How Running Can Strengthen Our Mind, Body, and Soul

By Kyla Jacobo, DPT

Our ancestors ran as a means of hunting food and escaping predators. We see children running around in circles just for the pure joy of it. So why have so many adults lost that desire to get outside, feel their hearts pumping, and move their bodies in a way that was etched into our DNA? Have our lives become so laden with luxury and convenience that the mere thought of discomfort makes us shudder?  

A decade ago, I thought running marathons was only for those athletes with slender builds, long legs, and strides like a gazelle. I grew up in an athletic family, so I was not lazy by any means. But my sport of choice was soccer. I loved it!  Soccer was my passion…and I would do anything to improve my game…that is, except for running. I just did not like it. Yes, we did a lot of running during practices and games. But if you asked me to run a mile, I would cringe. 

Fast forward 10 years…insert baby, busy work schedule, and 40 unwanted pounds.

I was extremely overweight.  Maintaining my size 4 figure had never been an easy task, but I managed to stay fit by playing soccer and relying on my youthful, fast metabolism.  Now as an adult, with the demands of a family and full-time job, I was struggling. So I decided to do the unthinkable…

I went for a run!

I’m not going to lie, that first run was brutal.  I can still remember running a quarter of a mile…my knees aching…chest pounding…parts moving that frankly, you just don’t want to move!  But I stuck with it. I would walk/jog every day, until finally I was able to run a complete mile without stopping. A few months later, I completed my first 5K.

I was hooked…

Running became a huge part of my life. Saturday mornings were synonymous with long runs, which also meant chocolate milk, ice baths, and foam rollers. My closet filled with race shirts and bright colored headbands with quotes like, Will run for wine and This is my happy pace. I was enjoying the community I had built around this new passion…but most of all, I was enjoying feeling good!

I had never felt more alive!

As the distances increased, so did my confidence. I learned that I could control my mind and push through the pain in order to reach my goal.  I ran several half marathons and then finally conquered a full marathon. 

This journey that I’m on has been a bumpy and winding road, both literally and figuratively.  But it has ultimately led me to believe that running can be used as a tool to strengthen our mind, body, and soul. 

Master your mind…

“Beyond the very extreme of fatigue and distress, we may find amounts of ease and power we never dreamed ourselves to own; sources of strength we never taxed at all because we never pushed through the obstruction.”      

-William James

One of the most challenging races I’ve run to date was along the central coast of California. It wasn’t the distance that made it hard or the lack of training, it was the heat. Although the race finished at the beach, the majority of the 13.1 miles was inland, on dry, hilly roads without a trace of shade. It wasn’t long before I became dehydrated, seeking out aid stations like an oasis in a desert. I ran past my husband and little girl, waving and cheering me on, which gave me the boost I needed to finish. 

Stories like this one are not uncommon among runners. In fact, I think it’s what drives us to continue to sign up for race after race. In our comfort laden lives, we sit at a desk, relax on a comfy sofa, and drive in air conditioned cars. When do we have the opportunity to physically push ourselves to our limits?

It is in moments like these, on that hot and dry race course, that we can overcome limiting beliefs about who we are and what we are capable of. We can tell ourselves we are not going to give up. We can realize that pain is temporary.

When the blisters are healed and the aches and pains have subsided, you are left with a new found confidence in yourself. A little voice inside saying, you can do whatever you set your mind to

So do not run from a challenge, run towards it…as it may be the thing that unlocks your untapped potential.

Strengthen your body…

“Physical fitness is the basis for all other forms of excellence.”

-John F. Kennedy

Should we choose to do the work, we have the ability to strengthen our bodies in such a way, that we can achieve excellence in all areas of life. 

Be patient. Be consistent. Over time you will start to see a transformation…

  • Increased muscle tone

When you first start running, muscles will be sore that you didn’t even know existed. You will start to notice definition in your arms, legs, and even those lines down your abdomen that represent what could be the start of six pack abs! Best of all, you will start to feel strong and powerful in your own body. 

  • Weight loss

Running burns a lot of calories…especially when you reach 8, 10, and 12 mile runs. It speeds up your metabolism and helps to control blood sugar, which further aids in weight loss and maintenance. There is also a strange phenomenon that makes you crave broccoli and spinach…although, I can devour a big basket of french fries on occasion!

  • Improved mood

Someone once said, “you’re only one run away from a good mood”. It’s so true! I can walk out of the house feeling like Cruella De Vil…and return from a run with a smile ear to ear and a bounce in my step akin to Mary Poppins! 

Each time your muscle contracts, you receive a dose of ‘feel good’ hormones throughout your body. When these hormones are secreted, they affect your brain and create what is referred to as a “runner’s high”.

  • Improved sleep

Whether it be an uncomfortable bed, inability to quiet the mind, or excessive amounts of screen time at night, many people are deprived of a critical part of good health…a good night’s sleep. Completely exhausting your body physically can trigger a response to take a much needed rest, shut down mentally, and allow the body to rejuvenate. After a good, long run…I sleep like a log!

  • Develop a connection with your body

When you push your body physically, you will undoubtedly hear about it. That communication comes in the form of delayed onset muscle soreness or, DOMS. DOMS is a result of lactic acid build up in our blood following exercise. This is a good thing however, because the more we can feel our bodies, the better in tune we become with ourselves, thus creating a deeper connection. 

Fill your soul…

“…that thing that we are trying to remove from our life [discomfort] is the one thing that is somewhat essential to actually feeling completely alive and at your best.” 

-Rich Roll

Before I began running, I thought I had reached my destination. I was married with 2.5 children and a white picket fence (figuratively speaking!). Although it sounded like the American dream, my soul felt empty. I now know that it was because I had stopped growing. Stopped dreaming. Stopped pushing myself to become better. 

Running was an opportunity for me to set goals, work hard, and achieve tangible results. 

Not only was I developing a better relationship with myself, I was cultivating a community of like minded people. Nothing brings people together like chafed arms, blistered toes, and 14 mile runs in the rain at 5 o’clock in the morning!

After a while, I stopped running with groups and spent some time on my own. My runs became a time for me to think, pray, enjoy the fall colored leaves and the snow capped mountains. It filled me with such gratitude to be alive. 

It was a time of peaceful solitude. 

Whether you choose to run a 5K or an ultra marathon, find the distance that pushes you to your limit. A distance so challenging that you will want to quit. Then find a way to access your inner strength and grit that will push you through the finish line. You will be forever changed. 

So get out there. Walk. Run. Skip if you want to. 

Find your happy pace.