People often ask what I think about while I run. For much of my life, I’ve run to escape my relentless thoughts and to find respite from the things that cause me worry, the things for which I don’t have the answers, and the things that break my heart or paralyze me with frustration. Running is therapeutic and has never failed to return me to a place of peace and clarity. I abandon my thoughts and embrace the beauty of the mechanics of my body and its ability to exemplify strength and grace simultaneously. When life is chaotic, or when faced with things beyond my control, running offers balance and a break from feeling broken.

Unfortunately, injury has plagued my running. I’ve spent so much time running from the things weighing on me that the Band Aid running provided eventually wore thin and injury set in. A body can’t perform well when not supported by a healthy control system.

Lately, I’ve been running with intention rather than for distraction. I’ve been more mindful of what’s motivating my motions as I put foot to pavement. I’m still in tune with the effort I exert, easily distracted by the patterns of my breathing and the cadence of my pace, and careful to recognize the difference between pain and discomfort, but my busy brain and all other aspects of my life also contribute to how I feel at any given moment during a run. I’m allowing all of it the space to stay.

It turns out I run my best when I’m happy. Our physical health reflects our mental health. It’s not a coincidence that our bodies perform their best when fueled by confidence, gratitude, and happiness. As cliché as that sounds, it’s much easier to find endurance, strength, flow and grit when your brain works in tandem with your body rather than against it by flooding it with doubt, negativity and anger.

Our brains can break or ache, just like our bones and muscles. When we prioritize our mental health, we perform better. Mental health matters. For as well as we think we can perform on anguish and anxiety, it’s not sustainable. Our physical pursuits can only act as a distraction for so long before our mental health starts to deteriorate our physical health.

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When we try to distract ourselves from or ignore the warning signs of a mind that’s ailing, our bodies bear the brunt of our denial. Our mental pain and anguish aren’t weaknesses that we’re meant to ignore, push through, or prove we’re stronger than. These are injuries that need to heal, and they deserve our recognition, energy, and care – the same we’d devote to physical injury.

When your heart, head and body share your energy, they complement rather than compete with one another. Lately, I’ve been letting all the things for which I’m grateful infiltrate the mechanics of my running. That’s not to say that everything is sunshine and rainbows, so I’m embracing the gritty and challenging things, too. When you’re not running away from things, you’re able to appreciate all that’s around you, all that’s a part of you, and all that you’re able to do. When you run happy, you run healthy.

Click here for more columns from Josie Danz.

Danz is an avid runner, reader and writer. She’s a graduate of Concordia College in Moorhead who lives, works and believes in downtown Fargo. She’s a regular contributor to The Forum’s opinion pages.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.