Running is a luxury. One of my friends was back visiting the US recently and asked if there was anything I needed that she could bring back. I ordered a pair of running shoes on Amazon and had them sent to where she was staying. I had a minor heart attack when purchasing the shoes. I have been buying the same shoes for the past several years. I know how much running shoes cost. I’ve been running for over half my life now. Still, at this point in life– living in Kenya and ballin’ on a budget– to spend $86 dollars on a pair of shoes (even though they were on sale because they are last season’s model) felt extravagant. To have the time and energy to spend on dedicated time to exercise, to have the money to spend on good shoes and clothes that are comfortable to run in, to spend over $100 on one race entry feels frivolous at times.
But then, I remembered how much each of my counseling sessions costs. And then, I remembered how much better I’ve slept since starting my marathon training program and how little anxiety I’ve had. After that I did the did the math and realized that in each pair of running shoes there are approximately 70 hours of stress and anxiety relief. If I were to spend that same amount of time in therapy (which I also find to be really valuable) it would cost me well over $4000. I see lots of posts on social media about running being cheaper than therapy. For me this is a reality. For me it is worth buying the new shoes so that I don’t injure myself. For me it is worth spending money on race entry because often having the pressure of a race is what gets me to run well.
Running for me is a preventative medicine. I have known for years that running helps with my mental and emotional health, but I didn’t realize just how much it helps until a couple of months ago. Long runs (8-20 miles) rest a deep place in my brain. Running allows me to process through the things that have bubbled up during the week. The things that I don’t have time to think about during the week because otherwise I wouldn’t get anything done. It relaxes me and wears out my body in a way that ensures my body turns off when it is supposed to at night instead of buzzing like a neon sign. I live so much in my mind that I can forget that I have a body and that it has needs but running reminds me to take care of myself. Running quiets my mind and reminds me of my whole self. In part because of running, I haven’t had to be medicated for my anxiety.
I think that part of why running helps with my anxiety so much is that it makes me feel in control. It makes my life feel more purposeful. In order to run well I have to plan ahead and make a series of healthy choices. I go to bed early. I drink lots of water. I nourish my body with enough calories to make it through a 20 miler and not hit a wall. I am choosing to run. I am choosing to be the most holistically healthy version of myself. I am more active in my life instead of just going with the flow, allowing my FOMO (fear of missing out) or loneliness to make decisions for me. I am choosing my pace and distance. And living in a new country where there is so little that I can control, where everything feels chaotic at times, running gives me a hold so that I don’t feel like my life is spinning out of control. Running gives me stability in a new and often scary place. It was a part of my life back in the US and it is a part of my life here. It’s like spending time with Jesus and my morning coffee– so much changed but those things remained the same even 8000 miles from home.
So, yes, at times running feels like a luxury. I spend roughly 10 hours a week dedicated to exercise and I know that not everyone can do that. I know that it is a privilege and a grace given me to thrive in this season of life. However, for me, right now, running is a necessity.