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Running with Depression

Running with Depression

Depression…ohh boy everyone hide!

The consistent and unrelenting feeling of hopelessness, helplessness, and worthlessness that affects your ability to function (eat, sleep, work, enjoy life) daily.

All of us go through highs and lows in life, but sometimes, the lows can pull us into a dark place where it feels like there is no way out. The problem is when things get so bad that you go in deeper to a place where you cannot get back from.

I have been struggling with this illness form my early childhood but I want to focus on the more recent years.

In my 20’s the depression got so bad that each day became a struggle, there were no “highs” to speak of and the low’s dragged on for months on end. I tried every possible avenue to help myself from professional, medication and even google…and nothing.

Understand that mental illness was something that people would just dismiss and tell you “it’s all in your head”. Well technically they were not that far off because my brain does not produce the levels of serotonin that a normal persons brain should produce.

Serotonin is the main brain chemical responsible for making us feel happy, relaxed, and self-confident. If you want to read more about this click HERE

To add to that I was diagnosed with chronic pelvic pain syndrome because of all the stress in my life and the depression was making me physically ill. This tossed me deeper into the hole and some days I would just want everything to end.

The day I realized I needed to conquer this demon was a Friday back in 2011 when my girlfriend, now wife, seemed to have had enough and I was crying of pain wanting everything to just end. We were going away to a friend’s wedding for the weekend with some of my wife’s university friends.

The days after that incident I realized I am probably not going to make it till the end of the year. I have made peace with the fact that letting things “go” would be the only way. This is by far the worst place to be…

Thinking back I was so blessed to have the friends in my life that understood and supported me through some of the toughest times in my life. That made the difference in that they built the ladder to get me out of my hole. My wife fights this battle with me and my greatest fear is, the same as Rob’s from the video above, for her to suffer because of this illness and me pushing her away because of it.

So where does all this fit into running you would ask? Well…Mental illness is a topic that needs more discussion, one that affects our running world more often than we may believe.

I discovered that running and endurance sports gives me the ability to break free even if it is just for that one hour. The first ultra-marathon I did actually helped me, it taught me that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel and that the kindness of one person can change you. There is something about pushing yourself through the darkness in an Ultra and depression that connect. You kind of reach that place and you become familiar with the darkness like an old friend. That same feeling I get when I am in the low.

Every day is still difficult but some days are better than others.

Now how can running help you if you are dealing with depression, whether it be chronic or acute?

Running CANNOT take the place of professional help for a depressed person. It can however help your management of the illness. Exercise (including running) produces feel-good chemicals (serotonin) in the brain after about 10 to 20 minutes of activity, and getting in regular exercise improves self-esteem and confidence.

The social interaction of running with a group or a friend can also be helpful. I know that my running friends do not always understand why I randomly do not show up for something I have committed on but perhaps after this article they will hopefully understand and do some research on this topic.

Tips for dealing with your own depression:

First and foremost: Reach out for professional help. Many people are nervous to see a therapist, but it is the healthiest thing a person suffering from depression can do.
Once you’ve sought help;

Keep running. On low motivation days, set your sights lower—tell yourself that you’ll just head out for five minutes. You will find that once you are out there the world seems to come alive, and I have never come back from a run disappointed.

Go for a walk

Create activity dates with friends or a group to stay connected socially. This is very important and will keep you out of trouble. I now have a MTB coach and people that I coach running, that forces me, to stay committed and running.

What you eat can affect how you feel. Focus on reducing sugar and processed foods and replacing them with whole foods.

If you think you have depression and want to find out more go to

24hr Helpline 0800 12 13 14

SMS 31393 (and we will call you back)

Happy trails


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Pieter Steyn

Founder at Ultrarunner_ZA
Big Dreamer...Loving Husband to a beautiful wife :) Runner and Wannabee UltraRunner! Takes life too seriously.
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About The Author

Big Dreamer...Loving Husband to a beautiful wife :) Runner and Wannabee UltraRunner! Takes life too seriously.


  1. Incredibly brave to share, and very necessary to bring this into the light. Thank you.

  2. Letting things “go” seems like the only option so many times……..But we get up. We get out the door. We get to the next aid station. We get the next 10km done. Running 50km takes so much effort. And some days just getting your shoes on takes an equal amount . But we get up. Thank you for sharing.


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