Runners Chris Malenab, Allie Buchalski, and David Ribich share their mental health journeys to support Mental Health Awareness Month.
DISCLAIMER: THIS ARTICLE DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE
The content in this post is intended for informational or general educational purposes only and it is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before making any adjustments to your running, nutrition, fitness, or healthcare routines.
The run is our happy place, and we want to share it. That’s why we’re dedicated to helping runners like you find community, talk about your struggles, and learn how the run benefits your brain. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we spoke to runners Chris Malenab, David Ribich, and Allie Buchalski about using the run to get through challenging times. Check out their stories and tips below.
Be where your feet are
Runner, soccer coach, and Brooks partner Chris Malenab is open about the challenges he faces. He lives with bipolar disorder, and for several years Chris felt like he was alone. In 2019 Chris reached what he calls a boiling point — he survived a suicide attempt.
“By using my platform now, whether it’s soccer or running, hopefully I can make a difference in one person’s life,” he said.
Chris has worked hard in mental health advocacy since his survival. From December 30–31, 2021, he ran 100 miles on a treadmill while live streaming and raised over $5,000 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. And every year, starting on April 16, which is World Semicolon Day, and through May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month, he sells a T-shirt to raise money for mental health causes. These sales have helped organizations like Hope Squad, Hope for the Day, and the Jordan Porco Foundation, all of which are peer-to-peer suicide prevention education groups that provide services to schools.
Along with his work with a therapist, Chris uses running to help keep himself mentally well. It allows him to be present in the moment.
“I have a motto that I picked up when I first started running, but it’s carried over into my life: ‘Be where your feet are.’ I have that on my ID bracelet which has all my emergency contact info as well. Running is a gift, which reminds me that life is a gift. Running also reminds me that I live with bipolar disorder. Not every day is going to be perfect. Not every run is going to be perfect. I know that if I’m going to get through the run, I’m going to feel much better. I know that even though I’m feeling bogged down by depression, if I get up out of bed and brush my teeth, things will get better.”
Chris is hoping to break the three-hour mark at the California International Marathon this year in December. He also has a dream to run 26.2 for seven days straight.
To stay up to date on Chris’ running and his advocacy, follow him on Instagram.
Coming back from a broken routine
Brooks Beast Allie Buchalski loves the way her team is regimented. The Beasts meet four days a week for official practices with an occasional weekend practice for good measure. Wednesday and Saturdays are usually days to run on their own, and Allie typically runs about six miles on those days, sometimes by herself, sometimes with the Brooks Trailhead Running Club that leaves from the retail location in Seattle. When she’s travelling or on holiday, she tries to keep to her routine because, well, when running is your job, you kind of have to do it even when you don’t want to.
But Allie loves a routine and admits to being an anxious ball of energy when she’s not running. So, the COVID-19 pandemic was especially jarring for her. The team got shut down. Races were canceled. Then, the big blow — the Olympic Trials were postponed.
“Running keeps me on an equilibrium. It helps me process things that are going on in my life. So COVID was horrible for me. I was having a hard time; it was becoming mentally taxing with our races getting canceled. Circling an event can really give you a jump start. Then I got injured. I live for my routine, and all of this flipped that upside down.”
That’s when Allie sought help from a sports psychologist for the first time.
“I needed someone to help me get through that rut. I wish I’d done it earlier, but I’m glad to say that I’m still working with the same physician. He’s worked through lots of things with me, just with life stuff and running as things were getting crazy. I’m grateful for it.”
The shutdowns and the injury forced Allie to slow down. She did a ton of yoga, bike work, meditation, and journaling.
“In general, I took a lot of time to sit still. That was hard for me. It also made me realize that when things are going well, that’s great. But when times are tough, it’s important to be there, too. Let yourself feel it. You need to cry? Let it out. I get in trouble when I don’t fully experience those negative moments. Life is meant to be up and down and having a good headspace when there are those peaks and valleys helps center you.”
Follow Allie on Instagram to get a taste of her routine.
Prioritize your mental health in whatever way you need to
For David Ribich, every productive day starts with a run. If he knows he has a long list of errands or non-running responsibilities, he makes sure to schedule a run in the morning to jump start his day.
Running is David’s job, and like his teammate Allie Buchalski, being a Brooks Beast is full of crucial routines. But he finds joy and flexibility in being on his own, too. This manifested in 2020 during COVID. The year was shaping up to be the best of David’s running career. He thought his performances would be a springboard to the Olympic Trials, but everything shut down and he took a step back. An achilles injury made him press pause on running for 12 weeks. For David, this was a blessing in disguise. He went on an 80-mile backpacking trip with some of his best friends on the Pacific Crest Trail, and this adventure was something that he needed during a difficult time.
“For me, I prioritize mental health in whatever way I need it. I keep my mind right by being with my friends, family, and the people I love. And for running, I see a sports psychologist. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made in my career. Running is a sport that is monitored and ranked by milliseconds and your value is determined by placings in a race. I’ve removed myself from that mindset. I do this because I want to do this. I do it because I love it. Running is a choice. I say that often, and it really helps when I have to reflect on results. If the worse part of my life right now is having a bad race, that’s a pretty great place to be in.”
Be sure to check out David’s podcast, “Sit and Kick,” which he hosts with fellow Brooks Beast teammate Josh Kerr. He’s also written a book called Small School Big Dreams.
Follow David on Instagram for more of his adventures.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 264 million people battle depression. You are not alone. If you or someone you know is suffering from symptoms of depression, there are plenty of ways to get the help you need. Find resources for mental health, including suicide prevention, disaster distress, and more at mentalhealth.gov. Be sure to speak with your physician about your mental health.