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Meet Alanna: How Running Led Her Back to Herself


Meet Alanna: How Running Led Her Back to Herself

Hi. My name is Alanna. I first came to know about Move to Heal just under a year ago and was immediately compelled to get connected. The mission resonated with me because movement has healed me and it has also become a huge part of my daily self-care practice.

Here’s why:

In my late teens, I developed anorexia and lost much of my youth, mental energy and vitality to the disorder. I spent my senior year of high school in a hospital. My delicate physical and mental state meant a local university choice was the only option my parents were comfortable with. In hindsight, it was the right choice as I had to drop out of my first semester to get back on track after relapsing.

I spent the better part of 3 years not exercising at all.

Perhaps yoga here and there but definitely nothing to stress my cardiovascular system. As my weight stabilized and I was healthier mentally and physically, I began to introduce running back into my routine. I always did cross country as a kid, played soccer growing up and was always noticed for being able to “run forever and not get tired”.

Because of my history I started running in secret. I knew my parents and health care providers would strongly discourage it. They said it was “Too dangerous” or “It’s a slippery slope”- but at the same time I knew I absolutely loved running and it made me feel good. After years of hating so much about myself and, if I’m being honest, being completely lost, I was desperate to find something that made me feel like Alanna again.

So I started small. I hit the track at Ryerson university and ran for 20 minutes at a time. There was a lap counter on the wall there and I used to see how many laps I could fit into the 20 minutes I gave myself to run. It became something I looked forward to. I quickly began to notice the mental benefits of incorporating running back into my routine, in a healthy way.

Running became (and still is) like my therapy. It is something I have to show up for, something I have to fuel my body for, something I have to respect my body to do and something that reminded me who I was.

Flash forward to today and I’ve had the privilege of moving my body through many 5ks, 10ks, half-marathons, marathons, triathlons (even a half Ironman!) as well as some personal upsets, family issues and many low points in my life. Running is my outlet- and being able to run in a healthy body is one of my greatest accomplishments.

So, finding an online space like The Move to Heal Project that focuses on movement as an adjunct to therapy- it spoke to me. It is, in my non-medical opinion, why I’m here today. If I can play a small role in helping others know they are not alone in whatever they are going through, it would be an absolute honour.

My purpose here is to share some of the ways I’ve incorporated movement and mental health awareness into the corporate setting in which I work. Before diving into that, I thought sharing the why behind the column would help you better understand the motive behind it.

Looking forward to sharing more with you!


Meet Ali. This is her Story

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Meet Ali. This is her Story


As a kid I remember my emotions feeling so big it seemed they couldn’t physically be contained in the room I was in. To me, they were palpable, and taking up space, big and heavy, they surrounded me.

I guess that I have always been like this- feeling in a big, intense way.

While this certainly has its advantages in the pleasant and joyful contexts, when things swing the other way it’s hard to feel something so deep and so painful; especially when it appears from the outside that the circumstance just doesn’t seem to call for it.


As a teen I remember literally, running away from these deep feelings when they became too much. As in, I would actually head out the door in whatever I was wearing and run as far as I could, “away” from the pain I was feeling. Usually, after a few blocks, I couldn’t breathe very well and not being in proper footwear and attire led to extreme discomfort. But for a few minutes, being sweaty and out of breath gave me something else to think about- it released me from whatever pain I was feeling, without actually having to truly confront it and deal with it.


This worked for a while here and there until I experienced a period of pain as an undergrad so deep that I could not run away from it. After a particularly bad week of sleeping all day, a friend dragged me to the gym with her where we participated in a kickboxing class. For the first time in weeks I was actually moving my body and getting the blood flowing. It was tough, I didn’t want to do it, but with each shadow jab I felt a little lighter.

By the end of the class I remember feeling good, so good, that I cried on the way back to my dorm room.

I just wanted to feel this good more often, but it seemed so impossible. I remember later that day talking to a friend and saying out loud the words I was never able to say before; “I think I’m depressed”.  She encouraged me to seek help, and thankfully I did.


My story does not end there of course. While I had quickly learned that staying active played a key part in getting my life together again as a depressed undergrad, my depression didn’t just go away one day because I decided to work out regularly. In fact, while I continued to remain very active in my early 20s, the next obstacle that was thrown my way was uncontrollable anxiety that felt like it was just handed to me one day, out of the blue.


At first, I was not able to fully recognize that something was not quite right. I began making lists for everything, always worried, terrified, that I would forget something. These lists began to control my life in a way that I couldn’t explain. Some days and even some vacations were spent just making sure things were crossed off, instead of actually living in the moment and enjoying each “item”.


This sense of overwhelm and desire to complete what I felt I “needed” to was all-consuming at times. At first, it was easy to blame it on my perfectionism and Type A personality. But as this spilled into every other area of my life I realized that these feelings of trying to control everything were not normal. It reached a tipping point when I would drive to my internship every morning with butterflies in my stomach and then sit in my car once parked for a good 15 minutes convincing myself to go inside. There was no real “reason” to feel this way and I could not control it. In a sense, my lists were a way I was able to feel control over my life at this time.


