On ‘Running Is My Therapy’

Running Is My Therapy: Relieve Stress and Anxiety, Fight Depression, Ditch Bad Habits, and Live HappierRunning Is My Therapy: Relieve Stress and Anxiety, Fight Depression, Ditch Bad Habits, and Live Happier by Scott Douglas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The last month has been enormously stressful and emotional. Highs and lows abound, and many a run has been completed as I quietly (or not) choked back tears. After each of those runs, however, I felt better, either less stressed or if not less emotional at least less immediately in need of a good long cry.

In Running Is My Therapy, Scott Douglas confirms much of what I already knew to be true about running. At least what running means and does for me. Running, these past few years, has certainly helped me stave off the pits of despair and keep that little black dog at bay, both those periods induced by life’s curve balls and trials, but also my own life-long battle with depression. Yet, I am not a life-long runner–it’s only within the last four or five years and certainly the last year when I’ve become a consistent runner. Running truly IS my therapy. In many respects, lacing up and hitting the trails helps me employ various tools I learned from cognitive behavioural therapy years ago.

Backed by a plethora of references and research documenting the benefits to running, this is an incredibly insightful read. But, for me, the most important message was relatively simple, although often repeated. That isn’t a complaint. Running when we least want to is often when need to the most and when we gain the most benefit. Indeed. I’ve experienced this myself several times during this past month.

In the midst of life’s turmoil at the moment, I had to take about 10 days off–unfortuante timing related to an appointment for fresh ink. As my skin healed, I really, really, really wanted and needed to run during those 10 days. My husband and I try to walk every evening in addition to my regular running schedule. But, running is when I truly empty my head. And, too much noise was accumulating during that 10-day break. My first run back was long and labourious, and at times the urge to quit was strong. I kept telling myself to just go a bit further. Make it through the next interval. Focus on X rather than Y. Still, after those 12 plodding kilometres, I felt better and better able to simply cope with what comes next.

Now, I understand that a) I’m not alone in this mental reset benefit from running and b) the science behind it. My rational brain appreciates that immensely, particularly the latter.

Obviously, for the darkest times and those facing the darkest of thoughts and deepest pits of despair, seeking professional help is best if not altogether necessary. And, I’ll keep this in mind should I sink into a particularly black period in future. For now, I’ll continue my planned runs, forgive myself when I don’t quite achieve what I intended and use the mental and physical strength running provides me to push onward through life’s bittersweet lemons.

One step at a time.

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Running on ice

I should have been running on ice since we returned from our holiday in the sun. To put it incredibly simply, I have not. I’ve lost my running mojo. And I blame it entirely on… me.

Despite my best intentions, despite my desire to train and be ready for not one but two half marathons this May and June, respectively, it’s time I admit that I won’t be. Not even close to ready.

I certainly won’t be ready for anything until I hold myself accountable and get out there and hit the trails once again.

So, how do I reignite that running fire and get out there more than once a week?

Perhaps it’s cosmic coincidence that landed a link on the 10 laws of productivity in my news feed today. This week, I have thought so many times about wanting to run, but simply can’t seem to lace up. So, any link that mentions my fellow runner and eclectic music lover, and favourite author Haruki Murakami is certainly going to rank high amongst the reads of day. Combine that with a bit of self-reflection on re-establishing some necessary and beloved habits, and I’m in.

The truth is, I’m a bit intimidated by that number: 13.1. Thirteen-point-one miles, all in one go. Can I do that? I’d like to channel that little engine that could and say, ‘I think I can’. But, the voice of doubt creeps in just as I think about lacing up.

The trick, I know, is to quiet that particular voice, and allow all of the other cheerleaders to drown out the dissenting opinions. Deep down, I know that anything is possible, as long as I just get going and believe. But, my journey of however many steps there are in 13.1 miles will never get started until I train for it. And, I know that the hardest part of any run is simply lacing up and getting out the door.

