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How running helped my mental health by Hayley

Before I had children, I ran only to stay trim. Running always had the best results for my body shape and I never gave much thought to how it felt mentally. I was only ever bothered about the statistics and beating my PB, mostly!

After having my Son in November 2013, I ran sporadically and experimented with different fitness classes. I was introduced to Metabolic HIIT classes and oh boy did I learn a few things about my strength and capabilities (Thanks Ria) and with a mix of this, yoga and my regular dance classes, I strengthened my pelvic floor and closed the gap after abdominal separation - very, very important after children and before even thinking about running again! Fast forward to late 2016 and just as I began to think about running more regularly again, what do you know…. I fell pregnant!

In August 2017 after a long, hot and uncomfortable Summer, my beautiful Daughter arrived speedily into the world in a blur of euphoria and shock! It soon became clear that I was about to embark on a very different parenting roller coaster to the one I had experienced with my first born and over time, struggling with severe overwhelm and ridiculously high expectations of myself, I developed what is called Post-Partum Rage alongside Post Natal Depression and Anxiety.

I’d never really been one for anger. If anything, I was the token crier and always blamed myself for everything so this burning, irrational rage was absolutely terrifying. It had me screaming at my children so hard my throat hurt, throwing dinner plates at the wall and sadly, physically beating myself in pure frustration. (I should mention, at this point, that at no time were either of my children abused by me and to this day remain seemingly unaffected by this period of time) I was ashamed and often called my Husband after an ‘episode’ as a way of holding myself accountable.

I knew I needed to find another way to release this aggression but my body was still recovering from birth, I didn’t feel physically capable or able to do any form of exercise. I struggled on for months before admitting that I needed professional help and, despite being so scared that my children would be taken from me, I self-referred myself to the NHS Wellbeing service.

I also reached out to my Health Visitor who put me in touch with a local PND support group, which turned out to be a huge game changer that I will be forever grateful for. Still though, I needed more. I needed the physical release, the endorphins. I knew it and had done for ages but the fear of not being as good as I had been previously felt like too big a hurdle to get over.

One sunny April, approaching my 35 birthday, I realised enough was enough. Although I was starting to see improvements in my mental health, I was tired of berating myself and hating on my body. I was equally tired of trying to keep up with two energetic children and felt so unfit. I realised I had started to say no a lot. No to building dens, to chasing round the soft play, to park trips. I was worried and anxious that my perceived physical inability was going to result in my son getting run over or my daughter falling from a climbing frame.

Taking the plunge, I downloaded a run tutorial from Nike Running Club. I’d never actually thought about technique and pace before but figured if I was going to do it, I should do it right. I swallowed my pride and on 1st April 2018, set out on my first run since 2016.

With the coach in my ear and some motivating music, I started moving. Steadily placing one foot in front of the other. Tears rolling down my cheeks as I felt my body bounce, feeling the change of weight in my knees and ankles. It was evident I had a long way to go but I was doing it, I was really doing it. For 20 minutes my mind thought of nothing but the task in hand. In those 20 minutes I was not a failure. I was not a bad Mum, Wife or friend, I was not angry, I was not hitting myself either….

I felt free.

I laughed aloud. Caught in a mix of hating the pain and willing it to end but embracing and loving the fresh air, the music, the views and dare I say it, the distance from home!! I was really doing it. Returning home, redder than a tomato, I had a huge smile on my face. The first genuine and real smile in some time. I did it! I immediately felt a shift in mentality, I knew that this was going to be the final piece of the puzzle.

As I continued to run more regularly, I realised I was learning to fit it in as and when I could. No longer did I consider anything less than 5km a waste of time (Yes, I genuinely felt this way when I first started running back in 2011!) and it became so much less about my ability and so much more about the benefits to my mind.

Running gave me back some of me, helped me get a handle on the irrational thoughts and unwelcome feelings. Naturally, I have become stronger and fitter and my confidence as soared. So much so that I joined Runpals, something I would never have done before. The ethos and values of Runpals shine through so hard, its infectious. It is simply running with pals. It is not about size, shape, ability, background, gender or ethnicity…. its just a bunch of people who cheer each other on and genuinely celebrate every success for themselves and others. In just a few short weeks, I already feel part of the family and am currently part of a virtual run team aiming to get to 2019km in 2019!

To anyone reading this that struggles with their mental health, getting outside worked wonders for me. Breathing in fresh air, taking in the views and learning to focus on a task and not on the debilitating, infuriating voices in my head telling me all the bad stuff. It’s taught me I can and I will beat this, it might never go away but I now have all the tools I need to help.

One thing is for sure, you will NEVER regret a workout and the bed/sofa will ALWAYS be there so what do you have to lose? Give it a go, who knows what you could be capable of if you give yourself a try.

Hayley x

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Thanks to Hayley for sharing her story. #MentalHealthMatters

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