You know the Brooks shoe ad slogan: “Run Happy”? I love it, along with the cool goofy pictures of cartoon runners with big silly grins. I love the apparel with ‘run happy’ written in cursive. I love everything about the message…it helps that my favorite training shoes are Brooks (so far the only shoes that I have repeatedly bought over and over again). So it is a message I fully get behind (I am not endorsed in any way by Brooks). Running should be something you love to do, it should be a happy activity.
But what about when it’s not? If I only ran when I was happy in life, or if I ran only because I thought it would make me happy, I would not be a runner at all. Luckily, I have learned to turn to running to help me cope with a myriad of emotions and running has been an essential part of the best and worst times of my life. In my opinion, the highs and lows of running don’t compare to the things that life can throw at you…and that’s why a good, long run is the cure for anything. During the lows of life running provides an escape and in the highs, running is the zenith. Let me explain below, with the 5 most common emotions that I feel.
SADNESS a.k.a. grief, depression, despondency, heartache, melancholy:
This is primarily why I am even writing about the topic of running through different emotions. Running has probably saved me a gallon of tears over the course of my life so far…I challenge you to try to cry and run at the same time. I don’t think it is possible, if it were I would have done it already.
I think 80% of my emotions in the past several years have been within the range of sadness. I don’t really know why, maybe it’s because I am a young adult and I feel lost and confused about my life. Maybe it’s because I feel socially inept and isolated. Maybe I just have a genetic tendency toward melancholia and depression…who knows? What I do know is that running (not a medically suitable replacement for antidepressants or therapy) has pulled me through life even on the days where I did absolutely nothing else except cry, eat (or not eat), and lie in bed. Running gave me a reason to take a shower on days when I didn’t give a f**k about personal upkeep (because if you’ve ever been depressed you know that personal appearance is not exactly a priority).
A lot of my sadness stems from feelings of low self worth. I still do feel like a failure in parts of my life, occupationally and financially for example, but at least I have the power to succeed in one arena: running. As long as I go for a daily run, I am not completely worthless. I guess I am lucky enough to live in the Pacific NW where it rains a lot, as much as I gripe about it, there is nothing as powerfully cleansing as a long run in pouring rain. Running while sad can be a cathartic experience. Just take it slow. As long as you are out there, muddling through the rain, you will make it through the other side. Running will get you through to the light at the other end.
ANGER a.k.a. rage, irritation, frustration, hostility:
This isn’t one of the emotions I use during a run…though I do sometimes feel irritated because of my running (things don’t always go well). I learned from several races in middle school that anger never fuels a good race. It’s a fast-burning fuel that might allow you to go out guns blazing but fizzles within the first mile. I’ve never had success channeling rage during a run.
For me, running serves as an excellent way to dull the knife edge of my hostility. A hard run saps me of the strength I need to be angry. I have to be careful though, I don’t get angry very often. When I am angry, it’s usually at myself and that turns into a dangerous road where I use running to punish myself. Or it turns into a spiral of negative thoughts that ultimately ends in me hating myself.
At the very least, it’s hard to maintain anger while running so your edge will soften. Running takes energy, being mad takes energy. I would rather use my energy to run.
HAPPINESS a.k.a. joy, cheeriness, glee, contentment, satisfaction, pleasure:
For the first time in my life, when I was in India, I experienced a sustained feeling of overall happiness for nearly a month! So I know what happy can feel like, I just never seem to be able to get there. I can remember fleeting moments of happiness since then, for example, winning the Portland Marathon. Though I wouldn’t call it joy, it was a deep sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, and relief. But that’s running.
I don’t use my happiness to run, I use running to get to my happiness.
I don’t know if I’m just not a happy person by nature, or if I am too hard to please, or what…but the sense of purpose, achievement, and discipline that I get from a run is the closest I can come to feeling happy, or at least content. Moments of bliss usually follow hard workouts, like running a 6 mile tempo run at a 6 minute pace, or blazing through a 10k in 36 minutes…pushing my body as far and fast as I can and feeling the rush of pain and endorphins are sometimes seem like the only thing that can truly make me feel happy.
STRESS a.k.a. pressure, anxiety, tension, worry:
Without a doubt, running is the ultimate stress reliever. I love running without music and just letting my thoughts flow. It’s the closest I get to meditation. The saying is true, if you don’t have an answer to your problem by the end of a long run there is probably no answer. The energy it takes to run redirects the negative energy of stress and worry to a positive place. Low-level chronic stress puts you at risk of a multitude of health conditions, like heart disease and weight gain. Luckily, the best stress relief, exercise, is also the best way to combat the symptoms of chronic stress!
When I am really busy, running helps me clear my head. When I run in the morning I like to plan my day’s ‘To-Do’ list in m head, I list the tasks in order of how I think I will do them during the day. The energy and focus that I get after a good run is usually the impetus I capitalize on to move directly into my tasks for the day. No matter how stressed you are, it is difficult to muster the energy required to fret over your problems when you are good and tired after a run.
MALAISE a.k.a. ennui, unease, listlessness, lethargy, torpor:
This is a hard one. More often than not, I reside in this emotional realm. If I am not sad or depressed, I usually feel ‘meh’. Like I stated before, there are few times I can recall feeling actual joy or happiness. But the emotion is pretty fleeting, and then I fall back into this feeling of malaise or stagnation where I don’t feel sad, but I am not happy. I just am….
This is one of the hardest emotions to tackle with running, because it often feels like you have no emotions to channel. At least when you are sad you can feel the sadness in your bones, and when you are happy, you have a pep in your stride. But when you feel listless, you just feel blank. When I feel this way I usually numb myself, I focus on my school work, or blogging, or watching videos….I don’t know if that is healthy, but it’s how I deal.
I also run to escape this feeling of nothingness. If I could, I would run for 24 hrs. a day to never feel this way. I think this is one of the scariest feelings because there seems to be no remedy. How can there be when often you don’t even know what the problem is? I don’t know how to tackle this problem, all I know is that I need to run and I will feel a little better afterward. Even if I don’t feel better, at least I will have accomplished something.
The problem is, how can you muster the energy required to get out the door in the first place?
I like to use my auto-pilot trick. Basically, I don’t think about not running. I decide I am going for a run, and then I turn off my brain. I have created a habit where I run every morning. I have an end goal, I am training for a marathon, and so I know I need to run. Beyond that, running is really my only life coping skill.
I’ve always ran. Through everything, through high school, the transition to college; through loneliness, depression and happiness; through my eating disorder…everything. It’s been the one constant that I can rely on in my life.