To help introduce you to all of the wonderful ambassadors we have, we will be doing a regular “Ambassador Spotlight”! Our first spotlight will be on Jennifer Doyle-Corn. You can follow her adventures of running for mental health on Instagram at @biggirl_biggoal.
In a few sentences, tell us about yourself
My name is Jennifer Doyle-Corn, and I’m 40 years old. Originally from Miami, I now live in Tallahassee, FL, with my husband, son, and three doggies. I hold an M.A. in English literature and am almost finished with my Ph.D., pending completion of my dissertation. I’ve taught middle school and undergrad English but am currently working as an editor for a publishing company while virtual schooling my kiddo. I love literature and history, animals, crafting, and being outdoors. I started “running” (I’m a run/walker) in 2012 to combat the physical effects of increasing obesity and quickly discovered the somewhat addicting mental health benefits of exercise.
Why are you passionate about running for mental health?
I am passionate about running for mental health because it has played such a big role in my own life. I’ve struggled with mental disorders and weight issues my entire adult life and was starting to face medical problems including pre-diabetes and edema in addition to the, at times, nearly incapacitating depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Sadly, I spent a long time being embarrassed about the psychiatric issues I’ve battled for more than half my life.
For years, I took myself off of meds as soon as I felt stable again because I thought needing medication was a sign of weakness, that there wasn’t really anything wrong with me and that I could override depression and anxiety if I tried hard enough. Inevitably, someone would have to drag me back to the doctor so I could be put on meds and become functional again. Counseling never helped. It took a doctor telling me that I have a chemical imbalance in my body to convince me that I have to stay on meds for my mind as well as for my thyroid. But even though we found a combination of medications that keeps me stable, I still have bouts of sadness, hopelessness, and anxiety that make it hard to go on sometimes.
Can you describe how running helps?
I finally realized that medication can only do so much and took the long standing advice of my doctors and mother and started exercising regularly (running). I quickly found that the natural chemicals released by the body during exercise have a huge impact on my mental state. When I get in a bad place, when I overwhelmingly feel like I want to curl up in a ball and do nothing, I know that’s when I absolutely have to make myself go out and exercise. Sometimes the payoff is instant, and sometimes I have to do several miles, but eventually I always feel an improvement in my frame of mind as well as feeling better physically. Setting running goals, training for races, and participating in events that require a commitment (such as streaking or reaching a certain mileage in a month to benefit charity) helps keep me accountable and forces me to try at times when I’d be inclined to not do anything. When I meet one of those goals, I feel like I’m winning in life, and that’s not something that happens often. In short, running gives me a sense of accomplishment that I’ve not felt before, and it helps negate my depression and anxiety in a way that years of various medications never has.
Tell us about your experience with Still I Run.
Being a part of the running community, particularly Still I Run, and contributing to the discussion about mental health has helped me accept that I will always have mood disorders—that’s just part of who I am—but to also know there are many others out there experiencing similar situations. My goal in becoming an SIR ambassador is to help break stereotypes about mental illness and encourage others to pursue more active lifestyles for the physical and mental health benefits.
Do you have a running mantra?
“Just keep moving.” It’s what I tell myself as frequently as necessary when I’m struggling with a distance or speed or mental block.
Where is your favorite place to run?
The Lafayette Heritage Trail Park here in Tallahassee. It’s a gorgeous run on varied terrain through woods, around a lake, over a canopy bridge, under moss-laden oak canopies, etc., and there is always lots of wildlife. It’s basically ridiculously idyllic.
What are you most proud of (running or non running related)?
I’m most proud of completing the Moose Double at Grand Teton National Park in 2019. Less than 12 hours after performing poorly in the 5K, which I chalked up to travel fatigue, I attempted the half marathon. Overweight and undertrained, used to running on flat land at sea level, I took on a course that was 6,000+ ft. above sea level and had significant elevation changes. Turns out your body doesn’t suddenly do something well because you tell it to, especially when you weigh 265 pounds. I quickly felt the decreased oxygen supply. Everything hurt and/or was shaking by mile 9. It was the hardest race I’ve ever done, and it’s the closest I’ve ever come to dropping out of one. At some points, I literally didn’t think I could make it to the end. The encouragement of my husband and sheer willpower somehow got me through an interminable four hours of torture. Yes, four hours. To complete a half marathon. It was mortifying to barely make the cutoff. When I got out of the chute, I dropped my medal and bawled for a few minutes from sheer physical and mental exhaustion. Even though it was my worst finish time ever, the fact that I kept going when it seemed impossible demonstrated a strength I didn’t know I had.
Favorite running moment you’d love to re-live?
Crossing the finish line at Gasparilla last year. It was my second half marathon in two weeks, my second PR in a row, and the completion of a challenge only a handful of people did that got me an additional fun medal at the finish line. Leading up to that challenge was the hardest I’d ever trained, and I was so proud of myself.
What’s your favorite way to recover after a run?
Lots of cool water followed by a long shower, with a shower beer if I earned it.
What’s one fun fact most people don’t know about you?
I work with llamas at a local farm, helping to halter break untrained ones, teaching handling classes to youth, and dressing the llamas up/leading them for meet-and-greets and photo shoots. I love me some llamas! It’s my dream to own a couple myself one day.
If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Pasta, hands down. Any kind with any vegetarian toppings.
Is a hot dog a sandwich?
I don’t know. Is an animal cracker a cookie?