When a book on the shelf matches one of your sayings, well obviously it needs to be bought, read, and written about. And this quick, informative read did not disappoint that decision.
In Running is my Therapy, the author Scott Douglas uses a balanced mix of personal story, conversations with friends, interviews with professional athletes, and data from studies to explore the psychological benefits of running. Throughout the book, he includes caveats that running is not the only form of exercise that has benefits, and that some people will need resources beyond movement to get help. The story being told is his, that of some runners, and supported through peer-reviewed scientific research. So, there is good logic behind it, and no guarantees. Kind of like life.
Two of the main topics the author focuses on are depression and anxiety. One chapter focuses on each topic, and then they come up again in other sections as well. Scott offers good overviews of both issues, again with guidance to the reader to let them be more gray than black or white. A primary argument in the book is that for whatever mental issue a person is dealing with, exercise should be a first-response recommendation by medical professionals. Multiple studies are described that support the psychological benefits of getting moving a few days a week. Scott is advocating for doctors, or just his readers, to use exercise as a foundational part of their treatment plan (rather than a last resort after medications have been prescribed).
Scott shares about his own struggles with depression throughout the book, using them as a way to gain authority on the topic without saying that he knows everything or that his tactics will work for everyone. His own treatment has included medication in the past, and he includes the stories of others who are still using it. And he has spoken with therapists before, and highlights how that can be useful for some people and not others. Basically, he wants those in need to consider the whole toolbox available to them, not just the mallet.
One of my main takeaways was from his chapter on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The idea of this therapy model is to develop short-term goals so that behavioral changes can impact feelings. Not fake it ‘til you make it; rather do anything until you can do the thing. Scott wrote about how that model is what runners do when they add just one more mile to their long run, try to sprint to that next tree, or hold on for just one more minute in the race. Runners are used to “tapping your toughness,” so the author says we are able to shift those skills into other areas too.
On the flip side, the author ends the book on “What Running Can and Can’t Do.” There are limits to what running can do for a person’s psychologically. And running, like any activity, has the potential of becoming part of the problem if we are not careful. To go back to my toolbox metaphor, even the best wrench in the world can’t do everything.
I recommend this book for any runner wanting to better understand what’s going on inside while on the run, and for anyone who is in need of another tool for their mental toolbox. Running has been part of my therapy for over nine years and I am grateful for it.