Antonia Baum, a Chevy Chase, Md. psychiatrist and competitive runner who incorporates exercise into therapy sessions for some of her patients, says running seems to help people with many different kinds of issues. "A good run creates its own level of mastery; add to that the necessary imposition of structure and discipline, as well as being outdoors, which we know brings us pleasure," Baum says.
Anne M. Mahlum, chief executive of Back on My Feet — the group whose volunteers helped Duncan start running — says that beyond the physical benefits, running shows that you can set, and then meet, a goal. "There's hard work that's needed to get from mile to mile, and no one gets to mile five instantly, but when you look back, you can see what you've put in and what you can accomplish," Mahlum says.
Mahlum founded the group in 2007 in Philadelphia to help people living in homeless shelters. As a teenager, she had turned to running to escape an addict father at home. Often her route would take her past a homeless shelter where a group of men would cheer her on. After some successful runs, Mahlum went back to the shelter and offered to put together a running program.
Back on My Feet now has chapters in 10 cities, where they also help runners find permanent homes and jobs.
Run to Recover, an online community and resource for people recovering from emotional and physical pain, was founded by Matt Klein. Like Mahlum, he used running to deal with his own problems, in his case drug and alcohol addiction. The group now counts more than 600 members. Newcomers who sign onto the group's Facebook page find themselves quickly tapped with welcome messages from other members of the group.
"A run, no matter how long, has a beginning, middle and end. A start and a finish. Each run is a mini-battle and a major accomplishment," says Klein, who regularly runs marathons and Ironman races. "That's a great feeling and a true victory. It doesn't matter if you are recovering from a terrible storm, the loss of a loved one, the death of a pet, depression, postpartum depression, a traumatic injury, post-traumatic stress or a chemical dependency."