On YouTube, there are many videos with titles like “I went vegan for a week, here’s what happened” and “I exercised each day for a month, here’s what happened.” This post isn’t like those videos.
Me running wasn’t an experiment that I would do for a week, a month, or even a couple months, only for the sake of doing an experiment and delivering on my observations. It wasn’t to show people what it can do, it wasn’t even to show myself what it can do. It was a genuine progress, and escape, a path to finding. It just happened – and like all other things in my life that “just happened,” it brought an unbelievable amount of good into my life.
There is much, much more to it, but for today, I’ve decided to write down the things running has done for my body and my mind – things easily observable and explainable. The changes that I started to notice in me and my surrounding run much deeper than that, but that’s for another time.
Let’s start with sleep. A lot of people don’t get enough of it, even though it’s essential for good mental health, focus, good physical health, good metabolism, and about ten thousand other things. I myself used to have trouble sleeping – I’d go to sleep late, wouldn’t be able to fall asleep, then I’d wake up five times a night, unable to fall back asleep again, and I’d wake up more tired than I was in the evening.
But once I started running, this all changed. It was probably the very first thing that changed, really. It was like magic. Only two weeks in, I would go to bed and be so nicely tired that I wouldn’t even want to watch YouTube or do something on my phone (which is, like, the arch-enemy of sleep apparently). This was the first step to change. My sleep improved in those first weeks more than anything; I wouldn’t wake up at night anymore.
In the mornings, I started to wake up feeling rested and fresh and ready for the new day. My mood stabilized, my energy levels became more balanced, and my metabolism started to work better (you’ll read more about that later in this post).
Nowadays, when I go to sleep, I fall asleep almost as soon as my head hits the pillow. Yes, sometimes I’ll check emails or such on my phone, but it doesn’t disturb my sleep as it used to. The moment I put my phone away and close my eyes, I’m gone. For someone who used to toss and turn for literal hours before being able to fall asleep, this still feels like a miracle.
Together with better sleep comes better focus. However, sleep isn’t the only thing that improved my focus. When you’re trail running, you have to focus on the trail, the roots, the rocks, the mud,… Lose focus and you lose your footing, face-planting into a tree or a pillow of cow poop.
Getting good-nights’ sleep and practicing focus during my runs helped me improve my focus in my everyday life. I’m much more attentive to my surroundings, have easier time reading, don’t get distracted while driving,… and don’t miss ingredients in recipes while baking. (The kids I sometimes bake for can tell you that their birthday cakes and cinnamon rolls have gotten much better since I stopped forgetting to put sugar, eggs or baking soda in.)
This one might be a little harder to explain, and it has a lot to do with focus, too. While I used to feel tired and drained a lot of time, I couldn’t focus at school due to having an excessive amount of energy.
I would move around in my chair, look outside the window, wish I was out there instead of in the class (okay, this last one still happens),… I was exhausted but at the same time, I couldn’t sit still. I would be bored out of my mind and over-engaged at the same time.
But soon after I started running, my energy levels became much more stable. I don’t feel tired, and at the same time, I don’t mill around anymore. I am much calmer, while I can spring out of the chair and run for miles.
This energy balance is, however, a very fragile thing for me. If I don’t run for a few days, I can see myself slipping back into the place where I can’t pay attention, and all I want to do is go out and move in any way possible, while also feeling tired and wanting to spend the day in bed, watching YouTube and eating ice-cream.
Which bring us to cravings. I used to have uncontrollable cravings, mostly for sweet. It started when I came to a point in my life where I was stressed every minute of the day, and started to solve my stress by overeating. I would be able to consume an entire bag of Oreos and still crave more. Even when I put my life back in a better place, those cravings would stay.
This one took a little longer (about a year) but gradually, I stopped craving sweet (overeating as such went away almost immediately, but sweet craving stayed for longer). I don’t know the science behind this, or the chemical processes that my body went/goes through. All I know is that after running regularly for some time, my body (and, probably, mind, too) stopped craving for sweet, for that instant satisfaction of sugar high.
Instead, it was replaced with runner’s high, as far as I can tell.
Don’t get me wrong; I still enjoy a little ice-cream here, and a few Oreo cookies there. But A) I don’t punish myself for it anymore, and B) it’s much more moderated, and overall, only when my body genuinely asks for it, like with all food. Since I started running and stopped overeating, it’s become quite easy for me to tell what my body is missing, what it wants, and to listen to it.
Weight goes hand-in-hand with overeating. I used to stress over it but was unable to do anything about it – the more I tried to lose weight, the more I gained. But when I started running, it changed. It was a long way and a lot of conscious learning to change my view of my body, and I’ll write more about this journey in the future, but for now, I can only say that running got me out of the cycle of trying and failing and then punishing myself for it.
This one also took a little longer, and is still a work-in progress. But soon after I started running, I stopped giving a damn about my weight. I wasn’t trying to lose it, I just accepted it. It was a lot of mind-work to get out of that cursed circle, and I still battle with body negativity a lot sometimes. But what running taught me is gratitude, an overwhelming gratitude for my body. I realized how amazing it is, and I started to thank it for that it takes me through this beautiful world.
As I ran, I started to pay attention to the quality of the food I eat. Not quantity – quantity fixed itself by eating good, proper food. And then, about a year, year and a half after I started running, people started to notice a change. The scale confirmed; I lost between 10 and 15 lbs (weight naturally fluctuates based on what time of a day you weigh yourself, how much you drank/exercised before, what time of the month it is,…) since I started running.
It wasn’t only about the numbers; I feel better and healthier, and even though I still have my Michelin tire around my waist that will probably never go away, my body feels better and I feel better in my body. I have a much healthier relationship with food, and with myself, and that is much more that what I thought possible.
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