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February 25, 2018

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February 25, 2018

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From Burnout to Bliss - Lessons from a Marathoning Mum

June 5, 2017


Two children born twenty months apart, the birth of a hobby sewing business, one home renovation, twenty weeks per year of night shift as a Radiographer, next to no sleep, a husband working long hours, a Diploma in Interior Design with High Distinction, fifteen half marathons, two 25km races, five 30km races and nine marathons including the New York City Marathon.

All of this since 2008.

Where did it leave Sam Verri?

Suffering from burn out, anxiety and depression.

This is a must read story for any ambitious mum, particularly one who loves to run. The lessons Sam has learnt from this journey are life changing, ones that are highly valuable to us all - and they are not necessarily what you'd expect.

Thanks so much Sam for being so open and sharing your story with us, you are an inspiration and your message will help so many others on a path to pursuing their own goals and dreams - it certainly struck a cord with me.

​My Daughters were born 20 months apart in 2008 and 2009. By the time I
reached mid 2010 I had been either pregnant or breast feeding for three years and I was feeling an overwhelming need to reclaim part of myself.

One aspect of this was that I taught myself to sew so that I had a creative outlet. This led to the birth of Verri Charmed, a hobby business of the handmade children’s clothing, accessories and homewares variety. It was something that brought me great joy and satisfaction.

Single handedly making all of my own stock, Verri Charmed continued until Christmas 2016.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

From the age of fourteen I had always had a love of long distance running. In the few years prior to having children I believed I no longer had time for running, or generally caring about my health for that matter, and consequently had become over weight.

So, in 2010 when I found myself craving to regain control of my body, I naturally turned back to running. I quickly began to lose weight and, boosted by this and the natural high that comes with long distance running, I began to enter running events. By my 30th Birthday in 2011 I decided that I was going to start training for a marathon, and in August 2012 I lined up for my first ever 42.2km race - crossing the finish line in 4 hours 24 mins.

I will never forget the feeling of accomplishment, how I had to fight to keep the tears back over that last kilometre when it had finally occurred to me that I was going to make it to the finish line, having run every step of the way. Seeing my Husband and children waiting for me at the finish line was my undoing, realising how proud of me they were. There were floods of tears, and just like that, I was hooked.

The following year my husband and I conducted a major renovation on our home. It was 2013, I had a 5-year- old in her first year of school, and a three-year- old, still at home with me when I wasn’t working. I started to increase the amount of nightshift that I did during that year, taking on 20 weeks worth as our expenses climbed higher.

We lived in our home while it was being renovated, my husband was the project manager for the job, and we took on a lot of the work ourselves, including demolition, gyprocking, and painting.

When I look back I really feel like I was running on adrenaline for that entire sleep deprived year. It was 12 months of some very high highs, and this extended to my running. It was, until very recently, the year that held all of my personal best times. I managed a 1 hour 42 minute half marathon and a sub 4 hour time for my second marathon. Even my fastest Adelaide City to Bay time was claimed that year.

All the while I kept sewing.

Looking back, I still shake my head thinking about it. I am not sure how I maintained the momentum. It was a year of extremes.

So, how does one top a year of extremes?

By doing something even more ridiculous.

In 2014, I set myself the task of running three marathons, concluding the Year with the New York marathon. The year began well, I was maintaining my running form though not quite as fast as the previous year. Then, in May I hurt my hip and I battled with it for months. I finished the first two marathons of the year in 4 hours 1 min and 16 seconds (exactly the same to the second) and so began my quiet disappointment with myself that I was not continuing to improve.

In the middle of the year my husband changed jobs and while his previous role had been quite flexible and not too far from home, his new job was situated an hour away and his hours were long.

I started to feel constantly exhausted as my role at home increased further. I had one child at school and one at kindy now which I thought would afford a little freedom, but instead the days became relentless as I crammed more and more into them.

By the time November rolled around and we headed to NYC for the trip of a life time I was absolutely exhausted, and it showed on race day. I went out hard, trying to make up for what I felt were two previous failures, and ended up dragging myself over the finish line in a time of 4 hours 26 mins. My slowest marathon.

I won’t deny that the experience was absolutely incredible. But now years later I regret that I didn’t relax and enjoy it more. I wish I had taken the whole thing at a jog and stopped to take selfies and just soaked up the atmosphere. Instead I gritted my teeth through the last 8km fighting some very extreme nausea.

A result of pushing myself too hard for too long.

The trip was truly amazing, the thought always brings a smile to my face, but if I could do it again, I would do it differently.

After all of that you would think that I would have finally decided to slow down - but no. Fuelled by what I felt was another failed run, I signed up for the Gold Coast marathon in 2015.

