At the end of spring 2011 I went out for a jog with a friend. I can be relatively precise with regards to the amount of times that this had occurred in my lifetime; twice, I had only attempted to run twice before in my entire life. I’m not including the dreaded PE lessons at school into this equation. I’m talking about the act of leaving ones house, without being under duress, to jog or to attempt to run.
I can recall the day being a particularly warm day, and without knowledge of correct running attire and footwear I left the house wearing my mum’s hand-me-down trainers and clothing too warm for the current temperature. We walked to the seafront in Westcliff and ran towards Thorpe Bay and back. I would like to say that it was a pleasurable experience, that I was keen to repeat it, but I would be lying through my teeth if I said I enjoyed any part of it. The trainers weren’t made for running and made my knee ache as they weighed about a stone each, my synthetic clothing made me hotter and sweatier than I needed to be and my friend kept stopping due to her asthma. I returned home red faced with an aching knee and I didn’t think about running again for some time.
For those of you that have read my previous posts you would know that at that point in my life I wasn’t in a particularly good place. My mother had recently passed away and my husband and I were going through a rather tough divorce. I was struggling at work and had been forced to let out the third floor of my beloved house to two lodgers, just to meet the mortgage demands. I was existing battling through grief and emotion on a daily and sometimes hourly basis. At that point in my life I was lonelier than I ever thought possible and if I’m honest, I didn’t really want to be here anymore. Money was so tight at times with trying to meet the mortgage demands and bills alone, that I was unable to eat. My life was spiralling out of control. I just needed someone to catch me, to hold me and tell me that everything was going to be ok. I wanted to fall asleep feeling safe, feeling loved.
I wasn’t a silly girl. I had a reasonable understanding of psychology, of grief and self help. I knew that something needed to change, but it was so dificult to know where to begin with processing the recent events in my life. After reading lots of self-help books and attending Bereavement Counselling I realised that no-one was going to truly save me, that I was the only person that could make me feel safe and so my journey to healing myself began.
I ran for the second time alone. This was, and still is, one of the biggest achievements of my life. I know for some of you it won’t seem like a big achievement, but it was the first step in my journey, and it was a step that I was taking alone. After the loss of, well, my entire life, I had become quite withdrawn, I wouldn’t say I was agoraphobic or anything as extreme, but I just felt safer at home, I managed to go to work, and to see friends, but I felt extremely vulnerable and alone, being at home was really the only place that I felt content. So, stepping out of that front door, carrying a few more pounds than I felt comfortable with, took all of my strength and determination. I put my headphones in and I ran alone for 30 minutes. I remember panicking thinking that people were looking at me and feeling extremely vulnerable. I told myself repeatedly that the only way I wouldn’t end up with the same form of cancer as my Mum was to ensure that I changed my lifestyle. Running was going to save me from Pancreatic Cancer.
After some time I actually found myself smiling. I had downloaded a running album and this had really helped. I stopped only a hand full of times, due to thirst or stitch. I had no idea that if I slowed down instead of stopping, that I would soon feel better. But hey, I was still out there lapping the people on the couch, even if I did have a lot to learn about running technique. I had run, very much alone, for the first time and it wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought. When I got home I felt like I could take on the world. I whizzed around all three floors of my house with the hoover and smashed through the long list of chores in record timing. I remember noticing that after the cleaning frenzy came to an end that I felt calmer. When I caught up with friends later in the week I told them that I had been out running and the benefits that I had felt. It dawned on me there and then that for the first time in over a year I actually had something positive to talk about. My fresh start was underway and it felt good. I had something that was just for me, something to fill my time with, and it made me feel weightless and free.
Later that month I met someone quite by chance. We had been talking about going on a date, but I really wasn’t sure if I was ready, and to be brutally honest I wasn’t sure that I liked him enough to go on a date. He mentioned that he was a keen runner, and I said that I had just got into running. We agreed to meet one night and go for a run. I left work early that day and went to buy proper running trainers and clothes. Fair enough, I wasn’t that keen, but I wanted to look as good as I possibly could, and let’s face it, running doesn’t exactly make you look that pleasant at the best of times.
“Running Man” and I ran together over the following month. I really enjoyed his company. Whilst things never really developed into anything more than just friendship he really helped me. He helped me to slow down, so I was able to run longer distances comfortably, he educated me on running and shared his hints and tips on nutrition, which I knew absolutely nothing about and before I knew it I was running every single night. I very quickly became totally devoted to running. I felt like I had found a purpose. For some time I had viewed myself as a failure which was extremely difficult for me to take, having previously been successful in most areas of my life. The little voice in my head would remind me that I gave up on my marriage, that I had been unable to save my dying mother, and I had given up my career in medicine due to this. On paper, I should never have taken up running. I had avoided any form of physical exercise for the most part of my life, I didn’t enjoy it and had spent most of my childhood swerving sports day and netball tournaments. Yet, I soon realised that this was something that I was good at. In a sea of fear and anxiety running became my happy place and as I was forced to dig a little deeper with each and every long run, I soon realised that I was anything but a failure.
I joined a ladies running club. The ladies had all been running together for some time, so they were quite competent runners. I only attended for four weeks, but in that time I completed my first timed 10km run. I crossed that finish line in just over an hour, and not too far behind the other contestants. An old friend of mine that had introduced me to the running club had finished ahead of me, she was waiting at the finish line and I sobbed in her arms as I finished. I had done it. I felt valid in labelling myself as a runner. I hadn’t failed.
