The healing power of running

My running journey and how it has affeced my health

My left hip was in pain. The constant upphill struggle had but a lot of tension on my thigh. I was glad that I had manage to reach the highest point of the race. Four days previously I had been in bed with a cold, too tired to get up to do the dishes. It had taken its toll during the race. My pulse was way higher higher than usually, and after 12km my body started stopped working properly if the pulse was higher than 170bpm. With the help of my friends, I prevailed. I finished my first trail run race, 24km with 900m altitude gain, with wet weather conditions in the Jura mountains.

I hadn't been running actively for three years, since I had shin splints. That was at a time where I felt ambitious, so I decided to aim at running a 10k in 40 minutes or under. The training schedule was very intense. I went from running 3 times per week at a reasonably comfortable intensity, to running 5-6 times per week with some very intense sessions. I would almost always run with sore muscles from the weekly leg workout. It paid off though, as after two months I started beating my 10k PR every week. It wasn't even my intention of doing it during those runs, since they were always interval runs. I looked at the statistics from Garmin, and it said that during October 2018, I logged 120km. Apparently this was at the top 1% of Garmin users. I recorded my journey through a set of video logs. I felt like a machine.

Then came the shin splints. I did not have the tools to deal with it. I took a month off from running, to see if it would improve. It did not. In fact, my mental health worsened. Since starting university I had consistently been running three times per week, something which worked as a great protection against stress and studying performance. Running had been a way for me to manage whatever life decided to throw at me.

Then came 2019. Probably the worst year of my life. Some things happened which threw me into a deep depression. I basically wouldn't leave bed for 5 months.

The job I had during that summer was very helpful to me. My main task wasn't very mentally straining, which meat I could show up to work wihtout being fully mentally present, and still deliver value. More than that, I managed to have an 8km commute, which took me a month to actually make use of. I bought an old road bike to use for commuting every day. 16km per weekday for a month really brought me out of the darkness.

However, when I returned to university, I struggled to keep up with the frequency. And I didn't have my bike there either. Most of the studying I did there was very half-assed, and I did several smaller attempts at getting back into running. I went to a physiotherapist, who gave me exercises to do every day. I never managed to fully commit, because of the great catch-22 of bad mental health. I can't start doing the things that help me do the thing I want, because I can't do the thing I want. Supposedly, this is why cognitive behavioural therapy works, even though it is more focused on initially doing things that used to make you happy.

University wass a horrible psychosocial environment. For probably 1,5 years I walked to the lectures every day and said to myself "it will be over soon". The darkness of the arctic certainly did not help.

I managed the finish the required courses, and moved to the Geneva area for a studendship at CERN. This was the change of environment I needed. Leaving my apartment, I would see the Jura mountains to the north every day. I committed to running again, slowly increasing intensity as the physiotherapist had recommended. For a couple of months I mostly ran 2km per week. I slightly increased that at some point.

One of my colleagues found UTMJ - a mountain marathon with a set of distances, 24km the shortest and the longest an ultra distance of something like 170km. We decided to sign up for the shortest distance. I saw this as my opportunity get back to actively training. My goal was to finish it, even if I had to walk the entire way. I wanted to come out on the other side being able to exercise three times per week. There was only one issues: we had one month to prepare.

My colleague set up an initial training schedule, and I thought it was way too intense. I did some of the activisties, and from what you can expect with a great increase in training, things started hurting. My right knee to be exact. So I stopped doing things for a couple of days. This time it was different though. I wouldn't let it beat me. I Googled all methods I could use to treat it; specific exercises, stretches, support taping and anti-inflammatory cream. To my surprise, it worked. During the race my knee was taped, and I felt nothing from it.

Me being older and heavier, probably means that I will feel pain more times. I am currently feeling something in my hip, from a very intense leg workout a little while ago. I have a different mindset this time around. Reach out for professional help if you can't manage to Google the answers, and don't let the pain destroy your momentum. Many times it helps with just changing up the routine and exercises.

Hopefully this has been helpful to someone! Now I am preparing the BAMM, arctic mountain marathon next year!