12 People on Running As Therapy

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Photo: Getty Images

Look around these early summer mornings and everyone is running. They are running with run-buddies; running to Daft Punk or the Strokes or — admit it — Taylor Swift; running their favorite athleisure off. Ask any of these runners why they do it and chances are they’ll unflinchingly say, “Because running is my therapy.” Here are 12 runners on how running helps them clear their mind and process their thoughts about anger, skinniness, love, food, and sexuality.

I run to weed out the anger.

I lost my dad on September 11 in the towers. I was so miserable and angry inside. I had to find an outlet. I knew that “outlet” was either going to be harmful to me or something positive. So I said, “I’m going to run a marathon on his behalf.” Fifteen years later, I’ve never stopped running. I run to dump out the trash inside my head; to reignite my soul, to weed out the anger. I talk to myself sometimes. I go deep into a zone. I could run past my own mother and not recognize her. I’m completely in another state. Winter, rain, sleet, snow, sun — I run. Always outside. No music. I’ve been to “real” therapy, too, and for me, nothing beats running. It is truly the best therapy. I connect to my father and talk through things as if he were there. I don’t have my dad to talk to in real life, but he’s there with me when I run.

I listen to the soundtrack of my life.

I run because on most days I need to run away. I need to run away from my messy apartment, from my kids whom I love very much but still … from the fact that I lost my ambition after becoming a mom, from the fact that I often hate my husband, that I always want red-velvet cupcakes; I run from my bills, from the summer house I’ll never own and from the good hair I’ll never have. I run away from it all. I listen to songs that would comprise the soundtrack of my life. I watch my own personal movie play in full, in my head. I repeat certain songs again and again and again … and then I’m home. And I’m okay. And I don’t have any urge to run away again. Until tomorrow …

I ran when my marriage began to fall apart.

I’ve run almost 7,000 miles in the past five years and have considered it my therapy. I began running when my marriage began to fall apart. Sadly, it hasn’t gotten better and I may be dealing with a divorce soon. It sucks. So I run. Lately all it does is wear me out so that I can sleep at night. But hey, we do what we need to get by.

I never feel more carefree.

It keeps me sane, whether I’m stressed out from work or family, or depressed about professional setbacks or the general abysmal state of the world. When I run, the endorphins take over. I feel like I am accomplishing something (anything!) — going a longer distance or running a faster time or, really, just running in general. (Any run that doesn’t end in injury is a great run!) The best feeling in the world is running down the giant hill in the northwest corner of Central Park. I never feel more carefree. Just to fly down that hill is to be full of joy. At any rate, I sleep better and am less triggered when I am able to run a few times a week. My anxiety gets pounded out in the pavement. Running is salvation.

I think about my heart rate, my breath, the sensation of my feet hitting the pavement …

As a working mom I am constantly playing a balancing game — balancing my hours with my kids’ schedules, the needs of my job with those of my family. Being able to carve out time each day to escape into my body is a luxury and a necessity. I use my time running to clear my mind or plan my day. I don’t answer the phone or text messages. I think about my heart rate, my breath, the sensation of my feet hitting the pavement, the blast of music in my ears. When I am done I feel centered and ready to take on the day, the next meeting, the next carpool. My mind no longer races, my heart beat is strong and regular. Running saved me, and I am so thankful.

It’s made me skinny and that is enough.

I didn’t start jogging until my early 30s. I had loathed exercise of any kind up to that point — especially jogging. I started out by just walking briskly, then gradually worked up to jogging over the course of a few weeks. I remember the enormous feeling of accomplishment when I first ran a whole mile without stopping! You’d have thought I’d just finished the Boston Marathon. Now I try to jog two to three miles three to four times a week. I can’t say that I love it — it’s still a chore to motivate myself to head out each time. But the benefits have been many. I’m not ashamed to admit that chief among those is that it’s made me skinny and that is enough. I’m super vain, and I used to be chunky, to say the least. So my leaner frame is the best part of running. But beyond that, my blood pressure is lower, it has helped with my depression, and I find that some of my best ideas/most creative moments come in the middle of a run.

