Running and Recovery – Just for Today

About eight months ago I had a turning point in my life. Instead of hiding from and burying my fears – a trait I’d gotten very good at over the years – I began to learn to face them head on. In addition to therapy and medication, I recently discovered two more things I want and need to do to take better care of myself – the first is getting regular exercise and the second is attending a 12-step program (for friends and families of problem drinkers).

Photo courtesy of chriskoning_gr
Photo courtesy of chriskoning_gr

Knowing that exercise would be beneficial to both my physical and mental health, I decided to start the Couch to 5k program – walking/running sessions of 20 to 30 minutes three times a week, which allow you to work up to running a 5K at the end of two months. (I figure if I write about it I’ll be more likely to follow through with it, accountability and all that.)

I should stop here to say I am not a runner. I’ve never been very fond of running and recall dreading having to run “the mile” in gym class my freshman year of high school. I developed a pretty nasty case of shin splints (probably from running in Keds, but c’est la vie). However, recently I’ve been inspired by several of my friends, also in their 30s, who have taken up running. Heather and Nicole both just ran their first 5k – The Race for the Cure. Alison has also taken up running. Julie recently confessed her “drug” of choice in dealing with depression – exercise – and she ran a half marathon this past weekend. Then there’s Sonja my triathlete friend who’s ran, biked and swam in more races than I can count.

While running isn’t something I usually enjoy, I want to give this a try, a real try.

I did my first session early Sunday morning – a five minute brisk walk followed by alternating between running for 60 seconds and walking for 90 seconds for 20 minutes. The weather was about perfect, sunny and warm, but not too warm, and it felt good to get out of the house alone, doing something good for myself. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t impossible.

As I ran my thoughts wandered to the 12-step meeting I recently attended. I thought about the parallels between running and recovery – both my recovery from Generalized Anxiety Disorder and my recovery of being an adult child of a dysfunctional family and the relationships I’ve had with addicts over the years. Both running and recovery require patience. Both running and recovery require perseverance. Both running and recovery can be overwhelming at times, but you have to focus on one day at a time, one run at a time, even if it’s just for 60 seconds.

I did my second running session on Wednesday morning. It was the complete opposite of Sunday, rainy and cold. I wore my jacket with the hood up and gloves on to keep my hands warm. I stayed pretty toasty except for my legs, which froze. (I’ve since learned of base layer tights which I am going to have to buy, especially if I’m going to be running through the winter.) My glasses were covered in rain drops and fogged up as my body temperature rose. There were lots of fallen wet leaves and branches on my path. Again, it made me think about my road to recovery. Some days the sun is shining and the path is clear and everything seems right on target and other days there are clouds and fog, it’s cold and the obstacles on my path make it easy to lose my footing.

Whether I am running or working on bettering myself mentally and emotionally, the challenges will always be there. It’s not always easy. It’s often hard work. I can’t prepare for every obstacle, but I can learn to let go of my desire to control everything. I can go with the flow. I can do my best.

When I’m running, I try to concentrate only on getting through that particular 60 seconds of running. I don’t think about running a 5k in a few months. I don’t think about running for 10 minutes at a time or even 5 minutes at a time. I do my best to stay in the moment and focus on those 60 seconds. (It reminds me a lot of labor and giving birth actually.) Just like in my life, I can’t wonder what the future will hold, but I can live in the now.

There’s a daily meditation that’s part of the 12-step programs that begins “Just for today I will try to live through this day only, and not tackle all my problems at once. I can do something for twelve hours that would appall me if I felt that I had to keep it up for a lifetime.” I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately (and in the past it would seem) and it really sums it all up for me. Yes, I want to be able to run a 5k someday, but just for today I will focus on getting through those 60 second intervals at a time. Yes, I want to be healthy emotionally and mentally someday and perhaps not need therapy or medication, but just for today I will stay present and do my best. Slow and steady wins the race.

Other women who have done or are working on the Couch to 5k (C25k):

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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29 thoughts on “Running and Recovery – Just for Today”

  1. Thank you for this honest and heartfelt post, Amy. So often we can feel like we are the only people who are “coping” and “healing” and “barely hanging on” when in fact we are perfectly normal! Luckily we have reached a point in history where sharing has the potential to be more powerful than shame…

    Since we are American and all, I had to Google “How Far is 5K?” in order to get a perspective on exactly what you are getting yourself into! I, too, have always had an ambivalent relationship with running/aerobic exercise (bouncy, joggy sorts of things are not friendly to 34G bra-wearers if ya know what I mean) and therefore know that my cardio-health is not my strong suit. Strength? Check! Flexibility? Check! Endurance? Forget about it! I think that I will look into the couch to 5k thing for this spring after I have this new baby!

