Kate Van Buskirk has pushed through her darkest moments. The Canadian middle distance runner has long since been open about her struggles with depression and anxiety, plus some pretty rough times battling physical injuries that took a toll. Now Van Buskirk is happy, healthy and back on track. We spoke with her about the mind-body connection of running, along with how she keeps running fun, even when she’s not feeling it.
iRun: How important is the mental connection, and even the whole spirit connection for you as a runner?
Kate Van BuskirK: I can’t separate the physical from the mental when it comes to running. When I’m out for an easy recovery run, on a beautiful day, feeling well-rested, strong and happy, running augments everything positive for me. On days when I’m struggling, feeling low, or overwhelmed, running serves as a chance for meditation, reflection and a well-needed dose of feel-good endorphins. I find that my thinking is clearer, and I’m more honest with myself about my emotions when I’m out for a run, and this clarity and openness helps me tremendously when trying to navigate a challenge or set-back. There’s also something about being outside, particularly in nature, that is invigorating, so going for a run offers a feeling of connection that is hard to replicate.
iRun: What are your tricks for pushing past the days when you just don’t feel like training? Or do you push past?
KV: Because I am a professional runner, I do have to push through certain days when I’m lacking motivation to run. However, if I’m feeling especially tired, fighting an illness, or dealing with an injury concern, I have learned that it is usually best to listen to my body and take a rest day. When it comes to mustering motivation on the days when I don’t feel like going for my run, I find that the hardest part is usually just getting out the door. Once I’m moving and the endorphins kick in, I generally end up really enjoying it. As the saying goes, “’I really regret going for that run’ said no one ever”. I turn to various forms of inspiration to get my shoes laced up, like watching race videos of runners I admire, visiting some of my favourite running publications like iRun, or writing down some of my athletic goals to remind myself what I’m working towards.
iRun: For many runners, especially women, running can really help free their mind, can you share a bit as to what you think about, where your mind goes when you’re training or even just out for a “fun run”?
KV: When I’m in the middle of a hard workout or long run, I am usually fairly focused on the task at hand. I think a lot about my body in these moments, and get into a sort of mantra where I repeat various physical cues for staying loose and relaxed while working through discomfort. I find that focusing on these cues has a calming effect that keeps me “in the zone”, and helps distract me from the pain of my exertion. When I’m out for an easy run, however, I usually experience a combination of letting my mind wander to other things going on in my life, while also trying to stay present, and notice and appreciate the world around me. I tend to stay away from city streets when I run in Toronto, so my runs along the lake front or various ravines provide great opportunities to take in the natural beauty around me.
iRun: With that idea of running for fun in mind, are you able to do that as an elite runner, just enjoy the act of running? What are your tricks for making it fun again?
KV: Running has always been fun for me, with the exception of when I’ve been dealing with long periods of injury. Although I have to maintain a significant level of discipline in my sport, I have never seen it as solely a job; in fact, I’ve always thought that as soon as I stop genuinely loving running, I will retire from the sport regardless of my level of success. I love the purity of running; that all you need is a pair of running shoes and a healthy sense of adventure and you can run pretty much anywhere. Getting as much variety as possible in my running routes is one way that I keep running fun and interesting. I love exploring a place on foot, and try to run in new places whenever I get the opportunity. I also run as much as I can with others, as I derive a lot of pleasure from sharing that experience with fellow athletes.
iRun: Beyond running, what activities do you do that have helped you maintain a healthy mind-body connection?
KV: I write a fair amount for myself. I keep a gratitude journal that I try to contribute to every day, even with some small reason to be appreciative. I try to nourish my mind and body as much as I can in times when I feel that I’m struggling, rather than engaging in judgement. I also work with a great therapist on a regular basis, and find that having this resource has a tremendously positive impact on my mental health.
iRun: Any additional advice for women getting started in running, who maybe want to use running as a way to improve their mental fitness?
KV: Start easy and be gentle on your mind and body. Find running buddies who will support and inspire you; write down—but be flexible with—your goals; be open to discovering through trial and error what makes running enjoyable for you; challenge yourself without engaging in self-judgement. Just get out the door!