Many years ago before I considered myself a runner, someone told me that running was an unhealthy activity because people who chose to run were, at least symbolically, running away from their problems. This statement has stuck with me over the years as I have evolved as a runner and as a person. Even Runner's World has considered this question with a recent article on how much exercise is unhealthy.
I started running a little over five years ago in July of 2007. In the months preceding my not-so-auspicious beginning, one of the dearest people in my life had passed away, I defended my dissertation, got a new job, moved into my first house, changed my relationship status (for the better), and had surgery for the first time. Although there were a lot of positive changes in my life, so much crammed in to such a short period of time was incredibly stressful and I had consumed a lot of oreos along the way. Blessedly, I had moved close to an experienced runner who was getting back in the game. On that first day I don't even think it I made it a mile before I was tomato-faced and clutching my side, gasping for air. Since then, I've taken some very small breaks from running, but never really quit being a runner.
Over the years, there have been times that running has been an unhealthy thing for me. It's been unhealthy when I used a three-mile run as an excuse to eat whatever junk food in whatever amount I wanted. It's been unhealthy when I have let comparison steal my joy by watching leaner, faster runners and wondering why I cannot or do not do the same.
And, yes, I have also used running to "run away". I run away from the middle schooler that I was who was ridiculed by a track coach. I run away from my own limiting concept of myself as someone who is not an athlete. I run away from the part of me that is shy and finds it a challenge to be in new social situations. I run away from weakness. I run away from letting fear keep me from trying something new.
In really analyzing just how unhealthy running is for me, I fall on the side that running has made me healthier in mind, body, and spirit. I run toward a better version of myself. I eat to fuel my body for a good run. I run in the summer to absorb the golden nature of Texas heat and run in the winter to feel the cold in my lungs. I run with friends, old and new, and rejoice in their fellowship. I run alone to heal and think. I run slower than some and faster than others, but I run, and, despite the naysayers, I will continue to run.