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Sweet Emotion: Running a Marathon is Cheaper Than a Shrink

Running is my therapy. You’ve heard that before I’m sure, and you probably know exactly what I mean. But if there’s anything this last marathon reminded me of, it’s that some runs carry some intense emotions along on those miles.

When I ran the Eugene Marathon in 2017, my dad was dying. You can read all about it here if you want to. This year, I ran the Vernonia Marathon, and as I hit mile 10, I really realized for the first time that I didn’t have a dad to run to after the race was over. I wasn’t going to get that phone call either, the one he always made after a big race to see how it went and to maybe even check to see if I was still upright. Even though I knew this all along, it hit me like a cold ocean wave during the run and it about knocked me over when it washed over me. And this is how emotions are for me when I run. It’s all or nothing.  I still had another 16 miles to go and it took everything I had. It really was like a “couch trip” because I had to barrel through it and I felt like I was really in the thick of some heavy stuff I hadn’t dealt with since he died last July.

When my dad passed away, I chose to cope with it by not dealing with it. I have never been a “sitting on the couch eating bon bons” type but despite being busy, I found ways to make myself even busier. I was told to slow down by my parents and my husband. Instead, I found myself registering for another marathon and my first two ultras (stay tuned!) Some people eat or drink to deal with grief (and I’m not going to lie and say I haven’t employed these methods as well) but apparently my drug of choice is races. What I choose to do is to run away from everything.

Of course we all know you can’t really ever run away from anything. All the stuff you try to avoid will wait for your relentlessly, and sometimes some other stuff will accumulate before you get around to dealing with it. Running is a great way to get it all out there, on the road in front of you. I am not embarrassed to admit that I cried out there on the track at the end of Vernonia, and maybe some before that too. A marathon is a physical behemoth where you are asking amazing things of your body, but the mental game is a whole lot harder. Mix the two together, and it’s an experience like no other.

I do a lot of training runs with friends, but I spend the majority of races out there alone. There are other people around, but I don’t talk to anyone. The Vernonia Marathon is a small race and I didn’t see a soul out there for long stretches of time. I don’t wear music and I choose to soak in the whole experience around me and feel everything in a really raw way. Sometimes the noise in my head is louder than the groans I find coming out of my mouth for every single double-digit mile that starts with a “2.” I found myself angry, sad, elated, proud, disappointed and every other emotion between those on that 26.2 mile journey. When I reached the finish line, I was devastated. I hadn’t beat my goal, I hadn’t run as fast as I’d wanted to, and I felt like I’d failed. But I felt something. Something is better than nothing.

And in case you were wondering, I did try actual real therapy a couple of times, and it didn’t make me feel as good as running does. I am not in any way suggesting you should run instead of go to see a professional and I would never make light of depression or anything else in that realm. All I’m saying is that for me personally, running is the only thing that will calm the constant fluttering in my brain. When my legs get tired and my lungs get full, it’s the only time in my life that I don’t feel anxious. Sure, I still think about the millions of things I could be doing, maybe even instead of running (imagine that!) but somehow it makes everything okay. There’s never been a single time that I’ve gone for a run and come back thinking I should have done something else with my time. Even sleeping, which is something I should be doing more of, is never in the realm of possibility, despite being tired all the time. With the disquiet that exists in my head, I need more rather than less to keep going. I don’t know how long I can do it, but I can’t seem to stop.

I’ve decided I’m basically going through a grief-stricken midlife crisis. But I don’t deal with it by buying fancy cars or going on shopping sprees or going out partying with my friends. I’m not rebelling against my life like some people do. Instead I go for a run. Like a REALLY long one that pulls me away from everything. It’s not fair to my family, but it’s all I can do right now. And then when I’m with them again, I hope to be more present in the moment instead of so far away in my head. I’m working on it. And maybe next year is the year that I’ll start saying “no” to all these races. Maybe. Maybe not. Until then, you’ll find me out there on the roads and trails. I might be crying, but that’s okay too.

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About Nikki Mueller (318 Articles)
I'm the owner of Healthy Girl Fitness and I'm a personal trainer, certified AFAA group exercise instructor, and an RRCA certified running coach in SW Portland. I am also the mother of two young boys and am on the board at my youngest son's school. I led a relatively inactive life throughout my 20's until I discovered the world of fitness and running. I ran my first marathon in 2006 and haven't looked back since.

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