My guest today has found running to be a very valuable tool to help her maintain her mental health.
She has also built a community and an organization dedicated to connecting runners and raising mental health awareness.
I am looking forward to going a few easy miles with Sasha Wolff as I learn more about the impactful work that “Still I Run” accomplishes.
Runs In The Family
Sasha Wolff grew up in a family of runners.
Both of her parents were avid runners and as Sasha got older she would occasionally join them on a run.
Even with her upbringing, Sasha didn’t really gravitate towards running until she discovered the link with mental health.
About 10 years ago, she was hospitalized for depression and anxiety.
Overall she wasn’t managing her therapy well.
Sasha wasn’t going to therapy at the time nor taking any medications.
While in the hospital Sasha learned how to be an active participant in her health.
Mental Health Tool Kit
One suggestion that Sasha took away while she was hospitalized was to create a mental health tool kit.
Her tool kit included therapy, medication, and creating regular health habits.
Immediately upon being discharged from the hospital Sasha put on some worn sneakers and took her dog out for a slow walk.
She was amazed at how accomplished she felt after that seemingly simple act.
The chemical brain component associated with exercise immediately improved her mood.
Sasha stumbled into running for mental health and she hasn’t stopped since.
Running With Purpose And Mindfulness
Initially, when Sasha began running she described her running as aimless.
She didn’t have anything or anyone to hold her accountable.
Sasha came across the Couch to 5k program and that was just what she needed to keep her motivated.
Her husband is very into running and when Sasha met him she began signing up for more races.
Over the years, she has found that training plans and races are highly motivating for her.
In 2020 when no races were occurring, Sasha had to dial back into why she ran.
The pandemic was a blessing in disguise for her running, because it forced her to strip everything down to the basics.
Sasha still created goals for herself, but they weren’t centered around PRs.
Peri and Post Natal Depression
Sasha is currently pregnant with her third child.
She is still able to continue to run daily with her current pregnancy.
For her first and second children, Sasha was able to run up until the week before she gave birth.
Being able to continue to run has been hugely helpful in managing her mental health.
Though even with the running, Sasha still experienced depression both during and after pregnancy.
Post-delivery she was required to take 6 weeks off from running.
That was a period when she struggled with managing her mental health.
Keeping an open line of communication with her medical providers was critical in getting through that time.
Races To Remember
Prior to Covid, Sasha loved racing and has a lot of races that stick out.
She has done numerous Disney races, but the Dopey Challenge is her overall favorite.
Sasha found the early morning wake-ups to be harder than the races themselves.
The Detroit Internation Marathon was memorable because she got to run over a bridge into Canada and back.
Local races especially hold a soft spot for Sasha.
The Gazelle Girl Half Marathon and the Grand Rapids Marathon have both proven to be consistently well-run races that don’t lack in fun.
Still I Run
It was early on in Sasha’s running that she made the connection between running and mental health.
She began searching for running groups that focused on mental health awareness and support.
The connection between the two seemed obvious thus she was surprised when she couldn’t find any groups with that mission.
So began her journey in creating “Still I Run.”
Sasha wanted to create a group that “promotes the benefits of running for mental health, and through collective stories, defeat the stigma around mental illness.”
She was struggling to come up with a name for the group and it literally was right in front of her.
Maya Angelou is Sasha’s favorite author and is well known for her poem, “Still I Rise.”
Sasha had planned on getting a tattoo with the words- Still I Run.
Still I Run was officially founded in 2016 on World Mental Health Day.
Providing Support While Defeating Stigmas
Initially when Sasha launched “Still I Run” she never anticipated how much support she would get.
Her first step was to create a Facebook page along with a website.
The amount of interest was much more than she expected and now 5 years later they are an official non-profit.
Sasha still has a full-time job, but she also puts in countless hours for “Still I Run” because she wholly believes in the mission.
“Still I Run” encompasses a variety of programs.
Run. Write. Fight. is a seemingly simple program that involves writing letters, but it has had a tremendous impact.
The Starting Line Scholarship is a unique program, “which aims to help people experiencing hardship overcome barriers to getting started running.”
Applications are available year-round and over the course of a year, they award 40 scholarships.
Expanding Their Reach
Still I Run is currently an online/virtual community but they are in the process of expanding to more in-person in the near future.
Beginning in June of 2021 the application process will open for more potential chapter locations.
Though Sasha believes in the powerful connection between running and mental health she makes sure people realize it’s not a replacement for therapy.
Running is therapeutic, it does NOT take the place of therapy or medication, but it can be a key component in a mental health kit.
Sasha has experienced herself and seen firsthand the transformations that running can do for mental health.
She hopes that by raising awareness these positive changes can be shared with more people.
Mentioned In This Episode:
- Still I Run
- Still I Run Community (Instagram)
- Starting Line Scholarship
- Chapter Program
- Grand Rapids Marathon
- Gazelle Girl Half Marathon
- Detroit Free Press Marathon
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