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Running is Cheaper than Psychotherapy

Solutions to your own — or the world’s — problems can be found during a trek through the neighborhood.

Some people solve the world’s problems while they’re in the shower — at least theoretically, that is. Others swear by the counsel they receive from their hairdresser or barber. Bartenders have also earned a reputation for being great listeners.

This is by no means a criticism of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, marriage counselors, or others who are certified and skilled at solving people’s problems and conflicts. It’s just that for me, running has always been my best therapy.

When I run alone it’s usually first thing in the morning. I’m out of bed, contact lenses in, dressed, iPod strapped to my arm, and out the door before I have time to procrastinate or think of anything else I should really be doing instead of running.

Things I need to do? That’s what I ponder while I’m pounding the pavement.

I also have imaginary discussions with friends and family members. They listen so well when it’s all in my head. How can I have a reasonable dialogue with my teenage daughter/son about (fill in the blank with words like sex, drinking, tattoos)? After my 40- or 45-minute morning trek through the neighborhood, I usually have a workable plan for any of those tough conversations.

Running time also provides me with a great opportunity to write. If I’m struggling to come up with the lead sentence for a story, inspiration will often come during my morning run. That’s when I wrote this column.

Of course, I have to be sure to remember my thoughts when I get home. I have been known to rush into the house and head straight for the laptop, trying not to get sweat on the keyboard.

Running is also a great way to work off frustration. Tension fades away with each footfall. Five years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Ultimately it was found to be Stage 0, and treated with “just” a lumpectomy and radiation, not the more invasive treatments I immediately thought would be a certainty.

The morning after my diagnosis, after my doctor assured me that revving up my metabolism would not spread the evil cells any more rapidly, I went for a 6-mile run and returned ready to face whatever was ahead.

The days I run with others are just as therapeutic in a different way. Running partners have a way of being able to talk to each other about everything under the sun. Marital problems, dread diseases, troublesome children, you name it.

If you start off on a run with a stranger, it’s almost guaranteed you will be intimate confidantes after four or five miles. You may not even recognize each other when you have a chance meeting in the grocery store dressed in street clothes, hair styled, makeup on, but these are friends with whom you can discuss almost anything. Sometimes we get together outside of running just so we can see what we look like in "real life."

No one can forget Sept. 11, 2001. If you were alive and past your toddler years, you will recall that day and the days and weeks that followed as a time of shock, sorrow, and uncertainty about the world’s future.

I was training for my first marathon at the time, and some of my most vivid memories are of running in the days following the attacks. There was the run I took on Sept. 12, early in the morning and by myself, where I wrote a that I re-read every year on Sept. 11.

Three days later, I completed a 22-mile run with two running partners, a man and woman I had met through a marathon training group but had not known previously. In the more than three hours we spent on the back trails of West Hartford’s reservoir, we shared our deepest fears about the state of the world, as we tried to make sense of previously unimaginable tragedy.

There may come a day when a solitary run or an outing with my training partners won’t result in a solution for me. But until that day comes, I’ll continue to lace up my shoes and head straight out the door, in search of the elusive solution to whatever problem comes to mind.

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