RFYL Weekly: Studying newly sober runners

This Saturday, September 19th, our “Run for Your Life” workout will be back at Central Park starting at 8:00 am. The team will meet up at the Band Shell, which you can reach by using the 72nd Street entrance on the east side, then following the transverse to the location. Alternatively, enter the park at the 70th Street entrance on the west side, then follow the transverse to Band Shell. The weather forecast calls for temperatures in the low to mid-60s – perfect training weather. Don’t forget to make clothing adjustments now that the fall mornings are much cooler.

What Leo Learned by Studying Newly Sober Runners

While serving as an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati, Chia-Liang (Leo) Dai Ph.D. began volunteering as a coach at an addiction recovery program in a large Midwestern city. He helped the men and women at the mission train for the city’s marathon. He ran with them every week for months. He built relationships. He saw the dramatic improvements in not just physical health, but in participants’ mental and emotional health as well.

Inspired by the transformations he saw, Leo decided to leverage his expertise as a researcher and his training as a psychologist, to study the impact of the running program on recovery. He wanted to turn his observations into measurable data. He wanted to use science to help change the way we support addiction recovery.  Leo and his team of researchers at UNLV conducted a study to explore the participants’ perceptions of the program.

Here are some of the themes that emerged from their research.

1) Overcoming Emotional Pain: Pushing through the challenges of running taught participants that they were strong enough to push through “pain on the inside.”

2) Reduced Cravings: As one participant explained: “There is no drugs, no glass of wine that ever makes me feel like I feel every single time that I get out and run with the program.”

3) Sense of Accomplishment: Because they learned that they could achieve their training goals by practicing self-discipline and commitment, they gained confidence that they had what it takes to be successful are recovery.

4) Sense of Belonging: Participation in the walking/running training program helped many team members find the belongingness they had missed for so long in their lives.

5) The Power of Connection: Encouragement from the volunteers who showed up week after week inspired participants to keep going and not give up. Because they saw that the volunteers believed in them, participants learned to believe in themselves too.

6) Enhanced Spirituality: Many reported a sense of inner peace. As one participant explained, “I chased drugs and alcohol because I was empty inside. It wasn’t until I started the program that I found purpose. When I’m running, I get an overwhelming sense of peace.”

7) Healthy Habits: Inspired by their success with walking and running, participants were often inspired to adopt more healthy habits. “It (the program) inspires me to quit smoking, eat healthier, and just kind of stay more fit.”

As Dr. Dai and his team concluded “The study evidenced the influence of utilizing exercise as an adjunct treatment on SUD recovery via participants’ perceptions and provided implications for SUD treatment services.” In other words, exercise supports addiction recovery.

Running can significantly improve physical and mental health. As a form of aerobic exercise, running can reduce stress, improve heart health, and even help alleviate symptoms of depression. Some researchers think running may be so good for us because it’s something we evolved to do.

Coach Andre’s tip:

With weather changes happening from day to day, so must our training routines change. Making adjustments in our work schedule to accommodate weather changes can be the difference between running and not running. For example, when the weather calls for rising temperatures throughout the day and you miss your morning run, adding a lunchtime run will ensure that your training for the day was completed. Evening runs are always much tougher for me. However, if I miss the other two windows of opportunity I then have no other choice but to run in the evening.

When training for an upcoming race I like to consider this maxim: “Tough times don’t last but tough people do.” Running outdoors does the body good.