Marathon Update: Running as Stress Relief?

Go running they said, it’s great stress relief they said. I know a lot of people for whom running is fabulous stress relief.  Athletics have certainly been stress relief for me for a long time. In high school it was sports, in college it was classes and lifting at the gym – like the time I found out that if you buy a sack of potatoes and leave them in your pantry in Texas for a long time, bugs will get in them.  Upon learning this (the hard way) I promptly closed the pantry door and went to the gym.  “Time to go to aerobics!” became a joke among my friends about how I dealt with stress, including but not limited to, horrific bug invasions.  Later in my life  dancing, and the workouts that accompanied dancing, were always a great way to deal with stress.

Then last year I focused on walking a marathon, and this year run/walking another one.  I just assumed that as I changed activities the stress relief would follow.  I’m still waiting for that magical moment.  I like the accomplishment of running – doing my hill repeats faster every week, beating my times from last year’s workouts, or last week’s workouts.  My mantra is still the same as it ever was: cross finish line, get medal.  I remind myself that I’m not not running/walking because I love it, I’m doing it because I want to cross the finish line in this marathon and get the medal that comes with that.  Everything else is about what I need to do to meet that goal.

Some people have asked how I can talk about engaging in joyful movement while simultaneously engaging in movement that I don’t really enjoy. As always, it goes back to my underpants.  None of us are under any obligation to engage in any movement at all. Many people’s choices about movement are limited by access, disability, and other life circumstances.  Those of us who do choose to engage in movement and have the privilege to do so get to choose what kind of movement we want to engage in, and get to choose our goals – if any – for that movement.

I think it’s a shame that so many people have messy break-ups with exercise because they’re told that if they’re not miserable they’re not doing it right, or because they’ve never been given the opportunity to explore movement without shaming, stigma etc.  so I think it’s really important to make it clear that movement we enjoy totally “counts.”  That doesn’t mean that I can’t engage in movement that I don’t find “joyful” by some definitions for other reasons.

Still, for me it’s important to have methods of stress relief to replace the ones I lost when I switched to distance walking/running, so I make sure that at least some of my cross-training is stuff that I really like, and I’m cognizant of the fact that even if I don’t feel less stressed after a run/walk it’s likely done my body some good, and I look for other methods of stress relief (like a computer game where I get to smash inanimate objects with hammers.)

Maybe someday I’ll have something really stressful happen and think “I’m going for a run!” and maybe that will never happen.  I’m cool with it either way, to me the important thing is staying in touch with my goals, make sure they still work for me, and understand how those goals, and the things I do to reach them, do and do not affect me.

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16 thoughts on “Marathon Update: Running as Stress Relief?

  1. As I slog my way through recovery from a knee replacement, I can’t help but think that running is perhaps one of the most dangerous ways to relieve stress, get in shape, whatever. Although running will not always ruin a perfectly good pair of knees, it often does.

    Personally, I believe that human beings were only made to run in the event of danger. Walking is fantastic exercise, and much more gentle on the knees. But that’s just my personal opinion.

    BTW, my knee replacement was not brought on by running. I underwent a barbaric treatment to “correct” being pigeon-toed as a child. My surgeon said that 50 or so years later, many of the children who had the “bars and boots” treatment are now coming in for knee replacements.

    1. Sorry to hear about your knee issues! It can definitely be a long recovery, and I hope you’re pain-free soon.

      I just wanted to post because ‘running is bad for your knees’ is a popular misconception; while running does put a lot of stress on the joints, people without pre-existing knee issues may find that running is fine for them. For me, any knee issues that have flared up have been greatly helped by working to add strength in my legs, too. For sure, running isn’t for everyone, but personally I hate to see people discouraged from trying it! Better to give it a shot if we want, and see how our individual bodies react.

