Running A Half Marathon with Depression

Running A Half Marathon with Depression

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nyc half marathon in times square

The NYC Half Marathon is this weekend – good luck to all the runners. I ran this race in 2012 and it is still one of my most memorable races. I was in the midst of a debilitating severe depression when I ran it. This isn’t going to be a motivational “If I can do it, so can you” message. This is a message of just how fucked up Depression is and how we can never ever trust our brains.


First, let’s talk about my running schedule leading up to the Half. Here are all my runs from summer 2011-March 2012:
Jul ’11: 10-Mile run up Bedford Ave
Sep ’11: Newport Liberty Half Marathon (my first Half)
Jan ’12: 3-Mile run along the Hudson River
Mar ’12: NYC Half Marathon

And that’s it.

This is one of those weird things where, “normally”, I wouldn’t even consider running a half so unprepared but since Depression is all about sabotaging yourself, both races seemed like a great idea. Starting the spring of 2011, I moved into Manhattan and became severely depressed to the point where I wasn’t functional. I woke up every morning crying, could barely eat or sleep, and often times called in to work just because I couldn’t get myself out of bed.

Some days, moving from the bed to the couch was an accomplishment. Going for a run was out of the question.

Besides, I knew it wouldn’t make me feel better. Nothing made me feel better when I was deep in that rut. Looking at the schedule above, I remember that January run. It was New Year’s Day and I had a brief moment of hope in the midst of crying on the couch. I decided to start the year off right with a run, especially since I was already signed up for the upcoming race in March. So I got ready for the run, still crying, then pulled myself together enough to leave the apartment. I ran 3-miles along the Hudson River. Then as soon as I got back to the apartment, I started crying again and sat back on the couch as though I had never left. I didn’t feel any different. No adrenaline, no accomplishment, nothing. I couldn’t bring myself to go for another run after that.


Pros and Cons of Running the NYC Half While Depressed

There were two reasons why I wanted to run this Half Marathon at all: 1) I really wanted to run through Times Square, as it is closed to traffic for the race, and 2) I won the registration lottery and wasn’t sure I would even have another opportunity to run the race at all. That was my entire “Pro” list as I was arguing with myself at 4a the morning of the race.

The entire “Con” list was: I have to get out of bed.

I don’t remember the night before the race but you can bet your buttons I didn’t carb load, or hydrate until my pee ran clear, or get a good night’s sleep.

In the end, the rational part of my brain made a compromise with my Depression. I would run the course through Times Square and across 42nd st to the West Side Highway. At that point in time, I would assess how I’m feeling. If I wanted to stop running, I would just quit right there and not feel guilty about it and go back home to bed. But, if I felt fine, then I would finish the race and then go back home to bed. So I started the race with the ultimate goal of just making it through Times Square. I didn’t even care about finishing and certainly didn’t care about my time.


Running A Half Marathon with Depression

Running the race felt weird. Well, having Depression feels weird. So the combination of feeling emotionally numb with this repetitive muscle-numbing activity is strange.

Part of it was, I enjoyed feeling the physical pain because it meant I could actually feel something.

For me, Depression feels like walking in a fog, or never really waking up, or living in a smoke screen, or like a robot/zombie/emotionless. Things happen around me but I’m not fully aware of what’s going on. I just go through the motions and don’t have any feelings about anything. For the most part, everything is horrible and hopeless. After a while, I just stop feeling altogether.

That was the state of my life when I ran this race. My life felt hopeless. I didn’t care about anything. I was worried and scared about everything so also worried and scared about nothing. I didn’t care about the race or anything in my life other than staying in bed all day. Everything else was just a hassle. Running this race was just this annoying thing I had to do before I could climb back into bed for the day.

And that was how it felt running it. I don’t remember any thoughts going through my head other than “why did I get out of bed for this?”. But I never felt tired or hurt or bad, nor did I ever feel good or excited or proud. I didn’t feel anything.

I just went through the motions without any emotion.

I ran straight through, not taking any walking breaks. I just didn’t think about it. My brain was so numb that most of the physical pain I felt didn’t even register while I was running. The runners next to me and the crowd just looked like the normal fog I was used to living my life in. I knew that I wasn’t going to feel better after this race. I would still go home and be depressed. I would still wake up tomorrow crying. So might as well just put one foot in front of the other, run through Times Square, then get this over with so I can get back in bed.

That’s what I did. I ran zombie-like through Times Square, trying to squeeze out some sense of elatement but couldn’t really. I turned west until I saw the Hudson then I did a check-in with myself. At this point, I had just passed the 9-mile mark. So I had a brief conversation with myself that I wasn’t in physical pain and might as well just finish this thing. I didn’t feel any sense of accomplishment or pride that I was going to finish the race. I just continued to put one foot in front of the other.

Then I ran through the finish line and phew, glad that is over with, now where’s the subway I want to get home and lay back in bed and cry the rest of the day because my life is hopeless and I can’t do anything and will I always feel so empty and I’m completely pathetic.

As soon as I finished the race, it was over mentally for me. Done. I felt zero positive emotion, no relief, nothing. I still felt emotionally empty. But now I was starting to feel some of the pain in my legs. I continued going through the motions to get home. Being in a fog on the train, the walk home, until finally I could lay down in my apartment and dwell on how hopeless my life was. The race did absolutely nothing for me at all. I wasn’t glad I ran it nor did I regret it. Nothing.

I wasn’t even glad to be back in bed because, truthfully, I didn’t want to be alive anywhere at all.


Our Brains Hate Us

Now, this is where things got weird.

After the race, I was considerably physically sore as expected. My leg muscles burned going down stairs, sitting down, and standing up. My brain could not deny that I was in pain. However, Depression could deny where that pain came from.

During those days, when I thought about the race, Depression immediately said, “Are you kidding? You can’t run 13-miles! You can’t even run one mile. You can’t do anything.” And I would believe it for a moment. Then, the tiny Rational part of my brain would say, “But you just ran 13-miles, that’s why your legs are sore.” Oh yeah.

However, my legs were only sore for a few days. At the end of the week, Depression had a pretty strong argument. Of course I could never run 13-miles, that’s ridiculous. And I truly believed that, not only could I never run 13-miles, but that I had never ran 13-miles. That idea was so absurd and I was completely pathetic for even thinking that.

At one point, I started carrying a cutout photo around of myself running in the NYC Half Marathon just to prove to my brain that I did, in fact, run that race. I was starting to think I was really going crazy and had made up that I ran the race at all. My brain was going in so many different directions and the conflict between the two sides (Rational v Depression) was really scary.

Over time, I grew to finally believe that I had in fact ran that distance but Depression still never let me treat it as an accomplishment. To this day that race, the one where I was barely functioning like a human being, was my best race and is still my Half PR. But I would never ever want to experience that type of emotional emptiness again.

Depression is a serious illness that cannot be cured by running a race, getting a new job, moving to a new city, starting a new relationship or any of those things because Depression doesn’t care.


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8 Replies to “Running A Half Marathon with Depression”

    1. I hope you are taking care of yourself and getting the support you need. I’m always here to listen and send Internet hugs.

  1. At least you ran. I have up my spot on our team because I couldn’t get myself to train or run at all. so you made it out of bed and trained and completed 13.1 miles. Congrats!

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