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How Running Around Buffalo Helps My Mental Health

I started running three years ago when I moved to Buffalo in 2018, so I am in no way an expert on it, and frankly, I don’t ever care to be. There are so many exercise programs and fad diets out there that it’s difficult to know what’s coming and what’s going. Running has been something that I can do at my own pace, without the pressure that comes with a lot of sports.

I should start by saying that I’m not a very good runner, so please stop reading if you want to learn my pro tips for improving my pace, what foods I eat before and after my runs for optimal energy, and the science behind the shoes I wear when I hit the pavement.

I do subscribe to Runner’s World magazine, wear a FitBit, and I have one of those belts that holds small bottles of water and has a zipper fanny pack, so that’s got to mean something in the running community. For me, running has provided an outlet and therapy of sorts for mental health struggles I have faced throughout my life. I am not trying to say that it replaces therapy with a licensed mental health professional or medicine that helps alleviate symptoms; I do that too. 

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and the older I get the more open I have become about my lifelong struggles with anxiety and depression. I don’t do it for sympathy, but rather to highlight how common they are. I won’t provide every detail of what I have gone through or go through, but I have felt some sort of anxiety or depression – or combination therein – since childhood… and I had a really amazing childhood! I was always so embarrassed about it and really felt like I was a failure for feeling the way I did because my upbringing was so great. I realize now that my genetic makeup just makes me more prone to it, and that’s really all there is to it.

Part of me wishes I had accepted it a lot earlier and confronted it because suffering in silence about anything is no way to live. My mother always says “Everybody’s Got Something,” whether it is a chronic illness, a mental health diagnosis, or something else they deal with that interrupts their day to day. She’s right. FYI, moms usually are right. A small word of advice: consider listening to your parents/elders because, looking back now, most things I fought my parents on, their advice was sound. 

For the longest time, speaking up/out about mental health issues was considered taboo. Thankfully, those days are over, because I believe that being able to discuss the issue is paramount. Instead of brushing the problems under the rug, people (like me) are now able to share their own experiences, in hopes that it resonates with others who might be experiencing similar feelings.

People comment that I am brave for revealing my struggles, but I believe that the bravest thing that someone can do is to take the first step and make an appointment with a professional who can guide that person in the right direction. It was one of the biggest hurdles that I faced. Once I did that, it got so much easier. 

When the world stopped last March, I turned to running as I always do (well, since 2018 anyway) to provide a routine for myself – a form of escape. I know now why loving where you live is so important: if I had to be grounded anywhere on earth for an extended period of time I sure am glad it was Buffalo, although I can’t wait to be on a vacation when things get more settled.

Around every turn, I find something to inspire me on my runs. Whether it is the ornate details of an old Victorian wonder on Richmond Avenue or one of the what seems like hundreds of new murals that have popped up in the city, I am in awe of how I can find mental health clarity on a three-mile run around my neighborhood.

Running – or walking if that is more your speed (pun intended) – is the best way to get to know a city – I will take it over a drive any day. Lacing up my sneakers (currently they are Brooks, though I’ll go back to Asics as I pronate a lot–pronate is a term I learned from Runner’s World) on a bright sunny day instantly resets my mood and clears my head.

Pandemic living only enhanced the need to head out for a run – I jokingly call it mandatory outdoors time, where I go on runs down certain streets as the seasons change, keeping my eyes pealed for the cherry blossoms and forsythias as they bloom in springtime, for example.

Yes, I am one of those oddballs that runs year round in Buffalo. Nothing is more humbling than a run in February – the quiet silence of freshly fallen snow as I run along Bidwell Parkway feels like a Robert Frost poem come to life and it’s enough for me to keep going that extra mile.

I have never liked treadmill running, because the whole reason that I run is to enjoy Buffalo. To mix it up, sometimes I hop in my car to drive to a different neighborhood. I go for a “North Buffalo Run” to pass by the North Park Theatre marquee, the vibrant murals on Hertel between Parkside and Delaware Avenues, and the the Darwin Martin House, which is so exquisite that I am in awe every time I see it.

If I want to focus, I queue up an English rock band (it’s The Cure over The Smiths for me, in case you were wondering) and run the loop at Delaware Park. Still, it’s hard to not get distracted by the gorgeous houses on Nottingham Terrace and the giraffes at the Buffalo Zoo. Sometimes, this makes “runs” turn into “slow jogs” where I stop and take photos and ruin my pace, but to me, the point of the run is the experience. If I set out with a goal/distance in mind of say four miles, then those miles can be whatever (and whenever) I want them to be, as long as I am enjoying the run.

I have trained for, and run, the Buffalo Half Marathon twice (in 2018 and 2019). I deferred this year even though they just got the go-ahead to hold it in June. Instead, I spent my Easter Sunday running my own half marathon which started and ended at my West Side abode. Training for long-distance runs is a must if you want to avoid injury. I am only 34, but I can tell that on certain days my hips or my knees aren’t as happy with my decision to train as hard as I did.

The old adage that life is a marathon and not a sprint is the exact motto that I use on each and every run. After all, what is the point in rushing through it, if I miss the beauty that surrounds me? There’s no fun in that. 

If you’re a person who doesn’t like to run alone, there are plenty of run clubs around Buffalo, including:

Runaway Runners, Buffalo Hash House Harriers, Queen City Run Club Buffalo, Greater Buffalo Track Club, lululemon Buffalo Run Club, Checkers AC, Buffalo Triathlon Club, Kids Run Buffalo, Buffalo Runners, and Fleet feet

Written by Lauren Genesky

Lauren Genesky

Lauren Genesky has been an official Buffalonian since 2018. A Batavia, NY native, she graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in English from the University at Buffalo. Outside of writing, Lauren really enjoys running, Pilates, traveling, expanding her vinyl collection, and attending live gigs. She resides on the West Side with her cat, Hemingway.

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