I have been serious about running since about 2009, and on and off for the last decade. Why do I do it? Other than the obvious benefits and the fact that I actually enjoy it; I run to help me cope with depression.
I have had problems with depression and it’s ongoing effect on my life for many years. I didn’t understand what it was or how to express my feelings as a child, but there were times when things seemed very dark.
I had my first adult experience of the debilitating aspects of depression at the end of 2002, and ran my first marathon in the fall of 2003. I just signed up for the marathon on a whim in the March. There was no training plan, and I just went off out with a bottle of juice and knew not to come back home for 3 hours or so.
It worked! I felt much better, I was able to start to get my life in order again, and enjoyed the training and the focus I could give it. The end result was a 4hr15 finish at the Loch Ness event, which the organisers tout as the hardest in the UK.
On completion of the race I immediately stopped running, thinking I had cracked the problems I was having in my life. Yet within 2 months I was in an even worse state than before. I was signed off work and put on anti-depressants. At this point I hadn’t made the connection between the running and my feeling better. I had some very difficult times in the following months, I was off work for about 6 months, and on the drugs for over 12.
When I did finally get back to work and came off the drugs I had an immediate relapse. Before I knew it I was off work again, and this time never got a chance to go back as I my company made me redundant during my leave period.
This turned out to be a good thing, maybe not financially, but as I was at home with not much to do I started working out and running again. I was out of shape after 18 months of not doing anything and just sitting around feeling sorry for myself and eating. When you are depressed you just don’t have the energy to even get out of bed in the morning, there doesn’t seem to be a point to anything any more. It was an immense struggle in those early sessions to force myself out, but I knew I had to do it.
I had another motive to get back in to shape. Before I lost my job, Sarah and I had arranged our wedding in Las Vegas and a trip around the world for the honeymoon. I had to look the part for the holiday photos! I began running every day, and going out to the garage to work with the weights we had. The end result was I was so much happier and more confident than I had ever been.
Despite the financial implications of doing it, we still had the wedding and the trip around the world, it was as good as it sounds.
Before we left on the trip we also made another big change, we decided to uproot ourselves and move to The Cayman Islands in the Caribbean. The career prospects for both of us were far better than if we had stayed in the UK, so it made a lot of sense.
The initial move and euphoria of living on a small island drenched in sunshine lasted about 12 months. After that the depression set in again. I had been running and cycling when we first arrived, but as work ramped up that dropped off. Also you have to complete any kind of physical activity before dawn or after sunset. If you’re depressed the last thing you are going to want to do is get up at 4AM!
This time I decided against the drug solution as I knew the side-effects weren’t what I wanted to experience. Also they are mildly addictive, I didn’t want to go through the withdrawal again. So what did I do? Signed up for the Cayman Marathon of course.
I trained, kind of, and made a complete mess of my nutrition. I put on a bunch of weight in the run up to it (as I write this I am 170lbs, I was 210lbs for that race!). I didn’t account for the heat, so the 4hr47min it took me were the worst I have ever experienced while out running.
Whilst I told everyone at the end there was no way I was ever doing it again, within 2 days I was planning how I could do it better. I remained injured for most of the following year, as a result I wasn’t in all that great shape. I could feel all the feelings bubbling away just under the surface, but I also knew I wanted to get out there and run again. I continued my counseling, but once I was able to get out and train again that dropped off to the point of only needing the odd checkup.
It was at this point, finally, I realized that I am able to keep my depression in check when I run. If I am able to work off the frustrations of the day, week, year or whatever then I find myself in a much healthier position.
I have spent the last 4 years trying different running challenges with varying degrees of success. My depression has not reared its head. There has been the odd episode, sometimes during a quieter off season period or injury. It has only ever been for a day or even just a couple of hours and then it passes.
Also in that time we have had 2 children, watched my dad die from cancer, bought a house, moved a few times, changed jobs etc. There has been a lot of stress, so the odd issue has needed dealt with. Through it all I have always known that no matter how down I am feeling, forcing myself out the door to run will make things seem better.
When we went back to the UK for my father’s funeral I found that running was my time to grieve and try to accept what had happened. There were a few runs over those couple of weeks where I had tears streaming down my face. It made me feel better to be working things out there in my “office”.
Even now I will go out for runs at 2-3AM if I can’t sleep and I am worrying about things, or I am feeling stressed. I go out, sometimes it is a speedwork session, and “run angry”. By the time I come back I have a much better perspective on whatever it was that was bothering me. I just don’t care as I have taken my frustrations out on the road.
This may not work for everyone, but I know it is an essential part of my life and routine now and going forward. My family also understands that this is something I have to do, and they know not to get in the way if Daddy says he needs to go for a run.
It’s also a good excuse to be able to buy loads of running gear, almost like having a running prescription! 😉