05th Aug 2019
Collage made using images from @nikewomen Instagram
Hannah Hillyer is training for her first marathon. Read her weekly running diary at IMAGE.ie where she’ll be taking you on her journey. This week, she’s thinking about why running is good for your mental health and speaks to other runners on the IMAGE Team about how it makes them feel…
Why do we run?
When we’re younger the answer is simple. It’s fun. However most adults would not describe it this way, instead thinking of it as something they only do under great duress. Like when the DART is coming down the platform, running away from something, or simply as a torturous form of exercise. Why can’t it be easy like when we played chasing as kids?
Now that I’m fully immersed in my marathon training, I’m up to four runs per week. But recently I had to take a week out of my strict plan to rest as all that pavement pounding gave me shin splints (don’t skip the stretching people).
Related: Running with a hangover: the ultimate cure or a really bad idea?
Normally this news I would have greeted with delight – a week off I actually had an excuse for! Instead I was dejected. After four days I was itching to get back out and ended up limping home after a measly 1km and spent the afternoon icing my legs.
For the first time ever I realised – to my surprise – I was really enjoying the regular training, it had become a big part of my week. So to suddenly be unable to go? My body was craving the endorphins it had got used to and I didn’t feel quite like myself without it. It’s not only me who feels this way, Megan Burns, Staff Writer and avid runner, is well aware of the ups and downs of regular running.
“Sometimes when I run I love every step, and other times it feels like a real slog to get back to my door, but I always, always feel great afterwards.
“Maybe it’s because it’s a time spent focusing on nothing more than breathing and putting one foot in front of the other, and I’m sure it’s also something to do with all those endorphins people are always talking about, but I really notice my mood dip if I don’t get out for a few days.
“Often I won’t realise why until I think back and remember it’s been a while since I laced up my trainers.”
Running as meditation
Lacking those feel-good endorphins for over a week also made me feel restless and a bit tetchy. I realised that the consistent exercise was having a massive impact on my mood. For me, when I run, it clears my head like nothing else.
For the first kilometre my mind is a whirlwind of random thoughts- ‘what will I have for dinner?… God I really need to get that birthday present sorted… Should I buy those shoes I saw earlier on ASOS?’
After that first kilometre my mind quiets. I become absorbed in the podcast or music I’m listening to. I become absorbed in the act of putting one foot in front of the other and not falling over. I become absorbed in regulating my breathing so I can keep going.
These moments of calm are rare for me, as my mother would affectionately describe me as ‘highly strung’. I’m not good at meditating the ‘proper way’ and can’t sit still, I’m always fidgeting. Running literally calms my mind. It’s one of the only times a week I switch off and just do something for my body. All of my best thinking happens on my runs. That thing I was really angry about? Doesn’t seem like such a big deal now. The fight you had with your SO? A clear head can give you perspective on silly arguments.
Related: How much do you need to eat to fuel your running habit?
Time for yourself
Lots of people run for this reason. Marlene Wessels, our Art Director for Image Interiors & Living ran her first marathon at 42. With her two kids being just 6 and 4, her training was some of the only time she had all to herself.
“The long runs were “me” time, where there was no chance to be interrupted. I did all my training on my own, I listened to music and just zoned out. Apart from time out, it was the feel good factor that always kicked in after every training run I completed, feeling like I accomplished something and that I was on my way to reach a lifelong goal.
“At a stage that all my energy was consumed by kids and family, it felt good to do something for myself. I still run, only short runs the odd time, and I never feel like going, but I always always feel better after.”
Inspiration and positivity
All my best ideas come to me on a run. With a clear head and being outside I get a fresh perspective on a project and come back full of new ideas. Sometimes I even have to stop mid-jog to write something into the notes app of my phone before I forget (I swear it’s not just because I’m out of breath).
IMAGE Fashion Editor, Marie Kelly has recently got back into running and is already feeling the affects: “After a run I simply feel happier, about everything; my body, my life, my job. It gives me a sense of peace and optimism that slowly dilutes when I stop running.”
Mind over matter
When I first started running a few years ago I did it for weight reasons. I wanted to be slim and lean, or what I thought a runner ‘looked like’. With three months until the marathon this time out I’ve had for injury has taught me that the mental side of it all far outweighs any physical side effects.
And if I also lose a few pounds? Being honest, yes that would be a great plus. But all the other positives like concentration, inspiration, positivity and a clear head are what really make it worthwhile.
Header Image: @nikewomen
Read more: Running every week? Here’s how to fuel your training
Read more: Getting your gait analysed for a better run
Read more: Running and safety: the reality of being a female runner
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