Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 32 – Mike Haggadone – RUNNING WITH GRATITUDE – Part 3 of 3

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JESSE: Well, I mean, in part of knowing that that’s important is also being cognizant of the fact that eventually, even if you’re World Champion, eventually you will not be World Champion like you can’t be World Champion forever. So, what you get from it besides that, and then trying to derive some meaning from there. I saw– I was kind of looking through your Twitter feed a little bit, and I saw you retweeted this article about running is not therapy.

And we kind of touched a little bit about like, I think about running as meditation sometimes and being cognitively helpful for various reasons. It’ll kind of allow your mind to wander sometimes and other times to focus. I assume that you probably agree with the thesis of this article so why is running not therapy? 

 

MIKE: Yeah. No, I love that you asked the question. So, the piece was written by a good friend of mine. Zoë, Assistant Editor at Trail Runner Magazine. And I think it’s an incredibly important piece because from a media perspective, oftentimes we take these stories of people like myself. I am very open about my past experiences with mental illness.

We take those stories, and we kind of super impose this journey of running on there. And we come to the conclusion that running was the means by which this individual recovered. When in reality, the complexity of mental illness and the complexity of improvement over time, cannot be distilled down to the simple act of putting your feet in front of one another.

And the point that Zoë brought up that I love, she didn’t discount the benefits of running by any means. Like of course, running is an incredibly centering experience, it connects us to community, it’s a means by which we get to explore our potential. 

 

When it comes to mental illness, and we’re talking about a clinical manifestation, we’re talking about thought patterns and behavioral patterns that need to be approached intentionally. Right? There are known mechanisms, known modalities in which we can come in and help someone correct– We disconnect from past trauma and address past trauma address behavioral patterns, address thought patterns, that’s a very mechanical process that requires the help of an expert is opposed to this kind of ethereal nature of running.

Which, again, it is relaxing, and you do get a flood of hormones, and it makes you feel good, but it doesn’t necessarily address these underlying problems that can manifest in particular when running is taken away. And that’s been a huge insight for me, is that in the times at which I’ve been injured, and I can’t run all of these underlying things. problems come to the surface and I have to address them straight on.

Whereas opposed I think with running sometimes, unfortunately, it does serve as a distraction to problems, right. And I think that’s it’s something that’s hard for people to hear. 

 

And I’ll say that that article has kind of stirred up some feedback, some negative feedback amongst the running community, but it is– It’s hard for people to hear but I think that running does oftentimes serve as a distraction for people and we’re not actually getting to the root problem of what is causing mental illness. And so absolutely, running is a beautiful thing.

Like it can absolutely complement therapy and I go to therapy, and my therapist absolutely is enthusiastic about me running. But it would be disingenuous for me to say that the running is the means by which I have improved as an individual when it’s not the case.

It’s been the discussions with my therapist and addressing why I feel so uncomfortable eating certain foods, and then addressing how we can make those changes in my lifestyle such that those problems don’t actually manifest at a physical level, right. There’s a mechanical process that is distinct from these benefits that you get from putting one foot in front of the other. 

 

JESSE: So, the heart of it seems to come through and I think I agree with you on a lot of aspects or maybe even all of them really. As a little bit of background. so my undergrad, I double majored in undergrad in psychology and math, this very weird dichotomy. But I think about the distinction here between a clinically diagnosable mental illness which was important that you said that, versus I just feel sad today, which is a normal part of the human experience in terms of saying, is it therapy.

But I think, to me, it seemed like as I read through the article and kind of looked at the comments and kind of the counter-arguments against what she had said was that it seems like it comes down to, and this is actually coming up right now in a lot of aspects. I’ve encountered this in one of my products which is aimed at the CBT group of people, it’s made for teachers and therapists to use is the specific use of language, and the context in which we use it, and the importance of it. 

 

So, in this case, saying running is therapy, the keyword being therapy, and the meaning of that, so, I kind of wonder– Obviously, I’ve shared my own experiences about how running has helped me learn life lessons, and I would say probably become a better, more fulfilled person, which you could probably argue is therapeutic in some sense.

