Usually, when I run, I'm going toward something. A destination. A distance. A time. These days, however, my runs are less about the metrics and more about my mind.

I'm no stranger to the importance of pouring into my mental health. And in pounding the pavement more regularly these days, I've been reaping the benefits of making running a pivotal part of my self-care, and I can't emphasize enough how deeply it's changed everything for me.

Every morning, I've been lacing up and making rituals and routines out of running. As a result, I've been feeling exponentially lighter, both physically and emotionally.

And I'm far from alone in this journey — since the launch of ASICS' "Sound Mind, Sound Body" initiative, a growing number of runners have shared their stories about how running has helped them through trying times in life.

You don't have to be an expert runner to reap the benefits. Whether it's finding an accountability partner in your running community, or simply taking baby steps in beginning your running journey, there are countless ways you can make running part of your mental health journey.

To help get you started, here are 5 tips from professional runner and "Sound Mind, Sound Body" Ambassador, Asia Rawls, on how to hit the ground running — literally and figuratively — to make that part of your self-care practice:

  • Always remember that running is a practice that should be enjoyed, not endured. "Running is something I've done my whole life. I started off running at like nine years old. And for me, throughout life, it allowed me to mentally cope with certain things," said Rawls. "As I got older and got involved with a local run club called WERUN313, we get people from the Motor City to do things — as a community — that are beneficial to their lives. I think of my experience with the run club, my experience in Detroit, and my previous experience as a college athlete and runner has allowed me to propel the efforts and show what running can really do for you."
  • Don't get stuck in a comparison trap. Set realistic goals for yourself and focus on progress rather than perfection. "I think when athletes or people who have never run before get into running, they get online and they start seeing what everyone else is doing and that's kind of where they stop running because they try to go on these big miles. But they need to understand and know that your value or your success in running is not someone else's success," said Rawls. "If someone can get out there and run 10 miles, that doesn't mean you have to do that to feel successful in the sport. Literally, success is even in walking and jogging. Maybe you say, 'Today, I want to do one lap around the track.' That is success. And you have to meet success at where you're at."
  • Choose running partners who are encouraging and supportive of your goals — no matter how small or large. "With WERUN313, it's so powerful literally getting people outside and allowing ourselves to show what's possible. There are so many runners who have never run a half-marathon and we were getting people awake and hitting the ground," said Rawls. "Some of the people in the run club never have even run before, and to be able to get them to where they are now just shows the power of community."
  • Make time for mindfulness by taking a few moments before each run to set an intention that will carry you through the rest of your day. "As I continue running with the run club, and continue running with ASICS, there's this mindfulness aspect of knowing you have to leave your problems at the door," said Rawls. "You can't carry your parents' burden on the run. You can't carry your relationship, your marriage, or your bills on the run. A sound mind allows you to eliminate all of that and get you that hour of breathing and meditating and shows you how strong you truly are."
  • Last but not least, pace yourself, don't give up or forget to show yourself some love through the process — you deserve it. "Start small and get a routine. It doesn't have to be every day. Look at your schedule and see what you can actually commit to with smart goals," said Rawls. "Understand what that weekly plan looks like, maybe once a week, twice a week, and then from there adapt and build from there."

Running isn't just about running — it's about taking a break from the noise of life and allowing yourself to feel. It's about connecting with your community and believing in your own strength. So go ahead, lace up those shoes, hit the pavement, and remember that each step you take is a step toward a healthier mind and body.

Image via Yaroslav Shuraev (Pexels)

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