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Run community

Why we run: How to keep moving forward during the holidays

Two runners dressed in warm weather gear
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We've all had a tough couple of years; I certainly count myself in this category. The pandemic has many of us facing challenges and losses we never expected, from loved ones to plain old normalcy. As the calendar rounds December, many of us will feel these stressors even more. But I can tell you, running during the holidays is one of the best ways to manage the busy, emotional season ahead.

I know the holidays can be a busy period, one where finding time for yourself and your running can get ridiculously hard. It might even feel selfish to carve out that time for yourself when there are kids to tend to, parties to attend, and family to visit. But trust me when I say making time for running during the holidays is good for everyone in your circle, not just you.

The morning of my dad's funeral, I stepped into my running shoes like I do most days. I watched the sun rise over the horizon, shed some tears, and drew some deep, calming breaths. That run centred me and allowed me to get through the tough day ahead.

These past two years have been difficult for everyone. The dark winter months can add strain on top of that, especially during the holidays when many of us struggle emotionally. As with the morning of my dad's funeral, you'll find me running during the holidays to make the going a bit easier, and I hope you'll consider it, too.

Your runs don't have to be structured or on a training plan during the holidays, and they don't have to be long or hard. They just need to be part of your routine to help power you through a stressful season of life.

Running can provide much-needed stability.

I've not found anything that compares to the way running helps me mentally. It's my moving meditation."

Anonymous runner

When I look back over my past several years, the one constant in my life — other than my kids and friends — has been running. The joy it delivers me, even in my lowest moments, is always there. Getting out the door and starting my day with fresh air and movement gives back tenfold what I put into it.

The truth is, the last four years have handed me more than my share of loss. First, it was my dad, then, a short year later, my mom. I went through a divorce, lost two pets early in the pandemic, and watched the world turn upside down alongside the rest of you. My kids were home from school, we all felt isolated and afraid, and none of us knew when things would return to normal. They still haven't entirely, and we all face uncertain futures. It's been a hard, trying time for us, and I'm sure you've had many struggles, too, since the calendar flipped to 2020.

Runner standing on a lookout point over a valley

To cope, I've used many tools, including therapy and leaning hard on my friends and family. But I'm not quite sure where I'd be if I hadn't had running in the picture, too. I'm not going to sell the "running is cheaper than therapy" trope, because I don't want to promote it as a cure-all. It's not. But it can be a very big, central part of dealing with tough times.

The intangible health benefits of running

You become fast friends during those runs where the conversation is great. During tough times, they're consistently the friends I can count on to get me out the door and be there to listen and talk."

Anonymous runner

Running works its magic in several ways. First, it delivers all kinds of feel-good neurotransmitters that lift your mood, often referred to as the "runner's high." The more often you do it, the more lasting the effect of these powerful reactions in your brain.

If you're running outside in nature, you're also getting some nature therapy, and there's plenty of research to back up its value. When you run alone, you have the time and space to unconsciously or consciously work through any problems and emotions. If you run with friends or a group, you gain companionship and camaraderie, and another chance to lean on or support friends if needed.

In my 20-plus years of running, I've shared many miles with my group of running friends. We've been through job changes, parenting challenges, divorces, dating, marriages, illness, death of loved ones, and relocation. All those shared miles alongside one another have led to bonds that will never be broken. We've shored each other up, doled out advice, and listened carefully and sympathetically when one of us needed support.

We've also been able to share in each other's joys, whether the birth of a child, a promotion at work, or a new love. It's a unique friendship I don't have with any other set of people in my world. Running has linked us together for life, through thick and thin.

Some of us are scattered around the country these days, but we still manage to stay close. During the toughest days of the pandemic, we often stayed connected by running with our phones, chatting through the miles, virtually alongside each other. Since the pandemic and in-person restrictions eased up a bit, we've met up on the road, on trails, at races or fun locations, as well as each other's homes to reconnect live and in person.

Two runners with a snowy scene in the background

I've also shared runs with my kids over the years. They haven't adopted it as their main sport, but through years of "Girls on the Run" programs, local 5Ks, and some runs around the neighbourhood, I've at least introduced it to them. My daughter, for the first time ever, ran cross-country this fall. She may not admit to loving it, but I've seen the good it does her, the way it lifts her mood and grounds her, setting her up for a more even-keeled day ahead. I predict both kids will lay down miles as adults because, underneath it all, they've been able to feel the mood-boosting effects of the sport.

