Running Out of Darkness
Editor’s Note: This post is written by Minneapolis Running Ambassador, Alisa Dean, and has been edited for length and clarity.
A few nights ago I woke up screaming from a nightmare. I was sitting straight up, covered in sweat, my heart was racing, and my eyes were darting around to make sure it was just me in the room. Whenever this happens I’m always worried that I’ll wake up my neighbors even though nothing is actually wrong. This time it was even somewhat expected because I had not been running for days due to some intense food poisoning. Whenever I’m not running the repetitive nightmares come back more easily. For some reason, my mind and body need to physically work things out for me to be at my healthiest and happiest. So, whenever I’m running I always see it as me running out of the darkness that is just behind me.
In my nightmares, I’m reliving a sexual assault from years ago. I’m sure many of you saw the “me too” campaign. It was amazing to see that many people speak out about their experience. When I’m talking to other runners we might each say “I really need to get in a run today”, but I don’t usually say “I need to run because the nightmares are back”. I also don’t share that one reason why I’m happy when I make progress in my pacing is that I might be able to escape and out-run someone in the future. Sometimes in my mind, I’m even running towards (and through) my attacker to show them that I won’t back down. Each and every run is a victory. Even if it’s just a mile.
Something I have noticed about books and magazine articles with amazing stories of overcoming trauma or mental health through running is that there is always that happy ending. It seems like all of a sudden they found running, became an amazing runner, and everything (including running) went great from that point forward. I’m here to tell you that is not what I have experienced.
I have been running for years, but it is a constant cycle of several months of solid running followed by a few weeks to a couple months off and then it starts over again. I have struggled with depression since I was a teen. Whenever the depression comes back or I face some kind of significant challenge I am more likely to experience a gap in my running. My story is not the brilliant success story where the person goes onto run endless marathons (maybe it will be one day). My story is about a person fighting to work their way back to their running shoes. Whenever anyone asks me how I “keep doing it” or “find the motivation” I usually laugh a little. The simple answer is that I don’t. I don’t always do it. I have to find a way to put my feet back in those shoes and remind myself why I love running.
Tips for Running Out of Darkness
For those of you that face some of the challenges in life that I do or struggle with the motivation, I’m going to give you a few tips to get those running shoes back on and find your own way to run out of the darkness.
Use the Braveheart technique.
I must confess that I have never actually watched Braveheart the whole way through, but for some reason, this concept from Nerd Fitness really worked for me. Sometimes I do anything I can to get myself to put on my workout clothes. From there I figure I have those on, so I might as well go outside. Once I’m outside I usually don’t turn around. In some of my more desperate days, I have gone to bed with my workout clothes on (these were definitely days I was running outside).
Try signing up for a race.
I really love the 5k distance because no matter what my gap has been I can definitely do a 5k. I have had multiple gaps that have ended just by signing up for a 5k and feeling the pressure to show up on race day.
Create rewards (and maybe some consequences).
Motivations can vary. I’ve seen some folks really thrive off building their own points system that eventually leads to some kind of reward (ex: $1 per mile). However, my best motivator has been signing up for a workout class. Many places with specialty classes have a $10-$15 late cancel or no-show fee. I have shown up to a Fly Feet Running class several times just because I didn’t want to pay the fee. After my workout, I’m always so happy that I showed up.
Volunteer for a race organization.
This was something that helped me when I broke my toe. I was able to be part of that running community even when I wasn’t running. If a “typical” race seems like it might be too boring try volunteering for a mud run, trail race, or adventure race.
Do something COMPLETELY different.
Sometimes the jumpstart I need is just getting out there and doing something physical. I’ve done aerial yoga, outdoor yoga, barre classes, and spin classes.
Note: I am not a counselor or therapist. What I shared is from my own experience and not a prescriptive therapy method.