I’m Chris, but my friends call me Curly. I have had issues with anxiety and low self esteem for most of my adult life. It started in university as an embarrassing twitch but it develop into something that made me scared to even leave the house. I have had many courses of therapy which have helped but anxiety is more of a condition that you learn to cope with, rather than cure.
In my mid-twenties, I was living on my own in Manchester and working in an office. My life felt somewhat empty and isolated. I had always struggled with social situations to having low self esteem. Some friends at work ask me to come along to a weekly pack run organised by Sweatshop in the Arndale Centre. I was quite nervous about running with other people. I was worried that I would be too slow or I wouldn’t be able to run far enough.
It turned out to be be much better than I assumed. I was actually one of the faster runners in the group. From then onwards I turned up every week without fail and was making new friends. It got to the point where people were noticing that I was quite good at running and asking me for advice. This boosted my confidence and made me feel like I fit in with the group. Although, I always felt like an imposter to my lack of confidence and the fact that I had never entered a race.
I decide to enter the Great Manchester Run with a couple of friends. At the time, the thought of me running 10km felt impossible. I spent all morning stuffing my face as a ridiculous attempt to carb-load because of fear I wouldn’t finish the race. I realised how silly this was when I got a stitch half way into the race. I finished with a time around 42 minutes which felt huge at the time. I spent the rest of the day lying on the sofa in agony due to my stomach cramp but I was excited to try it again.
A few months later I entered the Sheffield 10km, raring to go with my experience from my first race. I started in the sub 40 minutes pen because someone I ran with told me I would be fast enough. I remember very little between the start and finish, only that it was very hilly. I looked up at the clock as I crossed the finish line to see the clock was under 38 minutes. I finished in 28th place with an easy to remember time of 37:37. This made me realise that I was actually a decent runner and maybe it was something I could invest more time and effort into.
I joined a running club registered with England Athletics and started taking my training much more seriously. It was amazing to feel like I was part of something bigger. Turning up to races in my Swinton RC vest gave me such a sense of pride. But all of this also put a great deal of pressure on myself. I felt like I needed to giving it my all in every run and I was working myself into the ground. A typical Saturday would involve running to Parkrun, battling for 1st place and then running 10 miles home.
Unsurprisingly, all this lead to some pretty nasty injuries. At the time I couldn’t think of anything worse than not being able to run. I felt like I was stagnating and my fitness was declining. Sometimes I would carry on running even though it was painful and it was making things worse. I felt like there was nothing that could replace running for me. My anxiety during these periods was almost physically painful. All I wanted to do was curl up in a ball on the sofa and watch rubbish on telly. I struggled to sleep and I was developing traits of OCD. I would have to check if the oven was on multiple times before I could fall asleep. Sometimes I would be so anxious, that I could stare at the oven for two minutes but I still wasn’t confident that the oven was switched off.
My girlfriend helped me through these tough times and made me realise how hard I was being on myself. She made me realise there was much more to my life than running. I eventually found other hobbies that I could count on when I couldn’t run. I took up photography which was a great creative outlet and a source of exercise due to all the walking it could involve. I also joined a gym so I could develop my fitness in other alternatives ways. I think going to the gym actually improved my my fitness more than running because I could address areas that running didn’t.
After spending a year out with shin splints, I worked patiently and slowly started running again. I entered The Big Stockport 10km as something to aim for. Right up to the race I was feeling random aches and pains in various parts of my body. It’s like my mind was determined to defeat me. I went in thinking I would just aim to finish. The 2km felt so comfortable I couldn’t believe it. I got to the 7km mark and I was welling up because I knew I was going to finish. I had a glance at my watch when I finished to see I’d got 37:46. My girlfriend told me that I had finished in 11th place. I think this is the most happy I have ever been with a result. It wasn’t my fastest 10km but it felt like I had been on huge journey just to get myself to that point.
My experiences with injury have matured me greatly. More recently I was aiming to run the Greater Manchester Marathon but I got a bad knee injury just before my training plan was due to start. It was a big blow but I was sensible and knew to not rush my recovery. I knew that I would do it one day and I just had to wait. I had times where my anxiety was bad but I learned that these things aren’t permanent. I knew all I could do was listen to my physio and do what ever I need to do to cope with the anxiety. I missed the Marathon but I didn’t mourn over it like I would have in the past. I love running but I learned that I needed to balance it with other things in my life.
Thanks to Chris Turner for sharing his story in support of the message that #MentalHealthMatters
Instagram - @curly_runs