Running Into Yourself: Unlock Your Strength, Heal Your Wounds, and Find New Life Through Running

Running Into Yourself: Unlock Your Strength, Heal Your Wounds, and Find New Life Through Running

by Jean-Paul Bedard


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781621240228
Publisher: Breakaway Books
Publication date: 06/28/2016
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 452,356
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

In addition to being a ‘featured contributor’ to the Huffington Post and the author behind the popular blog “Breathe Through This” (with over 2 million subscribers), Jean-Paul Bédard is a high profile endurance athlete, and a veteran of over 100 marathons and ultra marathons. In 2012, he represented Canada in the prestigious Comrades Marathon in South Africa, a grueling 90km race through mountainous terrain.

Jean-Paul turned to long distance running to help him battle his addiction and mental health issues. In 2013, Jean-Paul disclosed to family and friends that he is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and rape. Since that time, he has become an advocate for other survivors. In 2014, Jean-Paul ran the iconic Boston Marathon twice in the same day to raise funds and awareness for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

A sought-after public speaker, Jean-Paul is known for his ability to infuse humor in his talks as he speaks candidly about coming to terms with serious issues such as addiction, depression, and childhood trauma. Jean-Paul passionately believes life is not about "what happens to us", but about "what we do with what happens to us." His is a message of hope, strength, and resiliency.

Read an Excerpt


“The obsession with running is really an obsession with the potential for more and more life”.
~ George Sheehan

I think we can all agree that life moves faster with each passing day, and how

ironic that with the arrival of every modern timesaving device, we appear to be

that much further behind. Everyone seems to be desperately searching for

something, but none of us are quite sure what really is gnawing at us, the thing

that is leaving us wanting. But what if that mysterious thing we are all searching

for lay closer than we think?

There is a beautiful story from the Jewish tradition contained within the sacred

text of the Talmud. According to the scripture, when we are in our mother’s

womb, each of us is visited by an angel, and it is this angel who bestows on us all

the infinite knowledge of the universe—everything we will ever need to know on

this earth. Sadly, just before we are born into this world, the angel gives us a

gentle tap beneath our nose, thus leaving a subtle indentation on our upper lip.

This indentation is known as a philtrum, and it’s the action of this simple tap that

empties our memory of the infinite wisdom we were blessed with in utero. And

therein lies the universality in the quest of our humanness—a search to breathe

anew that, which once lay inside each and every one of us.

When it comes to a metaphor for life, you’d be hard pressed to find one better

than running. There is something primal about running in that it has the power to

unlock parts of us that otherwise lie dormant, or stay nestled in the shadows. One

only need to watch the unbridled freedom of a group of children at play to witness

firsthand the joy and transformative beauty of running.

When we run, it’s as if we enter into a pact with ourselves, whereby in return for

the faith in putting one foot stoically in front of the other, we are given the

opportunity to not only move away from wherever we might be, but also if we are

so attuned, we are afforded the rare opportunity to return to that sacred part of us

that was lost in an angel’s gentle touch.

It makes no difference whether you’re a novice runner making your way from the

couch to your first 5k race, or an elite runner toeing the line at the start of the

Olympic marathon. Within the beauty of movement, every runner will inevitably

come to that mysterious point where he or she must brush up against the same

artificial boundary—The border where one valiantly tries to quiet the mind, while

allaying incapacitating doubts and fears. This subtle negotiation, this dance with

discomfort, is the birthplace of an inner fortitude that demands we keep moving

when everything inside us is screaming for us to quit.

This is by no means a conventional book on running, in that within these pages,

you will not find training plans, dietary advice, or even strength building exercises.

In fact, most of our attention will not be on how to run farther and faster, but

instead, on how to run deeper. The first part of the book will invite you into the

world of a high profile endurance athlete, a veteran of over 100 marathons and

ultra marathons, and how running has intersected at critical times in his life to help

him overcome battles with addiction and personal trauma. We will then turn to

how running is a form of moving mediation, a means to not only relieve stress but

also unlock a wellspring of creativity. Interspersed with personal accounts from

runners around the globe, we will delve into the archeology of running and how it

has the ability to unearth what may have laid dormant inside us for years.