I would sweat every time my phone rang, worried that the person calling me was going to tell me a family member had died. I was afraid to get in a car with another driver in fear of getting in an accident.


My fear of the unknown and all possible terrible outcomes sent my head in spirals, I had trouble sleeping and would often feel on the verge of a panic attack when I thought about anything beyond my current task at hand or day. Unfortunately, regular physical activity had taken a backseat to graduate school and juggling two part-time jobs. But one day, I felt the overwhelm and lack of control bubble over and was reminded of my childhood feelings- I could not keep them in the room and I just need to get away from everything. I laced up my shoes and headed outside, telling myself that maybe I  would just feel a little bit better if I went for a run.


It sucked. I was breathless within 3 minutes and sweating through my shirt. I stopped to walk every few minutes and cursed myself for thinking this was a good idea. However, after a few minutes I realized the feeling of panic had subsided.

I probably only ran about 2km that day, but I returned home with a clearer mind and a sense of calm I hadn’t felt in weeks.


A few days later when I started feeling the same way, I laced up my shoes again. I don’t know what came over me, but for some reason I told myself that day that I would train for a 10k race. Over the next few weeks, I started to run regularly when I felt overwhelmed. It wasn’t long before I fell in love with the feeling of getting out there. I fell in love with running the way I fall in love with most things in life- obsessively, completely and all at once.


At first, I loved how it humbled me, I had thought I was fairly athletic and in shape, but running seriously kicked my ass . Over time though, it gave me a sense of control as things became slightly easier. When I laced up my shoes, I knew what to expect. I knew when I would tire and where I would turn around and how far I could do. Eventually, I was able to start pushing myself more and more- conving myself to run 100 more meters when my mind was yelling “STOP!”.

For the first time in my life, I realized I could challenge my thoughts and push beyond them, and, that my thoughts were not always right- I COULD run a little bit further if I wanted to.


After a few months, I found myself in a place where running gave me space to actually work through things. Instead of trying not to die with each painful breath, I was able to fall in to a rhythm, to run and think and recognize my obsessive thoughts as merely thoughts. I was able to be in that moment while correspondingly work through the unpleasant physical feelings it gave me- and I realized how much that related to my anxiety that I dealt with in my day to day life. It was okay to feel unpleasant things, accept them for what they are (temporary) and keep pushing through them.


Running has since become a major part of my life. As soon as I feel myself slipping, I know what I have to do to feel better. That’s not to say it’s easy to just lace up my shoes when I feel my mind take over with negativity and worry. Sometimes it takes everything I have to lace up my shoes and get out the door. It has also helped to have a community to push me and support me and get me out there on the days when I would really rather not. Running has challenged me to push beyond my self-imposed limitations and not let thoughts define me. In running away from myself, I have actually learned to not shy away from myself.

I have learned to come home to my body and my breath and who I am- anxiety and all.


While there is no question that professional help and medication can turn a life around, it is the feeling of pounding concrete that has truly changed me.

It is so easy to look at physical activity as a way to look a certain way, but in reality, it has the power to not only change your body but change how you FEEL. Learning the connection between mind and body has been the most pivotal and important lesson I have learned in my life.


My depression and anxiety are parts of me that I have learned to live with, and physical activity is an important piece of my toolbox that I often reach for when life just seems to be too much. Running is always there for me, steady as can be. One foot in front of the other. Left foot, right foot, breathe in, breathe out and repeat. It pulls me back to the ground when I need it the most.


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Meet Cassie. This is her Story


Meet Cassie. This is her Story

I always laugh a little when people ask how I got into running around so much.

The reason I laugh is because I used to hate running; I thought it was only something you did when you were chasing something (like a bus or a Frisbee) or if you were being chased (mostly from anyone trying to tickle me or defending me in sport).

The reality is that it took being broken to make me actually WANT to run. A complete rupture of my Achilles tendon six years ago made me want what I couldn't do. To walk. To run. As I healed I found a joy in the freedom of movement that I had never felt before.

This experience of finding freedom in running was an essential grounding point years later as I suffered through being mentally broken- ridden with anxiety and drowning in depression.

The rhythmic motion of my internal breath, heart, and external limbs combined with the discomfort and (eventual) high of relief was really the only thing that made me feel human. I began to run longer distances over more challenging terrain- up to 100km in the mountains- as I struggled and found peace in the meditation, making friends with my suffering.

While physically and mentally I am in a much better place today, I continue to believe I am in this place because I know how to ground myself in movement. Running has taught me, and continues to teach me, this lesson. If I can make friends with my discomfort, the world becomes a less scary place and things that once seemed impossible become possible again


Follow Cass and her Run Adventures on Instagram @cassieshirley