Running for mental health with marathoner Kalil Magtoto

March 26, 2024

As he explains it, Kalil Magtoto was in “the worst shape I had ever been in in my entire life,” both physically and mentally, when he decided to train for a marathon. “My career was amazing. Education was great. And I had so many things going for me.” Yet despite these achievements, he was struggling with low self-esteem and “didn’t know what to do [about it]. There's a lot of things that people will tell you to do, like eating right and exercising, lifting weights, doing cardio. So, it’s all of those things, but it was all just too much.” 

Kalil describes the overwhelm that a lot of us are familiar with when we think about making changes in our lives. For him, breaking free from the grip of his poor mental and physical health was about taking things one step at a time. “I said to myself that if I can put one foot in front of the other, I can get myself going, and that's how I got myself over the mental health [problems I was having].” 

For Kalil, “one foot in front of the other” was more than a metaphor. He explains that “for a very long period, I didn't actually do [any running],” but he had been active in sports when he was young, had a solid base to start from, and muscle memory. “I was able to get myself up and going and pretty quickly ran a 5k,” he says. 

From there, inspired by his father who has completed several major marathons around the world, he decided to train for a marathon. He resumed running seriously in 2022 and, after about five months of training, completed the Toronto Waterfront half-marathon. 

Kalil believes that exercise is a key to improving and maintaining good mental health, but he found running long distances alone mentally draining. “When you’re three hours in, it can be a really dark mental space – you're fatigued, you’re glucose deprived, your muscles are screaming. It's a lot of just toughing it out. And as with mental health, toughing it out alone is the worst thing you can do.” 

He realized that he needed others around him who understood what he was going through. “As a runner, there are times I need to be strong, but being strong doesn't mean going through things alone. Being strong doesn't mean pushing through when you shouldn't be pushing through. I need to know where to draw the line, and I couldn't do that without having a community to back me up.” 

Doing things alone can be so detrimental. We need other people around us. We're not meant to drive solo in any of this. 

He found that community in Toronto’s Midnight Runners, “a global running community of folks that are just really passionate about running, having fun, and doing good as much as we can,” says Kalil. The volunteer-based running club is dedicated to creating accessible, social workouts and is now active in more than 18 cities around the world including Toronto.  

Kalil says that running with the Midnight Runners “is such a positive influence for everybody. [The group] is filled with great influencers in the community; outside of running, these individuals are just amazing people.”  

He adds that the group’s mission is well-aligned with mental health causes. With their passion for community involvement, Kalil and a team of Midnight Runners were inspired to raise funds for CMHA Toronto in February through the Push-Up Challenge. 

“Midnight Runners is always looking for new ways to support a good cause, especially if it's fitness related,” says Kalil. After successfully taking on the Push-Up Challenge, Kalil and a group of Midnight Runners – which in any given week can involve up to 500 people – is banding together to raise funds for CMHA Toronto through the Toronto Marathon on May 5th. “The entire running community will definitely be coming out in droves because it's a big event, a pretty big deal,” says Kalil.  

For Kalil, supporting CMHA Toronto is personal. “I'm a big men's health advocate. For me, personally, I know how difficult it is for men to speak up. To know that more than 75 per cent of suicides are carried out by men, that breaks my heart. So I am personally very involved with mental health causes.” 

Each year the Toronto Marathon invites runners from more than 50 countries around the world to visit the city and participate in the Toronto marathon, half-marathon, 10k run or 5k run/walk in support of charities, including CMHA Toronto.

This year, CMHA Toronto is inviting its community to get involved by walking, wheeling or running to raise awareness about mental health. By registering for the Toronto Marathon and selecting CMHA Toronto as your charity of choice, your steps will go beyond the finish line – they'll contribute to breaking stigmas, providing essential resources, and improving the lives of countless people facing mental health challenges.

Learn more here about how to REGISTER, DONATE or VOLUNTEER.

Kalil encourages everyone to get involved in some way with the Toronto Marathon and help raise funds for CMHA Toronto. For him, it comes back to the power of community.I think that's the message when we get together to spotlight causes that matter. We're stronger together, we're stronger in numbers. Whether you're supporting a runner, whether you're supporting the overall cause of CMHA Toronto, whether you're running yourself, all of it is a collaborative effort,” he says. 
Just one person can't push a ship. But when you gather 20,000 people running through the streets of one of the biggest cities in the world and pointing their fingers to a cause that matters like CMHA Toronto, that's where the secret sauce is. That's where the energy is, and that's how we're going to drive change. 

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