Next, by drawing on the latest studies in medicine and psychology, we will look

into the merits of running as a form of healing and its place alongside

pharmacology and therapy. Through real life stories of athletes who have

overcome incredible odds and adversity, we will enter into a discussion on running

as a means to strengthen our resiliency. If you stick with running long enough,

there inevitably comes a time when the wheels fall off and either injury or life

circumstances get in the way of your ability to run. In this section of the book, we

will touch upon the perennial issues of running injuries, taper madness, and that

oh so difficult task of making space for running in your life. And finally, as John

Donne said, “No man is an island”, so our discussion would be incomplete were

we not to look into the importance of building your running tribe so that you can

stay motivated and leave your positive contribution on the running community in


But most of all, I hope that within the pages of this book, you will discover much

that resonates with that part of you that may have laid quietly waiting in the

shadows, and that you will arrive at a place where running can bring an immense

sense of joy to your life. It is a journey that will take you through the pure pursuit

of the horizons of possibility within you, and beyond you.


A Moving Meditation

“My desire for knowledge is intermittent, but my desire to bathe my head in atmospheres unknown to my feet is perennial and constant.”
~ Henry David Thoreau

There is a question that often comes up in conversation with non-runners that

rarely seems to come up in conversation with other runners; and the question is

typically phrased something like this—What do you think about while you’re out

there running hour after hour? Don’t you go crazy? Aren’t you bored silly?

On the surface, it seems like an innocent enough question, but it’s one that I really

have to struggle with in order to find an answer. You see, I love to run, but that’s

not really why I run. For as long as I can remember, I’ve waged at not so subtle

war trying to keep my restless, overactive mind fairly in check. To an outsider, this

internal restlessness manifests in my frenetic, and some would say manic,

My wife says that I have only two speeds: ‘hyper drive’ and ‘zonked out. If you do

manage to get me sitting in a chair for any length of time, I’ll inevitably be

twitching, fidgeting, and tapping my feet. I have stopped trying to figure out why

I’m like this because I think I’m just wired this way. Over the years, I’ve

attempted to mollify this incessant restlessness with every external means at my

disposal, most notably drugs and alcohol, and to lesser degree food. Although

each of those has offered a temporary reprieve, none has been sustainable for very

long, and truth be told, it really is a fool’s game because no matter what you do to

‘escape’ from yourself, sooner or later you are faced with having to return to that

for which you were escaping from to begin with.

As I mentioned before, I don’t consider running something I do, but rather,

something I am. And I believe it’s within this oneness with running, where I can

begin to find my answer as to what goes through my mind when I’m out on long

run. If you were to look at my training logs for the past 4 years, you would find

that I average just over 9,000 kilometers (5,000 miles) a year. That’s a lot distance

covered in the course of year, but it’s not until I work out what that equates to in

terms of a time commitment, that I begin to see how much running really does

dominate my life. In the past year alone, my cumulative time running works out

to be almost 28 days (running 24 hours/day).

One of my mantras in sobriety has been to “Keep It Simple”, and it’s a philosophy

I’ve tried to incorporate into my running life as well. You might be surprised to

learn that despite the large number of races I participate in, and all the miles I log

year after year, I do not adhere to any strict regimen or excessive training

program. My training consists of two very fundamental principles: attempt to log

as many miles as possible in such a way to avoid injury, and incorporate tempo

bursts and hills into at least 2 runs per week. Other than that, there is no mystery

to my training—no drills on the track, no soul-destroying hill repeats, and no

obsession with lactic threshold and heart rate zones.

I discovered early on in my running career that the greatest threat to sabotaging a

workout or missing a workout entirely, more often than not comes from within.

Let’s be honest, there is always something that can get in the way of you getting

out the door or heading to the gym. Modern life is an intricate dance of balancing

work, family, and social schedules; and when push comes to shove, inevitably it’s

our commitment to exercise that falls by the wayside. A way to avoid succumbing

to that daily internal dialogue of ‘do I’ or ‘don’t I’ have time for my workout, is to

eliminate the possibility for that question to enter your consciousness to begin with.

