In March 2020, as life started shutting down around us, I knew that my professional limits were about to be tested unlike anything previously.

In March 2020, as life started shutting down around us, I knew that my professional limits were about to be tested unlike anything previously. Mental health in March isn’t an easy path to begin with as we exit winter and the holiday letdown. Being a mental health professional is an emotional balancing act by nature, so often the spring and summer are times to attempt to regroup and redefine personal care as we gear up for the more demanding months. My coping strategies were tested, re-tested, and finally dismantled during the pandemic. It was about July when I realized that something was ‘giving’ and that something was me. I was maxed out with my personal coping strategies and it left me wondering if it was me or my strategies that were broken. I had to dig deep and get reflective, honest, and creative. When I asked myself “what is one thing that I always wanted to try but haven’t taken the actual time for?” my answer was running. I was never a successful runner. I wasn’t what one would deem an athlete. I wasn’t in running shape. I have never been a runner and figured the worst-case scenario is that I would quit again, but I needed something to put into place to get me through the fall and winter. I have colleagues and friends who are runners who are loyal and repeatedly told me how life changing it is. I had books suggested, articles sent, and I must have asked my close colleague 100 questions. My biggest worry was how to handle rejection if I failed, again. Enter the program titled ‘None To Run.’ This was my last-ditch effort in the middle of a pandemic to try and manage stress.

I found None To Run last January 2020, but only perused it and filed it away. For months, it stayed in my head and on my desktop. This program resonated with me due to the slow progression, attainable weekly goals, and that no experience was necessary. The biggest draw was that it didn’t focus on pace or distance to get started. I pulled that information back out in August 2020 and knew that I needed to get serious. I studied it and reached out to Mark Kennedy (founder of None To Run) with some basic questions. He sent me some articles to start. I joined and paid the minimal fee to help with my accountability. I downloaded the program and printed the 12-week plan. I carefully reviewed the first 4 weeks and spent August preparing for the first Challenge that would change my life. I did a couple of the practice runs and continued with my current walking plan. I was able to do the intervals and didn’t struggle like I was worried I would. I got onto the Mighty Networks community forum and just read people’s stories and looked at their questions. These were real people who really were starting from scratch (some of them). Many people who completed the programs came back to encourage the new runners.

On September 7, 2020, I did my first official run of the N2R program. There is an iOS app (https://apps.apple.com/us/app/none-to-run-start-running/id1491658094) that I downloaded before my first run. The voice and settings motivated me and I was hooked. The first rule was to announce the following phrase: “I am a Runner” It didn’t matter your physical level or ability. That is the mantra. Over the next twelve weeks I battled. And I battled. And I battled some more. But I just kept trying. I found new mantras to put in my head to replace the negative messaging. I found the accountability I needed by having the visual chart to check off, the electronic logbook, the app and the support of the running community. There were weeks when it was fun. There were weeks where it was hard, but I never quit. I privately messaged one person and asked: ‘what if this week is too hard and I just don’t think I can do it?’ The response: “Which week worked for you? Go back and repeat that week. I repeat weeks all of the time.” This was from someone who has gone through each of the challenges and still posts about their long runs and why they are still with it.   

I know that answer sounds simple and logical, but my mindset wasn’t allowing me to get out of success or fail mode as the only options. I worked to redesign my definition of success to start with the phrase: “I am a Runner. How much can I do today?” And that is what I would do. After week 6, I knew that I could do it. The mental work is constant but I replaced the negative thoughts with kinder ones and it changed my performance. Keep in mind, I am not a natural runner and am still very much a beginner, but I am out there and improving my distances. I have not focused on times. I had to let that go because it takes me into a ‘comparison’ mind set which is self-defeating. My close colleague kept texting me encouragement ‘It doesn’t matter how fast or how far, it just matters that you are out there.’

The truth? Weeks 9 & 10 were the hardest ones for me. When I started to doubt myself, I changed up my route, my music or podcast, and just started to breathe and listened to my body. When I quieted the thoughts of doubt, relaxed and just ran, I could do it. (YES! Relaxation is the key.) Some days were hard. Some days were easy. Most of the runs were in between. But I did it. I completed my graduation run on December 1, 2020. I had run 12 weeks and was a runner the entire time. I signed up for some Virtual 5K’s and set some personal goals throughout December. As you read this, I am completing my second None To Run challenge: Race To 5K. It will get me through the winter and keep me improving with my distances and consistency.

Running was the last method I found to try to deal with the emotional stress of helping others through the pandemic and trying to stay mentally and physically well myself. I had increased my walking, meditation, reading, journaling, and other exercises to their limits, prior to trying this program. I had changed my diet. I had cut down on the ‘vices’ and I was still struggling. For me it was the running that changed everything. I started out running for intervals of 30 seconds and now I can run for 40 minutes and am guessing I could increase from there, but just haven’t tried yet. I am following the plan and not trying to do too much too soon. I made myself follow the structure and work the mobility exercises. I am happy to say that I am a Runner.

Who do I need to thank? So many people but first and foremost, myself. I didn’t quit on myself and if there is a future period in my life where I don’t get to run, I KNOW that I can just start again. I can start at Week 1 and Day 1 and still say that ‘I am a runner’. Thank you Mark Kennedy. Thank you N2R community. Thank you Kathleen. Thank you TJ and MSU Moves. Thank you to Conan O’Brian Needs A Friend and Smartless Podcasts that kept me distracted at key times during my runs. I needed the laughs. And I know that this sounds funny but thank you pandemic. Without every stressor happening at the same time in life, I wouldn’t have hit my rock bottom of healthy coping and pushed myself to make that change and meet a personal life goal.

If you are an MSU employee, spouse, or benefits eligible family member of an MSU employee and would like help with overall well-being, please feel free to contact the Health4U Program at (517) 353-2596 or email at health4u@msu.edu. For more information about available services of Health4U please visit www.Health4U.msu.edu.


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