A lot of us use running as a coping mechanism. Lots of runners are in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction, eating disorders, past traumas, struggle with depression or anxiety, and more. Running offers something to counter those feelings. Because of this it’s easy to fall into two different traps. One, where you feel like running should be enough, that you may not need anything else such as medicine or therapy even if you do. Then there’s overtraining. When you are using your running as such a coping component that you are not willing to give yourself rest and recovery time when you need it.
My biggest struggle is with anxiety. I can break that down into subcategories, or branch off the web into other areas as well. Though anxiety is the blanket term that covers my personal struggle.
There are a lot of studies that show that exercise helps to reduce anxiety. With that a lot of people interpret that as exercise cures anxiety. Exercise cures depression. Go running, it will fix your problems, not just reduce them. How many times have we see “running, it’s cheaper than therapy, ” or memes such as this.
For a lot of people running and exercise is enough, and that’s fantastic. That also means that those people are probably not clinically depressed, suffer truly from addiction, have PTSD, or major anxiety. They are people who are sometimes sad. Sunshine is great. It also isn’t medicine.
Running and exercise can be a coping mechanism, or a component of what someone may need. When I run it’s true, I typically feel better. However, that is because I use running alongside other means. I would love to not need a medicine to get through my days. I have tried. I have tried several times. If I could be the person that I am on medicine off of it, I wouldn’t take it. When I’m not “on,” my running suffers too. I especially don’t enjoy group runs. It doesn’t matter who is going or how well I know them or the course, I get incredibly anxious about my ability to run with the group. when I need a long run I worry that I won’t be able to pull it off, and my short runs aren’t enough to give me the endorphin rush that makes me glad I went out. I worry about getting off trail even on trails that I know well. I spiral through all kinds of information in my head, and over analyze conversations that I’ve recently had. I catastrophize. I worry that my husband is mad that I’m taking time out to run even though he never behaves that way. I struggle with races when my anxiety is bad. I worry about cutoff times and course markings whether or not it’s reasonable to do so.
When I’m in a healthy place running keeps me healthier. It becomes the coping mechanism that it’s supposed to. It doesn’t mean that I never have a bad run. It means that running generally actually makes me feel better. The longer I run, the better I tend to feel. I strength train because it makes me a better runner. I do yoga because it makes me a better runner. I do hill repeats and speed work because they make me a better runner. Though there’s nothing that compares to a long run. The days where that’s where majority of my time can go. I don’t care what the weather is. I barely care where I get to run, though I of course have my preferences. If I get my vote it’ll be cold, snowy, and trails. All I have to worry about is moving forward.
That’s why I like long races. All I really have to do is move forward. Last February I ran my first timed race and fell in love. I do love the adventure of miles and miles of trails, but this had it’s own unique appeal. Even in a bad head space, it takes away the variables that can make me anxious. I can’t get off course when I’m tired and I can’t miss a cutoff. The added bonus, even if I’m having a good day and running really well, I get to stay on the course for the duration of the race. No matter what mileage I hit, I get the full time to run. 24hr race means 24hrs where running is the only thing I have to think about. I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do on a few timed courses this year. With these long races though recovery becomes necessary.
Post Ultra Depression Syndrome
It’s often used as a kind of a joke, but it is very real for a lot of us. It can happen with any distance, not just ultramarathons, and really ties into the culmination of a goal. When I’ve put all of my work into training for a long race, and then I get the rush of all of the endorphins for being on my feet for hours and hours, possibly more than a day of running, the crash is hard. Not only am I literally crashing from the endorphins, but my goal is over. A lot of people deal with that by having a race already laid out. I am reluctant to advise this. It depends on the runner and their experience. If you finish your first 100 miler, I do not recommend immediately signing up for another ultra. Ideally you’ve trained well and had a good race. You’ll be able to run pretty much immediately. There’s a difference though between getting back to running and being ready to dive right into a true training cycle again Give yourself a moment and see how you recover. It doesn’t mean you can’t quickly run a next race, but seriously, breathe first.
If you need something on the calendar to keep yourself busy, consider something like a much more comfortable distance. Casually run a 5k with friends or family. Go on a trip. Plan some events that you’re excited about. Run for fun for even just a couple of weeks. DON’T ULTRASIGNUP THE DAY AFTER A BIG RACE. You’ll find yourself chasing the dragon of an endorphin high. I get it. I’m jonsing for a truly long run since h Walter in November. I have a 24 hr on April 13th and I CANNOT FREAKING WAIT! I picked it because there’s no set mileage to hit and I can have fun and see where I’m at postpartum. I do have my race calendar signed up for the year. I also have a good idea of what I recover like after long races and am willing to DNS rather than hurt myself.
Running is a sport, but really it’s also a lifestyle. Be in it for the long run.