But there's more to it than that. You see, running has, unexpectedly, brought joy into a life that, for some time now, has not abounded in joy. On Wednesday night, for instance, I came home feeling truly terrible, the worst case of the winter commuter blues that I've had in a while. So what did I do when I got home? I ran. It was late, it was dark, I hadn't had any dinner, but I ran. As I set off down the inner-suburban streets near my house - it was too dark to run along Merri Creek - I wondered why I was doing this. It seemed ridiculous. Shouldn't I be resting? Shouldn't I be recovering from a challenging day? No. I ran. And when I came home, something had changed. It's hard to say what. None of my problems were solved. But the darkness of my head as I had driven home was gone. My head was clear.
So I was unsurprised to hear my sister tell me today that running can help combat mild depression. I'm weary of self-diagnosis, but the term "mild depression" seems to fit my state of the past 12 months or so - sometimes going beyond mild - and running has been one of the best things that I've done to combat it.
The idea is confirmed in this article from BBC News, and a few other places that appeared when I googled "running depression". And what is the reason for this link? Well, at a physiological level running releases endorphins - happy chemicals which our bodies and minds need for our well-being. Sitting in a car in the dark driving from Brunswick to Werribee and back each day, I suspect, releases fewer endorphins than running. I doubt, as a matter of fact, if it releases any. So, looking purely at the chemistry of it, it makes sense that running would make you feel better.
But there are other reasons. Biologist Professor Lewis Wolpert is quoted as crediting running with helping him overcome severe depression because it gives him "time to quietly think". For me, running does nothing of the sort. I hear my heart pounding in my ears; I struggle over each mound; I let the songs streaming into my ears help me up and down each crest and round each corner. The best thing, for me, about running is that I don't think. And that, for a chronic over-thinker like myself, is a very good thing.
I accidentally mistyped "good" as "god", and, while I corrected the mistake, I think it was more meaningful than your average typo. I think that running and not thinking is also a God thing. You see, with His creation on either side of me, His wind blowing into my sweaty face, His strength powering my weak feet (I pray before each run that His strength will sustain me), I feel Him in a way that I never will sitting anxiously behind a steering wheel. I also trust in Him in a way that I never otherwise do. It's a powerful experience, and one that I have trouble explaining. But I think that a quote from the classic film Chariots of Fire goes some way to expressing how it feels. Says Eric Liddell, the great sprinter and Christian missionary:
I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.
I'm not sure He made me quite so fast, but He has shown me a joy when I run that I don't feel at other times. When I run, I too feel His pleasure.