    I attended Al-Anon meetings as a teen, and then stopped going after I married and had babies. I often wonder if re-visiting that part of my history would help me get a a grip on some of the ongoing issues I have with perfectionism and martyrdom…it is certainly worth looking into.

  2. Thought this was a wonderful post Amy. You, so beautifully, put into words so many of my thoughts and aspirations. I was a pretty athletic kid growing up. But, like you, I never much loved running. Because of reasons similar to yours, I took up running in my early 30s (2 years ago this month actually!). Since, I’ve successfully completed 2 1/2 marathons and will run my 3rd 3 days after Thanksgiving.

    Keep setting new goals for yourself one day at a time and let the fresh air ignite your spirit. Super happy for you!

  3. I’m running my first 5K soon, although I’m not doing the couch to 5K program, and it’s been worth every minute. When I’m running, it’s just me and my thoughts and my feet hitting the pavement (or the treadmill if I’m at the gym) and the sense of accomplishment at the end is amazing. Also, all the running has improved my muscle strength and my legs no longer ache like they used to, plus I’m sleeping better. I’d also recommend some basic yoga before bed to help work out the kinks that running can sometimes cause.

  4. This was great for me to read. I just quit smoking, and it seems to me that when you quit something addictive you kind of always go one way or the other; either you start jogging, or you start opening the fridge.
    I’m really trying to choose wisely.

  5. My Mom found great peace in running during the trial of my brother and afterwards. I’ve heard it’s a great stress reliever. I’ve never been able to run, but I know when I can get out and hike or just be in nature I always feel so much better.


  6. Oh you can SO do this running thing! I have always been the fat girl, the out of shape girl, and also the girl who dreaded that mile in gym class. When I started c25k the 60 second runs killed me. Now I can run 5k! Slowly, but I can run it. And I’m now training for a 1/2 marathon. I never ever ever ever EVER though I would love running, and while it still takes some time to get into my groove, that feeling when finishing a run is such an awesome high. Stick to the program, don’t push too hard even if you feel you can, and if you have trouble with the running, SLOW DOWN. What you said about breaking it down into the right now? Perfect. I run on a treadmill (I switched to distance at week 3 because I’m too slow to run 5k in 20-30 minutes) so that I could tell myself, “another quarter mile and you can walk. Just another tenth. Come on, you can do 200 meters.”

    I occasionally think about attending Al-anon meetings or at least reading some ACOA books. But I wonder how relevant to my current life it really is, if I’d be wallowing in a past I’d rather forget, and if it would actually do me any good.

  7. I am so proud of you getting out there and exercising. It doesn’t really matter what you do, as long as you are doing something. I picked running because I could do it in the winter, with the kids.

    I feel so much better mentally too. Having the regular exercise has been very good for me, and I like the challenge of trying to improve my times, focusing on breathing, and seeing how far I can go. I was always told I coudln’t run, and finding out that I can, I am good at it, and I *like* it, has been very empowering.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and I know we will be running a 5K together soon. But for now, just take it one step at a time, like you have been doing. Love ya!

  8. Quick aside to mcmama: oftentimes it is helpful to delve into the past in order to be mentally healthy & move on w/ a peaceful mental slate! I encourage u to try! Amy: remember that just walking is better than not walking or running at all! So if u r not able to run, u can walk. The endorphins & other benefits from exercising in any fashion do wonders for those issues like depression & anxiety–both things I deal with. (I’m also an alcoholic, sober 7.80 yrs!)

    Thx for sharing! Xoxo vtknitboy on twitter

  9. I think it’s fabulous that you’re taking all these steps to take care of yourself. It’s hard not to put your kids first all the time, but YOU need to be happy and well, too!

    Running is an amazing form of therapy – I got hooked a few years ago, and never looked back. I am not the same person when I can’t run. It’s such a vital part of my life that even at 29 weeks pregnant, I am doing everything I can to fit in at least one or two short runs a week.

    Exercise and endorphins do incredible things for you, and having that time alone is priceless. Good luck, and happy running : )

  10. Neat post. I never liked running, and my joints are kinda whack for it, but I LOVE belly dancing–that’s my happy cardio & core fitness.

    So glad you are taking care of yourself!

