Saulius is a long distance runner who took up the activity 12 years ago as a way to aid his mental health. After being diagnosed with generalized anxiety and depression he found that exercise was a huge aid in countering these illnesses. He soon began focusing on running as it was the form of exercise he most enjoyed. By combining his running with participating in races it helped Saulius keep training consistently which further benefited his mental health.
Since taking up running Saulius has competed in over 40 races ranging from 5k sprints to 100-mile ultra marathons. To his credit he has personal bests which include a 7th place finish at the 100k distance and a 3:07 finish in a road marathon. Besides competing in race events Saulius enjoys spending many hours running trails in natural settings, especially in mountainous locations. Last year he completed his first solo run around Mt Hood and created an FKT route (fastest known time) that summited and circumnavigated South Sister peak in Central Oregon. When not training and exploring new trails he spends his time with his wife and best friend of 31 years raising their two children in Bend Oregon.
Primary activity: Trail Running Location: Bend, OR Caffeinated or decaf: Caffeinated
What is your primary mixed terrain activity or passion?
My primary mixed terrain activity is trail running. After taking up running to assist my mental health I gravitated to trails over roads because spending time in nature also lifts my mood and calms my anxious mind.
Please also describe how your involvement with this activity came to be?
Not long after being diagnosed with generalized anxiety and depression my therapist and I observed my mood improved after exercising at a local gym. I however found doing this regularly was challenging so I turned to running which was my preferred type of exercise. Doing something I enjoy increases the odds of sticking to it and thus benefiting my mental health on a more regular basis. I also began signing up for races as goals to train for. After completing my first half trail marathon the following year I signed up for a road marathon and just kept adding more races and challenges to keep myself motivated in training.
What impact does nature, and your movement in nature, have on your wellbeing?
It is huge. From early childhood I found I enjoyed time out in nature be it a local park, my backyard, by a lake or forest preserve. Being in such places just felt right. This carried over into adulthood as I realized being in nature calmed my mind and rejuvenated my inner being. I especially enjoy being amongst mountains where running and hiking is most difficult for me and that coupled with the grandness and beauty often found there help my mind focus on the here and now.
Tell us about your daily training routine. How do you juggle work and life?
I work a 8-5 job Monday thru Friday and am raising two children ages 8 and 11 with my wife so that takes up a huge chunk of my time. However I try to run 3-5 times weekdays often immediately after work. I try to take my running clothes with me so I can head out for a run before going home. Usually I try to run on both days on the weekends where my big training runs happen. Fortunately my wife is extremely supportive and understands how running helps my mental health and also makes me a better person to be around post runs. On the days I struggle to get out the door she often is right there encouraging me.
What is one habit of yours that makes you a better athlete?
Getting out to run regularly. I struggle at times with this as day to day life’s demands can get in the way as well as when I am in a bout of depression. The more regularly I run, even if I keep it to just a relatively comfortable pace for an hour pays great dividends.
How do you measure success?
With running success to me is getting out there and just doing the workout or race and having fun with it. I’ve never, ever thought after a run why did I bother? Almost always I feel better afterwards. Specifically to races I set three goals. First is to just finish and have fun. Secondly I determine a time based on the course and my current fitness level that I think is attainable and shoot for that. Lastly, I preset a personal best type goal and if I’m feeling particularly good that day and the planets align I shoot for it. Having those three goals keeps things in perspective and allows me to still put in a strong effort without getting pre race anxiety and post race disappointments. I consider my races as my rewards for training so I always make an effort to have fun with it.
What is one struggle you’ve had and how did you overcome it?
One struggle I continue to grapple with is my anxiety and depression. It has been a lifelong ordeal but I continue to battle the extreme lows and every time I get out of it I consider it a success. I feel the biggest reason I overcome the worst of these mental health struggles is because I have learned to ask for help.
What life lessons did you take from the experience?
Simply put I try to never give up. The one time I did it nearly cost me my life. I realized at that moment I did not want to die. It was the pain and suffering I felt that overwhelmed me and I did not know how to get away from it. I also learned that I was not alone with my type of illness and I remind myself when I am struggling. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help and find the courage to speak up and self advocate. These are extremely difficult things to do when in the throws of anxiety and depression and but I try and find a way.
What habits have you developed to help manage your wellbeing and mental health?
Regular exercise and therapy are two big cornerstones for me. I also have a tool box of coping strategies I turn to because what works one day doesn’t necessarily work the next. Some of those are mindfulness meditation, using my creative side through photography, writing and art, and regular sleep of at least 7 hours a night.
What specific actions have you taken to rise beyond your struggles?
Sticking to my therapy and running. Also being open minded to try new strategies and revisit old ones.
What habits do you wish to develop to help manage your wellbeing and mental health?
Learning to better calm my chattering mind.
Have you recognized triggers you now avoid to manage your mental health?
Negative self talk, conflict and over relying on my introverted intuition. When these go on for too long unchecked my anxiety elevates and if not relieved will soon be followed by depression.
What advice do you have for someone in a similar experience as you?
Firstly don’t be afraid to ask for professional help. Secondly, learn to self advocate for yourself be it at home or the workplace. Thirdly, know you will have failures despite all you do. Give yourself some grace and allow yourself the time to get up when you fall.
Describe an adventure you undertook that had an impact on your life.
At the age of about 19 I took my first road trip out west from my hometown of Chicago. In particular I spent time at Glacier National Park and spent a lot of time hiking the trails. I fell in love with the mountains and knew I would one day move west permanently.
What apps, gear, or training tools can’t you live without?
STRAVA. For me this app is a positive motivator and I’ve made numerous running friends by using it.
My Garmin GPS watch — for the information it provides during and post run.
What nutritional camp do you subscribe to, if any?
The last three to four years I’ve followed a ketogenic diet. I decided to give it a try after putting on a few pounds after being side lined with an injury. The pounds came off, I felt great and had the added benefit of having lower cholesterol levels.
Caffeinated or decaf?
Definitely caffeinated. Italian espresso made on the stovetop at home. But just once per day only. In general I a try and stay away from processed foods, I avoid sugar and try to eat fresh vegetables with my meals daily.
When and where are you happiest?
I tend to be happiest when outdoors in a natural setting and have someone I care about to share it with.