How Running Helps My Mental Health

I really wish that my dog, Stella, was a good running buddy, but she’s just not. First of all, she refuses to do the entire 3.5-mile loop that I run. She’ll reach a point where she turns around and sits on the path, facing back the way we came. I’m jogging in place, pulling on the leash and cajoling her into moving, to no avail. If I start to really put my weight into her harness, she’ll lie down so that her center of gravity is low and I can’t tip her towards me. She then begins her slow army crawl towards home, belly in the dirt. She looks so pitiful that I often give in.

Keep in mind that Stella is a healthy, almost 2-year old cattle dog mix who sprints in giant circles in the dog park and wrestles for an hour every day. She’s not out of shape. She’s not opposed to running in the park. She’s just not interested in running with me. Not to mention that she’s compelled to investigate every smell we run by, so I’m constantly tugging her along or getting my shoulder yanked so that she can traipse into the grass. It’s ok– if I were a dog, I’d rather explore with my nose, too. Jogging is boring compared to 300 million olfactory receptors.

Suffice it to say, Stella is not a good running buddy. Maybe when she’s a little more grown-up she’ll like it more, but I’m not holding my breath. It would be nice to have the motivation of having a dog to run with, but I’m actually pretty well into a running habit these days. On days when I’m not feeling it, I do the regular loop. Frequently, I add more distance with the other paths on the mesa, and sometimes I even do the loop twice!

Every time I take an extended break from running and then start it up again, I find that it’s easier to regain my endurance. I’m always worried that I won’t be able to get back to the part where it’s enjoyable, but I’ve found that part at the beginning where you’re lifting cement shoes off the trail and breathing through a straw to be much shorter than I remember. Once my body readjusts to the requirements of running, I’m always happy that I did it. I notice that running helps my mental health in more ways than just the release of those precious endorphins. It also gives me a routine to plan my day around and something to look forward to. When I get home from a run, I often feel grounded and capable, and noticing my tired muscles is an exercise in mindfulness. Plus, there’s the simple fact that I’m not looking at a screen while I’m outside, running.

I really enjoy the sense of accomplishment that it brings me, although I have to be careful not to connect this too tightly to distance. Otherwise, I find myself disappointed if I don’t run as far or farther than my current limit. (Curse you, perfectionism!) It’s much better to feel accomplished for the act of running itself; I got out of the house, breathed some fresh air, and got my heart rate up. That’s all that matters.