Scott Douglas Running is my TherapyI know this blog is all about running at the moment – I promise I’m now reading a Georgette Heyer then an Angela Carter so all will be back to normal soon! This is also about mental health, something I’m interested in, particularly its intersection with exercise, so when I spotted this on NetGalley thanks to a friend, I just had to request it.

Scott Douglas – “Running is my Therapy”

(19 January 2018 – from NetGalley)

I think this might be that elusive thing, a helpful book about the mental health effects of running that includes both personal experience and carefully checked research. Having said that, it is quite reliant on just running being the thing to do, and also goes into more detail of various experiments than a lot of people will be happy to read. However, for me, used to reading popular psychology and sociology books, it came across well and had a good balance.

Douglas starts off discussing how he was looking for this kind of book himself and not finding one, claiming that mental health issues remain unexplored in running culture. This was true but I think is becoming less so, but there was definitely a gap in the market.  He is clear that he’s used running to help his own clinical depression, finding it helps him to “be my best” and that it’s a powerful medicine whose effects he wants to share with other runners. He also makes the point that while running tends to make anybody who does it feel x degrees better, if you’re a depressive person, you can go “from being miserable to content”.

He asks the questions people want to know: how much running, what type of running and for how long is best for lifting your mood long-term. Really, he comes to the conclusion that ANY running is better than none, although there are some degrees of effort and achievement which have been proven to help lift us.

He starts the book off describing what depression and anxiety are and what treatments are available for them. He then goes on to describe the interaction of running and some of those treatments, so we get something about how running intersects with Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, for example, here proving helpful because apparently runners are good at talking themselves out of negative thought patterns, so have an “in” to CBT already. I actually thought this particular point was a bit one-sided, as we’re also very good at talking ourselves into negative thought patterns, allowing our brains to halt our bodies. He also talks about how runners are already good at talking therapy, down to the side-by-side deep conversations we already have, and I can understand that – although he’s also clear on when it’s time to stop relying on your friends and go and see a therapist. He then interviews a therapist who walks and runs with her clients in order to access that level of honesty and intimacy.

The chapter on mindfulness is shorter than the book on mindfulness and running I read a while ago and more useful, just concentrating on thinking about what’s around you rather than engaging in terrifyingly deep, life-changing conversations. Throughout the book, the author relates things to the feeling when you’ve just pushed yourself in some speed work or whatever which link the text back tightly into the reader’s running experience.

As he looks at the research, Douglas is rigorous in applying scientific method to it, explaining what review articles are and specifying when the exercise they put people through is just done for men who ride bicycles and don’t already need a prescription for anti-depressants, etc. This does make you more likely to trust what he says and is the mark of a well put-together and edited book.

The book talks about community and social running and also dips deep into the author’s life, detailing his addiction and how he came back from that. This makes it a curious mix of the very scientific and detached and the intensely personal. The useful appendix summarises his main findings and this section can very well be used to help someone move forward and stay well.

A book that requires some concentration but is useful.

Thank you to the publisher, The Experiment, and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this e-book in return for an honest review. The book is published today, 17 April 2018.