On Saturday, I ran the Lust for Life 5k in the Phoenix Park. I was honoured to be interviewed by Karl Fitzgerald, a leader of the Lust for Life – Runners’ Page, and was asked about why I run, and why I was taking part in the Lust for Life run. Unfortunately, I did not give a very good account of myself. It was one of those situations where you think afterwards of so much more you could have said, or how you could have said it better. I came home to write up my blog, and found that I still had difficulty putting into words what running does for me, particularly in terms of mental health. As a result, I’ve been churning it over all weekend, and not making any progress on getting the message down. So this evening, I decided to just go for it, hell for leather, and say it like it is.
Running is my stress buster. I run for my mental health. I always feel better after a run. I don’t always feel great during the run, to be honest. And sometimes I don’t feel like going for a run at all. But after 3 years of consistent running, I now know that I always feel better after a run. I know that running is essential for my mental fitness. When I started running in my 50s, my primary focus was on physical fitness and curbing the middle age spread that was causing my midriff to grow by the day. But over the years I have come to the realisation that running is much more about my mental fitness. There are times when my life gets complicated. Sometimes there’s so much stuff happening and thoughts get stuck in my head. Sometimes there seem to be so many demands on me that I have little control over. There have been times when I’ve had so much on my mind, that it is difficult to switch off, difficult to get a restful night’s sleep. When this happens, I tell myself “I’ll run it off in the morning”. And in the morning, I head out for a run and afterwards I find I can switch the stuff off, I can let it go. I find that running helps me get things sorted. Of course, the same physical situations exist after a run as were there before the run, but I’m in a different place after the run.
I feel better after a run because the exercise gets the endorphins – the ‘feel good hormones’ going. The fresh air blows away the cobwebs, helping to clear my head. Often I run solo, as that is just what fits with my daily routine. When I run with others, I have the added benefits of good company, banter, and perhaps even opportunities to vent the frustrations of the day.
Some days, I work 12 hours, on my feet all day, and at the end of the day’s work, I’m changing out of my work gear into my running gear. And it might be raining outside, or bitterly cold. When my work colleagues see me getting into running gear, they suggest that I must be mad to be going out running after such a hard day. But I tell them I run precisely so that I don’t go mad! That I do it for my head space. Running is my therapy.
The feel good elements of running are not only those experienced immediately after a run. There are so many other side-effects that boost my self-esteem and confidence. For example, I get a great sense of achievement from the fact that I can now run a 5k, 5 miler or 10k every weekend. I feel proud that I worked hard to get myself from couch to half marathon, and managed to follow my training plans consistently. Running gives me opportunities to meet so many people. Booking races gives me something to look forward to just for myself. Completing races gives me a great sense of pride at having worked hard on the day and in the weeks beforehand in training. Racing also brings me medals and T-shirts, which all stand for effort and commitment. Participating in races also brings me in close contact with people who are perhaps starting out on their running experience. I get such a buzz from seeing others complete their first 5k, knowing how much effort it took to get to the start line, and then to the finish line. All of these elements of running contribute to making me feel better about myself on a day to day basis.
So I deem running to be essential for my mental fitness. There’s always stuff going on, always demands being made, always challenges to be faced. Running doesn’t change any of those things, but it changes me, and that changes everything.