Running: The Mental Health Prophylactic

It’s cold and dark, but if you can get outside and run… get outside and run!

A cartoon man runs inside a condom
Image: an original artwork by Mr Shit50s

Life’s not all that easy at the moment, here in the frozen North.

It’s not cold, cold. In fact, it’s not even frozen. But there was a thick frost on the roofs of the cars outside when we struggled up this morning.

It was still dark, and I was so tired that one massive yawn threatened to dislocate my jaw as I switched on the kettle for the day’s first invigorating cuppa.

I looked out onto the blackness of the garden, lamplight picking out the frost, and thought my first uncomfortable thoughts of the day – nothing too serious, just the sort of mental scabs I often pick at.

And then I thought: I don’t want a sad day today. I want a run.  

Mental fortitude is not one of my standout qualities, but I do manage to see the positive in at least one scenario that many people find hopelessly crushing.

If I need to go out and run, I am almost always up for it.

While others see running as torture – dull, unpleasant and literally hard work – I see it as a blessing. A boon. A gift from the gods.

Even when I’m feeling tired and lazy, I know in my bones that I will feel both mentally and physically better after a canter, and that running equals good vibes in the bank, fully comprehensive cover against feeling bad (at least for a while).

Going out running is like a prophylactic barrier against poor mental health – slip on my trainers, my tights and my running top and there ain’t no way The Blues are getting through to me today.

I’m not bothered about the cold – experience has taught me that I’m always hot within a mile, whatever the temperature, so I only need to make sure I’m going to be warm enough once I’ve stopped. 

My thoughts seem somehow more vivid and profound when I run. Perhaps it’s the endorphins – or just oxygen deprivation, like when people almost die and see the face of God.”

This morning, I planned an easy three miles, but I did four. Maybe it’s the darkness, but I’m greedy for every sweaty, teeth-gritting, hill-wrestling metre at the moment.

And I love the way that all my thoughts seem somehow more vivid and profound when I run. Perhaps it’s the endorphins – or just oxygen deprivation, a bit like when people almost die and tell everyone they saw the face of God.

There’s also a tinge of anxiety mixed in with the euphoria, because I know that I’m pushing my fickle body a little bit.

I’ve done three runs in the past six days, when two months ago I had a crocked knee and couldn’t run at all.

I’ve still got an appointment with an NHS physiotherapist on Thursday, and I’m scared they’re going to say my knee is actually hanging on by a thread. – and if I go running without tights on, my lower leg will fly off down the road without me.

But, of course, it’s normal for the 50-something runner to live with a certain amount of dread.

About seven years ago, when I was still clinging onto my 40s, I got so strangely fit that I started running everywhere.

While many Londoners will still take the car for a five-minute journey, I’d at first take a bike, and then I started obsessively hot-footing it.

It didn’t matter if it was picking up the kids from school, getting a top-up shop from the supermarket, or fetching chips for the family on a Wednesday night – and this was on top of my training rides and runs.

I once super-smugly mentioned this to another Dad at school, who would have been well within his rights to go home, make a voodoo doll of me, and stick pins in it.

Come to think of it, it was round about then that I started getting knee trouble…. and, anyway, those hubristic, pre-meniscal, pre-arthritic days are long gone now.

All I can do in my 50s is make sure I do my due diligence – a bit of yoga, a heat pack before runs, stretches afterwards – and thank my lucky stars that I can still get out there at all.

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