    2. If there ever was a person who was built not to run, it’s me. Tried it for a semester in college, and if it wasn’t the boobs hitting me in the chin despite wearing three bras, it was shin splints. And I’m not mentioning my right knee, which got destroyed in a ski accident when I was 16, and which I replaced last year too. So boy, do I hear you on knee pain. And not running. It’s bikes, dancing and Pilates for me.

      I hope you get some relief from the recovery, it’s a doozy. And I hope your knee replacement works out as well as mine did — it is SO MUCH BETTER a year and 3 mos later.

  2. We all find different things stressful or stress relieving. I know that back when I used to do demonstrations of lacemaking techniques (my speciality was bobbin lace, which I still do) at fairs, a lot of people asked me didn’t I find it confusing and frustrating. I always told them I found it a great stress relief because once you understand how it works, it quickly develops a rhythm and I – for one – go kind of zen with it.

    One person watched my demo for a couple hours one day and then finally announced: “If there’s a hell and I go there, that’s what they’re going to make me do.”

    Yeah, it’s not really for everybody.

    I find it’s much easier to explain how needle felting makes good stress relief. Stabbing little needles into stuff is something that many people can relate to as a way of working off frustrations… though I don’t recommend doing it whilst actually emotionally agitated. Those little barbed needles HURT when they hit you instead of the rovings!

    I can definitely see why a lot of people find running a stress relieving experience, even though it definitely isn’t one for me.

    As for doing it despite it not being a stress reliever or a favorite activity, well, if you feel it’s important or worthwhile for ANY reason, then you get to decide to do it no matter how it makes you feel to do it. You’re the one in those underpants. You get to decide to run. The person in my underpants has no interest in running, but still finds your journey intriguing, just as there were people who became absolutely mesmerized watching me toss bobbins who would rather shove bamboo under their own fingernails than try it themselves.

  3. Yep. Lots of people ha e stress relief activities that don’t work for others. I have friends for whom cleaning is stress relief. To me it is just a necessary chore, unless the specific thing that is stressing me out is the mess itself. I’ve know people who cook or bake when they are stressed–particularly bread baking. Going to the gym works for me, but so does a hot bath and a book. If I’m angry and stressed, I go to the gym. If I’m tired and stresses, I choose the bath.

    1. Cleaning and the mess are stressors for me. Bread baking as stress relief – I got that from my mom. 🙂 She would pound the crap out of the dough cursing at her boss or other person who was pissing her off that week. When I HAVE to bake or cook and am under time constraints or just not into it, then it’s stress. When I have the time to relax and experiment, it’s the best thing in the world. Plus, I have great biceps from kneeding all the dough. 🙂 Regarding running/jogging/walking – I used to hate it. These past few months (minus the hamstring tear) I get a rush from it, and love seeing how much stronger and faster I’m getting. I’m always charged after our family walks and want to go at least another hour or two. My husband and son find it stressful trying to keep up with me. 😦 One day, I’ll be able to afford a bicycle again and get that stress relieving, send of freedom I used to have as a teenager and in my early 20’s, when I rode.

    2. Baking is one of my great stress relievers. It doesn’t matter what I’m baking, as long as it isn’t biscuits. The key for me is that baking never fails me. It always turns out well, except those damn biscuits.

      My pie crust is flaky and delicious, my cakes have a crumb that has been praised by a professional chef, choux paste is my willing slave, my puff pastry puffs perfectly every time… but my biscuits are lovely, golden little hockey pucks.

      So when I’m really frustrated, you’re a lot more likely to see me produce a layer cake or a batch of eclairs than a humble batch of biscuits.

      On the other hand, I have been known to seek the solace of a bubble bath with rubber duckies in the wake of another frustrating attempt at the world’s simplest baking project. The combination of bubbles, ersatz ducks, and warm water does me no end of good on a rotten day.