  11. Yay for taking care of you! I also started the Cto5K. I started it, and I got a pretty nasty bronchitis about 3 weeks before race day. I still did the race, and I walked most of it, but I did it anyway. It was a learning experience for me, but I was a bit let down that it didn’t go exactly as I had wanted.

    I ended up loving the Cto5K program. It was a stress reliever. It was something I did for me, and I ended up feeling strong and capable. I am also not a runner, and I discovered I have underlying untreated asthma. ๐Ÿ™‚ It was a very good experience for me, and I hope it is such an experience for you, too.

  12. Dear Amy. I found your blog when I was searching preschools in the OC. I currently live in San Francisco and I think we are moving to the OC for a few years for work. I am feeling a little nervous as I too am a big fan of Homebirth, progress living, Obama, my Prius, my bike, organics, play and a natural lifestlye, women’s circle’s and well-being. Doesn’t seem like there are nearly as many women like that in the OC as there are here or in CO. Love to hear how your expereince is going and ask you a few questions about our move if you are up for it. Let me know and GREAT blog!

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  14. I’m not a woman, but a fan of your blog. I started the couch to 5k program in late November of last year and will be running my first 10k on Thanksgiving Day. Good luck! If I can do it, so can you!

  15. Yes, exercise does wonders for anxiety and depression for me, too. I tried doing the couch-to-5k a couple times, but stopped about halfway through because of abdominal muscle pulls, don’t know if I’m breathing wrong or what.

    Thank you for sharing. Sometimes you just have to.

  16. HEY! I’m a recent C25Ker, too! I didn’t know you were doing this! I’m supposed to start week 4 today, but have gotten a little derailed with my sick little one. I am loving it, though. I used to jog consistently before I got pregnant with our oldest and have missed it so much. The C25K program is awesome!

    I am so proud of you, Amy! here’s to running through the winter months and keeping our feet on the path of good health.

  17. My fiance started C25K about four months ago… he’s a video gamer. if that tells you anything… lol.

    He got up three times a week at 5:50am when no one in the city would be out to actually see him (which I guess was a very STRONG deterring factor in the entire process) and just this saturday he ran his FIRST 10k, in the rain and hail.

    He also persevered with running despite getting shin splints (micro fractures in your leg bones… most likely due to poor running shoes). He bought more expensive, but better, sneakers (atlantic-Canada runners) and after two weeks of no running, stepped the program back a week and began again. no more micro fractures.

    I am sooo proud of him! He comes back from running, does 30 minutes of yoga and has recently joined a gym in order to continue running during the cold Canadian winter.

    He agrees with you that running, especially in the beginning, feels a lot like meditating. very zen. ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. This post is really beautiful. I need to start working out again… I know that it will improve almost every area of my life, I just can’t find the motivation… maybe I’ll use this post to get me moving!

    Good luck with your program and C25K! I’m looking forward to reading about them in the future.

  19. Well done Amy – very brave. I admire people who can stick at running. (I detest it – I need an iron cast bra and my pelvic floor is useless so the whole idea isn’t attractive! ๐Ÿ™‚ ) But I know exercise is an excellent contributor to one’s well being.

  20. It’s hard getting started with an exercise program, but you will soon start craving those runs — trust me. As someone who has battled anxiety, I know all too well how important vigorous exercise is to my health and well-being. As someone else said: Run, Amy, run! (And spin and step and lift! LOL)

  21. I made it to week 6 the first time I started C25k and honestly I’m not exactly sure why I stopped. However, this April I started over and finished! I continued on after that with a 10k training program and finished my first 10k race in early October.

    I have recommended C25k to many, many friends of all fitness levels. I think it’s a great way to slowly get into a running routine!


  22. you are brilliant, brave, and so insightful.

    i *so* appreciate the parallels you pointed out between running and recovery, and you did it such a vivid, articulate way. i’m a recovering bulimic (among other things), and every day presents new challenges. just as you said, some days are sunny and gorgeous, other days are cold and ugly.

    this is the first i’ve heard of the couch potato to 5k running program. i am so inspired — both to run, and to write my own blog post about this issue.

    you are a peach :). stay strong and KEEP SMILING! this is my first trip to your blog, and i’m coming back for more soon!


  23. Way to go.

    And off topic, kinda, did you try the candida diet? I really think it would help your health issues a lot.

    I bought a new book about it the other day and so far it’s FAR better than anything else I’ve read. And the cookbook is great too.

    If you’re interested let me know and I’ll give you the link.


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