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In Memory of My Dad by Jess Mullan

In Memory of My Dad by Jess Mullan

I haven’t always been a runner and to be honest I never thought I would become one. My father was a fell/ mountain runner. He would enter small races that had about 20 people in them that would go the most extreme ways up the side of a mountain and down again. My childhood was spent watching him, shivering in the cold, thinking he was mad. I would always say to him that he was crazy and should get a better hobby.

I grew up in North Wales in the mountains of the Snowdonia National Park. My parents ran an outdoor centre and my childhood was made up of being dragged into the fresh air and countryside. As a young child I loved running around outside, but as a teenager this changed. When you are a teen, you want to be anything but your parents. All I wanted to do was live in a city, dress up in fancy clothes and go shopping. Due to my favourite hobby being shopping, most of my teen years were spent jumping on a bus to the closest town to get away from the countryside.

When I finished school I went on a gap year to Honduras. Honduras is a country that is full of gang crime and where we lived we weren’t even allowed to cross the street without armed guards. Living in a place where you couldn’t go for a walk made me miss the freedom of the countryside and made me realise how lucky I was growing up. When I moved home that summer, I made my dad take me up into the mountains and I fell in love with climbing with him. This was a sport that I did as a young child, but hadn’t done since.

Over the next three years me and my father did more and more mountaineering and climbing trips and these spread to Scotland (where I was now at University) and even to the alps. My father and I had always been close, but finding the same passion and hobby bought us closer. During the summer between my third and fourth year of university, my father and I had planned a trip to climb some high mountains in the Alps. My father had gone out a few weeks before with his brother to climb some higher mountains. A few days before we were meant to start our trip, my father slipped and fell, whilst trying to descend. He was unable to be saved from that fall, and died that day doing what he loved most in the world.

In the days that followed the accident I vowed to keep my father’s memory alive through climbing. However, in the months that followed, every time I tried to climb I fell apart. I developed a really strong fear of something going wrong. After a few months I stopped climbing and stopped doing most other things in my life.  I began withdrawing from university, my friends and the outside world. I would spend most days in bed staring at the roof not feeling anything at all. I realised things had got too much when I ended up in hospital after overdosing on sleeping pills. This was the wakeup call I needed. This made me defer my final year of university and take a few months to sort myself out.

Admitting to myself that I was suffering with depression was the first step. After this the long journey to recovery began. After trying multiple methods from counselling to anti-depressants, nothing made me feel better, and I was still getting more and more withdrawn. A few months later it got to the stage where my boyfriend at the time would take me to work as he was afraid to leave me at home alone.  After talking with my GP and my boyfriend, I decided to start concentrating on small goals every day. My two goals were to read 100 pages of a book a day and to go for a 30min walk.

I began by going out around the streets near my flat, and then explored further and further afield. I then started exploring new streets and found a new hobby of looking in peoples’ windows around Glasgow. I can’t remember when on this journey, but these little walks, started to turn into little jogs. I continued to do these a few times a week and slowly started to feel a bit better. In September of the next academic year, I went back to university to finish my degree. Alongside studying, I continued jogging but never pushed myself, it was purely about being outside and being nosey.  Once in conversation with Steve (my boyfriend), I said I would never manage to run a 10km. So, a few days later at the end of one of my jogs, he showed me his watch, and I had run 10km. As I didn’t record my runs, I had no idea I was capable of running this far. To this day I remember how good that feeling of achievement felt.

After graduating from university, both Steve and I moved back to my home in Wales. One of the first things I did when moving home, was enter the local half marathon (The Anglesey Half). Steve was going to do this with me, but after getting injured shortly after entering, I had to go it alone. I printed out a training plan and bought myself a running watch and began ‘training’ for the first time. Pushing myself during runs was a first for me, and this journey had its highs and lows, but after every run I felt stronger both mentally and physically. Having a big goal to focus on, really helped my mental health at this time.

I completed the Anglesey half Marathon with my dad’s brother, and during the race I felt so close to my father. When I completed that race I felt amazing and just wished my father was there to see me finish. I had turned into the crazy runner, I always laughed at him for being.

This race was just the beginning. After finishing I went straight home to enter more races. Over the next few years I completed my first marathon, my first triathlon and set myself a challenge of running 12 races in 12 months to raise money for the local mountain rescue team. The year before last I entered the Snowdon Marathon. This is a marathon that runs around Snowdon in a loop of both road and trail. I have a picture of me as a child, sitting on a race barrier at the finish line of this race, as my father ran over the finish line. This race was so close to my heart, but also I knew it was going to be a huge challenge to complete. I began training on more hills and kept focused on my goal. On race day, I have never felt so happy. As I ran, I focused on all of the memories of my childhood and they kept me going. I finished that marathon 50 minutes faster than my first marathon time. I am still on a high from that race.

Last year I took a break from doing any big challenges, as I had a new non running challenge to face: getting married. My husband was worried that our first days of marriage would be made up of him following me on a bike whilst I was training for a race. It was really nice to have a year of running without a training plan. Goals are really important, but sometimes it’s important to focus on nature, views, fresh air and how your journey began. After a year’s rest I have come back stronger this year and have challenged myself to run the Snowdonia Trail marathon; an off road marathon that includes running to the top of Snowdon, and a 35mile ultra marathon around the island of Tiree in Scotland. I am running these with my Uncle, who I know will support me, but as usual the nerves are there. It’s easier to train knowing my dad will be there every step of the way with me.

Whether it is running, the great outdoors, looking in peoples’ windows, all of the above or something completely different, find what you love and don’t let it go. 

Instagram: @thisgirlwillrunultras
Huge thanks to Jess for sharing her story. 

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