So, borrowing from Murakami and those laws of productivity, I shall develop a routine and start small. I will break this little journey up into smaller chunks and phases, the first of which entails that routine and starting small.

And, when I fall behind or can’t quite accomplish what I want, I’ll forgive myself first and then regroup.

Running on Ice

I’d like to blame my lack of motivation on the weather. But, it’s gorgeous when running in snow. 

 

 

Countdown to half

I must be mad.

Shortly after struggling through a mere 10 k, I foolishly decided to sign up for not one, but two half marathons. Yes, yes, I really must be mad.

I have 221 days until the starting line of the Helsinki City Run, the first of the two half marathons. That’s 31 weeks give or take. After struggling to find my motivation following that soggy Helsinki Midnight Run at the beginning of September, I’m returning to base training starting this week.

Many runners including a good friend (who also happens to be my own personal running hero) recommended Hal Higdon‘s half marathon training programmes. My mornings since receiving his book largely consist of reading a chapter from his training book and attempting to keep the panic at bay.

Following a few longer yet rather difficult runs the past few weeks, runs which left me feeling completely uncertain and lacking enough confidence to get beyond 5 k let alone 21 km, I decided to start with Hal’s base training programme and work up to the novice half marathon training programme. These two programmes consist of a total of 24 weeks of training, giving me 6 weeks of wiggle room for any potential injury or illness in the interim. Touch wood I don’t need those extra six weeks for either.

Today’s run? A very simple 1-mile (or 1.609 km). It felt great and helped boost my confidence, even if it was short and sweet. But, also given my shortage of time in recent weeks, beginning with short runs helps me sandwich in training around everything else. This might just work.

It’s a long way to 13.1/21km, but I’ll get there.

 

Week 1 of 24

The view along the paths on today’s run. Day 2 of week 1 of 24; countdown to half marathon #1.

And, just like that…

I run because it helps me battle my worst inner demons. I run because running is one of the only things that allows me to empty my head of all the nonsense that accumulates each day. I run because I can.

Yesterday was tough for a multitude of reasons. Today remains anxiety-riddled, largely because Irma has adopted Cuban time and appears stalled in between Cuba and Florida. She’s ravaged Cuba, although perhaps sparing Havana her worst. But, we still await word on those we love in Cuba, and continue to hope that they are well. Florida is another matter entirely. And, all we can do is continue to wait. Wait and hope we shall.

But, yesterday was also a victory for me. A seemingly small one. But, a victory all the same.

I can’t say that my Helsinki Midnight Run went at all smoothly. But, I finished, and I am proud.

Here’s what I’m taking away from the experience:

Two weeks ago, mentally I hit a gigantic, immovable brick wall. For reasons that don’t really matter and which I’m still processing, I sank into a state of despair and antipathy that I’ve evaded for a while. My little black dog barked and growled loudly and stripped me of my running and all other mojo. Thus, my last run prior to yesterday was two weeks ago today.

In addition, the last week or so, I’ve also been trying to ward off a bit of a chest cold or bug. Thus, earlier this week, when I looked at my schedule (which is mental) and the weather forecast for the run (which predicted rain, rain and more rain), I was certain I would not line up. Rather unfortunate given that I’d spent the last several months working hard towards that 10 k / Midnight Run goal.

But, sometime on Friday, I decided, ‘Fuck it. I’m running it. I may not have a great time and I may walk bits. But, who cares?! I signed up. I’ll at least start it!’

So, I started. One of the best moments came just before I started. As The Cuban and my close friend Jules escorted me to the runners’ starting area and relieved me of my jacket and bag of post-race crap, they believed in me even when I was uncertain. The Cuban, perhaps sensing more than anyone just how anxious and filled with doubt I was simply said just before the final pre-race smooch, ‘I’m so proud of you’. [Yes, I’m all choked up now reading that.]

