RED January – Mental Health & Running

Mental health and running is in our minds again with the REDJanuary campaign coordinated by MIND that many of us have signed up for and the forthcoming #runandtalk week of events.  We will have nibbles in the bar on Wednesday 6th February to encourage people to stay and natter and also to welcome new runners to the club.

Those of us that signed up for the England Athletics #runandtalk campaign wanted to share the reasons why we run to coincide with the two mental health campaigns.  You may recognise yourself in these stories and it may be that your reasons are different.  What is great though is that we can all be ourselves at BVR and there will always be a group you can join, particularly on a Wednesday; this is true even if you just want a walk or a natter over a drink in the bar.

There is strong evidence that running can be good for your mental health as well as your physical health.  But it is not for everyone; a recent research study quoted on “All in the mind” on Radio 4 said that some people can’t get beyond listening to their breathing and hearing the chimp on their shoulder feeding negative thoughts on how they aren’t fit enough/fast enough/good enough to keep going.  However, we at BVR keep coming back for more so it must be doing something for us!  Click on the links to read some of our stories about why we run and how it helps our mental health.

Why I run – Deb’s story

My journey to becoming a regular runner began in the summer of 2013.  I had ‘flirted’ with running in the past but had never managed to keep going through a winter.  At that time, Government policy changes had changed my job from the ‘best job in the world’ to ‘very challenging’ in a matter of months.  I realised that summer that I was eating too much, drinking too much and I was ANGRY.  In my attempt to get a grip I started ‘NHS Couch to 5k’, all on my own with my headphones and Laura for company. You would know Laura if you listened to the same podcasts!  When I graduated (and Laura told me I was a proper runner now), I went along to Frimley parkrun and then Rushmoor when it started on the polo-fields in Aldershot.  It was there that I talked to someone in a blue BVR hoodie – our Melissa.

Joining BVR was the best thing I ever did as it was life changing.  I was already enjoying the sense of achievement and endorphins that go with running but BVR introduced me to social running.  Social running means nattering about everything and anything, meeting in strange carparks, running trails you never knew existed, developing a comprehensive knowledge of tea and coffee stops in the local area and running in the rain, snow, sun, biting insects, mud and even more mud. And having such fun.

And life is always better after a run.  Things that were worrying you seem to have got sorted and become less important or much easier to deal with; emails that needed to be written can now just get done; the long list of things to do is now a short list of clear priorities that can be ticked off.  And that crowded, cluttered, foggy brain is now a clear head.

On top of that, I now also drink less and eat better.  I am also not angry anymore.  I recognise that is not just because of the running but also the talking; running alongside someone and talking about ‘stuff’ is just a great way of getting it out there, processing it and moving on.  #runandtalk

Runner 1

What running means to me

If we develop a fever, we take a remedy to help with symptoms. If we are struck down with a bout of sickness, we take to our beds to rest and recuperate. But what happens when our mental health becomes poorly and needs some TLC? For many years, the common response has been to ‘tough it out’, suffer in silence and hope it goes away. We now know that this approach is most likely to be very unproductive and detrimental to your wellbeing. Instead, we should treat our mental health in exactly the same way as our physical health and seek help and support if we feel the need.

Most of us will have had some experience of mental health struggles, through anxiety, bereavement, depression and many other reasons, so we are certainly not in the minority, even if people are afraid to admit it. So, what can we do to help ourselves?

For me, there’s no better tonic than lacing up my trainers and heading out for a run. It doesn’t matter how fast or far I run, the important thing is I’m giving myself that well deserved break from the worries, stresses and obligations of every day life. It’s easy to feel guilty and think about all the things we should be doing instead, such as the washing, preparing dinner or replying to that work email. But, if we allow ourselves this small, simple pleasure, the benefits to our well-being can be measured in spades. As I say to my husband as I head out the door “Happy wife = happy life”. I’ll return home tired, achy and sweaty, but calmer, happier and content.

Runner 2

Why I started running

After many years of an ever-increasing waist line and continual bouts of what I would call feeling down, fed up and tired, and what my wife called depression, I decided that it was time to do something about it. So, I did the only thing a husband can do in this situation, I asked my wife to help and come up with some ideas and she suggested we should start running, so that’s what we did.

I can put on my running gear and head out onto the streets without a clue where I’m going, with just a mileage in mind, a rough heading and my thoughts to keep me company. As I plod my way along pavements and tracks lost in the moment I find the stresses of the day start to fade away and are quickly replaced by thoughts of “how’s my breathing? too fast too slow?”,  “mileage, how much have I done?”, “how does my body feel?”, “how much more should I do?”, “is my pace just right? should I speed up or slow down?” These questions occupy me until I reach the end of my run at which point, I’m shattered, hurting, feeling exhausted but also relieved that I have finished and can now have a well-earned rest.

As I recover, I begin to feel a lot happier about myself and the sense of achievement of completing another run. The feelings I had at the start of the run are now gone and are replaced with joy and a relaxing calm. I can say that running gives me a sense of purpose and freedom that I have never experienced before. Just as a side note, my wife says I’m now a lot easier to live with.

Runner 3

Why I run

I come from a large family, all of whom run, or have run, at points in their lives. I was the exception – I avoided it at all costs, and despite the fact that each summer weekend was spent at track meets, and each winter weekend at cross-countries, I would stay in the car, with my books, and wait for my siblings to return with their medals. I just wasn’t interested, and didn’t even go to watch my parents, brother, or sister, when they each ran the London Marathon. Running was just something my family did – I didn’t see why I had to be part of that.

