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For Depression and Anxiety, Running Is a Unique Therapy

Running has the ability to put us all in a better mood. But for some of us, the miles are the key to managing depression and anxiety.

Today we chat with Molly Davis; who recently became one of the very few individuals to complete a 100km ultra-marathon. We learn more about Molly’s battle with body image, and how she has used both CrossFit and ultra-marathon running to help manage her mind.

The story started for Molly back as a youngster. As we talk, I quickly understand that Molly has a competitive edge, which dates to her time as a regional swimmer. However, it wasn’t just swimming that kept Molly active. She was an active gymnast and runner but regularly tried her hand at a range of sports. I wonder if this underlying competitiveness has set the tone for Molly’s choices as an adult.

I ask Molly what drives her to complete such challenging events? She tells me that she is a sucker for extreme challenges, and she thrives off doing things that some people find unfathomable. She also makes it clear that she still hopes to compete in a 100mile race in the future.

“Sometimes I find it harder to train than people realise. I don’t consider myself as a natural athlete.”

Next, we explore what Molly enjoys so much about running, with some training runs taking anything from 3-4 hours. And, whilst some find maintaining one movement for that length of time uninspiring or repetitious, Molly believes that her drive behind running is escapism.

Whilst some believe escapism can be a bad coping mechanic. Molly believes this helps her manage some of the anxiety that has caused her troubles in the past. She discusses how her mind can often give up earlier than her body, including a story of how after 58km of her 100km run, she called her Dad to say she didn’t think she could finish.

We begin to explore the anxiety, discussing Molly’s experience of bodybuilding, in which she competed on stage in 2018. She confirms this was her lowest point. She was working in a bodybuilding gym at the time; and following a breakup in which she was told that her figure wouldn’t suit bodybuilding, she set herself the goal of proving them wrong. She admits she found bodybuilding an intense process, both in the gym and out. The heavy workouts, coupled with early morning cardio, missing out on friends and social time, in favour of walking, put pressure on Molly’s mental health. She saw herself as selfish. “You never come out anymore”, “You’re always in the gym” were just some of the phrases she was hearing on a regular basis. And Molly, being a self-confessed people pleaser, started finding the process difficult. Her self-confidence suffered, as did her relationship with food. Furthermore, she spent a long time afterwards refusing to look into a mirror.

Molly on stage in 2018
Molly on stage in 2018

Despite this, we discuss some of the positives she can take from this experience. The focus on a strict routing allowed her to focus on accomplishing her goals daily. Therefore, as opposed to looking to far into the future, she was focusing just on what she needed to do each day, and in achieving those fundamentals, she was able to see great results by the time she came to compete. The process also helped inspire others around her. She would often be up at 6am enjoying a cardio session and some much-needed time with her dad. In addition, her friend, to spend time with her, joined the gym, whilst she also found her love of long walks, which she still completes to this day.

So what now for Molly. After a rigorous journey of the highs and lows of bodybuilding, she found CrossFit.

For those of you how to do CrossFit, you will understand the great communities that are often built around CrossFit gyms (also known as boxes). Molly loves the crazy workouts, not to mention the willingness of other like-minded individuals to spur each other on. She thinks back to the difference in training when compared to bodybuilding, headphones in, 'don’t talk to me style.' To working out in a gym where you can always see a friendly face, and often you are working out alongside inspiring individuals who, even just by being there, can help motivate you.

“I am not sure I would be here today if I didn’t find CrossFit”

It is at CrossFit, where Molly met a few like-minded individuals who also embraced her love of long-distance runs which has again helped improve her self-confidence, and although she still at times, continues to experience some mental health challenges. She admits she is in a much better place now than 3 years ago.

Molly on her 100k run with friends Kiersty & Michelle.
Molly on her 100k run with friends Kiersty & Michelle.

So, what is next for Molly?

Whilst she currently is battling a few injuries, she is keen to get back into her next ultra-marathon. She is also continuing to work on her CrossFit and hopes to continue to compete in various events over the next few years. Fundamentally, her main goal is to use these as a platform to manage her mental health, and she hopes by sharing her story with us today, that she can inspire others to talk more about their battles too.

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