One of my favourite columns in Salon is the personal advice given by Cary Tennis. People write in with all sorts of issues and sometimes he gives advice and some times he just ruminates of the subject, mostly he does both. This article is about someone who feels empty and overwhelmed because he has not lived up to his own expectations. His early promise has dissipated and he feels hopeless and depressed. The commentary by Tennis is heartfelt and perceptive; you sometimes have to fail, let things go and then rebuild.
I had a number of thoughts about the article at first I started to relate it to running.(Surely I am not showing signs of obsession). I thought about how hard it is to admit failure and readjust your programme. I have done that this year with my target for a spring marathon. I was so far behind schedule because of injury and I knew I could not catch-up but a lttle voice was always saying: go on you might make it, you never know, you have to try. I was torn and disappointed but when I made the decision to let go everything become simpler and more hopeful. I swear that my leg started to feel much better when I stopped worrying about it.
After that I started to think about running and depression and how it (or any similar physical activity) could help with this sort of low-key depression (i.e. a grinding, wearying despair).
I am sure that it works far more completely that just a chemical reaction caused by a surge of endorphins (though there is nothing wrong with that). It can help restore a sense of achievement and self worth, something that the correspondent had completely lost.
Everything else in your life might be in a state of chaos and collapse but when you run things are simple and ordered. You can always check your achievements, whether it is speed, distance or time and you know what you can do. You can prove that you are getting better. When everything else is failing you know you can run - and when you do run nothing else is important.
It might only be a little thing and it certainly is not enough - but it is something.
There might be a problem when your running has hit a plateau and you can no longer see improvement and don't think you are as fast enough. This in itself could cause despair. But it might not - it should not; because running is honest and it forces you to know your limits and there can be no pretence. You are forced to be realistic about your capabilities and plan within them. It is possible that this acceptance might be transferred to other aspects of your life and by doing so break down unrelenting greyness and start to deal with things a bit at a time. It is possible - but by no means inevitable.
Perhaps the most likely effect is the simple and direct one. It makes you stronger and that strength can be used to tackle the central problems.
Even if running does none of the above it still offers temporary relief by taking you away from things. That is still something.
It is interesting that Cary Tennis suggested that the person should take up writing that is what he does. I started thinking about running - that is what I do. Perhaps we all have see other people's problems through our own lens.
Reason No. 12 for running: It might give you some strength