In January 2015 I started running again. It was initially to get some of the baby weight off after my 2nd bundle of joy. Come to think of it – prior to this my motivation to run and exercise has always been solely to lose weight. Despite wise friends telling me in the past that exercise is a lifestyle, I would often dip in and out of it. Weight loss alone was not a big enough incentive for me.
January 2015 was a strange time for me. In ways it was such a happy time as I had just had my 2nd baby. In other ways my heart was breaking as my Dad was really unwell having been diagnosed with severe depression. I missed him so much. I hated seeing him suffer: I felt hopeless.
The irony is that I started running to get the baby weight off but soon realised that running has so many other benefits. Research has found running to be excellent for our mental health, as well as our physical. I would go out a run and think about Dad. I thought about great memories of times before he got sick and my heart ached a little less at the end of the run. Running helped me think more positively about his chances of getting better again. Running gave me fantastic energy when I had been up through the night feeding my small baby. Running made me feel stronger physically and mentally. People started to notice my weight loss and compliment me which was lovely. It was great getting into some of my old clothes again and I can’t wait to see my husbands face when I finally feel good enough to wear a bodycon dress!
What people didn’t realise was that the physical benefits were just the icing on the cake. With a half marathon distance under my belt and a marathon approaching I question what stops me from giving up as I have in the past? What keeps me going out to run in the cold? What keeps me running when my knees ache from dancing in compromising positions for too long in high heels? What keeps me from the lazy family breakfasts on a Saturday morning that I love so much? What makes me run when I could be doing so many other lovely things with this time? People often say to me ‘you are so dedicated, I could never do that’ or ‘good on you but running is just not for me – I wish I could’. I get the impression people think that running now comes naturally to me. The truth is some days I don’t feel like it at all. Some days my body hurts and I feel like going for a massage instead or just chilling with a coffee and a magazine. A couple of weeks ago I left to go and run in an ice rain shower. I was freezing, my chest felt tight, my hands were stinging from the cold. That run was not very enjoyable.
What keeps me motivated is the feeling I get once I have completed the run on a freezing day – the sense of achievement. I love the energy I have at the end of a run. I love the time my run provides to clear my head. I love the writing ideas I get when I run. I love the boost a run gives me. Running has become so much more than just dropping a few dress sizes. This is happening slowly and steadily through hard work, as is my passion to help raise awareness for mental health. Hard work pays off over time, there are no quick fixes.
I started a mental health awareness campaign when I ran my first 10K last May. I managed to raise lots of money for the Mental Health Foundation which was fantastic. I still have the pack that they sent me about nurturing our mental health. One of the top tips is to stay active: running, walking, dancing, swimming – any form of movement you enjoy.
A year later, I am continuing this campaign as I prepare for my first marathon. I had no idea how much this would teach me. I had no idea how many people would be willing to get involved. How many people would be prepared to open up their hearts to help others who are going through similar experiences. I am learning so much just by stopping to see things from a new perspective. I am working with some truly inspiring people who encourage me to get out there in the cold. These people have been through so much that a marathon feels like a walk in the park. These people have reinforced how important it is to open up our minds to try and empathise with people. It is so easy to make judgements about things that we do not understand.
I like comparing how easy it is to judge people to my 1 year old son. He is such a cute, lovely age but boy we have difficult moments. He has lots of words (he can make any word sound adorable) but he can’t talk in full sentences yet. I often make quick assumptions when he cries as to what he really wants and get it wrong. Sometimes the only option is to stop and really think hard about what he might need. If I did this for everyone I would save myself a lot of unnecessary drama. Instead of getting stressed and agitated when my 1 year old cries – I need to take a deep breath, look at his beautiful wee face and think about why he is crying. Rather than getting annoyed and thinking about how the noise affects me – I need to think about him. That is one of the hardest parts of being a parent – we need to put the little people before ourselves (thank goodness for willing babysitters giving us a bit head space).
I was on a course yesterday and they talked about various studies that have proven that feelings of gratitude are not only better for our mental health -they also have a knock on affect on our physical health. By opening up my mind through this project, I am convinced it will make me a better runner.
I was speaking to someone recently who has suffered from a serous mental illness. They said to me:
‘I am actually kind of glad I experienced my illness. I feel it has changed me in ways I didn’t know I needed to change. It is humbling and it makes you appreciate even the smallest of things. If you can survive that you can survive anything’.
All the amazing people I am working with will be in my head, my legs and my heart when I run- #keeponrunning #doitforthelove #openingupmymind💗👌🏃🏃