Does Your Sanity Depend on Running?

Let's discuss.

You know those conversations you’ll never forget because they just left you so confused? I had one of those with my best friend, Anja, when I was around 16 years old. We’d both gotten in trouble with our parents for something I now can’t remember and, for whatever reason — probably because we were 16 — we were convinced our lives were over. At 16, our lives were OVER.  It was upsetting. So, naturally, we both got into huge screaming matches with our parents, arguing that life wasn’t fair and we knew what we were doing. We were basically adults! You know, behaving the way teenagers, always so rational, do.

And here’s where it got confusing: When we called each other to commiserate, Anja told me she’d been so upset that she just had to go for a run, and she ran and ran and ran and it made her feel better. Meanwhile, I’d been so upset that I just had to watch 16 episodes of Laguna Beach. Needless to say, I didn’t get the whole running-as-emotional-pain-relief thing. The way she turned to running — to feel better mentally — baffled me for years. 

But years later, running as a way to stay sane — rather than simply being a thing you do to fit into your skinny jeans — seems to be having a moment. This past weekend, I stumbled across a piece, published by The Washington Post, titled “As a mom, I couldn’t afford to fall apart after my divorce. Then running saved me.” In it, the author says, “I couldn’t fall apart, so I ran. The motion calmed me, like rocking soothes a baby. I couldn’t stop the pain the divorce caused, but I could set out to run a certain number of miles each day and then do it … When I ran, I was free to move as fast as I could. No one stood in my way but me. Self control brought me closer to self trust, one step at a time.”

Like Anja’s 16-year-old self, running helped when she felt helpless.

To add to the talk of running to drown out pain and keep yourself sane, two Philly authors just came out with books that highlight running as a way to get some emotional relief in their lives. The first is former Philadelphia Inquirer running columnist Jen A. Miller with Running: A Love Story, and the second is Christine Meyer with The Longest Mile.

And not too long ago, one our of Health Hero nominees, Jon Lyons of Run215, told us of his start as a runner, saying, “I had so much inside of me at that moment and it needed to go somewhere, so I grabbed a pair of crappy running shoes from under my bed and went out for a run. It just felt like the thing to do. It hurt like hell, it was freezing cold, and I’m fairly sure I spent the entire run crying, but when I came back I felt different. Far from better, but different. Something clicked: It felt right. It was a moment that I had that was MINE. I owned it. I took the pain in myself and instead of bottling it up, I worked through it. So I ran again and had the same incredible feeling after.”

So running to work out emotional pain and to stay mentally healthy — and not just physically healthy — is something many people do, clearly. And now, after seeing this theme over and over again, I’m curious to know: Why do you run? When you have a bad day, or a bad month, or a bad year, is running the pick-me-up you turn to? Is mental relief the number one reason you run? Holler in the comments section below!

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