I had been working at our local children’s and adult’s hospice since April of that year, in an attempt to give something back to the people that had cared for my mother in her last 16 hours. I decided to sign up to their 10km race in October and run in memory of my mum. It was an extremely hot day for October, 25 degrees. I completed the course in 58 minutes. I was overjoyed to see friends and family members at the side-line and waiting for me as I crossed the finish line. To say I was proud of myself is an understatement. I had completed my first race, with hundreds of people watching, and where fear and anxiety once resided; there was now pride and a certain confidence in myself that I had never known before.
I sold my beloved marital home that week and moved out the following week. I had held onto the house for as long as financially viable, and had worn the house and the possessions inside it as a coat of armour for the past year. I now felt able to let go. I’m not entirely sure if running was the main reason for this, but it had certainly played a part. The house was the last thing that I lost in that year. It was hard as I loaded up almost everything I owned into the storage container. I was unsure when I would see my possessions again, when I would once again have my own home, but I felt ok about it, it was only a temporary measure, “speculating to accumulate” I told myself repeatedly.
I moved myself into a friend’s box room. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I shut the door on my tiny room and slumped against the wall. Once upon a time, not so long ago, I had owned a four bedroom house, I had a husband, I was part of a close knit family and I was on a pathway to a career in medicine, now it was all gone. As I looked around the room at the single bed and the few possessions that remained from that life I cried silent tears into my pillow. That night whilst reading I came across J K Rowling’s famous quote “Rock bottom became the foundation on which I rebuilt my life”. I had hit my rock bottom, this was my foundation, there was nothing else to lose, and now I had to re-build my life. Whenever I am a little down I recall that night, and how I could resonate with that quote and the strength it gave me to know that others had travelled the lonely path that I was on.
I bit the bullet that week and signed up to the London Marathon for the following year (2012). As I typed up a post for Facebook, telling all that I had signed up for next year’s London Marathon I felt like I could fly, like I was untouchable.
I trained relentlessly in rain, wind, snow and treacherous ice that winter. As I ran the long distance of ten and eleven miles along our seafront alone, night after night, I could actually feel myself getting mentally stronger. When the familiar voice in my head was rambling on at me and begging me to stop I battered it into submission, and reminded myself of the pain that my mother had suffered. I had to go through this to prove that she didn’t die in vain. My mum had made me strong. I had to prove to the doubters and to myself that I could do this, and that I did.
I was injured in February 2012, only 11 weeks before the marathon, and my training was halted at 11 miles. I know that sounds like a lot, but by the end of March I should have been up to around 18 miles in training. I was faced with the decision of whether I would be able to participate or not. By mid-March, my IT Band injury had miraculously repaired itself and I began training again on the treadmill. I ran my first half marathon on the treadmill, in 2 hours 20 minutes. I didn’t get above 13 miles in training, but I bravely decided I would walk the remaining 13.2 miles if I had to.
I completed VLM 2012 in 5:52, this was by no means a superb time, but never the less little old me had managed to complete a bloody marathon. I had severe blisters at mile 18 that needed dressing, so I had stopped for around 25 minutes to be looked after by St. John’s Ambulance. So I gathered 5:25 wasn’t such a bad time. I cried for a lot of the last 5 miles, frantically looking for someone I knew in the crowds, maybe even my mum, but no one was there. As I crossed the finish line I was hit by every emotion you could possibly imagine. But one thought that crossed my mind has never left; I was once the little girl that no one wanted on their rounders’ team – quite simply because I was shy and I was horrendous at any sport – but never the less, that little girl had just completed the London Marathon.
This February 2015, three years later, I signed up as an extremely late applicant for VLM 2015 to fill in. I had only 9 weeks to train and to raise £1800 for Leukaemia Care. I was up against it – there was no hope of me reaching 18 miles in training in only 9 weeks. Again I managed 13 miles, but I dug deep, and managed to get into that zone that I was in 3 years prior. I was a lot stronger now, I could definitely do this. I trained solely on the treadmill, trying to avoid another injury and I did a lot more core work than last time. Since the last marathon, I had been diagnosed as a coeliac and so I was on an extremely strict diet, but I now understood the importance of nutrition when training for a marathon.
The support from everyone around me this year was totally off of the scale. My colleagues and employers were so generous. I obliterated my target of £1800 in 9 weeks. Friends and family came out to support me on the day, which was a stark comparison to three years ago, and I honestly believe that this kept me going, knowing that almost everyone I loved was there, waiting for me to cross that line.
I ran in memory of my Mum again and also for a little girl called Hattie that has Leukaemia. I took 26.2 miles in my stride, I can honestly say that I enjoyed every moment of the race. As I hit the 21 mile walL I reminded myself of the struggles that I had battled through, that my mum would give anything to be alive and able to take part … That kept me going. VLM 2015 was the biggest achievement of my life, having only 9 weeks to train and as a diagnosed coeliac, I was quietly stunned at my capabilities.
I crossed the finish line in 4:47 – over an hour faster than 3 years ago.
Running saved me. I’m not sure what from exactly, how could I be sure? I can, however, be certain of the fact that I was tumbling down a very dark, lonely path before I began to run. If I hadn’t have taken up this crazy hobby/sport who knows where those dark months would have lead me. I can honestly say that I am certain that I wouldn’t be as mentally strong, I wouldn’t be as confident, and I definitely wouldn’t be as happy as I am in my own skin, had I not have taken up running.
I’m only human, I still have off days, don’t we all. But they are few and far between. I’ve turned my life around. Running educated me and it still to this day reminds me of the strength I have inside of me when I am determined. I was injured recently, and unable to run for 7 weeks, the difference in me was vast, the sadness is there waiting at times and if I’m not active it’s easy for it to creep back into my mind. I am over the moon to have run my first 8 miler, since the marathon, yesterday.
I truly believe that running soothes the mind, it calms you, it directs you, and sometimes it really does save you. If I can help only one person then my efforts will not have been in vain.
Give it a try.