Two Years of Running

Two years ago, on July 1st, 2017, I began to run. It was my way of exercising in order to lose weight for a weight-loss bet with my friend Tracy. Within the first year, I lost about 22kg (50 pounds) – and then not much more. In the second year, I didn’t aim to lose more weight but instead, tried to maintain my new weight – and it worked.

I wrote about this before, in my article “Running” but since July 1st, 2019 marks the second anniversary, I want to share a few more thoughts on the topic of running, and why I still run and absolutely would not want to give it up – maybe some of what I share will be helpful to someone, out there.

Weight Maintenance

The (apparently) most obvious reason why I continued running would be weight maintenance. I wrote about the weight loss enough in the article linked above, so I have only very little to add in that regard. The goal of consistently staying under 176 pounds (80 kg) is a little bit closer – I hover “around” that weight all the time, but the scale doesn’t move a lot anymore. And that’s fine.

I actually wouldn’t mind losing a little more weight – the belly fat seems to be particularly stubborn, and this fat has negative effects on our metabolism (inflammation etc.). But if it doesn’t happen naturally, then so be it. I don’t believe in diets, or rather, temporary dietary restrictions that help with weight loss – the weight loss is as temporary as the dietary restrictions! 😛 Any weight that I’ve lost through diets in the past I gained back. On the other hand, the weight that I lost through regular exercise seems to be lost “for good” as I write this.

Through the summer of 2017, I ran every other day, but in the last six months or so, I reduced it to two times per week, sometimes even less (when I’m otherwise physically active – doesn’t matter whether it’s hiking or yard work, because while exercise matters for weight loss, the type of exercise for burning fat doesn’t really matter) and it seems that my body has accepted this new weight as the standard. 🙂

Running Against Depression

Over the course of the two years of running though, and especially during the first year and first summer, I discovered the mental health benefits of running. Depression has been a steady companion of my adult life – it has been a seasonal depression, and seeing how it shifted from winter while I lived in Germany, to summer when I moved to southern California, made it clear to me that it is a lack of physical activity (most of which I’ve been doing outdoors) that factors big into its severity – and unlike hiking (my preferred outdoor activity in Germany) running can be more easily added into daily life.

I prefer to run on nature trails (and as a side effect, my trails run have become scouting opportunities for my plant and flower photography), but for a quick “getaway” a run in the neighborhood works almost as well. In the worst heat of the summer months, it means getting out early and before breakfast of course – which is also a welcome break from established “routines”.

I used to run in order to counter stress and depression before I was even diagnosed with depression for the first time, back when I still lived in Germany. During that time, I jogged almost every day after work – just to “get the stress out of my system”.

Eventually I couldn’t outrun the depression any longer though: I was running for more than an hour, after work, in the dark and cold of winter, and still felt stressed and anxious. Back then I lost about 50 pounds too (in a much shorter time though), but when I began to take “happy pills” (SSRI’s, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) I gained a lot of weight back. I remained at this weight level for quite a long time actually, with only small fluctuations… even after moving to the US. 😉

Different runs have different qualities and there are days when I know that I really need to run (more on those below) but what I like most about running overall is its meditational quality. After 5 or 10 minutes I’m warmed up and my movement is pretty smooth and fluid. Eventually (sometimes sooner, sometimes later, usually within 20-30 minutes of running) comes the point where I don’t have to think about moving anymore, at all – the body does it on its own. The mind starts to wander, thoughts come and go, then drift away. Ultimately, the brain goes into this idle state where it doesn’t actively do any thinking, while the body moves almost automatically.

The movement isn’t conscious then, it’s instinctive. These moments only happen when I run alone, and they don’t last long. As soon as I notice them (“oh hey, I’m also running!”) they’re over. I actually don’t know how long exactly those individual moments are because I don’t know when I enter this state, only when I exit it – but when a run has enough of them, then I don’t feel exhausted when I’m done. Instead, I feel cleansed, refreshed and energized.

As mentioned above, here are other qualities of running that I wouldn’t want to miss anymore:

Running as Discipline

Unfortunately, sometimes a run is tough. At no one point I reach the state of meditation and effortlessness. It’s all work, from beginning to end. To then beat the inner temptation to cut the run short, give up, fall back to walking and just push through takes discipline – and because of that, following through and going the entire distance is its own reward.

Running To Get Away

“You should sit and meditate for 20 minutes, unless you’re too busy – then you should sit and meditate for an hour.” (Zen Proverb)

Sometimes, things just keep piling up. Some days there are so many things that I have to do, want to do, would like to squeeze in or finish, that tackling my (written) to-do list becomes completely overwhelming. Half a dozen things are started and unfinished or not done properly. The solution? Get away from it all, just for a little bit – run. Quite literally! 🙂

I don’t know why, but it works. Getting away from everything that needs to be done, and instead doing something that absolutely doesn’t need to be done and that doesn’t serve any practical, measurable purpose – namely, running – helps to put some distance between myself and the things that seem to overwhelm me. Returning, I find myself capable of approaching the tasks at hand with more confidence and ease.

Running Against Anger

Sometimes I’m angry – and then I run to get rid of the anger. I think we all have little things that get to us and maybe it is a “specialty” of the depressive mind to not be able to discard and dismiss them easily, I don’t know. But when this nameless accumulation of little annoying things pile up and up, they eventually combine into a form of anger. Instead of letting that dam break, I drain my “anger reservoir” with a good run. Other times it’s just one big thing that I’m really angry about, and it’s hard to rationalize it in order to be able to let go of it. A good run fixes that – see above, letting the thoughts come and go.

Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured. (Mark Twain)

Thankfully it rarely happens but when anger is a real mess, with multi-faceted truths and falsehoods combined, I might add some upbeat music to the run. Music that pushes me further, to run faster, harder, and really exhaust myself. At the end of a run, no matter how intense it was, I always feel cleansed, calmer, and more at peace with myself.

Running Support Team

I’d like to close with the best thing about running: that I have a very supportive partner who knows me well. When she tells me “I think you need to go for a run!” then it really is high time, and I happily comply! 🙂

8 thoughts on “Two Years of Running

  1. Congrats! It surprises me just how much of difference to mood a run makes. Been avoiding it lately (two weeks travel, and now this heat), but I need to get it into my routine. Only started recently… Had not run in many years.

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    1. Thanks Johann. Yes, when the heat is oppressive it’s tough. Usually I can get a run in when I’m up early enough, but I also distinctly remember one September morning in 2017 when we woke up to 32°C at 6am – I didn’t go for a run that particular morning!

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      1. And you inspired me to go for it. Just back from a run, man it felt hard! But now I have a smile on my face.

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  2. Well said Alex. I do not run or practice any exercise regimen in the classic sense. I do make sure to get out at least 3-4 times a week just walking for all the same above cathartic reasons you state above.
    Photography help remind me how medicinal a walk can be….it reconnects so much.

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    1. Yes – I don’t think it has to be running. Nature itself has healing power, and at the speed of walking it’s probably most effective (I fail to notice certain things even when I running, and I’m not running fast). Getting out really is key.

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