The book I’m recommending today actually came to me through listening to the podcast Ctrl Alt Delete, with one of Emma Gannon’s guests being the author, Bella Mackie.
Jog On: How Running Saved My Life, was admittedly my first experience with a self-help book, or rather a self-improvement book. After listening to Mackie discuss and promote her book, I became overwhelmingly curious, so I bought it immediately.
The book follows Mackie after her failed eight-month marriage which ended in divorce, and how she coped with it. Suffering her whole life from Generalised Anxiety Disorder and OCD, this was unimaginably difficult. She talks about turning to jogging, and how it ultimately saved her life from her crippling illness.
I didn’t choose this book in the hope of finding solace or refuge, but rather for insight. I have attempted to take up running so many times in my life that I had basically given up, accepting I just wasn’t cut out for it.
But when I listened to Mackie talk on the podcast, about how she took up jogging nearing the age of 30 in order to escape her anxiety limiting lifestyle and how she refused to give up cigarettes or wine during the process, I needed to know the secret.
I thought it was too late for me, it would be too difficult to start now. So I read, and I learned about her struggles with mental illness, the statistics and defining symptoms of different disorders, the studies correlating low activity with mental illness and the perspective of other people who had used running as an escape.
I learned about how slow she took it at first, commenting that she could only run for 30 seconds at one time and that she ran so slow people walking would pass her out. She talked about how running made her feel simultaneously terrible and elated. She explains her quick addiction to the feeling of putting on her trainers and escaping her thoughts, how she found herself running every day.
The book for me was educational, eye-opening and surprisingly funny. Mackie’s honesty weaves through the whole book, and she doesn’t hide behind any shame or stigma.
Not only is this book a love-letter to running and exercise, but it is also filled with educational content from psychologists, sports professionals, real accounts of people with mental illness, tips for a new runner and a helping hand to anyone feeling stunted by anxiety.
It is moving, motivational and encourages you to get out for a jog, even if you only last two minutes.
So, I stopped procrastinating and headed out for a jog in my eight-year-old trainers. I downloaded the app Couch to 5k as recommended by Mackie, and headed out for a tough, routine run that was dictated by the instructions from the American voice on the app, telling me to start running or slow down (“Keep going, your doing great!” is also a regular encouragement, unfortunately).
But I understood immediately the feeling she was talking about, the burst of endorphins that I had never really felt before. I solely focused on putting one foot in front of the other, escaping my worries and it felt good to be outside, in the fresh, cold air, surrounded by people going about their day.
After moving to a new city, and spending a lot of time on the metro commuting for work, running was exactly what I needed. It was an excuse to switch off from daily stressors, get some fresh air instead of exercising in the gym, and actually get to know and appreciate my new city.
I traded in music for podcasts to accompany me on my runs, realising that the focus and attention I gave to podcasts while running was much more rewarding than the hardcore running playlist I had created on Spotify.
Sure enough, I experienced shin splints, a swollen knee, pain in my ankles and my hips. The powerful impact of my feet hitting the pavement and the rolling hills and cobbles of Madrid encouraged me to invest in some new trainers, perfect for short distance and newbie running. I had become kind-of addicted to the act of heading out early in the morning to run, and I didn’t want to let pain interfere with it.
With no improvement, I accepted defeat and realised that running should go hand in hand with gym training, and you can’t neglect important weight and resistance work.
This book really encouraged me to take up running and shake off any embarrassment wrapped around being a first-time runner. I also learned to see exercise not as a means to look good or as a punishment for laziness, but as something that improves my mood, makes me feel better and refreshed. Running can often be discouraging, and filled with self-hate after failing to run for longer than a minute or two, but Mackie explains that you have to start small. Really small.
Before, when I felt cranky or anxious, I figured it best to skip the gym, have a cup of tea and watch television. But now I know, that exercising is mostly going to make me feel better, and rarely ever makes my mood worse, so it’s worth a try.
If you too are in need of some understanding and motivation, order the book here.