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Running the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon for Mental Health

New York City and Los Angeles are gearing up for an extraordinary display of resilience and strength as a few staple spring races are set to take place. The United Airlines NYC Half Marathon and the Los Angeles Marathon/Charity Half both take place on Sunday, March 17. Still I Run will have teams at both races, with those runners bringing awareness to our mission and mental health

The Importance of Mental Health Awareness

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that at least one in five American adults is living with some form of mental health condition. Since the pandemic in 2020, the prevalence of anxiety and depression has increased by 25% globally, making awareness that much more important. Mental health awareness helps to break down the stigmas surrounding the topic, encourage open conversations and spread information about the various aspects of emotional well-being. 

Mental health concerns gained increased recognition in recent years, and individuals and communities seek creative ways to contribute to the conversation. The synergy between physical activity and emotional well-being makes running a natural platform for advocacy. 

Demari Muff, of Cleveland Heights, Ohio , is signed up to run in the 2024 United Airlines NYC Half Marathon on March 17. Muff says he learned about Still I Run while searching for charities to partner with that paired mental health and running. 

“As an attorney, mental health is key and something that I and many members of the Cleveland legal community value. Raising awareness and supporting efforts to highlight the connection between running and mental health is of the utmost importance. I think we need it now more than ever. 

From my perspective, running is the only time when I can be ‘me,’ free from judgment and pressure. It is a time when I can express myself through movement. Having this outlet is crucial to my well-being at a time when I am saturated with negativity from various sources. 

Knowing that running can be beneficial in so many ways, especially for my mental health is inspiring. I hope that through my expressions, my movements, my runs and my participation in races, I can inspire others and let them know that they are not alone and that they matter. As a Black man, mental health is not front and center in my community.” 

It Boosts Your Mood

During exercise, your body releases endorphins — the body’s “feel good” hormones. These neurotransmitters act as natural mood enhancers, providing you with a sense of joy and satisfaction. For many, the “runner’s high” is a real phenomenon contributing significantly to their overall emotional well-being.

According to Muff, “I believe running and movement is great for our mental health. For me, I do not like to start my day without going on a run. It’s a practice of gratitude that allows me to focus, lock in, and be present. This does wonders for my mental health, ultimately making me a more pleasant and patient person throughout the day. 

Running reminds me to live life like it’s practice, and go out every day and try. If I can’t sit still to meditate, running serves that purpose as well. Ultimately, running is a source of self-care that aids me on my mental health journey and self-love journey.”

It Reduces Stress

Beyond the immediate mood boost, running is a powerful stress reducer. It allows you to channel your energy and focus, clearing your mind from the daily stressors that may be weighing you down. The repetitive nature of the sport is a form of meditation in motion, promoting mindfulness and allowing you to break free from the mental clutter that often accompanies stress. 

Muff discovered the stress-reducing benefits of running firsthand from his supervisor at his first job out of law school. “I didn’t listen to her at the time but down the road, I would take her advice. She would get up and run 6-7 miles every day. She was in her 70s at the time. She had explained to me that running helps her slow down and always has and encouraged me to try it. She is an inspiration and all-around great person. It was not until 2022, two years later, that I would end up taking her advice.” 

Thanks to his supervisor, Muff has been “...running consistently since May 2022. I have done two half-marathons, and one marathon so far. The 2024 NYC half marathon will be my third official half. And in April, I will be participating in the Glass City Marathon in Toledo, Ohio.”

Photo by Tonya M. Singer

It Sharpens Your Mind

Running also provides cognitive benefits. The increased blood flow to the brain during a run enhances intellectual function, sharpens your focus, and promotes creativity. Running provides you with a unique mental space to reflect, problem-solve and develop new ideas. 

It Lowers Your Risk of Anxiety and Depression

Regular running can drastically reduce your risk of anxiety and depression. It releases serotonin and dopamine, which are crucial for regulating mood and emotional well-being. 

