Pick up any running magazine or go out for a morning jog with some avid runners and you’ll likely find yourself subject to the discussion of the runner’s high. For many it’s the sole reason why they pound the pavement, and others love the endorphin rush so much that they base their whole lives around the very feeling. Lesser known though, is another phenomenon known to running circles: the runner’s cry. If you’ve ever found yourself getting a little bit misty during the long run before inexplicably choking up, you’re totally normal and it seems such tears can come out of nowhere.
Before you start panicking about what it all means, know that many people have experienced the runner’s cry and that it’s totally normal. Given the uncertainty we now find ourselves living in thanks in large part to the coronavirus pandemic, the release of tears at any stage of the day or week seems more than necessary. With so many people experiencing anxiety over their careers or even their relationship, and more pressing issues of racism and the spread of misinformation in the media, it’s not hard to understand why so many of us are struggling to cope in 2021.
In a recent survey conducted by ASICS, 79 per cent of runners said running is currently helping them feel saner and more in control during this time, with 65 per cent saying the mental benefits associated with running outweigh any other form of physical exercise. Research led by another study for the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention also found that over 40 per cent of Americans reported experiencing increased mental health issues since April.
It’s not too hard to see why running should be a great stress reliever, especially when you’re trading a treadmill for the great outdoors and time in nature. Aerobic exercise has long been hailed as just as effective as anti-depressants when it comes to treating mild to moderate depression. So, when you’re running during times of high-stress, it’s not unheard of to confront some of your own demons out there on the road or trail, and the good thing is that running allows you to do so safely as you continue to push past them.
Still, why exactly do we end up crying on the run? And not say, when we get home and have the privacy of bathroom? As sports psychologist Megan Cannon, Ph.D., explains, during steady-state endurance activity, your body is almost on autopilot and it allows your mind to wander. That said, there’s still a strong mind-body connection taking place, and as Cannon suggests, “Your body is releasing a lot of hormones, and your mind is picking up on that and going to experience a release as well.”
Basically, your brain is given the permission to let go and as your body gets tired, so does your brain. It can mean that keeping certain feelings at bay is more difficult than at other times in the day – like at the office – where you would have it all together. As Hillary Cauthen, Psy.D., executive board member for the Association for Applied Sport Psychology describes, this can actually be incredibly liberating and in this physical state, you can really go through some deep emotions. “Flow doesn’t have to be this happy, euphoric, positive feeling,” says Cauthen. “It’s just about being highly connected to your activity, and then allowing your emotions to come forward.”
Though it’s great if you can understand or put a label on why you’re crying during the run, it’s equally about just accepting the feeling or emotion you went through at the time and moving forward. As Cannon explains, “It’s all in the way you frame it. Instead of worrying about why you’re crying, think ‘wow, I’m getting such a great workout that my body is tired enough, it’s allowing me to have this release.”