My wife and I are in the process of relocating from Oakdale, California, to Flagstaff, Arizona. All moves are momentous—we should know, having executed no fewer than 12 of them in our first 11 years together—but this one feels especially so. Nataki and I have lived in Oakdale off and on (but mostly on) since 2005, and have experienced some happy times here (our fifth anniversary bash stands out), and some not-so-happy times (none worse than the time a police officer came this close to blowing Nataki’s head off amid a mental health crisis).

It’s not only what we’re leaving behind that makes this transition momentous. It’s also what we’re moving toward. The property we’re buying is situated on the west side of Flagstaff in a forested area rich with trails and dirt roads popular with local runners. The house itself is under construction, and when completed will feature five bedrooms, four bathrooms, two kitchens, and a couple of spacious common areas. The backyard is huge, by tract home standards, and abuts one of the aforementioned running trails.

Nataki and I do not intend to live there in cosseted seclusion. The moment we move in, we will begin to transform our new home into the ultimate runners retreat, with a full gym, a recovery lounge, a spa pool with underwater treadmill, a cryotherapy tub, a dry sauna, shoe cubbies, you get the idea. When it’s ready, we will open our doors for runners to stay with us and live like the pros for up to 12 weeks at a stretch. I’m calling it Dream Run Camp.

Needless to say, it takes a strong motivation to plan and execute a life change so big. For me, the main impetus is my health, which has been less than good for the past 25 months. The thing I hate most about long covid is that it attacks my life force, which is the thing I like most in myself. Ever since I was a wee squirt I’ve had a gigantic appetite for life, a hunger for intense experiences coupled with an indifference to risk that permits no fear to stop me from turning my dreams into realities, or at least trying. Chronic fatigue and persistent malaise have made me unrecognizable to myself in this respect, replacing carpe diem with carpe doldrum.

But not entirely. The real me is still inside, buried under the rubble of sickness, but breathing. It’s like being hungry and queasy at the same time, wanting to eat but unsure of its feasibility. Analogies aside, what I’m trying to say is that even now I burn to live hugely, it’s just harder than it used to be. There are certain experiences I might like to have that simply aren’t feasible. The one I’ve set in motion, however, is. I think.

But why Flagstaff? Why Dream Camp? I confess that I have contemplated other wild ideas since I got sick, including selling everything I own and cruising around the world with Nataki. But one thing I’ve noticed in the past couple of years is that I tend to feel better when I’m interacting with other athletes (I still think of myself as an athlete, pitiful as that may be) in a shared physical space. There have been a handful of moments within this span when I’ve been almost symptom-free, three of which have coincided with my participation in running camps as a coach. There’s a clear pattern here, and although I can’t explain it, I can exploit it. The logic behind my imminent life change couldn’t be simpler: If I feel better at running camps, why not live in one?

Something else I’ve noticed over the past couple of years is a novel desire to serve others. There are people on this earth who experience this pull their entire lives, beginning in early childhood. I am not such a person. I’ve always been very self-focused, frankly, which partly explains my affinity for the solitary pursuits of writing and endurance sports. But this is changing. Whether it’s an effect of being sick or a natural part of getting older or both, I now get my kicks from giving of myself to my fellow humans (athletes especially) to a degree that I didn’t before.

The best 13 weeks of my life were spent as a fake professional runner in Flagstaff, Arizona, in 2017, embedded with the Hoka Northern Arizona Elite team. The purpose of Dream Run Camp is to make a similar experience available to other runners. Attendees will have opportunities to run alongside (or at least behind) the real pros and work with the same strength coaches, physical therapists, dietitians, massage therapists, and sports psychologists they use—just like I did. And they’ll be guests in my house with full access to its facilities and amenities (and me, except when I’m sleeping). If you’re interested, let me know. I can’t promise the best weeks of your life, but I will try my best, and get plenty in return. More than you can imagine.

Recently I received an unexpected phone call from Travis Macy. If the name is familiar, it’s because you know Travis as an inveterate ultrarunner and adventure racer and author of The Ultra Mindset: An Endurance Champion’s 8 Core Principles for Success in Business, Sports, and Life. I know Travis only slightly beyond this thumbnail bio. We started corresponding by email in 2013, when he first got the idea for his book. We now share a literary agent, and earlier this year I appeared on Travis’s podcast with my wife, Nataki.

The purpose of Travis’s call was to check in on my mental health. He didn’t put it quite so bluntly, but it was clear he was doing just that. Not a random check-in but a targeted one instigated by a red flag he’d identified in my response to an email check-in the previous week. I’ll go ahead and share with you what I shared with Travis in that message:

Alas, I’m still struggling. I feel like Paul Newman’s character in the prison-yard fight scene in Cool Hand Luke (my favorite film).The other day Nataki said to me, “Don’t give up, baby!” I told her, “I’m not, Kittycat. This is what not giving up looks like when you’re losing!”

