and even into our conversation so far, not just the running, but also the writing practice. And I love that term writing practice because we often hear about a meditation practice or a yoga practice, but this idea of a writing practice was a new one. But how do you see these things as related? Writing, meditation and running?
[00:22:50] Nita: Well, that attitude of practice does come from meditation practice and I cant claim the word writing practice, Natalie Goldberg coined that term. But the idea that you are practicing, it does a number of things. First off it helps me remember that I get to do this again tomorrow, I don't have to be perfect today and that I want to do it tomorrow because it's an ongoing thing. It also takes a bit of the pressure off because I don't have to be perfect if I'm practicing. You know, it makes it feel like you talked about like a yoga practice. You're not gonna, I mean, you hope that you have the right posture or do the posture in a good way, in a healthy way, in a strong way. But if you don't, there's not anybody who's judging you really. There might be a teacher that's saying, oh, lift your chin or, you know, move the shoulder a little bit or something like that, but it's not, it's more of a guidance. And so that whole philosophy of practice I'm actually in training right now to become a Chi running instructor, which is another thing I mentioned a lot in the book because I use those techniques. And gradual progress. They talk so much about gradual progress because it's a very holistic thing. They see it as a practice. Again, from my years of meditation, it was pretty easy for me to apply that to running. Once I realized that I could, that was another, we talked about those misperceptions earlier. That was another misperception that running was this thing you had to be able to do right. And you had to, you know, otherwise people are gonna laugh at you or you're going to get injured and all these kinds of things. And in fact, it's a practice and you have days where it's great and days where you hate it and you just, in practice, you just show up. And I think from years of especially sitting practice, you know, some days you hate it, you just do. But you know that the long-term benefit, you have to have kind of like a long view, is good and is helpful and has merit.
[00:24:48] Craig: That's great. So throughout the book several times you talk about the people that are in the front, you know, the races and you know, the people in the back of the races. And one of the things that struck me. Is that, and you, I think you've said this several times in the book as well, you're running your own race. You're not running their race. And I think one of the things that seemed like it helped you a lot was, you know, you wanted to focus on your times and try to get better, but you weren't trying to do the five and a half minute miles that the folks up in front are doing. So did that come to you as naturally as it seemed in the book or was that more of a struggle for you?
[00:25:31] Nita: That's a really good question. I'm kind of a competitive person. I mean, really competitive. And so what you do with that is you get competitive with the people in your circle. And I try not to be horribly competitive, I try to be a team player. But the truth is on race day we're, you know, we're challenging each other. We're trying to meet each other and it does feel good to within our little pack to come in, you know, in a good rank. But yes, I, I pretty quickly figured out partly because of, cause I didn't start running until I was 49. And so I wasn't going to be the speed I maybe could have been when I was in my twenties. So, that was kind of an acceptance, acceptance piece that was pretty easy.
[00:26:18] Andrea: To talk about your competitive spirit and also your toughness. Because I think that came out early in the book too, when you were first getting started in running, and this reminded me because you brought up your ankle and not everyone was encouraging at first, especially certain members of the medical community. And I was so impressed with you when you told those doctors to give you back your x-rays to give you all your medical records. And, you know, I suspect it was your legal background or maybe other things that allowed you to know that you are entitled to ask for that, that they weren't necessarily forthcoming or cooperative, but you insisted on getting that. And then you insisted on seeing other physicians and medical professionals that were themselves runners, and that would be supportive. And I was just like good for her. I'm so proud of you for doing that, but I thought, boy, a lot of people might have been intimidated, might not have done that. So I wonder if you could just talk us through that a little bit, tell us how, you know, you found the courage to make those next steps and, you know, maybe give other people some advice if they're facing resistance or other people that are perhaps not encouraging.