I trained hard and believed myself to be running quite well, though my half marathon times did not reflect this. It came as a surprise to me when I hit a wall 20kms in on race day, and ambled slowly to the finish line in a time of 4 hours and 24 mins that July. But, of course, rather than concede that I needed a rest, I decided that I hadn’t tried hard enough, and signed myself up for the Adelaide marathon some six weeks later. 4 hours 1 minute and 16 seconds (no, I am not joking, the exact same time for a third time!) was my time that August.

I knew I had given the race everything I had and so I was proud of myself once again. I also finally decided to be sensible and take some time just to enjoy running again. That is exactly what I did, consequently finding joy again as I ran for the rest of that year.

During all of this time I had continued to sew and take on extra nightshift, my husband continued to work long hours and I had two children at junior primary school with many extracurricular activities. 

I was reaching the end of my three-year adrenaline fuelled high, but I kept passing my low moods off for tiredness. After a melanoma scare late in 2015 I decided that it was time for a change. I wasn’t getting as much joy from my sewing anymore so I  pursued a dream that I had always had of studying Interior Design.

With a heavy heart, I closed down Verri Charmed and began six months of intensive study. I thrived in the course, however 2016 began to deliver some extremely low notes early on including a tear to the connective tissue in my left foot that stopped my running plans in their tracks.

I won’t go into detail with the myriad of things that lead me to seek a professional help in the second half of 2016, but after rehabilitating my foot and completing my studies with high distinction I found that I could suddenly no longer concentrate, that I felt very little joy, my creativity dried up and I felt completely mentally exhausted.

I realised that something wasn’t right so I sought help.

I was suffering from burn out, that had increased my anxiety and caused depression.

I had literally been running on empty for too long.

Taking the step to seek help gave me an initial boost. Admitting that I wasn’t coping so well had the initial effect of boosting my confidence and self-belief. Suddenly I was running on form again and training hard, I had more energy and wouldn’t you know it, I finally cracked the four-hour mark in a marathon again - not a pb, but I was thrilled.

Alas, I was celebrating my newly rediscovered self-worth a little too soon. An emotional set back in November literally took my breath away. I contracted pneumonia and was very unwell for several weeks. Not being able to do the things I needed to do for my family was a huge wake up call, and it finally drove home certain realities for me. A major part of this was the realisation that I needed to slow down, I couldn’t do everything anymore and more importantly, I didn’t need to.

I believe the timing of the pneumonia played a pivotal role in the way 2017 has unfolded so far. I was still recovering over Christmas, so by the time I reached the New Year I had made firm plans for change. The biggest changes I have made include:

  • Learning to say no

  • Taking time out for myself that isn’t goal driven

  • Understanding that I can learn new things but I don’t always have to justify them by putting them into practice.

  • And most importantly, I now make time to find joy - not just always expect it to come to me.

Running has always been a great source of joy, however I have changed it up this year because what I was doing was not serving me well. I have found a group of friends to train with, to share the highs and lows and talk things out. I have also mixed up my training regime, adding in swimming and, for the first time, including relaxation and stretching yoga, rather than just the active strengthening yoga that I had been doing for several years.

​I have found myself smiling through all of my training, and I smiled my way to the finish line in a personal best time of 3 hours 57 mins and 26 seconds at the Barossa Marathon just a couple of weeks ago.

Since 2012 I have run fifteen half marathons, two 25km races, five 30km races and nine marathons, a fact that I am very proud of. I have marathon number ten planned for later this year, however I have already decided to support a friend through this particular marathon and enjoy it rather than being time focused.

Through my years of training, I have learned strength and resilience I didn’t know I had and I have seen some of the most amazing things. Sunsets and sunrises of the most beautiful colours, dolphins frolicking in shallow waters, intricate spider webs, an alpaca being walked on a lead in suburbia, the five boroughs of NYC, squirrels in central park, vine yards stretching as far as the eye can see.

My husband and daughters have cheered me on through all of my races, allowing me to be proud of the role model I have become. A lot of this journey has been really hard but I wouldn’t change it for the world, because when I look back at it now I can see that it had to unfold exactly the way that it has so I could become the person I am today.

I have discovered the importance of slowing down and not trying to do everything. I understand now that not everything is a goal to be conquered. I feel like my eyes are finally open wide, and all the colours are beautiful and exciting.

So, I say to mums who are reading this, go ahead, pursue your dreams! But treat yourself with care and respect. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself, you have nothing to prove, you are already amazing. And, if you ever feel that you need to seek help - do it. You are not alone. It will probably be one of the best things you ever do.

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