I remember every time I would see someone jogging, I would be envious of them in the way they effortlessly moved and always seemed so peaceful and calm despite the grueling workout. I remember wanting to be able to do the same but then instantly reminding myself that I could “never” be a runner because I didn’t have the stamina, fitness level, or “body” for it. Fast forward to present and I can now say that not only am I a runner, but running became so much more than just a form of exercise for me. Instead, it healed my mind, body, and soul.
I can guarantee some of you may be reading this thinking that running sounds like the worst form of exercise possible and to be honest, once I actually started running, I thought the same. My running journey began when I signed up for my first 5k with my friends about four years ago. I remember being so excited and thinking, “This is it!! I am going to be a runner!” and then the second I actually started to run, I stopped. And not because I wanted to, but because I had to. I physically couldn’t breathe and my legs were on fire. And let me tell you, I did NOT look like those people I used to admire. Instead, I felt discouraged, sore, and frustrated all while doubled over gasping for air. It helped that my friends were also on the hot mess express train as they too were struggling, but in that moment I had a choice to make:
Give up and call it quits or keep pushing myself.
So, I kept pushing myself and successfully ran my first 5k that year. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t fast, and it definitely wasn’t pain-free but I did it and that is the moment I fell in love with running.
If you are reading this and feeling as though you’d like to incorporate running into your fitness routine, but don’t know how or where to start, keep reading for some helpful tips as well as to read about some of the benefits I’ve experienced; mind, body, and soul.
As someone who has suffered from anxiety my entire life, I have always found solace in exercise. If I had a lot on my mind or had a rough day, I would hit the gym and instantly feel as though a weight had been lifted. Research shows that exercise is one of the best forms of treatment for anxiety and stress as exercise allows for the brain to release endorphins, which are those feel-good chemicals in your brain that make you feel happier. So, it’s no coincidence that after a workout, most people feel better mentally. For me, running became therapeutic. Not only did the physical piece help reduce my stress levels, but it was a time for me to zone out and focus on the task at hand: Not dying from my run. (Ok, ok, I know..super dramatic.. but honestly sometimes that’s how it felt!)
In the beginning, my goal was to just be able to run, period. In a lot of ways, it’s a parallel process to life. When we have a goal we wish to accomplish, we need to focus on that goal and limit distractions. We need to shift our mindset from “I can’t” to “I CAN”. We need to work hard and push ourselves to keep going, even when things get hard. By practicing this in my exercise routine, I was able to reinforce those same principles into my work and personal life as well. Our mind is a powerful thing and when we practice these principals in all aspects of our life, the benefits are truly rewarding. As I continued to reach my running goals, which continued to change as I continued to advance my practice, I noticed that my anxiety and stress levels began to reduce as well.
Obviously any type of exercise is going to have physical benefits on our bodies. Whether it’s a leisurely walk, yoga/pilates, or a high intensity work out, you are still going to benefit from moving your body. Blood pressure levels, weight management, sleep, cholesterol levels, risk of diseases, muscle tone, and overall health and wellness are all going to be impacted by our physical activity. What I really want to highlight for my readers is that while running can absolutely have positive benefits for our bodies, it’s important to ensure your body is physically able to take on this level of activity.
Remember when I first started and said I felt like I couldn’t breathe and felt like I was dying? Well, my lack of knowledge around running, coupled with my poor body awareness actually did cause me to injure myself. While pushing myself mentally served as a positive in my ability to reach my goals, pushing myself physically actually caused a major detour along the way. Since I am not an athletic person by nature and have worked really hard over the years to make healthy lifestyle changes physically, I never really took the time to learn about my body and what works for me and what doesn’t. I would just workout and call it a day.
My running journey allowed me the opportunity to actually learn about my body after I suffered a knee injury which left me incredibly limited in my ability to exercise for about 6 months. My road to recovery from this was a long and frustrating one but it did allow me the opportunity to consult with trainers and other healing professionals, such as acupuncturists, chiropractors, massage therapists, and physical therapists. As a result, I became more knowledgeable about not only the benefits of running but also about the risks of running. I deepened my knowledge around ways to take care of my body when I wasn’t running as well as learned about the importance of rest. I learned about proper footwear and clothing. I learned about other practices I could take part in which would help me reach my running goals without risking injury, such as monthly appointments with my chiropractor and massage therapist. I also focused more on breath work, which not only serves as a positive for physical activity but everyday life as well. If we can breathe through difficult workouts, we can breathe through difficult situations in life, too.
Like I said, I was never an athletic person. I never played sports growing up and I was always the person who avoided exercise and felt as though I was being punished in gym class when I had to partake. I was overweight, physically unhealthy, anxious, stressed, sluggish, had poor skin, and was truly in a very negative space. It wasn’t until I made major lifestyle changes that fitness and overall wellness became a priority to me.
