“We all have stories to tell and we all struggle at some point with life and running.”
As I personally struggle mentally to motivate myself after my marriage broke up and dealing with being a single dad (and all that that brings)(my blog piece) – it is timely to talk with another runner who has battled on and off the track.
I am honoured to have had the chance to talk to Suzy Favor Hamilton who blistered many a track and was an elite level runner for many years. My Editors at the magazine I write a blog for (in addition to this one) did not bite and thought they had talked about Suzy enough as it was. They have their opinion but I wanted to profile Suzy. After reading her brave and brutally honest book ‘Fast Girl‘ about her struggle with mental health and addictions that lead her eventually to Vegas, sex for money and the edge – I wanted to talk with her.
There was something in her story that touched me.
- US Junior Record Holder 1500m
- 3 National Junior Titles in High School
- Scholastic Sports Magazine as one of the top 100 High School Athletes of the Century
- Inducted into the US National High School Sports Hall of Fame in 2010
- Nine NCAA Titles and 32 Big-Ten Championships
- Won the Honda Cup and Babe Zaharias Awards for Top Female Collegiate Athlete in the US
- Seven USA National titles
- Two American Records
- Three-time Olympian
- Ran her specialty 1500m under 4:00 five times
- 800m – 1:58.10 (2000)
- 1000m – 2:33.93 (1995)
- 1500m – 3:57.40 (2000)
- Mile – 4:22.93 (1998)
- 3000m 8:46.16 (2000)
- 5,000m – 15:06.48 (2000)
Suzy loved to run as a young girl and also being competitive she started competing at something she loved. Although always torn between loving running and the stress of racing she excelled and eventually made it to the international level.
Like myself I was able to understand how a love of running and being competitive does not always mean one likes racing and the stress and pressure that comes with it. I love to run and run fast but sometimes, before and during a race I have struggled and not enjoyed the experience. I have had a few races where I was fit enough and the conditions perfect where I somehow had the mindset and environment to enjoy the experience and run a good time.
Suzy eventually found out she had bipolar disorder. I struggled with a temper when young, low self-esteem, confidence and still now occasionally depression. I manged in my own way but Suzy exacerbated by the wrong medication was sent her spiraling out of control. For more about her life you really should read her book.
I remember as a young runner seeing her on the cover of Runner’s World and wanted to talk with her. I had the chance to ask her a few questions.
What was the highlight of your running career?
“That’s a tough one. Making 3 Olympic teams comes to mind. Setting a couple American Records. My ninth NCAA Championship. But I think the one that brought me the most satisfaction was my victory in Oslo in 2000 when I ran 3:57.40 (1500m). I never thought I could go that fast, and I literally felt like I was flying at the end of that race.”
What part does running play in your life now and can you now find joy in it?
“I recently blogged about this, so this is fresh in my mind. During my competitive career, as time went on, running became a chore for me. I internally felt I was running for the happiness of others as opposed to myself. The pure joy of running I had when I started out way back as a child was long gone. Professional track in particular had that effect on me. The anxiety I often experienced when it came to racing, the politics and corruption I saw and experienced first hand, the uneven playing field we compete on. It all took it’s toll on me mentally and I wanted out. Never had the ability to use my voice to say so. But today, I believe through my difficult times post running career and now my recovery, I’ve been able to separate all the crap from just plain running. I’ve realized how much I needed running to keep my brain relatively stable. It’s taken me time to realize this, but today, I need running. My mind needs running. Back to that pure joy I had way back when. I’m recapturing that. My 48 year old legs put limits on my running, but I think that’s not a bad thing. Slows things down for me. Allows me to focus on the enjoyment of it all.”
After your struggles, the book and time- how are you doing now?
“Relatively speaking, I’m good. I have many more good days than bad. During my depressive periods, I tend to withdraw and am best off being left alone, resting. These can last hours or days. They can still be very challenging both for myself, and for those closest to me, but we’ve all learned to better manage these times. But that being said, I would go so far as to say my life is the best it’s ever been. Finally being properly diagnosed & medicated has had a lot to do with that. I now have clarity on so many things, I know how to better manage my illness, and have great support from my inner circle. So I can’t complain about a thing really. I feel blessed in many ways.”
After all these years what has running taught you about yourself?
“Ha, running has taught me toughness. Perseverance. All those killer training sessions in the Wisconsin winters. All the pretty dramatic trials and tribulations I experienced and all the physical pain from training and injuries. I believe that prepared me to make it through my world falling apart and through all the darkness I have experienced in recovery. I’ll be forever grateful to my running for that.”
What advice would you give someone some who has bipolar disorder?
“On social media, interviews and speeches, I try to emphasize two things. First, to get out there. I have found that exercise and just plain sometimes forcing yourself outside, out of bed, even if it means just walking around the block is so helpful for our illness. I believe running kept me relatively stable for many years. But motivation is the tough part during depressive periods. It’s such a challenge to get yourself going. So I try to encourage the strength to get out there, despite the brain pushing back in such a big way. Second, that bipolar disorder is not a death sentence. One with bipolar disorder can live well with accurate diagnosis, quality therapy, proper meds, identification and reduction of life triggers and a support system. It’s a challenging illness to say the least, but one that can be better handled by those living with it if society comes to understand it and no stigmatize it. Stigma prevents people from seeking help. That needs to change and it’s a big reason I’m so vocal.”
Suzy is now speaking out about her life and struggles and is a mental health advocate. Like many of us she also she still struggles with life and running. Life is about battle and the key is to moving forward.
Find Suzy’s book Fast Girl online.
- Paperback: 304 pages
- Publisher: Dey Street Books; Reprint edition (June 7, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0062346202
- ISBN-13: 978-0062346209
Run on Suzy and run on running friends!