For as long as I can remember, running has been a lifeline. When I've felt alone, or depressed, confused, worried, or even fantastic, a clear mind has always been as close as my running shoes and a few miles of sidewalk. I've run well-worn paths around my home and sometimes bolted out the door with no idea where I would go. Either way, I always feel better when I'm done -- physically invigorated and mentally recharged.
The joy I've gotten from running -- and the sense of achievement that comes from setting a goal of finishing a race and then, one day, crossing that finish line -- has been something I've always loved to talk about. But I've never told anyone this: My running is more than just a hobby. It's my medicine.
Recently, I revealed that throughout much of my career as a television reporter and anchor, I've struggled with mental illness -- I was able to hide the darkness behind the bright lights of a seemingly successful career. But inside, carefully concealed by my "TV guy" facade, I was a mess. That is, until I was properly diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder and given treatment. I take a prescription drug that helps, and I run.
"Listen, this isn't a suggestion," a psychiatrist told me. "This is your medicine." When I don't run, I get worse. I lose energy, and my illness gains strength. When I run, I feel better -- and not just my legs. My brain, my soul, my outlook -- all brighter.
It's not just those endorphins runners tend to talk about -- that runner's high that kicks in when you climb that hill instead of giving up. It's part of my treatment plan. It's structure. It's something that gives me a sense of power over an illness that has at times left me overwhelmed and desperate. Running gets me out the door, and on a mission. And now I've got my eye on a goal that might, on the face of it, seem -- forgive the word -- crazy.
In January, Disney unveiled the Dopey Challenge: four races over four days for a total of 48.6 "magical miles" (their words). How does one cover that kind of distance? You run a 5K on Thursday, a 10K on Friday, a half marathon on Saturday and then the Disney World Marathon on Sunday.
Sunday afternoon, you hobble around the Magic Kingdom wearing a total of six finisher's medals and the smile of someone who's done something truly remarkable. Dopey, yes. Crazy? Not in the least. In fact, I think the sense of personal achievement that I'd feel on that day would be amazing.
If you've ever run a Disney race, you know runDisney works year-round to deliver a family-friendly and, yes, magical experience. Many of the runners at Disney races are first-timers who are running to raise money for charity, or to make a statement to themselves that yes, they too can do it.
So I have a goal. What I'm not clear on is how a human being trains for a 48.6 mile weekend. But here's one thing I do know: Since I wrote about my mental illness for the first time, I've heard from people all over the world. Some, like me, have a mental illness. Others just wrote to express their support.
I have learned that one of the great myths of mental illness is just that: I am not alone. And if a mental patient can complete the Dopey Challenge, it will only come with the support of a generous, understanding community.
And a lot of those miles my doctor has prescribed, of course. Time to take my medicine.