Caution: Running May Be Hazardous to Your (Emotional) Health

This is a guest article is by Jim Musial, a client of the Men’s Resource Center; Grand Rapids, Michigan.

If running is the slice of spirituality that brings joy to your life, this article is not for you. However, if you are never quite satisfied in your pursuit for success, or if there is a constant tugging at your inner soul, even after reaching a new milestone, then running may not be the healthiest outlet for you, so read on.

I offer my story, not from that of a trained expert, but only from my back-of-the-pack experience in hopes that I will somehow connect with others. I have been running since the Frank Shorter Gold Medal boom of the early 70’s. For me, running not only became an outlet for my physical prowess, but it gave me the perceived confidence to get through life’s trials and tribulations. Running afforded me the respect that came with competing in the first Chicago Marathon. It anointed me with an identity; it was the motivator for me to quit smoking and, in turn, it helped keep me fit. It led me to marry an outstanding athlete in her own right that understood my passion for running. A wife who gave me space to be away, the space I needed to train, the space that I was not shy about taking at any cost.

My wife raised three children; I was there, but then again I wasn’t. I had an overdeveloped sense of obligation, focusing on corporate life, traveling internationally, not missing any major Chicago sporting event and of course, running. I trained hard to qualify for and run Boston that came to fruition in 1992. I read all the books, magazines and celebrated gurus of the sport. Running was my time and no one was going to upset my doggedness to do better.

For years, I continued to train, never slowing down, fearful of growing old and panicking that my personal best times would stand forever as middle age set in. Two years ago, after 26 years of marriage, and as our youngest set out to university, my wife left me. She warmed my last dinner. She had married a great provider, a husband with the body of a 25 year old, a nice house, no financial worries, but there was one problem, she had a broken heart.

My recovery has gone deep, analyzing the demons that came with being raised in an emotionally dysfunctional home. I learned that by isolating myself I could create a safe place, not having to feel the feelings, where the lack of nurturing left me with muted coping skills. I was a little boy trapped in a man’s very fit body. Running was my choice of drug, my addiction. It was “safe” in that it hurt no one or so was my rationale. But it strangled, it aided my solitude, drove me deeper into my secrets and lead to resentments when my wife tried to reach inside my impenetrable heart.

As my journey continues, so does the grieving. The lost relationships I am slowly working to gain back with my children, the new friends I’m forming in my support groups, the therapy I’m receiving at the Men’s Resource Center and most importantly my union with God are now my primary focus. When I go out jogging to clear my mind, tears flow freely and my knees buckle with haunting images of lost hours spent on the roads during the prime of my life.

As I unfold my inner self to others, I am discovering I am not alone. Many I have confided in have been running from themselves for so long, choosing a path of least resistance. My wish is to reach out to others that might be like me, those of you that decided to read on.

It’s not the sport, running serves millions well. It’s the acute awareness that the loneliness of a long distance runner can be cured. Life is a sprint and there is a whole other world out there.

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