Building Mental Resilience With Running


“Every runner knows this. You run and run, mile after mile, and you never quite know why. You tell yourself that you’re running toward some goal, chasing some rush, but really you run because the alternative, stopping, scares you to death.” Phil Knight – NIKE

Alarm sounds, it’s 3:45am. Snooze once, but never twice. I don’t jump out of bed, that would be lying, but I do get out without any thought that would suggest I go back to bed. That would be cheating myself.

Now that I’m up, the excitement builds. No, it’s not race day, although the level of anticipation is similar. Today is my early morning run day.

I still have some work to do before I leave the house by the self-imposed deadline of 4:30am. I chuck my clothes on that are strategically placed in the back room as not to wake the rest of the household, hydrate with a little H2O, sync up my headphones and very quietly (not quietly enough I get told) open the door and head out.

Samir Madi
Greenbelt Challenge 2020, Semaphore, South Australia

Once outside, in the dark most mornings, I strangely don’t feel alone. Could be the familiar voice of Joe Rogan or Tim Ferris streaming through my headphones, or the stars and the planets looking down, cheering me on and offering encouragement during my run. I really don’t know what it is, but whatever it is, it sure feels great.

Why do I run at 4:30am? Why not 5am or 6am. 4:30am feels achievable, yet ludicrous enough for others to take notice and question their own daily routines and realise that, there is always time. No excuses. 4:30am sounds crazy. I guess it is crazy, to the point where I know mentally it would challenge me. It will build my mental resilience, not only for running but for life challenges that might come my way later that day, or at some point in the future. “Get comfortable, in being uncomfortable” (a quote that I regularly refer to but said more eloquently by ex-navy seal David Goggins). Yes 4:30am is uncomfortable, well it used to be.

…once I touch the letterbox (my fictional finish line ) when my run is complete, and I select STOP on my watch, I get a shot of adrenaline throughout my body

So, what drives me, excites me, and without hesitation gets me up at 3:45am 3 times per week?

It could be that once I touch the letterbox (my fictional finish line ) when my run is complete, and I select STOP on my watch, I get a shot of adrenaline throughout my body, a feeling that I know will stay with me throughout the whole day. It’s knowing that I got out early when most were still asleep, knowing that I will be mentally alert and focused for hours and sometimes days ahead, it’s that feeling (yes maybe it is the runners high) where I feel like I am floating on air.

It’s a sense of achievement, a sense of living, a sense of purpose. No matter what lies ahead of me that day, I got out and completed my run. I did it. Knowing that by 5am I’m now ready to start the day. That feeling cannot be acquired, it cannot be borrowed but it must be earnt, and these morning runs are the times when I feel like I’ve earnt it.

Samir Madi
Greenbelt Challenge 2020, Semaphore, South Australia

One thing’s for certain, the benefits of running cannot be underestimated. New research has proven that it is one of the best ways to achieve optimal health by improving cardiovascular function, maintaining muscle mass (which starts to deteriorate by 3 to 5% every decade after 30), increases longevity and builds stamina.

But one of the key benefits of running is the effect it has on mitigating the frequency of both anxiety and depression, alleviating stress and improving one’s mood. The mental health benefits of running are evident with so many runners that I speak with, saying it’s the number one reason why they run. It provides the capability to lift brain fog in a way that seems impossible. In my experience it does this every time, the feeling lasting for hours, sometimes days.

So what differentiates those that are driven” (yes Goggins again) to move instead of being sedentary, to stand instead of sit, to walk at lunch time, to always have their running shoes with them just in case an opportunity arises for quick jog, to run at 4:30am or 10pm at night when others would be asleep or watching TV? There normally is a trigger, something that turns on this switch for someone to become a runner, to become slightly obsessed. It might be a medical episode, maybe setting an example to family members or others, or maybe you realise that once and for all a change is needed.

Whatever it is, one thing is certain, it becomes so ingrained in you to the point that your whole week, month and year revolves around running, races, nutrition and sleeping early.

I know how fortunate I am to have the ability and freedom to run and keep running, for hours and sometimes it feels like days without any obstacles to stop me. I am thankful for that.

But why is it so addictive? Is it the runners high? Maybe. Or is it just like Phil Knight said, “the alternative, stopping, scares you to death”.

Either way, the running community is incredibly special, which I feel privileged to be a part of, and has given me incredible opportunities and outlets to give something back to the community.

Connect with Samir

Thanks to Samir for sharing his running story! What’s yours? We’d love to know. Send an email to Caroline, if you’d like to contribute to our blog.