[00:27:29] Nita: Well, again, I had found something in running. That felt like it was saving my life. And so when this one particular doctor who I, I also read people pretty well, you know, I have, it's not just from being a lawyer, is per my personality, that I could sense from him that it was his issue about running, that he hated running. And he loved doing ankle surgery, but I just, I just got that. And he's probably very good at what he does, okay? I don't want to say that, but I just felt immediately that he was not the right doctor for me, just not. And it kind of felt like one of those things of, you know, if you're a carpenter and you have a hammer, you think that everything's a nail sort of situation. And he was so dismissive too. He was so, it was like I didn't even exist. All that existed was him doing surgery. It was just very it was, there are a lot of really great medical professionals and he may be very skilled, but he just was not the right doctor for me. I'm very careful about that to say that because it just, you know, I don't want to make anybody think that he's an awful guy, cause he's probably not. If I met him on in somebody, if I probably met him at a Buckeye football game, man, we'd probably be best friends, but that day we were not. But I'm also, you know, I was raised by very strong people. I'm a farm girl and my mother, who was often very difficult, when she was probably what I think she was maybe in her fifties, she decided that she was going to become a radio DJ. And so she went and got her third class radio operator's license, which is a big deal. And she faced so many hurdles, people telling her she couldn't do it, you know, all the kind of administrative stuff she had to do. So I watched both of my parents do things like that, my whole life. And I just knew that, I just knew that this was wrong and it made no sense to me that I couldn't have my records, like what is up with that? They're my records! And maybe also because I had been through with my mother's illness and my niece's illness, I was pretty involved with that. By then that I knew a little bit about the fact that, you know, your medical records or your medical records, but just in that moment, I wasn't taking it. I just wasn't going to take his guff. I just, I couldn't. And then eventually, you know, after, after I left there, I'm the kind of person that I can be really tough in the moment, and then a lot of times all collapsed after, like after the crisis is over, then I'm in the corner crying. But when the crisis happens, I'm like right there. So afterwards his voice, he said that they needed to fuse my ankle and his voice became like a repetitive, horrible mantra in my head. And so I had to do a lot of work to get that kind of out of my head. And one of the things I did was have a very Frank conversation with my psychiatrist about, you know, am I ruining my body? Am I, is this what should I do? And, and in the book, she knows me so well. In the book I say, she started to say, be a moderate runner, just be a moderate runner. And I mean, essentially, that's kind of what I, I know that probably sounds crazy given the number of metals on my wall, but that's kind of what I've done because I run slowly. And she started to say that, and then she said, no first find the best professionals you can, who are runners. And I'd kind of heard that before, but to hear my psychiatrist say that, and we talked about the fact that even with my medications, the medications that I was taking at the time, at one point I was on six medications I think I was on four when I started running. Now I'm on one. But the medications I'm taking, they affect my kidneys, they affect my liver. They're not, you know, it's not like poison, but they do have an impact. Any medications you take, your body has to digest those and purify those. And so it's, it's hard on your organs, especially your kidneys and liver. And she said the choice for you has been to take the medications because without them, you end up suicidal and you might not be here, you know, you may have taken your own life. And so can you look at running the same way? Is this the kind of thing where you might run for 10 years and then realize that you have done damage you can't repair? You know, that's the trade off here, Nita? I mean, she was, she wasn't telling me what to do. She was letting me make the choice and because she had seen the difference in my mood, and we one by one taken me off some of the meds and, you know my appointments had extended from every couple of weeks to every couple of months, things like that. So we had that hard conversation. But yeah, I mean, I have, I think I have a certain amount of grit. Maybe it's from being a farm girl. Maybe it's just who I am. And determination. I mean, I, I definitely have some push-through-it-ness that other people might not have. And that has served me well, but you asked me about advice and I think the advice for anyone who has any inkling, that what they're hearing might not be completely accurate or that, you know, it's just to get a second opinion. It's never, it never hurts to get a second opinion. And also the medical records are yours. I mean, they really are. They might charge you for a copy, but it's, you know, the medical records are yours. So.
[00:33:11] Andrea: Nita, one of the things I loved about your book is you're just so honest about all the challenges and all the euphoria and all the greatness along the way. I mean, I feel like we're really on that journey with you. But I want to talk a little bit about the challenges right now because I was struck by this the other day, I was in the gym and someone was talking and he said, oh, I had to help this guy because he ruptured his quadricep. And I thought, you know, where else does that happen except the gym? You know, somebody even, you know, and maybe other places, but it seems like we come into these challenges wherever we're doing something, right? So when you're running, you get running injuries. If you're at the gym, you're going to have challenges with that. If you're writing, you might come up against some blocks. So I just, and you were so honest in your account of some of the challenges. And I wonder if you could talk about how you worked through those.
