I have always been someone who found running helped me when I felt stressed and so would sometimes go out and run a couple of miles after a hard day but that would be once in a blue moon. Work was stressful and took a lot of my free time and when I did have time to spare, I was too tired to do anything.
Roll on to January 2019 when my first child was born, 7 weeks early and spending 2 weeks in the neonatal unit, I no longer had time to even make a cup of tea let alone go for a run. I slowly found things harder and harder and was finally diagnosed with post natal depression in the November. This mental illness swallowed everything; my sense of being, any joy of life and my newborn, put a strain on my relationship with my husband, it was awful. I was given medication to help me cope with everyday and found it helped but not a lot.
I was then hit with another devastating blow when I lost my Nana on New Years Day 2020. It was sudden and was the first death of someone very close to me and so I struggled to get my head around it. I didn’t understand how she could just go and not be here anymore. How can she not be alive? It didn’t make sense and to combine that with struggling with post natal depression, it was extremely difficult to cope with. It was then that my running journey really began.
One evening I just needed space, some peace and quiet and a chance to be without my thoughts as I find that when I run, I don’t think about my worries. I couldn’t tell you what I think about but my head feels lighter. I ran for a couple of miles and felt a bit better for it. Had a chat with Nana in my head and enjoyed the time to myself. I kept building on that and after a month or so had the help of my mum, who has run marathons and all sorts of races, to work out a little plan for me to improve. From this, I ended up signing up to my first 10k race in May and trained hard to try and complete it within an hour. I was running 3 times a week and it looked like (and still does look like) this:
Tuesday – effort session – time period at zone 2 (perceived effort) e.g. 20 mins and then the last 5 or 10 mins at zone 3 (perceived effort)
Thursday – speed session – sprints (flat or hill depending what was on the plan)
Sunday – slow recovery run
I slowly found that this became a routine for me and being a stay at home mum, it was nice to get out the house alone! I now get stressed if I am going to miss a session or cut it short so it’s clearly become a solid habit and one I have never kept to for this long. I had the odd session where I didn’t feel it went well or found it hard but as my mum kept reminding me, ‘you did it and it's done now so just rest'. Now, whenever something doesn’t go right, I just remind myself that it’s done and I can tick it off, move onto the next one.
The months rolled on with training and it came to the end of March. My Grandad hadn’t been doing well, after suffering Alzheimers for years and it got to the point where he wasn’t eating or drinking and so I knew to expect the call anytime. That call came at 7am on the 2nd April, when Grandad joined Nana. It was so hard as we couldn’t have a proper funeral for him but my dad set up a YouTube live feed so we could all be there together, if not in person but in spirit.
After it all, I needed a run to clear my mind and felt like I needed to work hard to feel really tired (if that makes sense) and ended up with a new 5k pb... thanks Grandad! It was such a hard time but my running helped me through some pretty tough days.
I would often see things on my runs that made me think of them like a white feather or a butterfly and at one point I had a Robin and blue tit sitting on a branch right next to me (Robin for my Grandad as one always sat with him while he was gardening and a blue tit for Nana – that has its own funny story involving me checking a bird box with nesting birds in and Nana in hysterics). They always put a smile on my face and made me feel they were rooting for me, with a glass of wine in hand, obviously!
Then in May the 10k Colchester Zoo Stampede race that I had signed up to became a virtual one with all the COVID-19 issues and I decided I would run it virtually as I had trained so hard for it. My mum stood, socially distanced, at a couple of hard parts of my course to cheer me on and it really lifted me as I was working hard and quite uncomfortable. She even ran the last 0.2 miles with me as I was struggling but I did it, I crossed the line with my husband, little boy and labrador waving me through in under an hour and was delighted! It was fantastic!
I have continued with training 3 times a week and come this weekend (16th Aug) I have been training for 26 consecutive weeks which is a huge achievement for me. I have signed up to a trail half marathon in October and a couple of road half marathons next year which I am hoping to finish in 2 hours or under but I know I just need to benchmark the first one to see how I find it and go from there.
I will always be thankful for my grandparents as I do feel they have been behind me with each run and guiding me when it got tough. I think of them everyday, especially when I am running and I get a sense of comfort and calm about things and knowing that they are there, they haven’t gone anywhere.
I have also found running has had a huge positive impact on my mental health. I will admit to being at a point of having harmful thoughts and ones of not wanting to be here anymore but I am proud to say I am no longer on medication and am in a much better place now, which I put down to the benefits of my running. It has given me some freedom, some self worth, some me time and of course the physical health benefits too. I have bad days but nothing that a nice run or horrible hill sprints followed by some chocolate milk can’t sort!
If you were to ask my advice for anyone who is starting their running journey or even someone who hasn’t run but wants to, it would be to just put one foot in front of the other and see how far you go. Even if it's half a mile, its more than you would have done if you sat at home. You will be amazed how far you end up if you keep at it but also remember, you are never alone as the running community is always open and your trainers are always sitting and waiting to be run in...
Thanks to Beth for sharing her story and you can follow her running over on Instagram at @beth_t91
If you'd like to share your running stories, then please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.