September 2015 is suicide prevention month and I thought this is a good opportunity to touch upon the topic of mental health. I got involved with running 6 years ago without any intention of doing ultra marathons. My main reason was for the mental health benefits it provides. Let me back track a bit. Eight years ago I began coming down with some physical symptoms that no doctor seemed to have an answer for. I had a battery of tests done over twelve months, saw two Mds, a cardiologist and neurosurgeon and still had no definitive explanation. It was at this time my current Md suggested I might want to see a mental health specialist. After another twelve months of denial (as I thought this could not be the answer) I finally was at my wits end and asked for some referrals. I was soon at a mental health professionals office and was diagnosed to be suffering from anxiety and depression.
Over time I found that in addition to therapy and medication there were other things I could do to help myself. The biggest aid for me was exercise. It was not a cure for my health issues but it has helped immensely. In recent years there has been more and more evidence showing how excercise can help mental health. 13 Mental Health Benefits Of Excercise. As running was my favorite form of exercise I soon turned to trying to run on a regular basis. For it to be of greatest benefit for me I found I needed to run regularly so I began to sign up for races. Having these events on the calendar motivated me to get my butt out the door to train. I started out with one or two races a year but found myself taking weeks and even months off at a time with almost no training after the races and as my running dipped so did my mental health. So I added more races onto the calendar and increased the length and difficulty of the races. In time this led me into running ultra marathons. In the process I’ve made new friends, had longer periods of good mental health and get a reminder that I was capable of much more then I realized. I share this with you today because you or likely some you know also suffers from depression and/or anxiety as I do and they might not be aware of the benefits exercise can be to them. Along with helping improve my mood and reduce stress running has given me more confidence and better self esteem. I also found the courage to publicly speak about this for the first time after being inspired by two other well known ultra marathoners: Rob Krar and Nicky Kimball. In a unique video called Depressions Rob Krar talks about depression and its relationship to him and his running. I was fortunate to see the movie Finding Traction with Nikki Kimball in attendance to talk and take questions afterwards. She spoke a bit about her depression and I had the opportunity to personally thank her for coming out and sharing her personal life with others. I also had a chance encounter with another individual after one of my 100k races this year. Although he could no longer run ultras because of some physical limitations he still employed exercise in other forms to help himself with his mental health too. Making these connections with other runners I suddenly felt for the first time not so alone in my problems. There are others out there very much like myself, doing the same things and finding running to be a huge benefit to themselves. And these people have the courage to speak out about this to total strangers has spurred me on to do the same.