My mental health, career, relationships, and most importantly how running fits into my life have been at the forefront of my recent personal development journey this past year.
I have always been an active person, but in my early 20s, I found running to be the most accessible. What started as a way to get in shape truly became a lifestyle. Once I became a runner and athlete I never stopped. This is due in part to the fact I noticed a correlation in a happy mood when I would consistently run.
Ahh, the runners high we all have grown to love!
I knew then not only did I want to continue to use movement to stay physically healthy but also how necessary it was to navigate my anxiety and depression. Along the way, however, I developed some poor habits and dependencies.
My Physical and Mental Health
It took me several years of running to recognize that my mental health took a back seat to my physical health. Instead of wanting to run for my health I felt like I HAD to or I couldn’t fully be “me” if I didn’t run. I’d force myself to the gym or out for a run, but did it in such a robotic state that I was never present for what I was doing it for. I was addicted to the feeling that working out gave me but rarely gave myself rest days. I was uneducated on what balance between physical activity, nutrition, and mental health meant.
The beginning of my athletic education really started to take off when I paired up with a trainer. My running schedule didn’t look familiar and it incorporated lifting and rest days. That year I shaved nearly 15 minutes off of my overall time for the River Bank Run from past years. Despite the breakthrough, I reverted back to some old unhealthy habits.
Physically I was in pretty great shape but started to experience food sensitivities and fatigue.
I was overtraining, had an inconsistent diet, and my body responded by rejecting foods. Most times, when I ate, my breathing became shallow, I’d experience brain fog, and become severely bloated and very tired. This heightened my anxiety around eating and made me scared of food. Some days the fatigue would hit me so hard I would barely want to leave my house. I was not eating enough for my training but never looked sick. This made me feel somewhat crazy and completely out of control. There were no visible signs of something wrong, but I never felt right.
I gave myself some rest time to try and recover, but shortly into my rest period, a friend asked me to run the Bayshore Marathon with her the following spring. Despite still needing a break I was too proud to say no. A marathon was on the top of my bucket list and if not now, then when? I slowly worked my way back into running despite food issues and battled through the training.
That year I ran my first marathon, Bayshore to be exact. A fairly flat and beautiful route.
After the race was over whenever anyone would ask “would you do it again?” I would quickly respond with a hard “NO!” I was proud of my accomplishment, no doubt, but I knew mentally that something was off. This really bothered me. Something that I used to love and was such a gateway to feeling accomplished was now something I dreaded.
After that experience, I took the next several months to educate myself. My mental health needed attention, I needed to focus on proper nutrition for that type of training, and I also needed to acknowledge my lack of interest in my chosen career.
After much determination, I started to find some relief. Through whole food plant-based eating, I recognized how much lighter and free I felt. I found that nourishing my body by eating more plants was also nourishing my mind. I avoided high inflammatory foods, started exploring personal development, cut back on drinking, and *sigh*…. yet again stopped running.
Shift in Mindset
This past year has been monumental for my life and mental health journey.
A dear friend of mine challenged me to find an organization and mission I believed in and find a way to get involved. She thought if I explored a way to serve others I may feel more connected to my mental health journey.
I came to across the 1-in-5 Hope Network Relay Race and was very excited about participating. The only problem was it was 2 weeks away. Regardless of the short time frame, I decided to put myself out on the internet to recruit teammates. To my surprise, I recruited a full team and created space for people to share their stories with me. During my leg, I ran faster than any race. I recognized that when I was running for a purpose that my mind and body connected flawlessly and that athlete I always wished to be shined through.
After that race I started a new life mission: to help others in their mental health journey, to always nourish my body and mind, to rest and meditate, practice mental health rituals, to train for a purpose and to find peace in a career that supported all the things I loved. At the time I didn’t know how I’d make all this happen, but I was determined.
Mountains and Marathons
That is when Mountains and Marathons came into my life.
At the time of exploring M&M, I had every intention of running a marathon vs. climbing a mountain so I could revisit this experience with a healthier mind. But as fate had it Tanzania, Africa was their next program all surrounding an epic climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Due to the fact, I had a new life mission, I accepted this opportunity immediately. Something so risky was very out of character for me, but after the call with my soon to be coach, Jamin, there was an instant connection. It was the first time I openly shared my story of mental health with zero filters to a complete stranger who lived across the world and felt understood.
On August 14, 2019, my 6-month leadership program with Mountains & Marathons began. This program provides me 2 leadership coaches, a nutritionist, and a fitness coach. Within this program, I have learned to develop the most important relationship in my life; me.
I was also empowered to quit my negative job in September, explore a new career path, become a stronger athlete, have a healthy relationship food and body image, mended relationships, created new relationships and I have the healthiest mindset I have ever had in my entire life.
The lens I view this world through is no longer foggy or full of uncertainty. There are many unknowns, but the more I lean into the things that make my world scream positivity and excitement the more trust I have in myself. I practice patience to allow the right things to show up in my life at the right time.
Speaking of timing, a partnership with Still I Run also fell perfectly into this journey. When I embarked on this mission I originally wanted to raise money to fund my trip to Mt. Kilamanjaro, but very quickly that lens changed. I decided this journey isn’t just about me and that supporting a charity for mental health was more important.
I will proudly sport Still I Run gear on the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro this January. I have an active link (found here) where friends and family can contribute to Still I Run if they feel inspired to.
I am here for anyone looking for support in their mental health journey through running, physical activity or navigating making any positive change towards a healthier mindset. Please do not hesitate to leave a comment or reach out on my personal site below if you need it.
I welcome anyone who wishes to follow my climb and please consider contributing to Still I Run to support its incredible mission!
Contact Sam Bennett Instagram: saammb