Thursday, April 30, 2015

It's not a Cure-All

This is part of my ongoing series wherein I offer advice to beginning runners looking to run a half-marathon, marathon, or ultramarathon. Distance running, that is. This is just from my experience, though I've found my point of view is not represented in the running world. Actual medical questions should be directed to a licensed professional. You can find all my posts under the tag, So you wanna run a marathon?. Today's talk: Running is not a cure-all

The first time I ran to this mile marker, was a BIG DEAL!

Do you suffer from depression or anxiety? Do you have some other physical ailment that is treated with diet and exercise? Do you have low self-esteem or poor body image? Are you just as tired as I am from hearing that "diet and exercise" are the cure-all wonder treatments that will solve every problem you've ever had? Well, I'm hear to tell you that running isn't a cure-all.

I know, I know, you want me to go on and on about the powers of endorphins and how they'll make you feel like fucking Superman and how training for a marathon by incorporating regular and regulated exercise into your life is going to give you a fuckton of energy and magical powers to conquer the world and every problem you've ever had.

I can't say that, because it's just not true.

Real talk: Training to run a marathon could actually make you feel worse. Obviously, not always. I wouldn't be training for my second marathon if it made me feel like utter crap all the time. But the thing about anxiety is it's behavioral and has triggers. Gearing up for your first big run? Whether it's 5 miles, 10 miles, or 20 miles, the very idea could leave you in a fit of anxiety that you're convinced you will never conquer and running won't be a cure. If you hit any bumps in the road and can't accomplish your goals, then that depression you experience could come at you hard. Or what if you're in the throes of depression and you just can't make yourself get up and run? What then? What of this magical "diet and exercise" that will make you lose weight and feel better and look better and suddenly be on par with all those skinny women in our media? I mean, yeah, when you're running 30 miles per week, it is likely that you'll lose weight. And sure, if you drastically change your current diet as well as train to run a marathon, it is likely that you'll lose weight. But if you're naturally chubby like me and naturally healthy like me and your body just wants to be fat because that's natural, then you are not likely to experience drastic weight loss. As for any other cure that those endorphins will bring? Highly doubtful. Wanna know why?

Endorphins are temporary.

The finish line of my first race, a 5k.

First of all, it took me MONTHS to experience a runner's high, and I don't always experience it. Some days, you are going to get out there and run your distance and fucking conquer your pace and feel so fucking amazing that you think the world should be throwing high fives your way all day. And some days, you won't be able to complete your mileage for any number of reasons; mood, tummy troubles, soreness or discomfort, challenging trail, your motherfucking period, general stress from life. Some days, you'll set out to run a new distance and kill it. Other days, you'll go out on a route you've run a million times and have to fight for every fucking step to finish it. You might feel a runner's high, and you might feel one a lot. Hell, I hope you feel awesome way more than not. But I wanna tell you that the reality of running is ups and downs.

There are good days and bad days and there is no guarantee that your mental health will suddenly have a magical makeover that warrants a 90s teen movie montage. Do I feel good after a run? Mostly. I generally feel good for an hour or three. Some days, it's a struggle to go run. Some runs are a struggle and I don't feel good. Endorphins can come from running, maybe, maybe not. But they don't enter your system and then just live there forever. Those motherfuckers fade. I have gone for a run and felt AMAZING and then crashed at the end of the day. Honestly, I sometimes thought that running just fucked with my mental health.

All my training made this fun ride I signed up for an absolute piece of cake!

However, if you look around on the internet, all you're gonna find is how fucking amazing exercise is and how we all should be doing it. But I'm not talking about marathon running as some amazing cure all for everything that ails you. This is a choice you make to follow through with a long term goal. But I can tell you that training for distance running will have absolutely guaranteed benefits.

Your body will change in a positive way. Your lungs will move easier over time. Your resting heart rate will lower over time. You will be able to do things easier over hiking, running, other types of exercise, moving furniture, etc. You will feel better over time. You will probably lose weight or your body will tone up and not just in your legs. (I honestly can't promise it'll give you more energy, because my energy level stayed about the same during training.) You will feel a sense of accomplishment at setting a goal and following through on it. You will also come to enjoy running more.

That last part, enjoy running more, well, it's not necessarily a given. As you get to the higher mileage, you might find a threshold that you will hate. For me, anything over 12 miles is HARD. Then why am I training for another marathon? Because I want to run three. After that, I'm gonna be happy with half marathons. Now, for you, if your distance threshold is much lower, and you find that anything over 7 miles makes you want to die and you don't improve after running a distance more than three times, then stop. Don't run a full or don't run a half. Go back to 5ks and 10ks and recognize distance running just didn't take. You don't have to run a distance, but you should enjoy a good chunk of your training.

Not gonna lie, getting a medal is fucking sweet.

Yes, running will probably make you feel better overall. But it can make life harder too. It can trigger anxiety or depression. It is not a guaranteed weight loss regime. It is not guaranteed to raise your self-esteem. You will feel physically better over time, but it's not a miracle jump to everlasting awesomeness. Training to run a marathon is hard because it has to become a priority in your life. You have to make time to properly train so that your body is ready when race day comes.

I'm not trying to be a Debbie Downer, just trying to be realistic. I started marathon training because I just wanted to do it. It took me between six and nine months to start to enjoy running. The last bits of training with high mileage were really hard. Round two has had a whole other set of obstacles. The time I have to dedicate to running can be annoying when I want to do all kinda other things. Running can feel like a burden. But I'm a fucking badger, and when I bite down on something, I don't let go. That's why I stick with it. Overtime, I have really grown to love running and I do want to stick with it and it does make me feel better, but it's also work. That is just reality.


  1. I think this is pretty realistic and downright honest- for some people and you like you said. I think if you're talking about medically-verified depression, though, don't meds help? I'm not a doctor, but my degree is in psych and people with depression that I've met are better with the proper medication. Also, diet and just training might be another reasons why some of your normal runs and longer runs are so horrible and difficult. I've had horrible long and short runs too, but I must admit, that most of the time I run, I feel good, as long as I've been eating properly, resting properly, and hydrating enough.

    One time, I made the horrible mistake of eating a carne asada tacos with rice and beans before a long run. Let's just say it was excruciating and not a pretty experience. It just so happened to also be on a day or month or year or whatever that the park system closed all their public restrooms. Assholes! I don't remember what I did to help myself out, only that my stomach wanted to explode for 80% of the run, and it was like an 8 or 10 mile run.

    Also, is it wrong that your post had me laughing? Probably because I thought that there was a lot of truth to it, or maybe it's just the voice you write with. Either way, running doesn't solve everything like you said. Of course, everyone is going to be different! -Jess L

    1. Girl, wait until you read my post about planning routes with bathrooms!!!

      I just wanted to be honest and truthful. I think there is a lot of hype that exercise is this amazing cure all. If you go to sites about depression, they are always talking about exercise being an effective treatment for many people. Maybe that is true if exercise is just a 30 min walk in your neighborhood, but you and I both know that training for a marathon is a much bigger deal. If I were just getting out and running 5 miles three times a week, I wouldn't have these thoughts...but I also would never have thought I could do that without training to run a marathon. I've found my mind to be one of the biggest obstacles in terms of anxiety over long runs, moods as the run throughout the week with everything else going on, and worry about hitting the right mileage in time for a race. I wanted to give an honest perspective about what goes into distance running and how it is a commitment that will take work and there will be bad days.

      But like I said, there will also be amazing days where you feel like you totally conquered the world. I would say that my average is somewhere in between. I usually feel pretty damn good or I wouldn't continue doing this!