for better mental health

How running helps me cope with my depression

Friday, 28 February 2020 Menna

Menna, from Carmarthenshire, shares how running has helped her through some tough times and why she’s now attempting a world record, all in aid of Mind.

At the risk of baring my soul, I want to tell you how running has changed my life and been instrumental in helping me cope with my depression.

The past few years have been the most challenging of my life, with the breakdown of my marriage, the loss of my business, and a number of bereavements, including the death of my father, grandad, uncle, cousin (who ended his life) and just recently, my brother. Life doesn’t seem to get any easier, but I have now learned that it’s all about how you deal with difficult experiences, and my new found love of running has helped me every step of the way.

Running has come to feel like an old friend that I can reach out to.

We’ve had some good times and bad, adventures, challenges and I have met some of the most amazing people because of it. Running keeps me balanced, dims down the white noise and allows me to relax and reflect.

In May 2015, my then husband left me. While he had his reasons, I was left totally heartbroken and alone. My world plunged into darkness, yet I had to find the strength to wake up every day to look after my beautiful 18 month old son and my wonderful animals. I have to admit that if it wasn't for them, I don't know where I would be right now. With the loss of the business, I also had to start afresh. Depression doesn't motivate you, it consumes you. Every thought - let alone movement - is exhausting. I would look at myself in the mirror some days and not recognise myself. I looked old, pale and haggard. But I needed an income to pay for the household bills.

It was an extremely slow process, but I got there and my new business (a dog grooming salon, perfect for my love of animals!) was born. Most days, I wanted to lock myself away and wallow in self-pity. But I couldn't be selfish, I had to get out - for my son's sake. It was then I realised how fortunate I was to be surrounded by such wonderful people in my community. I will always be totally indebted to two particular ladies who are now firm best friends, who always asked me to join in and never stopped asking even when I would often decline because 'my shutters had closed down that day'. They never judged but showed patience, love and support.

I know it's a cliché, but time is a healer.

In a bid to get better, I tried several brands of anti-depressants, none of which worked for me. I will openly admit to turning to a big glass of wine most nights too. I wish I could say that one morning I woke up fresh from a great sleep and was cured, but it's a slow process. Like building blocks, you build on it. Filling your day with positivity, fighting with the demons that tell you to shut down.

By January 2016, I was getting there. A new partner introduced me to mountain biking and sailing, among many other adventures. I was back outside again and enjoying the fresh air of the mountains and countryside.

A few months had passed and in September 2016, my parents had sold up and moved from Cardiff to join both my son and I, but that was short lived. Dad’s health deteriorated dramatically and after several trips back and forth from hospital, he then passed away in March 2017. He was my rock.

Dad had asked me some years ago if I fancied walking John O’Groats to Land’s End (JOGLE) with him. Despite not realising that it was a ‘thing’, I immediately jumped at the chance! But clearly the decline in his health meant that he would never get the chance to do so. At his funeral I read him a letter, and at the end, I promised him that I would RUN JOGLE in his memory.

In July/August 2018, I ran the full length of Britain and covered 1,050 miles. It was the time of my life!

I still can’t quite believe that my little legs carried me all the way. Who’d have thought that 18 months prior to this challenge, a dog groomer from a small Welsh village (who didn’t even own a pair of running shoes) could run the full length of Britain! I pushed my body to the limits, running between 26-34 miles a day, but I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Every day was different and I never quite knew what was ahead of me until I got there.

I experienced kindness from strangers and met some amazing people along the way. I did this in Dad’s memory and felt he was with me every step of the way. His dream to walk it became my dream to run it. I know he would have been proud of his little girl as I crossed over the Land’s End ‘finish line’.

So now that I had accomplished JOGLE, I was on to the next challenge... a Guinness World Record attempt.

I decided to start off 2020 I’d be running the length of New Zealand - from top to bottom of both islands. The total distance is approximately 1,400 miles, and I would be running approximately 34 miles a day for 42 consecutive days to complete this challenge. I started it on New Year’s Day 2020.

My time in New Zealand was absolutely incredible. The support from everyone around me was phenomenal, and drove me on during the hardest moments. The weather was unpredictable at times, and the run was more challenging than I ever could have imagined. I missed my beautiful family more than anything, but used them as my biggest motivation to finish my challenge.

I broke the Guinness World Record in just 36 days, ending the run under glorious sunshine in Bluff, New Zealand. I’d pushed my mind and body to their limits, but waking up the day after I finished my challenge as a world record breaker, with messages of congratulations flowing in from friends, family and supporters across the globe, was the best feeling.

This challenge is dedicated to my late cousin, Ian. He struggled with mental health issues and sadly ended his life last November. I wanted to do it for him and for the rest of my wonderful family. I therefore couldn’t think of a more poignant charity to be raising money for than Mind, and my hope is to raise more money and awareness than ever before.

If I could give anyone a word of advice, it would be to start doing the one thing you’ve always wanted to do.

Running has helped me through some of the toughest moments in my life, and has given me the most incredible experiences I could ever have dreamed of, so whatever you’re thinking of doing – do it!

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