I have found that exercising first thing in the morning is the only time of the day

when I can be absolutely sure that nothing else will get in the way or demand my

attention. On weekdays, the alarm wakes me up at 4:30 am, and I quickly get

dressed and head out the door for my run through the streets of Toronto. Before

heading to bed each night, I check out what the weather forecast will be for my

run so that I can lay out the proper running gear for my workout. You know what

they say, “There’s no bad weather, just bad clothing.” I’m not going to lie to you;

there are most definitely some nasty mornings in the dark cold of winter when my

brain is racing with a million and one excuses for staying snuggled up in my warm

comfy bed. Over the years, I can probably count the number of times on one

hand that I’ve succumbed to that urge and stayed in bed, but on each of those

occasions, I was racked with guilt the entire day for not going out on my run.

In the previous chapter, I discussed my somewhat rebellious aversion to running

with an iPod or other music device, and my thinking behind that has a lot to do

with getting to the heart of my answer as to what goes through my mind when I’m

running. I started running competitively about 16 years ago, right around the

time I entered a treatment program for alcohol addiction. At first, running merely

provided a much-needed new outlet for me to not only get physically healthy but

also mentally grounded. What I didn’t know at the time was that running would

evolve into a spiritual practice in my life. Running has been the only thing that

I’ve ever found that can quiet my mind and provide me the space, or distance to

process whatever life throws at me during the rest of the day.

Even though I don’t have any music being piped directly into my ears via ear

buds, it’s not to say that I am not being constantly serenaded by the natural

rhythms emanating from the streets, alleyways, and ravines of Toronto. The lack

of traffic on my early morning runs affords me the opportunity to run through the

streets rather unencumbered by the increasing number of cars that clog our

roadways for much of the latter part of the day.

On my early morning runs, I enter into an almost organic relationship with the

pulse that underlies the breath of our city. I feel the vibrations of the streetcars

grinding their way along the main arteries; I hear the faint echoes resonating

through the narrow corridors of the downtown buildings as the trucks lower there

steel ramps to make their pre-dawn deliveries; and the nearer I get to the lake, the

more I’m greeted by the waves crashing into the breakwall or lapping up onto the

But more importantly, because my mind is free of distraction and open to

everything around me and inside of me, I’m intimately attuned to the cadenced

sounds of the changing seasons—The playful screeches of the litters of baby

raccoons in spring, the humidity-induced rumblings of the thunder off in the

distance in the summer, the crinkly shuffling of the blowing and fallen leaves in the

autumn, and the crisp crunch of the ice and snow under foot in the darkness of

Because running has grown to become the essence of who I am, no matter where I

travel, it is always with me. When I close my eyes and think of all the places I’ve

travelled to, my mind wanders back to the symphony of sounds of the battling car

horns in midtown Manhattan, the haunting wind whistling through the massive

pines in northern France, the plaintive eagerness of the roosters' sing-song in rural

South Africa, and most recently, the guttural mooing of cattle in pastoral England.

So, returning to the question—‘What goes through your mind when you’re

running?’—I would have to say the answer is in and of itself another way of

phrasing the question—‘What doesn’t go through my mind when I’m running?’

For many of us, running has a way of bringing us back to the beginning. It

recalibrates us. It silences us, and it calms us. There mere syncopation of our

movement, combined with the opportunity for us to truly connect with ourselves

through our breath, allows us to step back from the torment of that ever-present

‘To-Do List’, and in the process, find that place inside us to simple ‘be’ us.

It is interesting to note that the psychological benefits of exercise in terms of an

enhanced feeling of well-being, are rarely felt during the exercise itself, but rather,

it’s not until the return from this practice that we appreciate the space we cleared

inside us. There is some kind of alchemy that takes place when we push our body

outside of its physical comfort zone and enlist our muscles and aerobic system.

