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Full Time Psychologist, Part Time Marathon Runner?

fitness Feb 04, 2022

People always ask me who I talk to when things get hard, or if I do therapy with myself. And to be honest, I talk to my running shoes. 

Running has always been such a big part of my life. It was the one thing I could do all by myself. It was never something that felt hard, it was only a release of energy and thought. As a psychologist in a pandemic, I have nothing but thoughts. I have my own thoughts and battles, plus I have my client’s thoughts and battles. By the end of the day, I don’t want to talk to anyone. My voice is worn out, and I want to be mute. So I turn to my running shoes. They listen and support me, they are literally there every step. 

Now, where does marathon running come into all of this? Well, I recently graduated and found myself with no sense of competition anymore. I don’t have exams to study for and I am not competing for jobs or internships. I am settled into a career and found myself searching for a push. I have always wanted to run a marathon, but never had a consistent schedule to train for one. So…why not do it now?! I run every day as therapy, so I might as well also run to fulfil my need to compete. We love efficiency, right??

I won’t bore you with all of the mental and physical health benefits of running, we all know by this time of the pandemic how good movement and fresh air is. We love taking our mental health walks, I just turned mine into mental health long runs. 

I started out not running more than 5km as I hadn’t focused too much on my distance and pace for a while, so I needed to get some things in order before I really started training for this marathon. I was turning my therapy runs into something competitive, which as a therapist, I would never advise! Let your joys and passions stay carefree! I decided I wasn’t going to follow a strict training plan but do one loosely. Take the concept of having recovery runs, tempo runs, speed runs and long runs in a week. But listening to my mind and body of when I do them, and if my body was saying no to anything pushing the pace for an entire week, then I did recovery runs. I know this might backfire on me when it comes to the actual race, but I want to do the Marathon as something fun. I have no goal time, I just want to enjoy the day and get that medal at the end. My only goal is to not stop running.

I have been training for about 2 months now, and I have to say it’s going well. My body now associates my running shoes with a sense of freedom and calm. I put a podcast or music in and just let my body run. Sometimes I barely listen to what I’ve got playing, I have so much to work through in my own mind that I block out everything else. But I must say that by the time my run is over, I have a game plan and my mind has slowed down. I try and add 5 extra minutes at the end with nothing playing just to focus on my breathing and do some mindfulness.  

Being a psychologist is an emotionally exhausting job. In order to hold onto your confidentiality, we can’t gossip about our workdays the same way others can. We have peer consultations and supervision, but at the end of the day, we have real human being clients that are going through something, and we worry about them. Running has been a saviour for me in these times. I can let my mind go into an entirely different world, focus on my breathing and the scenery around me. I can work through anything difficult and not be bothered by anyone else. Training for a marathon ensures I go out and choose a healthy coping strategy. It has given me purpose and goals to celebrate. It has truly made me a better clinician to my clients.

I know mental health resources are stretched thin these days, we all have massive waitlists and most insurance companies aren’t covering consistent visits. It can be very hard to speak with a professional, but please speak to your doctor if you are concerned for your or anyone’s safety. But if you are looking for an outlet and feel in control, try running or any new activity that just feels good. It is incredible what a workout can do for your mental health, and simply being outside for a few minutes a day. 

And hey, if you want to train for a marathon with me, I am happy to have a mental health running crew!

Article by: Drew Duffy 

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