Posted by Rachel Mallory.

The Sun Run training happens every year here in Vancouver. If you’ve never done it, please, please give it a try when it starts in January. It’s a fantastic program and I’ve done it a few times. Not always successfully – last year, for example, I got runner’s knee and couldn’t do the race although I did most of the training. But don’t blame the program: a lot of that was my fault for pushing myself too fast. Both for physical fitness and mental health, taking it slow and gentle works a lot better. There's nothing wrong with walking the Sun Run, that's for sure, and you can train for that too in the program.

The first time I did the Sun Run training, five years ago, I was surprised by how supportive the trainers were, how gentle the program is, and how surprisingly easy it is to go from never running to doing 10 km. There’s one friend who has almost always done the training with me, and we’ve supported each other through both the program and the race itself. We’re doing it again this year. Her husband and another good friend of hers are taking part, so I no longer have her to myself. But that’s okay. I love it when more people get involved. Another friend of mine, who I convinced to start running after my first experience with the Sun Run, is a Sun Run trainer this year for the first time. She’d always been athletic but had resisted running. Now she’s a fanatic.

I’d also always assumed that the race itself, with its many thousands of runners and huge fanfare, would be overwhelming. I’m an introvert and my idea of a fantastic Saturday night is a great book on the couch. But I loved it. It was exciting and positive and diverse and exciting… did I mention exciting? It seemed like the best of Vancouver, maybe of people in general, all in one day in spring.

How does this all relate to my job? Exercise is probably the best thing that anyone can do for their mental health, particularly if they have depression. It’s pretty fantastic for anxiety too. Second, or probably tied with exercise, is social connection and community. Most people with depression find it terribly difficult to push themselves to get out of the house and see anyone at all. Yet, the more time spent sedentarily alone, the worse the illnesses get. I’ve been known to pull up the Sun Run website in sessions, if it’s that time of the year, and urge people to sign up. No-one ever regrets it. The sense of achievement is also fantastic. Another thing that slips away for people with depression and anxiety, especially if they are on leave from work because of it, is any sense of accomplishment, of positive motion towards a goal, of having power and self-esteem. When your day has no structure, it’s terrifyingly easy to do nothing at all. Finally, it’s about pushing yourself to do things outside of your comfort zone. When you have anxiety, whether it’s only sometimes or you have a diagnosed illness, your life can get very small if you don’t try something new every once in a while despite finding it stressful.

Please don’t mistake me when I talk about achievements and accomplishments. I’ve never had anything close to a fast time for a 10k run. One time, on an 8k run, someone with a toddler in a stroller beat me, among many others. On another 10k, I ran with two women who’d just given birth, and they made me look pretty pathetic. (Although, lesson learned, don’t do a race without training. That’s probably one of the reasons I have runner’s knee. Also, I was so slow on that 8k, that my dog who did the run with me demanded another walk when it was over. Yup. Those people who beat me probably weren’t anything like that unprepared.)

Regardless, when I've done a run, I still feel fantastic about it, and I've really enjoyed the experiences I've had. Running, or any form of exercise, isn't pain-free and sometimes training can be difficult. But it's worth it, particularly for your mental health.