After a prolonged hiatus from exercise, people often say things like, “I need to get

back to the gym so I can burn off some this stress” or “I’m looking forward to

getting back at it so I can clear out some the cobwebs in my head.” And when you

think about, isn’t that what physical exertion is all about—The opportunity to

grease the axel and keep our engine humming along.

Much has been written about the physical benefits of a sustained exercise regimen,

and considering our society’s obsession with body image and weight loss, that’s not

all that surprising. You may not even realize this, but for whatever reason you

started running: to lose weight, to maintain a healthier lifestyle, or even to meet

new people, the greatest benefit may be something far less tangible—a vast

improvement to your overall mental health. Don’t believe me? Take a look at a

runner who has been forced to take some serious downtown as a result of an

injury. I guarantee you’ll find a squirrelly, irritable, and at times, inconsolable

athlete. So what’s really going on there, and how is it possible that a reduction in

physical exertion has such overt psychological manifestations?

Like so many of the runners I know, I initially took up running as means to

manage stress, in my case, learning to live a life free of drugs and alcohol. The

irony is not lost on me that in order for me to ‘reduce my stress’ I gravitated to a

sport that can have a significant physical toll on the body. I knew there must be

easier, and to a great degree, less expensive ways to alleviate stress, but having

found many of them to be lacking, I desperately hung on to running because even

though I had no idea how it worked, it appeared to be working.

In the ensuing years of my sobriety, I’ve toyed with incorporating a meditation

practice into my day because the idyllic image of sitting serenely in lotus position

and truly getting in touch with my breath fills me with such promise. The reality is

that meditation requires patience, something that, as anyone who knows me would

agree, is definitely in short supply in my life. Having said that, there is no denying

that once adopted as a part of your lifestyle, meditation can be among the most

liberating experiences you will ever find. Meditation is freeing, in that it has

nothing to do with bringing anything into your life, and everything to do with

learning to sit with whatever thought passes through you.

By helping to silence all the white noise around and inside us, meditation in its

purest form is a process of literally ‘being brought to your own attention’. The

challenge lies in learning to be comfortable coming face-to-face with those toxic

stowaways that lie within us: the self-criticism, doubts, and fears that have an

invisible hand in all that we do. The rewards for cultivating this focused attention

and abstract awareness are the joy, empathy, and compassion that begin to

displace the stress we carry within us.

Moreover, the leading researchers in the field of neuroscience have made

significant discoveries as of late, which point out how meditation can, for lack of a

better word, ‘rewire’ the brain. For the first time in the history of modern

psychology, there appears to be hope that the impacts of embedded trauma and

neuroses can be significantly curtailed, if not completely eliminated. According to

researcher Eileen

Table of Contents

Preface: brief overview of book and why every year, more and more people are turning to running

My Life on the Run: an autobiographical account of how running has intersected with my life

A Moving Meditation: background psychology on the healing and transformative power of “moving mediation”
— the spiritual connection
— what goes through your mind when you’re on a run (addressing the perennial question: Are you bored out there?)
— the connection between physical exertion and stress reduction
— honing your focus through running and running as an outlet for restless energy
— oneness and the opportunity to “disappear” from “self”, while at the same — time connect to yourself
— running’s effect on unlocking creativity

Running As Archeology
— unearthing memories
— finding the space for reflection
— reinventing yourself
— the “I am responsible” pact

Running Versus Pharmacology & Therapy
— are you “running away from something” or “running towards something”?
— the effect of exercise on mood and wellbeing
— the "runner’s high" explained

Running: A Resiliency Boot Camp
— running through grief & trauma
— running through addiction (why are there so many recovering addicts in the running community?)
— pushing the boundaries of endurance and your comfort zone

What if the wheels fall off?
— the reality of injuries
— striking the life balance
— taper madness (it’s real thing)
— overtraining
— running and food disorders
— confronting waning motivation

Running & Building Your Tribe
— social aspects of running (the pros and cons)
— the role of social media
— the runner’s mantra of “paying it forward”

— the “take-away”
— why aren’t you running?

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