The Art of Running And Resting

Parallels I’ve drawn between my physical and mental health.

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Photo by Luke Stackpoole on Unsplash

Earlier this year, my husband and I sought out to purchase a new treadmill. We waited until the one we wanted was on sale, but by the time we went to buy it, it had sold out. So we got a raincheck and it took a few months for the store to re-stock. It wasn’t until mid-pandemic that we finally brought the treadmill home and set it up in our basement.

Now to preface this, I’ve absolutely never enjoyed running. I was an avid soccer player in high school, which means I had to run, but I approached it like an unfortunate side-effect of training — I ran because I had to in order to get the ball.

So why did we buy a treadmill?

Well, what I disliked even more than the thought of running on a treadmill in my basement was the act of going to a gym, because — people. And running outside wasn’t as practical, since here in Northern Ontario, half the year is freezing.

So the way I saw it, if I had to run, I’d rather run in my own home, where I could be alone and listen to true crime podcasts. And I decided that I had to run because I wanted to incorporate more cardio into my life and bring down my resting heart rate.

Ergo, the treadmill purchase.

Now, I’d heard of people talking about a “runner’s high” before, but I thought that kind of thing couldn’t happen to me. Not with my disdain for running, and how poor my endurance had always been. I regularly got winded just by talking during an outdoor hike. So I figured I’d push through a few short runs and see how it went.

It only took me a few days to get hooked.

Suddenly, I started doing quick pre-programmed jogs before work, a few times a week, and then every day. Once I got myself into a streak, I didn’t want to break it. I was looking forward to it. My morning run set the tone for my day and helped me feel more energized.

I hated to admit it, but even the cardio got easier. On a few occasions, I’d even doubled my time for the hell of it. And since I’d also invested in a Fitbit, I’d finish off with a long walk and aim to hit the mark of 10 thousand steps. I was breaking a sweat every day, the way anyone invested in your health recommends.

And then, about a month in, things started to hurt.

“It hurts to walk,” I told my friend who’d been training for a marathon. “And it’s suddenly getting harder, not easier, to finish my morning run. My ankles are killing me.” This friend is the most intense runner I know, so I trusted whatever advice he gives me.

“Have you taken a break at all?” he asked.

I had not.

Why would I have taken a break? I was on a roll. And it’s not like I was running for hours at a time. I was just running long enough to get my heart rate up and to break a sweat. Besides, I figured if I just pushed through the pain, I’d be fine. In fact, I anticipated the hurt. The pain is just a part of it, right?

“You need to give yourself time to recover, especially when you’re just starting out. It’s hard on your joints,” my friend explained. “Even if you feel fantastic, you need to take recovery days.”

Recovery days — what a concept. I tossed this around in my head for a while, and eventually, it started to remind me of something. In 2018, I suddenly lost my Dad. Then, a few months later, I discovered asbestos in my attic. Shortly after that, my brother and I had to put our family dog down, three days before my thirtieth birthday. And then I got shingles.

All of these events happened within a span of six months, and throughout this entire time, I was in pure survival mode. I could barely eat, I began experiencing chronic headaches, and I cried more in those six months than any other time in my life, combined.

So I immersed myself in work — mostly in order to cope, but also to have something tangible under my control. I made more money the year after my Dad died than I ever had before. And yet I was emotionally exhausted and quickly burning out, sitting on a lot of unprocessed grief and trauma.

So, at the end of my rope, and after months of suffering, I sought out help. I saw two therapists as well as a chiropractor, massage therapist, and physiotherapist, in order to deal with everything that happened and the somatic issues that ensued. It was a slow, painful process, but things started to get better.

Of course, once 2020 hit, a whole new slew of anxiety and stress set in. My headaches and heartburn returned. I was forgetting to eat. And after feeling terrible for a few months, I knew something had to change.

I decided I’d try resting and taking better care of my mental health. I took on less work, took weekends off, and started running. Though, if I’m being honest, I hadn’t thought of this in the scope of recovery; I’d scaled back on my work out of necessity — because things were starting to hurt again. But what if, like my running, I approached time off as rest? What if I considered it a part of the process of moving forward?

This realization hits me hard. It’s always been difficult for me to take recovery days. I tend to go from zero to one hundred when it comes to most things. When I find something I really enjoy doing, I dive right in. I want to do it all at once, and I often forget to pace myself.

But then I end up injured — in part, because I rely on whatever I’m doing to cope, but also in part because I forget to check in with my body and let it recover. It’s only this year that I realize I can’t get ahead, at least not in optimal shape, if I fail to rest. This is not only true for my physical health, but also for my mental health.

And, since I sought help from therapists to help process my grief and trauma, I decided to seek the assistance of a pedorthist to fit me with custom orthotics.

Both specialists equipped me with tools to better cope with pain.

But remembering to take recovery days, and prioritizing rest over burn out — that part’s on me.

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