Because running can lower stress levels, it creates a neurochemical environment that’s less conducive to developing anxiety and depressive disorders. A Harvard Medical School study revealed that as little as 15 minutes of running or one hour of walking daily can lower your risk of major depression by 26%.

Beyond lowering stress levels, running can make some people feel a sense of freedom. In Muff’s words, “What I enjoy most about running is that it is the closest thing I will ever get to the feeling of flying. To me, running is an expression of my emotions in motion. 

I live for that feeling and freedom. It is a safe space for my body to express itself, free from societal pressures and obligations.  I run because it is meditative and brings me peace and joy, all while holding me accountable and reminding me to continuously ‘water myself’ and allow myself to grow.”

It Boosts Your Self-Esteem

You create a sense of accomplishment as you set and achieve personal running goals — whether completing a specific distance or improving your pace. The consistent effort the sport requires fosters discipline and dedication. Witnessing physical improvements over time, such as increased endurance and stamina, instills a sense of pride and confidence in your abilities. 

Muff runs to help boost his outlook, as well as the outlook of others. “My motivation for participating in this race is to show any young Black person that sees me running, that they can do this too. We are not limited or confined to what society limits us to,” he says. “We are beautiful and luminescent beings and we should not be afraid to shine. I also want to let my community know that we struggle too, and that is ok. I am here for you, and will rally (run) for you.” 

It Reduces Feelings of Loneliness

Many people are still battling loneliness and isolation, even months after lockdown restrictions were lifted. These feelings have led many to turn to exercise as a way to make connections. Running clubs are becoming extremely popular, creating a sense of community and connection. Joining these organizations, participating in group runs or connecting with fellow runners online creates a supportive network. For many, running provides a sense of belonging and companionship.

“Life can be stressful,” Muff says. “I am an attorney, so life can give me a lot of lemons. Running has helped me become better at making lemonade. I think running has helped me develop great coping mechanisms that serve me in all aspects of my life: family, relationships and work. 

The expression, “If you love something, it will love you back,” rings true for me when it comes to running. I rely on running to grow and to improve and practice great mental hygiene. Every time I go on a run I believe there is something I can take from it to help me improve my mental health and well-being.  I am constantly learning how to make better lemonade.”

Why Are People Running for Mental Health?

Running is a personal sanctuary for many. It’s a fantastic way to combat stress, alleviate anxiety and chase away the shadows of depression. It offers a space for self-reflection, processing emotions and cultivating mental resilience — and many take advantage of these benefits.

Beyond the individual benefits, runners are taking to the streets to raise awareness for mental health on a broader scale. By turning their passion for running into a platform for advocacy, they aim to destigmatize mental health issues and promote open conversations.

Runners are raising funds for various mental health organizations. Crowdfunding campaigns and charity partnerships are helping turn each stride into a step toward a mentally healthier society. Among these inspiring initiatives is the noteworthy involvement of runners with Team Still I Run. These individuals lace up their sneakers to advocate for mental health. Devoted to sharing their personal journeys and promoting mental health awareness, the team directs 100% of the funds they raise into supporting Still I Run’s mission and programs

As a member of Team Still I Run, Muff understands Still I Run’s mission deeply, sharing “Running has helped with my mental health struggles and continues to do so. I became a “mind mythbuster” essentially proving to myself that I can continue, I can carry on, that even when I am weak, I am strong.  Without running, I would not have appreciated the process or developed the necessary coping mechanisms and community.” 

Muff’s most important message he'd like people, runners or not, to take away from the stigmatizing narrative around mental health, is, “It is ok, to not be ok. It does not make you weak. You are human and your humanity is not dependent on neglecting or suppressing how you feel. Your value is intrinsic and not a commodity. Feel everything, and keep moving as best you can. You matter, say it with me: ‘You matter.’”


In studio photos, including the feature image were taken by photographer Tonya M. Singer


By Beth Rush

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