Running Away From Depression

Focus on physical activity a key to recovery for runner Hilary Haliburton.

Hilary Haliburton
Photo: Britton Ledingham

We cannot run away from our problems but running can certainly help manage them, especially our mental health.

Calgary’s Hilary Haliburton has always lived a life filled with sports and wilderness adventures but as her depression intensified beyond her teen years she realized how crucial it was to create a lifestyle that nourished a healthy state of mind.

It was when she and her husband Jamie moved from Ottawa to Kelowna in 1995 that she started to unravel. Haliburton wasn’t performing well at her civil engineering job or connecting with others and, frankly, she says, she didn’t really like her altered self.

“I was moody, without energy and apathetic. I couldn’t make a decision if my life depended on it. I’d look at a problem and I wouldn’t know how to deal with it. I felt like I was wading through mud day after day. It was mental paralysis,” says 56-year-old Haliburton, who sports a few locks of purple in memory of her close friend who died of pancreatic cancer in 2016.

Two months after arriving in Kelowna, Haliburton was diagnosed with depression at age 32. From then on, she’s been very open about it, outlining her limitations and choosing work and roles in life with less stressors. A new beginning in Calgary in 1999 was beneficial and is where she pursues her love of the triathlon sports, horseback riding and skiing in tandem with the medication Effexor.

Marathon training gives her focus, Haliburton says, and she has run 10 since Victoria 2003. She clocked her fastest time of 3:55:23 in the drizzling rain at the 2007 BMO Vancouver Marathon qualifying her for Boston the following year. And because she’s aware that too much time alone takes her mind to dark places this self-professed social exerciser draws upon Calgary’s running community for ‘a lot of great conversations’ on those epic training runs along her favourite pathways in Fish Creek Park.

“My social life is tied to my running so it’s all one and the same,” says the Kingston, Ontario native. “Sports has been so helpful to my mental health and I know that if I don’t turn to it, then I’m hooped.”

Prowess in swimming and biking has translated into three IRONMAN races. This past summer she podium-finished fifth in her age category in Whistler in the most vertical course – 2,800 metres in elevation gain – of all IRONMAN competitions last year.

This ski patroller in-training questions whether she has another marathon in her, especially with an annoying bunion on her right foot. If Haliburton can stave off depression through the power of sports, quashing that bunion should be easy. She indeed shines by example.