This attitude continued throughout my teens and twenties, and it wasn’t until 2009, overweight and unhappy, that I realised I had to make exercise more of a regular part of my life. I’d had the odd flirtation with various gyms over the years (and spent a fortune doing so), and had even run a 10k race in 2007, but my attempts at exercise were irregular and half-hearted.

I decided that, as much as I had fought against it over the years, running had to be the way forward; it was cheap (free, not counting the cost of running kit), it could fit into my life easily, and it was one of the best forms of exercise in terms of fat-burning. In addition to this, my husband was an exceptional athlete in his teens, and had recently run London and begun re-kindling his love affair with running, and I had a ready-made support network of siblings to run with. It seemed that I could fight my destiny no longer

I joined a local running club’s beginners’ course, where, over the course of 10 weeks, we went from heaving ourselves around one lap of our local park, to running 5 miles. One of the major lessons we learnt was the importance of social running, of being able to hold a conversation while running, and of running at a sensible enough pace to allow us to do this. This was a revelation, and certainly went a long way towards my current feelings about running. The feeling of achievement at the end of the beginners’ course was tremendous, and I joined the running club as a member, at the end of the course, to carry on the good work.

In the autumn of 2009, after a few races of longer distances, and a summer of really enjoying finding my running legs, a good friend, who had run the Great North Run a few times, suggested that we enter the London Marathon. We ran for charity, training throughout the winter of 2010’s snow and ice, in the dark, and it was the hardest and best thing I’ve ever done.

Fast forward eight years, three children, and a move from London to Aldershot, I was on the start line for 2018’s London Marathon, having won a place in the ballot. My training last year was, again, through the challenges of a bitter winter, and then perversely, a boiling hot race day, and having the support of my club – both physically, in training support, and mentally, through ALL the rest of it, was invaluable.

I really believe running helps me hold a mirror to myself. It helps me process, when I reach a block. It gives me confidence, when I am unsure. It helps me to not take myself too seriously. Sometimes, it is the quintessence of “this too shall pass”! And all the while, your heart continues to pump, your blood continues to flow, your lungs continue to allow you to take breath, your legs continue to propel you forward, your feet continue to pound, one in front of the other, like a metronome. Perhaps the best thing running gives me is the feeling of being truly alive.

Runner 4

Why I run

For such a simple, flexible and low-cost activity, running gives such a disproportionate amount of benefits back. For me it’s an escape from phones and screens (why I resist Strava!), a much needed change of posture from my sedentary work desk (must remember to stretch before resuming!), an escape from work deadlines, problems and interruptions (I tend to make my routes up as I go, gives me a childish sense of freedom) and a chance to grab some daylight and vitamin D (literally a breath of fresh air). Whether running with friends or alone it takes my mind away from daily chores, widens my thoughts and outlook and helps put things in perspective. However tired, lethargic, head-clogged, hungover, bloated, achy I may feel, a simple run always clears the mind, refreshes the body and magics a wonderful positive attitude – a natural medicine for today’s lifestyles. Over the years I’ve learnt not to take it too seriously or impose too many pressures on my running otherwise it becomes another weight in life as opposed to the fantastic lift of life that it is.

Runner 5

Why do l run?

I’m not sure to be honest. l can’t say l love it but l do love the glow, the perspective it gives and the distraction too! I’m an army wife and I have found running has opened up a whole circle of friends to me that l never found in years of going to gyms. Don’t let anyone say running isn’t a team sport! I can’t think of anything more sociable to be honest. Social isolation can play havoc with my usually rational mindset and running has certainly helped me overcome it. Home alone letting small issues build into something they are not is something l have always done, over analysis and self-criticism are traits l’m guilty of. Whether it’s knowing l can lace up my trainers and get out into the fresh air or if l need a run, chat these doors have been opened through running. Running gives perspective to problems, it’s a means of escape and a way to set the worries and stresses aside for a bit! Doesn’t mean l love running and at times it’s a struggle to get out especially when it’s cold, it’s dark and miserable. However, one thing is for sure, l don’t ever remember regretting going for a run!

Runner 6

Why I run.

I run for many reasons. I run for my love of cake. I run for that sense of freedom you get. I love the amazing feeling of accomplishment I get after every run I complete. From someone who did not exercise that much until a few years ago, it still amazes me that I can actually complete a run, no matter what the time or distance it is.

But second to cake , I run to stop thinking for a while and to de stress. Life can be so hectic with work and family but I’m also a carer for my mother who suffers with a mental illness. My mother has suffered with mental health issues (Bipolar disorder) all my life but in the last year and a half she has taken a turn for the worse which has been tough to deal with at times. Running allows me valuable ‘me’ time. It helps keep my mental and physical health in check so that I can wear all the different hats I need to on a day-to-day basis. Since joining BVR, my love of running has increased as there is always someone to chat to along the route, helping to take your mind off your problems. During the winter, BVR keeps me motivated to get out and during the spring/summer months, the amazing trails and local places that I didn’t know existed keep me coming back for more

I feel calm and ready to face the world after a run and definitely ready for a piece of cake!

Report prepared by Deb Heighes