You know those movies where things keep going from bad to worse for the main character? (The Martian comes to mind as one example.) Just when you think the hero has finally hit rock bottom, a trap door opens underneath him and he falls even further. And then it happens again. And again.

That’s what my life has felt like for the past eight months. I was seven months into the living death that is post-acute COVID-19 syndrome when I hit what I naively thought at the time was absolute bottom. I was laid out on a sofa at home, nearly paralyzed by a fatigue so intense that it was a kind of agony. Imagine burning alive, then replace “burning” with “exhaustion.” I’m not exaggerating. Yet at the same time I was maddeningly bored, because it was ten o’clock on a Tuesday morning and sleep was not an option and working was completely out of the question and I lacked the mental wherewithal even to focus on some dumb Netflix time-killer. The only thing that offered any sort of relief was listening to Yanni. That pretty much sums up my predicament right there: I needed Yanni.

It was then I decided to stop waiting my proper turn to get my first coronavirus vaccination and roll the dice, having heard reports of some long-haulers gaining a measure of relief from their jabs for reasons that baffle scientists and doctors. An hour later, Nataki and I were queuing outside the Modesto Civic Center with other responsible citizens. The next day Nataki found me sprawled naked on the floor of the master bathroom, hyperventilating, unable to answer her panicked questions, having crawled out of the tub after discovering I was too weak to make a fist and feeling myself slipping under à la Whitney Houston.

This wasn’t a matter of the usual side effects. My first Pfizer shot had simply worsened a chronic illness already bad enough to cause me to reach for the music of Yanni as a lifeline. A new bottom. Still, I held out hope for my second shot, having heard reports that other long-haulers had, like me, gotten worse after the first shot but then felt better following the second.

Two nights after my second jab, I was awake in bed, desperately fatigued from prior sleep deprivation and knowing with 100 percent certainty that I would not sleep a wink that night. Inoculation number two had further intensified several of my symptoms, including insomnia, tingling in the lower legs, fatigue, brain fog, and chest pains. The 10 out of 10 pins-and-needles pain in my legs alone would have kept me up, but an even greater issue was the hyperadrenalized jittery sensation in my chest. It felt as if I had drunk five cups of strong coffee and then narrowly missed being crushed by a falling piano after hopping off a rollercoaster.

Next night, same. Last night, same. I don’t remember what it feels like to have a clear head. The other day I tried to fill a water bottle by holding it against a light switch. I swear I’m not making this up.

It’s impossible to suffer this much for this long and retain perfect mental health. The toughest part for me has been not so much “depression, “anxiety,” or any other such diagnosis but rather the general strain and enervation of having to fight nonstop for my happiness and sanity all day every day. I’ve largely succeed in holding it together, but I am doing so at a tremendous cost that continues to grow every single day with no end in sight.

Very early on in this process I made a conscious decision to share what I’m going through with friends, work associates, and the public. I did so for three reasons: 1) I share (some would say overshares) everything, good and bad. It’s how I’m wired. 2) I don’t think there’s anything to be ashamed of in experiencing mental health challenges. And 3) I’d done it before and discovered that it’s extremely helpful.

On this last point, my 2018 memoir Life Is a Marathon tells the story of the long and painful battle Nataki and I have fought with her bipolar disorder. I held back nothing in those pages—not even my own 2007 suicide attempt. When the book was released, Nataki was justifiably terrified about how the reading public would perceive her, but the response she got couldn’t have been more different from her fears. Praised for her strength, courage, resilience, and spirit, Nataki now has a little fan club of her own known. Indeed, that’s partly why Travis Macy wanted her on his podcast.

So that’s one benefit of sharing your mental health challenges: People (enough of them, anyway), respond with love. Another is that the connections you create go two ways. Everyone is either going through, or has gone through, something, and when you open up, the person you open up to often follows suit, and you end up helping each other.

By now we’re all familiar with the public-service message, “It’s okay to not be okay.” Individuals who are currently struggling with mental health challenges are the main targets of message, I assume, but the greater numbers of folks who might know someone who’s not okay need to hear it and take it in too. Travis is clearly a kindhearted person, but I can’t help but wonder if he would have reached out to someone he knows as glancingly as he knows me if the okay-to-not-be-okay meme hadn’t begun to permeated the zeitgeist.

I will say this: That first step can be awkward on both sides. I think that people like me who are currently struggling bear some responsibility to make it less uncomfortable for the listening ears. That’s why I begin Zoom work meetings sometimes by matter-of-factly informing my colleagues how my cognitive and emotional difficulties are currently impacting my productivity. It’s why I’ve candidly informed the hosts of podcasts, before they press Record, that I’ve been dealing with social anxiety and mental confusion and may require rescue at some point. It’s why, when neighbors ask me how I’m doing, I tell them exactly how I’m doing. The fact that we need help doesn’t mean we’re helpless. In being upfront, unembarrassed, and unapologetic about my immediate state of mind, I’m training others to feel less awkward when their next turn comes to be a listening ear. You can do the same.

