Running to stay sane
After many years of desperately trying to find a way to quieten my noisy and often over-complicated mind, never did I truly think that clarity would come in such a simple thing as road running.
If you’re reading this and truly believe that it’s im-f*cking-possible to run 5-10 minutes without actually collapsing (let alone do a 5k, 10k or half marathon) then please hang onto that thought for the time being. Seriously, do it. I know I did and they went something like this.
FACT 1: Running for 5-10 minutes non-stop will actually make me collapse
FACT 2: I’m being serious. I am just NOT a runner
Now, allow me to rewind to autumn last year when I was about to take part in my very first HALF MARATHON (which, shit me, I completed in 2hrs 29mins) Honestly, it was one of the best things I did for me in ages! But I promise you – no lie – just three months before, I was citing all of these impossible thoughts too.
Now you maybe thinking that my physical form (I am 5ft6 and a size 10) had everything to do with this achievement. OK, so my body shape is quite athletic and toned – but I have no idea why because I’ve never been to a gym, EVER. (I’m not saying this to make you hate me, there is a point, which I promise I will get to. I love to ramble. Sorry!)
I did however go to yoga a few years ago but haven’t been back since 2011, when I properly farted!
So, keeping fit for me, really only exists in the everyday routine of stairs, school pick ups and general housework.
I eat a pretty balanced diet and I love Malbec and Baileys (not together!) I guess I eat what I like, within reason. Plus, I think I have an acute dairy intolerance but I suffer through it simply because I can’t possibly face a life without cheese and chocolate. (Goats cheese is the worst offender. Bloating and cramps and gas like you wouldn’t BELIEVE!)
Did I find running my first half marathon easier because of my physical form? Does my size 10 dress size mean that I’m more akin to running? A ‘natural’ perhaps? Not. In. The. Slightest!
My point is (see, I told you it was coming) is that running and especially long distance running has f*ck all to do with the physical. In fact, it has very little to do with form and frame. Of course, if you’re injured or suffer from some kind of physical disability then things are going to be different, but still, my point is that the physical plays such a small part in any of this and I was TOTALLY unaware of this, until I discovered it for myself…
What truly counts and what you need tons of is mental strength
It’s not rocket science, we all know that if you keep telling yourself that you can’t do something, then you’ll probably never achieve it. But if you’ve ever had CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) they’ll tell you to flip those negative thought. It works vice versa, right?
So, if you will your mind to instruct your body to do something, it will try and do it. If you keep on willing it, you will start to train it. Easier said than done, I know, but it is only through running that I truly understood how my mind works and it has really empowered me. Running has become my way to improve my mental health.
THE WARNING SIGNS
Like many, my mind races at a gazillion miles per hour. All. The. Fucking. Time. Like many, my life has had it’s fair amount of shit flung at it.
Like many, my life has been paralysed with episodes of utter, utter darkness.
And like many, I’ve been through The Big Death when my Dad suddenly passed away in 2014.
I often think, my mental strength in many ways must be quite strong. After all, it’s seen me through all of the above. But I also know that it’s very, very fragile too. And running, for me, is a way of acknowledging and accepting this and taking the time to look after it regularly. It’s never been the physical strength that I’m searching for from a run (although there are of course many benefits, like tighter butt cheeks for starts!) All these physical things are bonuses in my opinion.
I run to improve my mental strength and that’s key for me.
Nothing beats that feeling when you’ve broken through those ‘walls’ -the voices that tell you that you can’t. You feel like you’re punching through pain. I’ve cried whilst running, mainly when I run past the cemetery where my Dad was laid to rest. It’s a deeply cathartic process for me and it’s helped me with my grief. You can read all the science behind the benefits of exercise but I’m coming from the Oprah angle. It’s all the cliches and if you’re already a runner, you’ll know EXACTLY what I mean, so I won’t wax lyrical. But for those who may be looking to start as a way of stopping those insistent voices that keep judging you, telling you that you’re not good enough, successful enough, pretty enough, blah, then please, do give it a go. You won’t regret it.
STEPS TO START
So there you have it. I’m officially a running-bore! A friend of mine who regularly competes in half marathons did say that when I first sparked an interest in running that I’d either:
b:Buy lots of new running gear but then the novelty would wear off
c: LOVE IT and become a running bore.
I am most certainly ‘C’. In another post, I’ll tell you about all the things us runners love to wang on about but for now, if you think you might be ready to run, here are a few things that helped me initially…
1: Good shoes
Injuries are all too common when running in the wrong shoes, especially if you’re road running. Find a sports shop that measures your gait, I went to Intersport. You’ll basically run on a treadmill (I say basically, it’s the first time I ever did it! As I said, I’ve never been to a gym!) They’ll observe your running style and work out what trainers are best suited for you. Be prepared to spend a bit of money. Mine are Brooks, and cost over £100. I really wanted an Asics pair at the time, but they weren’t as comfy. Get some running socks too.
2: Run without music
Tough one! I used to run to music and loved running to the beat. But the half marathon that I’d entered prohibited the use of headphones as a safety measure because the route was all terrain (I ran the Surrey Bachhus) So I started my training without music, three months before, and that’s when I realised the benefits more. You properly de-clutter your thoughts. All the junk from what you’re having for dinner, to your to-do list for work/the next day as well as the initial feeling that EVERYONE is watching you. I assure you, they’re not! Crack on. Let the thoughts pass and then you’ll experience the most unbelievable sense of clarity and calm.
Download it, plot your path and connect with other runners too. Let friends or family know that you’re out running too. It is getting darker earlier now, so during this time of year, I prefer to run in the mornings, after school drop-off. I have only ever ran twice in the dark and I wouldn’t personally advise it. I properly shit myself! It’s not worth the stress. You need to run to relax, not feel on edge. Pick a time that works for you and stay safe.
Before you head off, whether it’s a short or a long run, stretch out. Touch your toes, squat and shake your body for 4-5 minutes and when you get back, it’s vital to stretch down too. You won’t be able to move the next day if you don’t. I usually spend 15 minutes stretching down and pop on some yoga music too to really relax. I listen to Deva Premal and Mirabai Ceiba. Relax, you’ve done really well. Congratulate your body and thank your mind.
Once back, reward yourself. With food! Sounds daft but as I said, I’m not doing this so much for the physical benefits. (Plus if you’re doing long distance, you’ll need to refuel, so pack in the protein) Remember, this isn’t about me loosing weight, it’s about me staying strong mentally. So part of my routine is to have a delicious brunch after – usually banana and honey on toast, or avocados and eggs, followed by a VAT load of tea. Pop on something that really pleases you, right now for me, it’s catching up on Nashville on Sky. You’ve done it! You’ve got rid of all that useless mind-junk and will be feeling real acceptance and self-love. Sounds wanky, I know! But try it. Enjoy it. Make it happen. The first run is always going to be the hardest. And let me know how you get on…