When I picked up running four years ago to not fall completely out of shape, I really didn't give much of a damn. I was happy when I was clocking in 3k on the occasional run once every two weeks or so and felt pretty good when I managed to run more than 5k in a row. I was a jogger and proud of it. On every second run I also stopped somewhere in the middle, because I didn’t have the perseverance to make it even back to where I started. I was a terrible jogger and proud of it as well. And I stayed terrible for quite a while.
All that changed last January when my relationship went downhill, very fast. Within days I watched everything we had been building up together over the last decade falling apart – and there was not much I could do to prevent that from happening.
In the emotional fallout that followed, I fell into a deep existential crisis. I stopped working and seeing friends, barely ate a thing and lost almost all interest in life. As the days drifted by, I spent most of my time lying in bed, staring at my phone, feeling powerless, helpless, wondering how I got there. One miserable morning in February I decided that I needed to leave the house for once and went on a run. When I came back I still felt like shit – but on top of that was a new feeling: The feeling of finally being in control again.
That same miserable morning I decided to become a runner. And even though I didn't sign up for a marathon or started running 5k's every day, my whole perception towards running changed. Before, I dreaded the very idea of going out and moving a damn muscle. But as soon as my perspective had changed, I not just looked forward to going for a run, I fucking embraced it. And the fact that I still felt miserable was actually helping me.
Whenever I felt like I was wondering too much about the whereabouts of my then-girlfriend, I went on a run. Whenever I couldn't listen anymore to the weepy voices of Ed Sheeran's Divide album on repeat, I went on a run. One night after heavy drinking and smoking I arrived home to an empty apartment. I tried to sleep, but my head wouldn't shut up putting pictures in my mind – so I went on a run. As the cold February air filled my smoky lungs, pushing out the remnants of every beer I had that night, it started to snow. And with every snowflake landing on my face, sending shivers down my spine, I could feel how the misery faded into the background of my consciousness, leaving nothing behind but clarity and peace. And some sweaty socks.
The following weeks running became the only thing which held me together. The more I kept running, the less miserable I felt. I wasn't out of the emotional abyss called a breakup yet, but at least I had a fucking ladder, a pair of healthy legs and every intention to climb it up.
One evening in March I went to a friend's place, where I heard one of the most profound truths someone has ever told me. A truth, which would redefine a whole lot in my life afterwards. After listening to me for a while, talking him through my state of being for the last months, my friend turned around and made me pause. He then simply looked at me and said
"Alex, if you let those thoughts and feelings take control over you, you will never get better. You have to leave the pain behind. You have to outgrow it. But first, you have to get through it. And pain is where the answer is."
He had found the right words right there and I knew it right then. No matter how deep I would bury my feelings in that abyss, they would always come back and drag me down again. What I needed to do was moving, no, running through my pain, in order to move on. Fueled by my motivation to get back on my feet, I started to take running more seriously. First I noticed how I got better. Then I noticed how I got faster. But I just started to get a taste of the sweet drug running can be. And in order to taste more, I needed to get faster.
One way to get there was by losing weight. So I switched to a ketogenic diet and started to peel away my layers of middle class lifestyle. And with each layer I lost, I gained a couple of seconds out on my runs. For the first time in my life eating and being healthy became a priority. And what began as an exercise in improving my mental health started to change the very core of my existence.
Another stepping stone out of my misery came with music: Every song which made me feel miserable – "Add to Playlist". Every song which sparked memories on better days – "Add to Playlist". Every line of lyrics which made me break out in tears – "Add to Playlist". Every song I added became one more step on the ladder. Within weeks I had assembled the most heart crushing Spotify playlist possible. And it did perform well.
On every run I used the songs from my playlist to get angry and sad – just to transform that anger and sadness into pure kinetic energy. The angrier I got, the faster I got. And the faster I got, the more I invited the pain. This might sound masochistic to you, but by leveraging pain as an energy source I took all its negative power away it held over me. I channeled it right through me – from my heart into my legs into the asphalt – where it left nothing behind but clouds of dust and fading misery.
Soon I didn't feel miserable anymore and I started to heal myself from within, through the pain. And over time pain itself became something new: A great source of power and truth. Pain is where the answer is. And the more pain you feel, the more answers you will find.
I for myself kept running. Further than any pain could carry me. Because somewhere along the way I found something better and much more powerful than pain. Somewhere along the way I found love. And it is this love for running and for myself which will push me further than anything I could have imagined on that miserable morning back in February.