for better mental health

How running gave me a reason to get up

Wednesday, 04 April 2018 Lia

Lia says completing a half marathon for Mind has made her feel she is making a difference.

Lia is a Digital Marketing Executive from Buckinghamshire who is fighting mental health with running. 

In October 2018 I cheered from the side-lines as my sister ran the Royal Parks Half Marathon. A year on, it was my sister cheering for me as I ran my first ever half marathon – the same event.

I have a history of mental health problems resulting from being bullied back in school, and exercising has always helped me

I have always been a keen gym go-er but mostly focused on weight training, so running seemed like a great new challenge for me (I also wanted some shiny medals). I have a history of mental health problems resulting from being bullied back in school, and exercising has always helped me to keep negative thoughts at bay.

Let me backtrack a few months. At the beginning of 2019, I was filled with inspiration from watching my sister run half marathon after half marathon, and in a moment of madness I signed myself up to run The Royal Parks Half Marathon in support of Mind.

“It’s seven months away, plenty of time!” I told myself (Back then I couldn’t even run 5K). So in March, my training began. When I say training, I mean I did the 5k Parkrun on Saturday mornings and went to the gym during the week where I would prance about on the treadmill for 20 minutes.

Boy oh boy had I underestimated the power of running

In May, my mental health began to deteriorate after a series of unexpected huge life changes. With my mental health and self-esteem in tatters, I needed a focus. So I turned to my training, and boy oh boy had I underestimated the power of running.

My first ever race, a 10k, was booked for the end of July so I started off training for that. I struggled on most of my runs. I’d come back miserable and moody because my legs hurt or I couldn’t get my breathing right or I was slower than normal. But nothing could have prepared me for the feeling of a good run. You just feel invincible.

After I completed my first 10k, I was hooked. That feeling of going over the finish line is something I can’t quite put into words. I signed up to a few more 10Ks to keep myself ticking over until the half marathon. I also began to take my training more seriously – I realised that while I was running, I wasn’t thinking about any of the other problems in my life. It’s like your mind goes quiet for a little while, it’s peaceful almost. Just you and the road.

October came around in the blink of an eye, and two days before race day I found out I had secured a place to run in the 2020 London Marathon alongside my sister. “Great, if I don’t like the half marathon on Sunday, I’ve just got to do it twice, in one go, in April….” I thought to myself.

The support I received from Mind throughout my fundraising was second to none

But I tried to push any negativity out of my head. “What will be will be, just enjoy it!” I kept thinking. I tried not to put any pressure on myself – I had done the training, I knew I could do it.

The support I received from Mind throughout my fundraising was second to none. I had the opportunity to share my story and, in the end, it was picked up by The Daily Mail – one of the most surreal moments of my life! The staff at Mind were incredible. Even the little things that Mind did like calling a couple of days before the race and texting you on the day to say good luck made the experience that little bit more special. You really felt like you were making a difference.

Race day was finally here. I made my way through muddy Hyde Park to the Mind tent. I was nervous, and being around so many people I didn’t know made my anxiety start to take over. So I sat quietly, taking it all in and tried my best to stay focused. The Mind runners gathered for a quick group photo, and before I knew it, it was time to get into our start pens.

The first seven miles went by in a blur, and I loved every second. My sister and best friends were there to cheer me on while I soaked up the crowds and the atmosphere. Mile eight was my downfall. The heavens opened, my legs began to seize up, and I felt like the bottom half of my body was made of lead. I started to slow down and had to walk mile eight to nine. I felt like a failure, but I kept reminding myself why I started this and thought of all my friends and family who donated and supported me throughout this journey. I made it to mile 10. “Come on, it’s just a Parkrun left!” I told myself repeatedly. It might have only been a Parkrun, but it was the longest three miles of my life. I was cold, wet, and everything hurt, but I could see the finish line (although I’m sure it was slowly moving further and further away from me as I ran towards it).

I crossed the finish line and collected my medal. I made my way over to where friends and family stood eagerly awaiting their loved one’s post-race. I saw my sister and disappeared into a hug. I began to cry – everything I had been working towards for the past seven months, the reasons why I started running, the personal battles and mental mountains I had to climb to get myself there. I had done it.

“Just the Marathon to do now!” people seem to enjoy saying to me. The most common reaction when I tell people I’m running the London Marathon next year is a slightly concerned look followed by “Why?”.

Simply put, running has given me a reason. A reason to get up and get out.

So here is my answer. Simply put, running has given me a reason. A reason to get up and get out. An outlet. A routine. It’s given me challenges to work towards, goals to set, PBs to smash. When I’m not running, my mind is a whirlwind. But when I’m running, it is peaceful and quiet – and for that small part of my day I’m not controlled or defined by my mental health problem, I’m just me. I may not be fast and I’m certainly not on my way to running a sub two-hour marathon any time soon, but for the first time in a long time, I finally feel like I have a reason.

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