So, do we approach that when we can’t say, I’ll say can’t, I’ll make a hard line here, but obviously nothing super black and white. How do we approach that and say, well, running isn’t therapy, but it’s therapeutic? Like how do we approach that from a language standpoint? 

 

MIKE: Yeah. No, I mean, I’m going to be honest, I don’t have the answer to that question. No, I mean, you’re absolutely right. Like saying something is therapy and saying something is therapeutic, there are people who will say that the two terms are the same thing. And then there are people who will say that they’re distinct, and I’m more on the distinct side. I think that there are many things that can be therapeutic.

It doesn’t mean it actually serves the mechanical process of that therapy serves and actually address again, addressing these underlying issues. But you’re right, I mean, running, at least in my life, has created this kind of emotional framework that is much more sustainable, right? Like it’s this completely distinct emotional framework that I can grasp on to in my life. I can leverage in various parts of my life but the reality is I’ve got issues. Like I have issues like everybody else. 

 

And what I love that Zoë incorporated into this piece, there was a line in there, I don’t remember the exact quote. But ultimately it was that we need to celebrate the strength that’s required for people to receive professional help. Like at the end of the day that is so important is that we celebrate that we say that strength is seeking help.

That’s being courageous. That’s being brave. And I think that’s an important element here is we need to consider the power of community and connection with other people, as opposed to kind of this rugged individualistic perspective that you can just strap on some shoes, you can go out and run an ultra, and you’re going to feel so much better about yourself. I think that again, it’s seeking out that connection, being honest with yourself; those are all amazing things. But yeah, when it comes down to therapy versus therapeutic, I don’t have to answer that question. I’m not smart enough for that. 

 

JESSE: I feel like oftentimes language is almost like a cage we have to live in, in that we have these ideas that we don’t necessarily know how to express. Or sometimes language can force our understanding into a certain avenue when if we had the words and it had a way to relate these experiences or emotions or ideologies in a different way then we may be able to be different people. Do you speak a different language at all? 

 

MIKE: Well, I mean, I took Spanish in college, I should have [??? 8:43] my undergraduate education… 

 

JESSE: Okay, but do you have some experience like you know, that just in Spanish, you can express things in a different way than you would in English. It’s not necessarily– In the beginning, you’re like, okay, that’s starting to divest out how I would say it. But then you begin to think outside of your own language to understand that the way that it’s viewed through this other language is a different lens of viewing reality, not just another set of words.

So, I feel like that language is almost a trap sometimes. It comes up with this product I have in terms of I say, I don’t know if you’re familiar with CBT and the method, but I mentioned how does this thing make you feel and the contention with this product is, well, nothing makes me feel something, but it can trigger it. And my contention is well, trigger and make are synonyms. 

 

So, where do we draw the line between like, okay, it is important to understand there’s a causal chain of events between what is happening to me, and that I can affect it versus saying, no, you can’t use this word. There’s like this struggle there between almost like a ridiculous thing about like, you could never use the word make, in my case, in this particular case. Versus, okay, let’s look at the reality of what’s happening and address and say, okay, language is limited so let’s work in the gray area. 

 

MIKE: Yeah. No, I love that. Yeah, I think that notion of kind of expanding– So, the way I described the interplay between my running and therapy, is the running has expanded my sense of clarity, right? There’s so much opportunity on a run to see the things in your life and to see them with clarity and without judgment. And then given that kind of expanded purview of your world and your existence, you can bring that into a more mechanical space and you can say, hey I noticed this about my behavior.

Can we talk about that and can we address the best way to go about that? So, there’s an interplay between the two. But yeah, I think that’s a beautiful thing in talking about sport is that it can really expand your understanding of your existence and your world. And awareness is a beautiful thing but it’s not everything. It’s unnecessary, but it’s not sufficient, right. So, yeah, I think again, there’s a beautiful interplay between the two. 

 

But yeah, when it gets to the language, I think, ultimately, where people stand with that article is just, there are differences in how we’re approaching the language and how we’re embracing the language and how we’re applying it to our own experience. So, I mean, that’s the beautiful thing kind of getting back to the overall purpose of that article.

That’s the beautiful thing is when you put something out to the world, and there’s criticism of it, you’re doing something right, right, like you’re stimulating the right conversation. And I think especially in the sports world, we really need to think about how we contextualize and communicate the impact of activity, whether that be biking, swimming, running. We really need to contextualize their importance and distinguish that from proven modalities that have their own distinct benefits as well. 

 

JESSE: This is like involved but kind of the sidebar at the same time, you made me think about like, I kind of remember almost distinct points in time growing up, getting older, having different experiences, and running or competing throughout all this time. But just these almost points in time where I realize I have a greater awareness of how the world works or how culture works, or at least my perception of how the world works or how culture works.

I kind of wonder if– I think sport probably provides an opportunity for greater experiences, but I kind of wonder if it’s necessary for say that people that completely disagree with the article and say, well no running is therapy, it’s my therapy. And let’s also suggest that that person does not have a diagnosable mental illness, and they’ve never met anybody that has a mental illness. So, they have no experiences of that one concept of it and limited understanding.

I kind of wonder if it’s necessary to have that experience for many people. And that experience is the way that we begin to empathize and think about things in a greater sense than simply this is my modality, this is how I understand the world, this is therefore what everything must be. And that almost like empathy is the key to like reasonable understanding. This is why think, therefore, this is how things are. Not really a question but–

 

MIKE: Yeah. I’ll kind of, I’ll add to that. I mean, we’re all subject to our own biases, right, and our own experiences. And I think to the person who says that running is my therapy, I think that’s an amazing response too. Ultimately, if you feel better because you run I’m more of kind of an output versus mechanism person, right? If you feel better when you run and you feel like running is your therapy, that’s perfect and that’s a perfect perspective. And I’m so happy that you get therapeutic benefits from that. But again, at the end of the day, as how I see things, I think the language is important as someone who has dealt with clinical depression, right, and who has experience receiving professional help and kind of exploring my own self in various ways.

I think that the two need to be distinguished. But for the person who does disagree, I think it’s perfectly okay to disagree. And at the end of the day, it’s an important discussion that we’re having. And it’s important that we validate and affirm people’s experiences because at the end of the day, it’s their own story, and they get to tell it. And there’s a beautiful thing in that. 

 

JESSE: Yeah, yeah. So, we’re starting to run a little short on time for our recording here. So, I have to make kind of a hard pull back towards the end of our conversation. Unfortunately, we’ve kind of gone down a rabbit hole. I’ll have to have you on so you can talk about your research more later. But the question I’d like to ask every because this is kind of a universal thing this year, as I’m asking everyone after a hard workout, or hard race, your choice. If you could only choose one food for recovery for the rest of your life, what do you choose? 

 

MIKE: Man. So, you know, I’m not sponsored so I don’t bring myself to a product so I’m going to go old school, sweet potatoes all day. I go so hard on sweet potatoes But yeah, I mean you know I do use some products but if I have to choose one yeah, it’s sweet potatoes. 

 

JESSE: I haven’t had anybody use sweet potatoes. I get chocolate milk pretty often, pizza, beer, I have ice cream every once awhile which hits home for me because I love ice cream. But I haven’t anybody who’s used sweet potatoes yet. 

 

MIKE: I guess that’s the consequence of having a vegan on the show. 

 

JESSE: That’s fair enough. That’s a whole other topic of the conversation we didn’t get into is like, incorporating that with running and stuff. Mike, if people do actually want to see your research, since didn’t get into it, where can people find you? Where can people see what you’re up to? 

 

MIKE: Yeah, well on social media, my handle for Instagram and Twitter is @MikelHaggadone, all one word. If you’re interested in my research, I don’t know if anyone listening to this would be, but you can look me up on pubmed.gov, and I’ve published a couple pieces about my research. But yeah, social media, I’m relatively active and my email too, it’s easy to find. I’m always happy to respond and to hear people’s stories and to engage in that way as well. 

 

JESSE: Sounds great. Thanks for coming on today, Mike. 

 

MIKE: Yeah, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

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