My Race

After the finish and after the post-race swag grab, I snapped this before meeting up with The Cuban and my friend Jules. Yeah, I’m proud.

My Midnight Run

Images from a Helsinki Midnight Run: the start, the masquerade runners, my start group banner, the post-race hydration mission — G&T, and water of all sorts — and back home once the hat finally came off.

It struck me as odd since I hadn’t started yet or run a single step in two weeks. But, at the same time, that short little declaration said everything, and reflects why I’m proud of me.

I signed up. I laced up. I lined up. And, I started. More so, I finished. And, yes, I’m proud of me for that.

The race itself was hard and lovely at once. I went slow. But, slow beats standing still. I had breathing issues about 4 km in and had to find a port-a-potty, but I kept going. The skies opened and the rains came somewhere between the third and fourth kilometres and didn’t really stop, although it did let up to a gentle mist at some point.

I walked bits, but I kept going. I high-fived as many bystanders as possible because they helped me to keep going, and I’m grateful that they braved the elements simply to cheer us crazy, mad near-midnight runners on. And, I smiled. Even when it hurt, I smiled. Because I could continue to put one foot in front of the other, and just keep going. Before I knew it, I was passing the 9 km marker and then the 500 m to go banner.

And, just like that, I finished. Truth be told, it hurt I finished strong. More importantly, I finished!

As much as the worst critic (that little black dog barking in my head) wants to find fault in what didn’t go right last night, the runner in me is screaming, ‘Shut up, fool! You got out there and you did it! Who cares that it didn’t go smoothly?! Not every run goes well.’ And of the three Midnight Runs I’ve completed, this was my best.

For that, I’m proud.

My running story isn’t over — it’s just getting started.

I love running

I love running. I do. I’m slow, and I have yet to go very far. But, I love running. And, I suspect it loves me. It’s at least good for me.

Last summer after years of stifling the little black dog that barks and growls and nips at my heels and mind from time to time, I made a series of slight adjustments in my behaviour and routines. I’d sunk so low that breathing hurt. Changes were necessary and long overdue.

One of those changes involved recommitting to running regularly. Whilst various forms of exercise obviously carry benefits to one’s mental and physical health, running has always helped me empty my head, meditate on whatever shit floats around up there. Somewhere during those runs, I let go of the garbage that wears me down, both real and imagined. As August turned into September, and September gave way to October and November, regardless of how busy I was or how much I felt unmotivated to lace up and hit the trails, I did. And, it helped. The fog that had clouded my everyday existence slowly dissipated and lifted entirely, and I felt infinitely better as the weeks and months passed.

Running wasn’t so much simply physically beneficial; it was a mental health necessity.

After injuring myself in January whilst running the Malecón in Havana, I was forced to take four painful months off. My ankle healed by late March / early April, but then the flu season hit and, then, I fell and hurt my knees, running to catch a bus of all things. Fast forward to May — four months after my initial injury — and I’m finally getting back into my routine. A few days shy of four weeks back into my running rituals and again the fog is lifting.

This. This is why I run. And, this is why I love running.

I don’t really care how fast I get through a particular route — each run feels like a battle won and conquered at this point. I don’t have any long-term ambitions other than to continue running three or four times a week for as long as my legs will hold up, and hopefully taking part in the Helsinki Midnight Run come September. I won’t win races, but I will stay in the ultimate race — that crazy race called life. Undoubtedly, depression and my little black dog will come barking again from time to time. Whatever I can do to tame him quickly and without too damage to myself or those who love me most, I’ll do. And, I firmly believe that as long as I continue to add miles to my running logs, those visits from the canine beast that haunts me will become fewer and further apart.

I read a story several years ago about an incredibly young 92-year-old woman finishing a marathon. Harriette Thompson, that same woman, just surpassed another milestone by becoming the oldest woman at 94 to complete a half marathon. I won’t break any records, other than those I set for myself. But, I will keep running. For me.

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