Running and my mental health

I’ve often considered composing a blog about how running has helped or affected me mentally but never actually had the nerve or wherewithal to sit down and write it.

But since it’s World Mental Health Day there’s no better time I suppose.

Then again, who cares about what I think? Who set me up as some sort of ‘expert’ on the subject? Who even do I think I am? You get the picture … they’re questions that get to the very core of who I am or, at least, give an insight into my own opinion of myself.

Full disclosure … I’m not a fan of myself. I’ve never been and I doubt I ever will. I constantly fear that I come across as full of my own self-importance, that I’m big-headed, that I’m needy, that I’m lesser than everyone else, a failure.

Earlier this decade I went through 16 months of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy until I was unceremoniously dumped by my counsellor. No warning, no gradual winding down of the sessions, she even gave me ‘homework’ at my last session – a pretty intense task as well – only to abruptly end them, not even in person but hiding behind my GP’s secretary, and for a long, long time that sudden ending to my weekly sessions really hit me badly.

I just couldn’t handle it. She was a professional, she was paid to listen to me but even she couldn’t stick me. If she wasn’t prepared to do it, then why should anyone else?

Then I discovered running. What a revelation! What a change it has made to my life!

From my first tentative steps in putting myself through the NHS C25K programme to my first marathon running has given me the chance to escape all my worries. When I’m out running my only immediate concern is my next step, my next kilometre or my next mile.

Running has allowed me to process the current issues in my life, quite often bringing clarity to a situation where none existed beforehand.

Running has opened up so many wonderful things over the past two-and-a-half years that I would never otherwise have experienced. I have met so many amazing people and felt things I never imagined possible … the sense of euphoria at crossing the finishing line, the pushing of another boundary, the smashing of another glass ceiling.

I have all my medals, 40+ and counting, on the wall beside my desk but deliberately just out of sight. Looking straightahead at my monitor typing this I can’t see them, but turn my head a little to the left and there they are, in all their glory, reminding me what I’ve done and what I can do. I always get a little lift seeing them there.

I’m chronically shy. I withdraw in a crowd of people. I lack the confidence to engage with others. I worry (no, I know) this makes me appear aloof and unwelcoming when the polar opposite is the case … but my own insecurities stop me from being any different.

Yet, because of running, I joined my local club. That in itself was a huge leap on my part. I’m slow, I’ll always be slow and I really worried that I’d be like a fish out of water amongst the rest of them. A little fat 46-year-old alongside these athletes.

But, in less than a year, I now look after the club website and the majority of press relations. I often worry that I don’t do a decent job, that I’m only in the position because no-one else wants it yet when I get positive comments (oops, remember what I said earlier about being big-headed?) I’m on cloud nine, I feel like my very existence and presence is vindicated.

I can go to club sessions on a Monday night and feel I’m amongst friends. For a notorious loner that is a huge thing. I can go to races and be guaranteed support simply because of the shirt I’m wearing. That is massive.

I still worry myself sick before each and every run, even a short training outing. What if I’m even more useless than normal? What if I can’t do it? What if someone sees me and mocks me? I favour running in the dark or running in quiet areas for those very reasons.

However, I keep doing it, I keep putting myself through it even if sometimes it takes me all day to work up the courage to go out.

Why? Because running has really helped me develop as a person. It has taught me that no matter the hurdle or challenge in front of me I have the strength buried deep within to handle it, to face it head on.

I guess that’s the point of this blog.

Running is much more than putting one foot in front of another, it has instilled within me a belief in myself that I never realised existed before.

I’m not fixed or cured. I’ll never be that, but I am a much ‘better’ person because of running.

Apologies for the length of this post, and well done for sticking me out until the end, but thank-you for doing so. I hope I’ve helped or inspired you in some small way.

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Running to my heart’s content

Yesterday’s 10k took a lot more out of me than I imagined it would so it was with some trepidation that I went to tonight’s club session.

My thighs and my ankles felt dodgy so I decided to see how I felt after the walk up to the Leisure Centre and take it from there, although there was never any question that I wouldn’t go with the 30-minute group.

Because I was intending to take it really easy I decided this would be a good opportunity to try to run at a lower Heart Rate Zone than normal ie: drop to Zone 4 instead of Zone 5.

I hadn’t much of a clue how to do this and I didn’t set my Garmin up to send me alerts so I was really just playing it by ear. As it turned out I didn’t gauge it too badly, which was good.

Tonight’s group was quite big so it was easy to keep to a comfortable pace although I did resist opening up when the opportunity presented itself.

