Running is one of the most powerful tools to cope with the stresses of everyday life, work more productively, feel better, and realize your own abilities. Running at its core isn\u2019t about finish lines or finish times. It is a personal movement that allows us to discover more about ourselves. In this series, in partnership with New Balance , we speak with three women who share their mental wellness journeys through running. In this edition, we hear from graphic designer Vanessa Ong in her own words about how her runs shape her outlook on life. Because my birthday is in May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month, and I turned 30 this year, I decided to run 30 miles as a celebration of how far I\u2019ve come in terms of my own mental health. But it was about more than just distance\u2014every mile marked one more aspect of my life that inspires gratitude. These \u201cgratitude miles\u201d encompass a range of what inspires me and keeps me going, like my mom, the sunrise, or even a trail I\u2019m on. What running has taught me is you can always find new opportunities to appreciate what fuels you. Even when your legs are hurting or you\u2019re struggling with emotions, you can power through, if you just take it mile by mile. Needing a kickstart I started running about four years ago when a friend suggested I join a local run club that was training for the Los Angeles Marathon. At that stage of life, I\u2019d graduated from college and started my career as a graphic designer, but I was in a bit of a lull and sort of feeling lost. The furthest I\u2019d run at that point was about two miles. I was very new to running and I\u2019d never played sports in school, but I thought: Just let me try it . I wanted to see if I could do it, and honestly, it was really hard. I remember the first long run was eight miles and I didn\u2019t finish, then the next one was 11 miles and I didn\u2019t finish that one either. It humbled me. But I didn\u2019t quit. The fact that I stuck with it and kept going\u2014especially completing the marathon\u2014made me learn a lot about myself and my ability to push through physical barriers. And the more I ran, the more I learned about my mental barriers as well. Running through the dark In many ways, my journey started in my fourth year of college. I wasn\u2019t feeling like myself, and I couldn\u2019t figure out why, but it began to affect my grades. I was failing all my classes and wasn\u2019t even close to graduating. Nor was I making progress toward the expectations I\u2019d set for myself. I was far away. A friend suggested checking out the counseling resources on campus. I\u2019d never tried any therapy before, but I was desperate and at the time, no one was really talking about mental health. Finally, it got to an extreme point and that same year, I ended up in the hospital because I tried to take my own life. It\u2019s so isolating and difficult to let other people know how you\u2019re feeling, yet that\u2019s exactly what you need to do to end the stigma around mental health. I learned to be open and vulnerable about what I was going through, and people helped me see that I wasn\u2019t alone\u2014that there were many people who really did care. From that experience, I found a sense of purpose: I don\u2019t ever want someone to feel like they\u2019re going through that struggle alone. Even one conversation can change a life and maybe even keep someone on this planet longer. Those two major themes of running and mental health are definitely intertwined for me now. Not only for my personal journey, like the birthday gratitude miles, but also in my efforts to build awareness about mental health services and the way that an activity like running can play a part in all of this. Strengthening the connection Because running has contributed to my confidence so much, I wanted to bring that empowerment to others. So, last year I began fundraising for Students Run LA, which is a fantastic organization that partners with about 185 schools and helps kids train for the Los Angeles Marathon. The students get resources, support, and coaches\u2014whatever they need. I remember when I was training for my first marathon and how it felt like I was unlocking a superpower. I love knowing that will happen for so many of these students as well. My birthday 30-miler was a fundraiser for the Mental Health Coalition, which is a range of nonprofits including the National Crisis Helpline and research-based mental health organizations, with some that are specific to BIPOC communities. I raise funds for them because it\u2019s important for people to have these resources, wherever they are on their mental health journey. I can\u2019t imagine not having running. And I feel grateful that I get to share this with others and show them that they're not alone. You\u2019re never alone. Someone is always there to run with you.