When I’m not running, I’m a junkie.

My addiction has a relationship to running. I run when I’m sober, and when I quit running, a relapse is always near. This has happened about five different times. Every time I stop running you know I’ll turn to drugs. Pills, mostly. Heroin at certain points in my life. When I run, I’m healthy. When I’m not running, I’m a junkie. It is pretty much that black and white.

I get an endorphin rush that lasts for an hour or so.

I’ve exercised (99 percent of the time via running) every single day for 1,665 days. I started on 01/01/2012. I was about 30 pounds heavier than I am now so I told myself I would eat better and run every day. I get an endorphin rush about 4.5 to 5 minutes into it every time, which lasts for an hour or so after. I run around 5:30 a.m., before work. I can’t imagine what I’d be like without it, and there’s no doubt my workouts enhance my performance on Wall Street. I get to my desk pretty fired up. On weekends I go a little nuts if it gets to lunchtime and I haven’t exercised. My body and my mind are totally conditioned to it. It’s obsessive but I love it. It makes life much better around home, too — my kids know that I exercise every day. I hope that it’s a good example to them that working out and keeping healthy is just what grown-ups do.

I run to escape my food issues.

I run to escape my food issues. This is both practical and psychological, as I’m a binge eater. Out of the blue, I buy tons of sweets from the bodega and eat until I get sick (vanilla frosting and Oreos with the frosting smeared on it are a favorite). The running keeps me away from my kitchen and the bodega, for one. And if I have binged, the running helps burn the calories off. It really does. My weight is shockingly “normal” considering how often I binge, which is like three times a week. On a deeper note, I like to think running helps me feel balanced enough that I’m not triggered to binge. This is sometimes the case but not always. But let’s put it this way, running will never make my binge eating feel worse; only better.

It was on a run that I realized I was gay.

Believe it or not, it was on a run that I realized I was gay. I was dating a guy and something felt off. I couldn’t fall in love with him. I had hooked up with women in college and had a crush on one in particular — she was a lesbian. It was on a run that it hit me like a ton of bricks: I think I’m a lesbian and I want to call that girl and see what she’s up to. Nothing happened overnight but that epiphany on that run changed my life, and since then, I’ve used running to release feelings and thoughts that otherwise were “stuck” inside me. I run to run, and then my mind just rains the truth, and it always ends up making me feel clearer, stronger, and more decisive.

When I don’t run enough, my mood swings get worse.

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder 20 years ago and I find running consistently helps me stay stable and sane; it balances my moods. When I don’t run enough, my mood swings get worse even with medication. When I run and do other exercise, the illness goes into remission. I run slow and sometimes I do HIIT training where you run ten minutes then walk ten minutes and so on. I meditate before I run for ten minutes, taking deep exhalations while reciting a simple secular prayer: “May I feel safe … May I feel happy … May I have strength … May I be at ease …” I have a killer playlist: Buffalo Springfield, the Beatles, Lady Gaga. I even have the “Let It Go” song by Idina Menzel. If something is unusually beautiful, I take a picture with my iPhone on my run.

I run in between seeing patients.

I started running in medical school to deal with the stress of studying for exams and to deal with the feeling of not being in control of my own life. There were so many people to impress and through running I could regain power over an hour and the rest of my choices. I could push myself, I could be in my own thoughts away from other people’s expectations. It has been a need of mine and if I wasn’t running, I wasn’t taking care of myself. In my private practice, I can see patients between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m., and I love changing out of work clothes and into shorts and sneakers and taking off in the middle of the day. I don’t even need music. The cacophony of thoughts, memories, errands, worries, and frustrations melt into my sweat. I reclaim the content of my mind and my priorities and when I put the dress shirt and tie back on I am available to my patients. It is physical, emotional, and spiritual for me.