Turning Harmful Thoughts into Healthy Habits: How My Unexpected Love for Running Improved My Mental Health
I know that I’m not making a bold statement when I say that I’m ready to turn the page on 2020 and tear into 2021. After a year of feeling lost, missing friends and family, and endlessly applying for jobs, I am very much looking forward to a new set of 365 days and a chance to push forward.
That being said, I am very privileged to have been able to move back home after completing my undergraduate degree virtually in May, and even more so to have such a great support system backing me up. Despite this, something I have struggled with is my health, both physical and mental.
Graduating on my couch and entering a job market that doesn’t favor creatives didn’t do much for my self-image, and the loss of my outlets at school (like doing theater with my friends and writing for the Johns Hopkins News-Letter) sent me into a spiral I have known before.
I have battled with my mental health since high school, and when the pandemic first hit back in March it felt as though the carpet was pulled out from under my feet, and with it the work I had done to improve the way I interacted with the world and saw myself. Anxiety and depression occur much more often than they are talked about, with 31.1% of U.S. adults experiencing anxiety disorders at some point in their lives. There is absolutely no shame in seeking help, whether that be reaching out to a loved one or talking to a therapist. In my personal experience, the thing that has helped me the most in overcoming negative thoughts and anxiety clouds is lacing up my sneakers, getting outside, and running.
If you told high school Claire that post-college Claire was a runner, she would have scoffed at you. If you added that she would run three half-marathons in the span of seven months during a global pandemic, I honestly can’t even think of how she’d react.
It all began when I started regularly going to the gym my senior year of college with one of my best friends, the idea being that the two of us would go together if it meant we could chat for an hour. We would hop on the elliptical and plan what to make for dinner and what we were going to do that weekend, and it quickly became something I looked forward to. I soon began lugging a gym bag with me to class along with my backpack nearly every day.
In December 2019, on one of those gym days, we decided we needed a goal. We would train for a half-marathon, despite neither of us being runners. If we liked it, we would sign up for the National Women’s Half Marathon in Washington, D.C., a 45-minute train ride away from school in Baltimore. We had about five months until the race, plenty of time to make up our minds.
Little did we know, the world would implode and we would be sent away from school on month three of training. I wallowed in self-pity after heading home, and then it seemed as if that wallowing was becoming more of a lifestyle, an old habit of hiding under the blankets after Zoom class and being angry and sad, questioning why and how this could happen.
Then I decided to go for a run. I had been training for three months already and I knew I liked the way hitting the pavement made me feel, so I got out of bed and I did it. It was hard; I can’t sugarcoat it. But day after day it got a little bit easier and I got a little bit faster, enjoying the vitamin D and the endorphin boost that accompanied my newfound hobby. I was feeling good about my body, moving it, and finding strength I didn’t know I had.
I kept it up until I was up to 10 and 12 mile-long runs, a Saturday ritual that I still continue. I signed up for the half-marathon, though it was indeed virtual, and I ran it around my hometown in April with my family and some socially-distanced friends cheering me on.
I never imagined that running 13.1 miles was something I could do, let alone want to do, but the feeling of accomplishment gave me something I could hold on to in a time that felt utterly dark. I am lucky to have found an outlet that I really love, even on those days where it is still hard to coax myself out from under the covers. While I have loved my solo time on the road, I can’t wait to race in a crowd full of people with others who have felt the positivity that comes from plugging in your headphones and pumping your legs.
Here is the first half-marathon training plan I followed for anyone who may be curious about how a non-runner got started, and here is a list of hotlines you can call for help in a moment of crisis. The National Institute of Mental Health is also a great resource for learning more about mental health. You’re never doing life alone, and there is always a silver lining, even if it seems grey in the moment.
–Claire Beaver, Content Creator