Prior to running, my fitness routine included some aerobic classes, going to the gym and going on the elliptical or stationary bike, as well as doing pilates and yoga. And while all of those absolutely helped me reach my wellness and fitness goals, running was my true saving grace. Despite the physical and mental demands, I truly feel as though running healed my soul. Part of my personal healing journey included nature and music. I find being outside to be so incredibly peaceful and relaxing and music can truly be so healing as losing yourself in music helps quiet the mind. Running allows me to incorporate both. There is no greater feeling than being outside, listening to music, and moving your body simultaneously.
Whenever I am feeling stressed or overwhelmed, I go for a run. Whenever I want to ensure I start my day off on a positive note, I go for a run. Whenever I want to spend time with my friends while also doing something positive and healthy, we go for a run. Whenever I have a lot on my mind and feel my thoughts racing, I go for a run. Whenever I want to clear my head, I go for a run. If it’s a beautiful day and I want to be outside, I go for a run. Running is a form of therapy for me. I zone out and focus on one step at a time, one breath at a time, one movement at a time. When else in life are we able to be so present and mindful? For me, it’s when I am running. I don’t think about anything else other than what I am doing in that moment and for me, it’s incredibly healing.
So now that I have undoubtedly inspired all of you to become runners, here are a few helpful tips before you get started!
- Consult with your primary care physician before starting any kind of new exercise routine. It is so important to ensure you are physically able to begin a new exercise routine to avoid injury.
- I am by no means a running expert, just a girl who loves to run and wanted to share my experience with others! Before you think about running, it may be helpful to talk to an actual expert about how to begin this type exercise practice in a safe and effective way for your needs and goals.
- Once you’re cleared physically, find a workout buddy! Reaching your fitness goal is so much more fun when you have support along the way. I started this journey with my friends, which was so incredibly helpful. Now, my very best friend is my workout accountability buddy and we often meet up to go running together or when we can’t meet up, text each other our running goals for the day to keep us accountable and on track!
- Make sure you research proper footwear. This is so important to reduce the likelihood of injury. I recommend going to a store which specializes in fitting you for proper footwear for your body’s needs vs. going to the local shoe store and buying generic running shoes. The price isn’t always that much different and you’ll be consulting with someone who is ensuring the shoes you wear are appropriate for your body and running style.
- Research running attire and accessories. There are so many different types of clothing which will impact how you feel during a run. For example, I buy leggings which are breathable but also have a small slip for me to put my key in so I don’t have to worry about holding it the entire time. Also, a good pair of headphones and an armband for your phone make a world of difference. Other things like socks, tops, sports bras, etc. will also be important to research to ensure you feel as comfortable as possible during your run. Plus, buying new workout gear usually is a nice motivator to getting yourself one step closer to making your goal a reality! Besides, who doesn’t love a little retail therapy?!
- Download a running app. There are tons of free apps available which help you track your progress AND connect you with others along the way for continued support and motivation along the way. I personally use the free version of RunKeeper and love that me and my BFF can track each others progress through the app!
- Don’t get discouraged. Like anything, this will be a process, especially if you’ve never run before. It will take time, effort, and patience. I have been running consistently for four years and still have a lot of personal goals to accomplish. This journey gets to be whatever you want it to be. Take your time, enjoy the process, and remember you’re doing a great job.
- Remember not all runs are created equal. Sometimes I go out for a run and it’s amazing and I am so proud of myself and other times I go out for a run and I feel as though I could have gone faster or farther. One day I can run 3 miles without a problem and then the next run I do I am struggling at the mile mark. Again, it’s a parallel to life. Sometimes things are going great and we feel like we are on top of the world and then other days we feel stressed and nothing seems to be going right. When we get down, we have to remember to stay positive and focused. Just like one bad day doesn’t equal a bad life, one bad run doesn’t mean all runs will be bad going forward.
- Find a good running spot. Some people prefer the treadmill while others prefer the outdoors. Figure out what works best for you, there is no right or wrong answer. If you prefer the outdoors, remember safety precautions along the way, such as cars, wildlife, secluded areas, etc.
- Sign up for a race! There are tons of different kinds of races which happen locally all of the time. Signing up for a race is a great motivator to reach your running goals. If I hadn’t signed up for a 5k, I don’t think I would have stuck with running initially, but knowing I had an upcoming race kept me focused and motivated. Also, if you do sign up for a race, remember to give yourself enough time to train! Click here to find a race near you!
Those limiting beliefs I once had about never being able to be a runner were just that: beliefs. Not my reality. It wasn’t until I shifted my mindset that I began to realize that. I firmly believe exercise is a powerful parallel to our everyday lives and as a mental health professional, this is something I talk about often with my clients. Exercise requires discipline, mindset shifts, focus, patience, and perseverance. It can be challenging, scary, and downright difficult but once you get through a difficult workout, you realize you CAN accomplish what you set your mind out to do, just like in life.
I would LOVE to know what spoke to you today and encourage you to comment below and share with me!
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