My legs felt ok once I got going but I still held back quite a bit. Towards the end of the session Emma said she’d be carrying on for another 15 minutes for those that wanted to follow her so I broke off with the splinter group to get a wee bit extra in my legs.

We ran up to Tesco’s – a steady incline – before turning to come back down again. Maybe it was benefits of the hills from yesterday but I did loosen up a fair bit going up, feeling quite comfortable although still not really pushing it.

I then ran home to bring my total running time up to 50 minutes or thereabouts. All very relaxed and just what I needed after Sunday.

Relive my run

Cultra Charity Challenge 10k

Well, that was fun. Lots and lots of fun. And what helped make it fun because enjoying myself today was the last thing I’d imagined would happen.

At a race a few weeks ago I got handed a flyer for the forthcoming Cultra Charity Challenge 10k to take place at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum.

The flyer showed an image of what looked like the medal which featured a DeLorean car as it’s centrepiece. I didn’t think too much of it at the time because I thought it was just a graphic to help illustrate the event …. but, as time passed, it became clear that this WAS the medal, it DID feature a DeLorean so this automatically made it a race I simply HAD to take part in. I couldn’t not do this one, what sort of Back To The Future fan would I be if I didn’t have this medal in my collection?

I never gave the event too much thought until the night before when I thought I’d take a wee look at the course.

Oh my giddy aunt!

It looked quite hilly. Oh dear. But, I reassured myself, surely it couldn’t be *that* bad. The odd wee ‘bump’ here and there, that’s all there’d be, I told myself.

Anyway, meeting the rest of the club crew at the park ‘n’ ride, I got a lift there and back with Judith, which was brilliant and she was great company.

Arriving at the venue we met up with lots more from the club, including one or two who’d done the same event last year …. and immediately the warnings came about the hills! Gulp.

Most of them were doing the 5k, for some reason I thought it’d be a good idea, when I entered, to do the full 10k, which was basically two laps of the course. There was the option to change distance on the day but I decided just to stick with what I had.

So off we set. The 10k went first, doing a lap of the ‘Town Square’ before looping back to the start with the 5k lot then coming in behind us. From there the course went downhill quite steeply to the exit of the Folk Museum and crossing the bridge linking it to the Transport Museum.

We then did one circuit of the carpark (the 5k didn’t include this) before turning back for the Folk Museum and the start of an almost continuous uphill climb.

My goodness, it was absolutely brutal.

When it levelled off a little there always seemed to be a turn and an even steeper hill than the one we’d just come up. I tried to run up them, at least a bit, but at times it was impossible. In fact, one part in particular I absolutely defy anyone to run up it … I could barely walk it!!!

I knew then why ‘challenge’ was included in the title of the race. This was *very* challenging, made even more difficult because large parts of it were run on the trail – but as tough as they were it was also hugely enjoyable. I have very little experience of such conditions so it was a little tricky finding my feet but because it was different from tarmac it kept it interesting.

One lap down, the faster 5k runners had caught and passed me and I was yards away from the finishing line … and I had to go around again! However, rather than moan about it I actually didn’t mind now that I knew what lay ahead.

So back downhill again, to make up for some lost time, which was tough on my by now exhausted legs but yet I surprised myself too, some of the hills I took better second time around.

By now I wasn’t terribly worried about my time. I was happy enough with how I was running, and I was happy that there were two men behind me … so I resolved to keep them there. Do that (which I did) and I’d be content (which I was), even better considering both of them were about ten years younger than me. There’s life in this old boy yet!

Because I wasn’t concerned about my time I resolved on the second lap to take some pictures along the way. It was a lovely course – hardly surprising given the location – so I thought I’d record it, and to try to get across just how steep some of those climbs were!

I plodded on, mindful of the two blokes behind me and I started to pull away, eventually opening up a gap of some seven and 14 minutes respectively on them. For me that was a result!

Even better, if I’d done the 5k there would have been loads and loads behind me based on my time at the halfway point. I’m pretty chuffed with that, to be honest.

Today’s race was organised by the Born2Run group, who hosts a series of trail races all over the winter months. As I said earlier I have little experience of this type of running but because I enjoyed myself as much as I did I’m going to try to book a couple of them, work permitting, to keep my motivation going.

If they’re all as much fun as today was I’ll have a ball!

By the way, seeing as you’re here … a little favour? If you enjoy my blog could I be so bold as to beg for your vote at the Running Awards? Click here and navigate your way to Publications & Online > Blogs > Huff, Puff and Shuffle. I’ll not win but I’ll mean loads to me to get some votes!

Relive my run