2020 was a marathon. Now we need to pace ourselves. What running has taught me about mental health

Spoiler: you don’t even need to like running to read this. Today I scheduled an hour into my work day to get outside and run. It gave me the chance to think about what running has taught me about managing my mental health during unprecedented times.

  1. 2020 was a marathon. After any long distance race, you need to recover mentally and physically. For 26.2 miles, it might take a day per mile to recover. The holidays probably didn’t give you enough rest. Many of my friends are saying the same. You and your colleagues may be starting this year, tired.
  2. When you start training again after a big run, it’s important to take it slow and pace yourself. The early days of 2021 have brought relentless breaking news. That makes pacing tricky (and not just for journalists). But know one thing: it’s going to be tough going at the pace you started last year, the speed at which you entered the pandemic.
  3. You may need to reset your goals. You may not run the time or the distance you had previously hoped, right away. Your run may end up being longer if you get diverted, go the wrong way, or are relying on someone else’s measurements or directions. That doesn’t mean you won’t get there. You will, and when you do, you will be stronger for it.
  4. When you’re tired, you’re more likely to get injured. Same with running on empty without sufficient sleep, food and hydration. This can do long-term damage. Sometimes it’s hard to recognise in ourselves that we’re not taking care, and harder to accept. Sometimes there are reasons we don’t want to admit weakness….there’s something very seductive about being in a race against others, but the best athletes have a strategy to go the distance: those who worry about how they compare with others, or push relentlessly ahead regardless may find themselves losing sight of themselves.
  5. Looking out for others in the race and slowing down when others are struggling is a sign of humanity, humility and strength. Sometimes you have to give up your goal to help others. Chances are, if you do, you will feel better in the long run.
  6. Sometimes when you’re running, it feels like you’re simply putting one foot in front of another. And sometimes that’s all you can do. When you falter, perhaps tell yourself, just another minute, or you’ll keep going until the next lamppost, the next corner, the end of the street. Invariably when that milestone comes, you will feel better. And focussing on one step at a time will help you feel more in control in the moment.
  7. Some runs are just plain hard. Some days too. But chances are they will be followed by better ones.
  8. Sometimes the biggest barrier is putting on your shoes and getting out the door. I rarely regret a run, even a bad one.
  9. It’s scary to take new routes, but following a different path can brings a different perspective. Sure, the road may be uneven, slippery, hilly, but how will you know what kind of view awaits you if you don’t give it a go.
  10.  Being outside, away from your phone, your laptop, the demands of daily life can be daunting sometimes. But time to yourself is a precious gift, and unless you prioritise yourself, you can’t help others.
  11. Take time to breathe, to look around, to take in the things that are bigger than us, the clouds that morph and shift and never stay still, the trees that grow leaves and shed leaves, the plants that aren’t always blooming, the bulbs that hibernate below the ground, living quietly unnoticed, emerging when it’s their time.

Published by Hannah Storm

I am a journalist, author and speaker. With more than two decades media experience, I am an expert communicator and media consultant with an extensive network, and someone who is committed to supporting news rooms and media leaders to create safe, successful spaces for a more effective and empathetic industry. I have co-authored various ground-breaking reports into the safety of women journalists, the kidnapping of journalists and moral injury and the media, as well as being involved in the development and delivery of curricula and courses on issues including gender-sensitive reporting and countering sexual harassment . My key areas of expertise include journalism safety, mental health, gender and ethics and I have written and spoken extensively on these subjects. I am widely respected for her skills in moderating and facilitating conversations on a range of subjects, have been published by some of world's leading media outlets and am comfortable speaking in front of large audiences. I am also an award-winning author of flash fiction, which has been published widely, and my debut collection is being launched in 2021. I have recently finished my first novel and am now working on a memoir, provisionally entitled 'Aftershocks.'

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