  4. I’m a cooker when I get stressed – I feel very chill while chopping and mixing and creating – cooking allows me a creative outlet I just don’t get from other things. I also love a good bicycle ride or a long leisurely walk to think things out. Running is not my friend. I admire people who run, and I have fantasized about the “rush” of running. It just doesn’t do it for me. Just like some people prefer chocolate ice cream, and others like their vanilla – not everyone is going to appreciate the same things. 😀

  5. Ahhhh, maggoty rotting wretched stinking potatoes, the worst thing you will ever find short of a body. When that happened to me, my dad kept making vodka jokes. I finally reminded him I much prefer a good scotch.

    That reminds me, thought they said rum? No thanks, but I will take 26 miles of delicious aged Macallan.

    And I need to go destress. Badly. BEADS!

  6. The fact that you don’t get any sort of a buzz from running just makes your commitment to completing another marathon a bigger challenge. We all sometimes choose to do things for reasons other than pleasure, and that’s OK.

    I’m lucky. Although not genetically designed to get and sort of lift from substances (I know it’s genetics rather than personal virtue because my children’s teenage experiments with alcohol and cannabis didn’t last because they didn’t feel good) I get a reliable exercise high and it doesn’t take much running or cycling to bring it on.

    When my daughter was ill, I could have done with being able to run for stress relief as going out on my bike was too time consuming and I hate the stationary trainer. I crocked my heel running too hard on the treadmill. A lot of knitting, reading, and emotional eating got done in those few months.

  7. I tried running for 4 yrs and I hated my last run as much as I hated the first one. For a while that sense of achievement when I finished a race was enough for me and then i thought life is too short. For me, swimming is a great stress reliever – but I have to work to convince myself I have the time to get to the pool, changed, swim, wash, change and get back again. When I’m stressed I have this inner feeling that I don’t have time for ANYTHING especially not something I enjoy (and feels frivolous) like swimming- because even movement, if I enjoy it, is frivolous…. But right now, my husband’s in hospital (mental health issues) and the last thing we need is me losing the plot as well, so I’m forcing myself to get to the pool a few times a week. ‘A few’ is deliberately vague since definite numbers are too scary a the minute.

    Reading is also a huge stress relief – especially if it’s a fantasy novel where there is lots of swords and beating the crap out of people. Cooking isn’t so much – it feels too self-indulgent and cleaning will never be anything other than a horrific chore that I will do anything to get out of doing!! 🙂

    Moving, having to focus on form and technique, watching my limbs move in precisely the right motions, timing my breaths etc- all this helps take me out of the ‘stress’ mindset and into the ‘now’ mindset. It’s all very zen when I think about it 🙂 moving through the water, slicing it up with hands and feet, focusing on kicking just so……….and it’s impossible to focus on worrying as well as coordinating all those limbs at the same time………

    1. {{{{{HUGS}}}}} Good vibes to you and your husband, hon. Mental illness is living hell for everyone involved–I’ve seen it from both sides, everything from events so mutually hilarious nobody could breathe, to believing I had seconds left to live (by my hand or someone else’s).

      Based on experience, could I suggest you see a therapist separate from your husband if you aren’t already? It helps more than you might expect. It’s also in no way frivolous. In fact, it sounds like swimming is your personal treatment program. Therapy might help you come to see it as a mental and physical necessity rather than a luxury.

      Take care, and keep us updated if it’s something you’re comfortable doing. 🙂

    2. Sending soothing thoughts and best wishes to both you and your husband, am galros. I hope things improve for you soon. And Susan is right. It might be a good thing to look into some therapy for you, too.

      If the thing keeping cooking from being a stress reliever for you is the self-indulgence angle, do you think that might be assuaged if you cooked for someone else? Just a random thought.

      I’m glad you’ve got the swimming. Water definitely calms me, too, when I’m in it.

  8. My Relaxation Techniques Are Definitely Indoor. People Get On Me About How Outdoor Activity Will Help X Problem Of Mine, And Will Help Me Because……. You Guessed It. It Helps Them. Like Because Something Works For X Amount Of People It Will Work For Me. No.

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