Why do you run? I’m currently training for my 7th marathon and though having goals and something to train for motivates me, the main reason I run is for the benefits it brings to my mental health.
Going for a run when I’m feeling low or anxious does something magical. To be able to go from having so much noise in my head to having an hour or so where I can just switch off and think about nothing else other than moving my feet and breathing is an incredible feeling. There’s a quote in one of my favourite books, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, that sums it up for me – “I felt my lungs inflate with scenery- air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, “This is what it is to be happy”.
I’ve lived with anxiety and depression since I was around 20 (I’m 40 now) but it wasn’t until I was 27 that I sought medical help from my GP. Until this point, I was dealing with extremely low moods, self-loathing and panic attacks on a daily basis. I had suicidal thoughts and incredibly low self-esteem. Getting out of bed was such a struggle that I was regularly signed off work, staying in bed all day and I had no interest in socialising. I would regularly make plans, knowing full well I wasn’t going to go and then I’d cancel at the last minute.
Eventually, the panic attacks and negative thoughts worsened and I became very worried so I went to my GP. Initially, I was prescribed medication but on a follow-up appointment, he gave me an exercise referral to a local gym which was when I discovered the benefits of exercise for mental health. Since then exercise has been an important part of my life. The impact it has had on my mental health has been vital and I have seen myself go from a withdrawn, anxious person to someone who is confident and happy. Of course, I still have low days or periods of anxiety but the difference is that I can go for a training session or a run and come out after feeling so much better.
I actually only started running 4 years ago. My exercise focus had always been on strength training which had led to me getting a coach and becoming involved in powerlifting. I started competing, going on to win a World silver medal and European gold and bronze medals and then, once I decided not to compete any more, I thought I quite fancied attempting a marathon! That’s where I completely fell in love with running, with how I felt during a long run, with the feeling I was left with afterwards. I can remember quite clearly at mile 23 of my first marathon knowing that this was the first of many.
And that’s where Team Project Run comes in. I’d cobbled my own training plan together for my first two marathons and, as I headed towards my third, I knew I needed a coach because I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. It turns out that filling in the enquiry form on the TPR website was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I signed up for coaching but I got so much more than that. I have made friends for life and the support network we have is phenomenal. I’ve been through some difficult times this year and TPR have played a huge part in me getting through them. When we think about running progress, naturally we think about getting faster, running further but I also think about how running has helped me to progress as a person. I’d be lying if I said that when I joined TPR I wasn’t intimidated by other runners. I had no confidence in my ability, the thought of going to meet up with other team members filled me with dread. I couldn’t even contemplate running with them.
Fast forward two years and I try to go to every single social event, have run countless races with TPR friends and even set up my own social running group, Run and Roasties (we meet up on a Sunday, run and then go for a roast dinner). The benefits that running and the running community have brought to my life, socially and mentally, are absolutely incredible and for me can rival the feeling that any personal best can achieve.