[00:34:06] Nita: I learned to show up by years of writing practice and years of meditation showing up to the page, showing up to the cushion. And I applied those same things to running. Now I'm not encouraging people to run to the point that they tear a meniscus or break a leg or whatever, but that does happen. I mean, sometimes that does happen. And I think that a couple of things helped me, that history of writing practice and meditation helped me to show up to just keep showing up. I also am the kind of person who needs a structure. And so having a training plan really helped. So that very first couch to 5k plan, that that was back in the day when you could print it off, I'm not sure you can anymore, but I still print any training plan I have and I tape it to the end of my bookcase so that I have that structure. So that when I get up and I think, okay, today is a day that I'm supposed to run. I don't have to guess, do I run six miles? Do I run three miles? Do I run 30 minutes? Do I run an hour? You know, it's right there on the schedule. So that takes a lot of that overthinking out of it so that I can just show up, just show up. I don't have to make all those decisions. So as much as I can reduce the number of decisions I need to make and tap into my regular practice kind of attitude. This is a practice. We just do this kind of whether we want to or not. And then, well also, which is going to sound a little not meditative, keeping the goal in mind, remembering that I do want to show up on race day well-trained. I wanna show up on race day feeling somewhat competent, as competent as I can. And all of that kind of fits together, but again, I'm not always sure that I made it quite as clear in the book as I could have, but I think the meditation practice carried me in ways that I'm only realizing now. And, yeah, that I'm not, my meditation practice carried me in ways that I'm only realizing now.
[00:36:18] Andrea: That's wonderful. I love the connection between the meditation practice, the writing practice and, and running. And I also just want to clarify, I'm not suggesting or trying to encourage people to run to the point of injury or to always push yourself as hard as possible. And I, you know, I just want to share that I've had a few injuries and I now run only short distances. I run five miles or less because I found that, I mean, I had a tendency to get injured that came with the longer distances. And it was a struggle for me to give up because there is a certain euphoria and a certain real sense of accomplishment that comes with longer distances. And I think can even be kind of addictive, you know, you really want to have that experience, but it, it became clear to me that I was either going to get injured to the point where I couldn't run anymore. Or I was going to scale it back and run shorter distances to be able to continue as a runner. And I wanted to continue to keep running in my life, even if I couldn't, you know, go the long distances that I hoped that I could continue to go. So I'm not, I'm not encouraging people to always run to the point of injury or, or max out. I think we have to really, you know, we often talk about knowing ourselves. And I think that that can come with running as well as a lot of other things.
[00:37:38] Craig: And folks,
[00:37:39] Nita: That's really wise that you were able to find, it was really wise that you were able to learn that about yourself and make that choice. I think that's very similar to the trade-off I was making with running slower and not trying to push myself to be, I mean, I still want to be faster, but not trying to push myself to be, you know, any kind of speed demon. And yeah, I didn't take it that way that you were, but that is your right. Is where else would that happen, but the gym and where else would that happen with the running?
[00:38:07] Andrea: Yeah, and speaking of 50 miles, Nita, I really want to hear about your ultra marathon.
[00:38:12] Nita: And I really want to talk about it. It was 31 and change. So 31 point something, something, something. Almost 32 miles and I don't want to hedge, or I don't want to, I have this tendency to minimize my accomplishments. So to, you know, say, well, well, you know, it was just, this was just that. But it was a five mile loop. And it was completely flat and it was two hours from my house. It was great. It was really a great, to be your first ultra it was fabulous. It was called Eagle up, up in Canal Fulton. And what happened, I had created a book tour in 2019 when my book first came out. And you get kind of high after you've done a bunch of readings all over the country and you know, you kind of feel a bit full of yourself, shall we say? And so my friends, because I have friends who do these crazy things said, maybe you should do Eagle Up with us in 2020 in June of 2020. And I thought, oh, I got six months to train, what the heck? So, you know, in October or something like that, I signed up for it. Or November, I forget. Well, of course, 2020 came and it was 2020 and the world shut down. So I, we had booked an Airbnb, there's camping there. If you love to camp, it's a great thing to camp. So we didn't, we're not campers anymore. We'd booked an Airbnb. So we got our money back from the Airbnb. And there were a lot of races that, that happened to. They, you know, they just couldn't hold them cause they were large crowds and small places. So 2021 rolls around and I see my friends start training for Eagle up this ultra marathon. And I think, oh, that's great. That's great. Now we had been through in 2020, my husband had had a heart attack. He had been on a feeding tube for a while. It was a really, I mean, it was extra, extra rough year for us. We he actually had a heart attack when we were in a hotel in Los Angeles when I was on book tour. And it was pretty crazy. That was the beginning of 2020. So by 2021, I was tired and I thought, well, this will be great for them. It'll be a great experience and I'll do it someday. Well, after a few months, I realized that I wasn't getting the promotional emails from the race. I was getting the emails of the people who were registered because I'd forgotten that they didn't cancel my registration or refund it. They deferred me. So I figured that out this race was June the fifth, I think, or June the sixth of 2020. And I figured that out about April 30th, that I was registered for a 50 K and I'd been training for a half marathon, which is 13 miles. So, you remember that grit we were talking about earlier? So I had a choice, I thought about selling my bib and I could have legitimately transferred my bib. But I often make the mistake of mentioning things to other people before I do them. And in this case, I made the mistake of mentioning that to my husband. And we had basically been housebound for at this point 16, 14 months. And he was like road trip! Road trip! And he got all excited and I thought, oh my God, does he realize I have to train for this? Now the thing is this race, you have 24 hours to do it. People do five miles. They stop and take a nap. They do five more miles. They have a sandwich, they do five miles and they, you know, take another nap, whatever. And that was the saving grace for me. It's like, okay. I, you know, I know I'm not trained for this, but I got 24 hours. So I started doing, I'd already hired a coach kind of to help me with, I was doing more low heart rate training, which is a whole thing we won't get into, but I, I wanted a coach to kind of help them with that. So I emailed him and I said, Danny help, Danny, I've got, I've got six weeks to train for an ultra. And he went, what? And so we started, I started doing back-to-back so on Saturday I would run 10 miles and then Sunday I'd run 10 miles. And then I did like 10, 10, 10, 12, 10, 14, 10, 16, 10, 18. And so every weekend, because I've got 24 hours to run it. So it was a 36 hour window usually, or a 48 hour window that I was doing those back-to-back, but it was, it was enough that it carried me through. And it actually, while the camping experience is not my thing, and that was, that's what a lot of people love because they can bring their dogs and their kids, and they, you know, they, camping is right there. I mean, right on the trail, the trail runs right through the campground. So they kind of love that. That's not my thing. We did an Airbnb, but I loved the trail atmosphere. I loved the fact that it was so much less pressure than the marathon where you, especially when you're slow, like me, you're always worried about getting swept, which means you miss the time cutoff because there's a time cutoff cause they have to open up the streets. They have to open the streets back up so they can't keep the courts open forever. And just that, that sense of ease with that and having, you know, I have a big bunch of friends that were there. That was great. But yeah, it was hard. It was one of, I'd say that my second marathon was probably the hardest race I've ever done because it's that sophomore slump, because you know, how bad it's going to be. Like the first race, the first marathon, you don't know how bad it's going to be. So you're kind of a little, you know, like, oh, okay, well, here we go. Here we go. But the second one, I knew how bad it was going to be, and it was kind of even worse, but but this race, having that easy time limit, being in the woods the whole time they were cows, you know, we were like waving at the cows and a lot of people, a lot of military personnel do it. So there were people, a lot of people walking, I ended up walking most of it and it was completely fine. I ran, you know, I did like run-walk the first five miles. And then I realized, wait a minute, the only people that are running are the people that had a relay. And so the relay people would just fly by me. I would just fly past me and I'd be, I finally asked somebody what's what the, I mean, are they running 31 miles at that pace? And people said no way. And so I just settled in and there was this one couple, this husband and wife. They changed costumes. They did the whole thing in costume. In the summer in Ohio, horrible humidity, it was, you know, like 85 degrees and every five miles they would change costumes. So they were like Fred and Wilma Flintstone. And then they were a Carmen San Diego one was Waldo and they had like a different costume each time. It was, it was just an incredible experience. So I can't, I can't recommend it enough that. Amazing aid stations. You know, we joked about how ultra running is actually just running through the woods, feeling like you're lost looking for a food tent.
