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Running For Mental Health

The Workout That Turned Me From Fitness-Phobe to Fitness Editor

A lot has changed for me in the past three years. Just a few years ago, a one of my best friends asked if I wanted to join her for a run at lunchtime. I laughed — borderline cackled — and said something to the tune of, "You sound like a PSYCHO!" (Sorry, Cheyenne). I didn't know who Jillian Michaels and Kayla Itsines were . . . and I had never heard the word burpee. Going to the gym sounded positively terrifying (and particularly miserable), but now . . . well, now I'm a fitness editor. Things definitely changed.

While I could credit many workouts for their transformative powers — Yoga gave me strength! SoulCycle gave me a community and confidence! Barry's made me an athlete! — running was what opened up the door to the rest of my life, changed my body and brain, and truly saved me from a dark and difficult place.

It's hard for me to pinpoint exactly how I went from asking, "What is a 15K?" to training for a half-marathon within such a short period of time, but I'll try. My mom had asked me to do a "walk" with her at a local 15K, and after panting, walking, attempting to jog, feeling like death, and having an epiphany that, yes, this was actually a race and people were competing to win, I ended up at a finish line.

I somehow clawed my way to the finish line in the time it takes some people to run an entire full marathon.

Disclaimer: I'm not one of those people who says, "Oh, I'm not an athlete," and then shows up and schools everyone with natural grace and ungodly speed that comes out of nowhere. I know people like that, and I too am equally annoyed by their underutilised athletic prowess. For instance, I have a colleague that had never run before, yet showed up to Barry's Bootcamp and ran a timed mile in 6:30. I was horrified totally happy and stoked for him. So when I say I had never done a 15K before, that means I truly had never run before, and I really, really wasn't good at it. I somehow clawed my way to the finish line in the time it takes some people to run an entire full marathon. I barely beat my mom to the end, and she literally walked the whole thing. But after finishing, I googled "Nike Women's Half-Marathon" to see when sign-ups were and how I could start training. I got the bug. Immediately.

I remember my first day of training for the Nike Women's race so vividly: it was summertime, just at sunset, and I was at the local middle school's track. I couldn't make it a quarter of the way around that track — even at a 15-minute-mile pace "slow jog" — without stopping to walk and catch my breath. It was painful. It was embarrassing. But I had signed up, I committed to the race, and I was committing to the training program, so I pushed through to clock two miles. My face was purple for two to three hours afterward. At that point, I was entirely doubtful that I'd ever be crossing a half-marathon finish line at any point in my lifetime, let alone in my 20s . . . but in the end, I did.

As you can see, things got better.

As it is with many a love story, this was just the awkward beginning of a really powerful relationship; while I don't run as much anymore thanks to a very varied weekly exercise schedule, running is still a huge part of my life. Why? Because it gave me the gift of fitness and health and opened me up to the concept that I actually could be fit. Because it started to crush my doubts. Because it has given me the most proud and accomplished moments in my life. And because once I pushed past the pain of running, running pushed past my pain of depression and anxiety.

Shortly after I began my big running (and overall fitness) journey, I went into a really terrible depression. I don't talk about it often because I try to focus on the positive as much as possible, but I was in an awful place. I turned to running — and eventually yoga — as a way to heal myself, in addition to other methods, of course. I signed up for a race to keep myself on track and committed, and it felt like with every step, with every exhale, with every drop of sweat getting into my eyes (or God knows where else), I was getting stronger not just in my legs and my lungs, but in my brain and in my spirit too. I stayed on track with a training program for a half-marathon, and those training runs and consistent fitness schedule carried me through the tough times to a really healthy brain, a stronger body, and a new direction in life — career included!

Running showed me that I have the capacity to do great things — and that's a gift I will never take for granted.

The feeling of crossing the finish line at a half-marathon is indescribably empowering. Often our greatest accomplishments depend on an external factor: someone else's approval. Think about getting into your dream college or landing that dream job — sure, you earned it, but that accomplishment depends on someone else's decision or opinion. With running, and half-marathoning in particular, the only person who can get to the finish line is you. No one is carrying you there, no one is there to tell you yes or no; you put in the work, you do the training, you take the steps toward your goal — it's just you on your journey and just you in that moment of victory. I have yet to feel a sense of elation that comes close to the way I felt when I proved myself so, so wrong at the end of my first half-marathon.

By proving myself wrong, I not only created an amazing moment in my personal history (that definitely involved a kickass brunch afterward), but I really opened up a world of possibilities. What else could I do? After decades of thinking I wasn't strong enough, fit enough, sporty enough, anything enough to try new activities, I was emboldened with an overwhelming confidence that bled into other ares of my life, all because I decided to move my feet forward at a "faster than walking" pace. It seemed like a trivial decision at the time, but beginning my running journey truly changed my life. Today, I feel stronger than ever, and not just because I can keep up in a Barry's class or pick up heavy weights in the gym. Running showed me that I have the capacity to do great things — and that's a gift I will never take for granted.

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Kathryna Hancock
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