Once runners tap into this mental clarity, they’re often compelled to seek more of it—Dr. Roche says she often sees athletes get curious about meditation after they’ve been consistently logging miles for a while.
You can heighten this experience by using what Dr. Bagley calls “sensate focus.” Make mental notes of what you hear, touch, feel, smell, and taste on your route. That can help pull you out of an internal state where you might be experiencing a lot of stress, she says.
8. Running gives you practice setting goals and plenty of chances to celebrate.
Even with fewer in-person races due to the pandemic, running offers ample opportunities to set a goal and go for it. Maybe you want to go farther than you ever have, run a mile a day for a month, or get your fastest time in a virtual challenge.
Getting there will require breaking a big goal down into step-by-step processes. “That skill translates mentally into other things—say, if you want to start a business or a new job,” Peralta-Mitchell says.
And those goals and milestones have value in their own right. “A lot of people felt like 2020 was a lost year—we lost family time, we lost travel, we lost jobs, we lost people,” Goodman says.
But many of her runners, even those with frontline jobs or other life challenges, trained hard and did well in virtual races anyway. Even just reveling in a long run, a consistent week of training, or a beautiful trail scene can train your focus on the positive. “There was something to be gained through running,” Goodman says.
9. Through running, you also learn resilience.
Even optimistic runners like Dr. Roche (who co-authored a book called The Happy Runner) and Goodman (whose coaching company is called Running Joyfully) admit not every single run is a great one. Especially if you’re a new runner or dabbling in faster paces or longer distances, things can get a bit uncomfortable.
“You can use self-talk in the middle of a workout to talk yourself through the hard miles or keep going if you want to give up,” Goodman says. “I’ve heard a lot of people reference that—‘Well, I feel like I’m able to tackle this hard thing, whether it’s in work or in my personal life, because I know I can do hard things on the run.”
Peralta-Mitchell recalls the confidence she built from running her first marathon, the Philadelphia Marathon. “You start to think that nothing is impossible,” she says. “That really carries over to other things in life, in terms of, you can conquer the unconquerable.”
10. It doubles as social time and can lead to deep friendships.
“If you can run safely with a mask with others, it’s a great way to combat social isolation, which many of us are feeling right now,” Goodman says. Joining a running group can help you make friends when you move to a new place. Often, the bonds you build over the miles—doing a difficult activity together—wind up being particularly strong.
“You’re able to open up and be vulnerable with someone when you’re side by side, in parallel, in ways that you’re not when you’re face to face,” Dr. Bagley says. “It’s like, I can trust this person because they’re struggling in ways that feel really similar, and they’re cheerleading for me when I’m struggling.”
Even when the pandemic prevented groups from gathering in person, the running community got creative. Peralta-Mitchell and one of the groups she leads met up on Zoom for a pre-run stretch and post-run cooldown even when they couldn’t sweat together in person. Others have staged socially distanced scavenger hunts, Strava challenges, or other separate-but-together endeavors.
11. Running connects you to a community.
Pacing through the streets and parks near you can help you feel grounded and connected to your surroundings. For years, Goodman lived in Providence, Rhode Island, and reveled in seeing the seasonal changes around her—the fall leaves, the holiday lights—as well as the consistency of neighbors walking their dogs.