[00:44:47] Andrea: That's amazing and I really do want to give a plug for trail running too, because I think, you know, after years and years of being a road runner, it wasn't until I moved to Sedona that I first ran on trails. And when I was a road runner, I read about trails and I thought it was a terrible idea. I was like, I would never do that. Why would you do that? It would slow you down. There would be rocks and things in the way, you couldn't time things. I was like, ah, you know, I want to run on the road and, you know, time, everything and maximize it. But there's a real beauty of being in nature and if you have injuries, if you think about it, if you're running on the road, very often it's the same strike over and over and over. It's an identical strike. And if you are running on a trail, like the variations in the ground, the way that you're striking, and also the softness of the surface, depending on when the trails that you're running on are really much more, can allow you to run and it's much more healthy for your joints. So just a plug for trail running in general.
[00:45:50] Nita: Yes, I echo that. Because my ankle has that lack of flexibility, I have trouble on trails that have all of that technical, even a little bit of technical, just because I trip and fall. And that's not true of most people. So for most people, exactly what you're saying. You know, get on the trails, change it up, run in the grass, just change it up. And like I said, I had that just because of my ankle, but this course is flat. It's gravel. It's flat. There aren't any hills or roots or it's a tow path, the Erie canal. You've heard of the Erie canal. It's the Ohio Erie canal and it's on the canals right there beside you, and it is flat. I mean, there's one tiny incline that's I mean, it's just so tiny. We used to joke. It's like, oh my God, we have to go back up that hill again. And it's barely even two seconds.
[00:46:45] Craig: Nita, you recently published another book, You Should Be Writing. That provides writing practice prompts along with advice and instructions. Are you working on anything else? What's next for you?
[00:46:54] Nita: Yes, I am. Let me just say about You Should Be Writing, the prompts are quotes by authors because people get that confused a little bit. And I'm not sure we made that completely clear. There, there are a bunch of quotes by authors and it's blank pages for you to fill with your thoughts and your writing. And yes, I am. I'm in contract for a book that is to be released in fall of 2022, called Make Every Move A Meditation: Mindful Movement For Mental Health And Wellbeing. And it's the idea that you can transform any physical activity that you love into a powerful meditation practice. So I'm working on that right now, and I'm pretty excited. I've been posting little Instagram videos that would give people a taste of that if they want to kind of see it.
[00:47:41] Craig: That sounds great.
[00:47:42] Andrea: Thank you so much, Nita. It was really a pleasure. So Nita, where can we learn more about your work?
[00:47:48] Nita: The best place to find me is on my website at nitasweeney.com. You can find the books, wherever fine books are sold, as I said, and I would love for people to download my free e-book Three Ways To Heal Your Mind. I also have an email newsletter. People can find me on social media, but all of that is available at nitasweeney.com. So thank you so much for asking.
[00:48:11] Craig: And we'll have that in the show notes as well.
[00:48:13] Nita: Thank you so much. This was wonderful. This was fantastic. Thank you. And I'll watch for a link. Okay. Bye-bye
[00:48:20] Andrea: Bye-bye.
[00:48:21] Craig: So, Andrea, that was a great conversation. Wide ranging, but what are three things that our listeners can take from today's episode?
[00:48:31] Andrea: I think our three things come straight from Nita's playbook. These activities can help anyone live a less stressful, more enjoyable and flourishing life. You can try running, walking, or hiking outside, meditating or writing practice. I think it was really great the way Nita integrated these three things. And we would invite people to try one or all of them.
[00:48:57] Craig: The Rational Ignorance podcast is sponsored by Sedona Philosophy, a completely unique tour company that uses Sedona's amazing natural environment to unlock personal growth and insight. Explore nature, culture and history with a philosophical twist, visit sedonaphilosophy.com to learn more.
[00:49:13] Andrea: Thanks Craig. If you enjoyed this podcast, hit the subscribe button, please rate, review and tell your friends. Until next time.