If you’re going through something and, after reading this, you’re still not ready to let others know you’re not okay, try journaling or art therapy. Expressing your feelings is half of expressing your feelings to others. I’ve written a lot of poetry since my life became a waking nightmare, and it’s been cathartic. I leave you with a poem that addresses my own occasional ambivalence about opening up. As you read it, do your thoughts drift toward someone in your life who might also be the feeling this way? Reach out. Is that person you? Reach out.


I Am Suffering

I was going to say something to
you but I decided against it.

It seemed unseemly to speak for no
reason other than to elicit sympathy.

But wait: Am I trying to have it
both ways, saying it by not saying it?

That idea doesn’t sit well with me.
Neither, though, does the idea
of saying nothing.

Perhaps I need only speak it—
not to you but to God, or a bird,
or a stone. Maybe that’s enough.

Forgive me, I’m thinking out loud.

But no, having thought about it,
I can say for certain it is not
enough. I need you to know.

Can you do that for me? Can you
let me say it, let me let you know,
and promise not to feel sorry for


A few weeks ago I was working out in the functional strength room at the gym I go to when one of the facility’s personal trainers entered with a new client, an overweight middle-age male. I did not intentionally eavesdrop on their session, but I couldn’t help overhearing the duo’s interactions during the next half-hour. Clearly unmotivated, the client kept cheating on his rest breaks between exercises by going to the water bubbler or tightening his shoelaces, exasperating the trainer.

As a coach, I identified with the exasperated trainer more than with the unmotivated client, even to the point of imagining what I would do in the trainer’s place. And I’m pretty sure what I would have done is fired the unmotivated client, refunded his money, and told him to come back to me if and when he actually wanted to work out.

Thanks heavens I’ll never find myself in this position. The very thought of working as a personal trainer depresses me. Forcing exercise on people who don’t want to exercise—this is my conception of what it means to do this job. Although coaching athletes looks a lot like personal training from 50,000 feet, it is completely different in this regard. One of the things I love about coaching endurance athletes is that, for the most part, they love to work out.

Of course, “for the most part” means not always. It’s normal for even the most passionate endurance athletes to go through blah patches of flagging motivation. But these are rather different from the personal training client’s general aversion to exercise. The other day I had a conversation with an ultrarunner who was going through such a blah patch. He spoke to me in a complaining, almost self-loathing tone, describing the situation he found himself in as “a problem.” I’m not so sure it was a problem, though. Who says an endurance athlete has to be highly motivated to train and compete all the time? Isn’t it possible that, just as an athlete can handle higher peak training loads if he treats every third or forth week as a recovery week, an athlete can attain higher peak motivation levels when he allows himself periodically to slack off a bit?

I’ve gone through periods of low motivation as well, and although I can’t say I’ve enjoyed them, I haven’t thought of them as a problem. In fact, when I do experience the blahs, I don’t even think of myself as being unmotivated to train; rather, I think of myself as being motivated to not train. This may sound like a joke, but the distinction is neither semantic nor self-deluding. Oftentimes—not always, but often—perceived motivation problems are the result of conflating what one wants with what one thinks he ought to want. If these two things are disambiguated, the motivation problem goes away.

The worst athletic blah period occurred six years ago and was brought about by a combination of a nagging hip flexor injury and a mental health crisis that my wife, Nataki, was going through. Exercise certainly helped me deal with the stress of the latter, but I lacked the desire at that time to do anything more than an hour per day of steep uphill treadmill walking, during which I escaped reality by reading novels on my Kindle. Throughout this period I hoped and expected to make athletics a higher priority in my life again at some future date, but I made no effort to rush or force the matter.

If I could sit down and have a chat with that personal training client who didn’t want to work out, I would ask him what he did want. Probably he would answer that, although he did not want to exercise, he did want the benefits of exercise. Or perhaps (if he was wiser than the average bear) he would say he wanted to want to exercise, a desire I would translate for him as wanting to enjoy exercise. Either answer would represent a step toward a better solution than wasting his money on personal training sessions that he half-assed and hated—not a perfect solution, maybe, but a better one. More specifically, the clarity gained through such introspection might lead this individual to focus more on diet initially, or on forms of exercise (dog walking, pickup basketball) that don’t feel like exercise.

The next time you find yourself struggling for motivation, take a mental step back from your situation and try to separate what you really want from what you think you ought to want. Oftentimes—not always, but often—the way out of a motivational blah period is simply to let go of what you’d rather not do and embrace what you’d rather do instead.

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