Embracing change to move forward

To define running as my life is an understatement. In 2017, though, I needed two hip surgeries that would take me away from running. It was a blow to my identity and mental health. Who was I without running? A dear friend from my running group gave me a bracelet inscribed with 'This, too, shall pass' — a simple, yet powerful, statement. It took me a while, but I'm finally to a point where I'm able to get out and run again, and I'm in a much better mental state as a result. I couldn't have done it without leaning in to the people I care about and that care about me."

Anonymous runner

This past summer, I took on my biggest challenge in life yet: I picked up and moved across the country to Colorado. Now, moving to Colorado may not sound like a challenge, and I get that. It's a beautiful, spectacular state and without a doubt, one of the country's best spots for running. You get to live and run at elevation, get into the mountains on trails one more beautiful than the next, and be surrounded by other runners — all while the sun shines down on you far more days than it doesn't.

But this move also meant leaving my community, the home where I raised my kids, and everything warm and familiar. I thought I was ready for it and that I'd embrace it with open arms. But what I didn't see coming was that it was also a loss, and as it turns out, a loss one too many for me to handle. For the first time in my life, I fell into what I'm sure was clinical depression. I knew in addition to all of my go-to resources like therapy and my wonderful network of friends, the thing I needed to do was pull myself out of bed each morning, put on my running shoes, and get outside to log the miles.

I cried a lot during those runs; I cried after them, too. But I kept going back, day after day. Eventually, I began to pull out of my downward spiral and feel better. I've made some new running friends, had plenty of visitors — my crew of running friends included — and began to embrace the adventure I'm on. My new home isn't my home yet, but it's a good stopping point, even if we return to the East Coast next summer (reader, we probably will).

The point is, I'm not quite sure where I'd be after all these losses and struggles if it weren't for running. It's not the only thing that has helped me get through, but it's been the constant, and the element in my life I can always count on to give me joy. Even when a run feels hard, I still feel better than before I started.

Runner going down a paved trail with snow

Make time for running during the holidays

Every winter, I experience seasonal depressive disorder. One thing that really helps me is getting outside and running. I actually love running in the winter; I'm able to run faster, easier, and more comfortably. Plus, if I head out after 4 pm, I get to take in all of the holiday lights in my neighbourhood. It's a literal bright spot in my days."

Anonymous runner

Throughout the past two years, we've all faced loss, whether loved ones, jobs, or opportunities to travel and visit with friends. It's been a loss of normalcy none of us saw coming and our emotions are raw. As we head into the holiday season, all of this loss may feel particularly difficult. Like me, many of you will struggle.

But I hope, also like me, you will see the benefit of running during the holidays, or any tough season of life. Here are some tips to keep in mind this holiday season:

  • If you're particularly busy with family obligations and year-end work commitments, take out a calendar and a pen and schedule in your runs.
  • Reach out to running partners, if you have them, and make plans to get out there together.
  • Take an evening or two to run through neighbourhoods with holiday lights ablaze.
  • Find a holiday-themed race, throw on some colourful running gear, and enjoy the respite from the day-to-day overwhelm.

The morning of my dad's funeral, when I went out for that run, the sky lit up in one of the most beautiful sunrises I've ever seen. It felt very much like my dad was sending those beams of light down toward me, telling me everything would be OK.

I couldn't have anticipated the enormity of loss I had coming my way, but over the past couple of years, on many of my dawn patrol runs, I've been treated to those beautiful sunrises time and again. I know it's my dad's way of telling me things will be OK, and I draw strength from that. Were it not for running, I wouldn't have seen that first sunrise on the day of his funeral, and I wouldn't have the comfort of the sunrises I've seen since then, which have given me signs of hope in this difficult season of life.

Our writer's advice is intended for informational or general educational purposes only. We always encourage you to speak with your physician or healthcare provider before making any adjustments to your running, nutrition, or fitness routines.

Written By
Amanda Loudin

Health and science writer

Amanda Loudin running in a forest

I've been a runner for more than two decades and a journalist for just as long. I'm also a certified running coach and nothing makes me happier than marrying up writing and running. Find me on the trails with two- and four-legged friends.