Michigan retired principal and cancer survivor use running for mental, physical health

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – For many, the thought of running brings dread and boredom, but for others it can bring peace, freedom and mental health.

While Dina Shtull started running later in life, she says she's never been in better shape. Ellyn Davidson started running after beating cancer. They use running to stay in shape not only physically, but also mentally.

"The triumphant moments are not at the end," Shtull said. "It's when I conquer the mental -- the mental energy over the physical energy."

Shtull started running in her mid-50s, and she said it's changed her life. She's now 60 years old and she runs through her Ann Arbor neighborhood every morning.

The retired school principal said she never was much of a runner, but when she turned 54, she was looking for something to do to stay healthy.

"I said, 'Why don't I just try running?' I don't have to chase a ball -- I can do it when I want at my own speed," Shtull said.

She started slow and started smaller races like 5K's, but now she does Ironman triathlons -- running, swimming and biking. She said finishing a race balances her mentally and physically. 

Shtull said she follows the "3 Ps" to get her through her runs, but she believes the theory can be applied to almost any challenge.

1 -- Patience

"Don't start thinking you're going to do a half-marathon," Shtull said. "Start by running around the block. That's it. When you start an instrument, you don't think you're going to join an orchestra right away."

2 -- Practice 

"You don't get anywhere in life without practice," Shtull said. "It's not about if you are born with certain skills or born with certain talents -- it's practice."

3 -- Pebbles

"If you have a pebble in your shoe, take it out," Shtull said. "I had a pebble in my brain and I had to take it out."

Davidson, 47, knows all about mental energy. As an 11-year breast cancer survivor, she has had her battles, but she never imagined she would turn to running for help.

"Literally on a whim I decided I wanted to run," Davidson said.

She said it happened when she was on a vacation with her husband.

"We went on a walk and I said, 'Let's just run.' I ran a block and said 'That's enough. I'm dying.' The next day I said 'Let's run a little bit more," Davidson said, "I think I did close to a mile that day."

For Davidson, running wasn't about the races, although she does run half-marathons.

"A lot of times, it's really hard. I just have to push through," Davidson said. "But I'll remember doing chemotherapy and I think if I can do that, I can get through the next five minutes of the run."

Davidson said running is more about her mental health and bringing balance to her hectic life.

"I love that it is my time," Davidson said. "No one can take that time from me. I work full-time. I have three kids and am involved in a lot of activities and it's truly the only time it's about me."

Davidson and Shtull want to share what they've learned so others can be inspired for whatever goal lies ahead of them.

"Anyone can do anything they set their mind to," Davidson said,

"I'm not more talented than anybody else," Shtull said. 

Don't forget the "3 Ps" -- patience, practice and to get those pebbles out of your head.

Davidson will be at the American Home Fitness Detroit Women's Half-Marathon on Belle Isle on Sunday. There is also a 10K and a 5K, as well as fun team competitions.

For more information, check out EpicRaces.com and WomenRunTheD.com.

About the Authors: