To really understand how running has changed my life I think it needs some context. So here it is...
When I was younger I was quite overweight. I was fairly active at a very young age but I spent all of my teens at the low end of obese. To be honest, it wasn’t a great time for me. Although I wasn’t particularly unpopular, I was certainly bullied. I remember coming home and writing abuse over my body in permanent marker one day after school.
When I was 16 my dad was diagnosed with cancer. It was horrific. I still remember being called into my parents bedroom for them to tell me that he had the ‘C’ word. I guess I was quite numb and I can only really see how it affected me when I look back. I was quite academic up until that point and had 11 GCSEs and took my maths GCSE a year early. It was game over after the diagnosis and all I cared about was hanging out with friends and smoking.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom… I managed to find something that gave me escapism! It wasn’t running, but music. I had played drums from an early age and been in a band for years. Suddenly, we started to get proper gigs in London. It was all quite exciting. It was a release. It was social. It gave me focus! I even managed to lose weight. I could write a whole piece about this journey but to cut a long story short, we became as famous as you can get without anyone knowing who you are. Things got better and better. We played Latitude, Glastonbury and travelled all over the UK, Europe and even in Japan and America. Dad was ill on and off but he seemed to be in a good place. This journey continued for 3 years. It’s all I did full time. It was challenging, tough, fun, exhilarating and a once in a lifetime experience. We signed a record deal with a major label on my 21st birthday. It wasn’t all fun, though. This is where depression did creep in quite badly. I would often have panic attacks if I made mistakes on stage. It was awful. I had to carry on playing even if I was dealing with crippling anxiety. I would often lay in a state of paralysis for a long time after shows like that. Sometimes it would all feel pointless. Along with the highs of playing to packed festival tents were the lows of playing to empty pub back rooms. The stereotypical escape from this stress and lifestyle was drinking. We drank almost every night. I also started to unhealthily obsess about calories and became very thin. I would half all of my meals and strictly control my calories. It was quite a dark time for me.
Then we got dropped by our record label. Dad died. Our dog died. The bottom. I had to go back to my family home in a small town in Suffolk. Leaving to go to the shop filled me with dread. I was embarrassed about the ‘failure’ of the band and was understandably grieving. My usual go to for drowning out the negativity was drinking in the evenings. I never had a problem with drinking (I would often not drink for long periods of time), but I knew it wasn’t healthy or sustainable. In a strange way, dad's death felt like a new beginning. Dad dying felt inevitable from that first diagnosis when I was 16. This was 7 years later and I had almost been waiting for it.
I didn’t want to wallow in grief so I decided to go for a run. I had smoked 20 a day for years and not done any exercise. It hurt. It hurt A LOT! I probably ran about a mile and my lungs were burning. It felt amazing. I started increasing the distances and eventually entered a 10K. The day of my first run, I actually sent a message to Emma. I went to school with Emma and we hadn’t seen each other for a while but I was filled with confidence after my epic 1 mile run and decided to make contact. We are now married with a daughter, Erin, plus one in the oven. As much as she says she hates me running, I don’t think we’d be together without it. I wasn’t actually hooked for good at this point. I ended up going off and doing a degree and the exercise slipped. The wonderful relationship with Emma and new academic challenge was enough to keep me focused and happy. The real running addiction didn’t start until I finished my degree and ended up in quite a boring job. There was no real goal anymore and I was getting really depressed again. I put weight back on and felt useless. I often dreamt about driving my car off the road on the way to work. Then I remembered what had saved me when dad died - running.
I started running more than I ever had before. I would get up early before work and run! It made the dull days torreable and kept my brain happy. I started increasing the distances again and eventually ran my first half marathon. More than anything, I enjoyed the routine and goal setting. My confidence grew and I found my thoughts were much clearer. I decided to quit my job and train to become a teacher. I did really well in my training and fell straight into a job. Since then I’ve progressed in my role and really enjoy it. Teaching is notoriously stressful. Running enables me to cope with high amounts of workload and pressure. Sure, I still have some lows, but I would say I haven’t been actually depressed since I started running regularly. I started to think about how it helps me mentally. I reduced this to a few key points:
Setting goals that are outside of work/home is really important. It gives you something to work towards that is just for you. There is no money or career attached to it (for most of us!). It’s something to focus on and work towards.
If you reach those goals, it feels amazing. You work continuously towards something and then achieve it. It teaches you to be patient. Getting fitter takes time and consistency. Even if you fail, it teaches you to keep going and not give up. It doesn’t always go to plan, and neither does life! The most important achievement is on a daily basis. Since having a daughter, I’ve had to start running early in the mornings. I hated it at first but now I can’t live without it. Every day that I run, I know I have already achieved something before I even get in the car to go to work. Whatever happens that day, I know I’ve achieved something. I know I can deal with whatever life throws at me.
Running is the closest thing I’ve found to being effort=reward. The more you put in, the more you get out. Sure, you can over train and tire yourself out, but in the most part it gives back what you put in. I’m a massive control freak and I really relish in the control I have over my own fitness.
The modern world is highly connected. We are being bombarded with messages all day, every day. Running gives you time to yourself and your thoughts. It lets you reset. It lets all your troubles untangle and organise themselves. It’s mindfulness. At times, it’s almost mindlessness.
Community + Exploration
I’ve met so many great people along my running journey. I highly recommend joining a club and going to a ParkRun. The atmosphere and support is amazing. Community is something that is slowly disappearing from our society and clubs and regular events are great ways to connect with people you wouldn’t usually interact with. It’s also a great way to see new places. Races take you to new locations and let you experience the world in new way. My absolute favourite running is done on holiday. I get super excited to plan my routes. I set my alarm and head out the door as soon as possible. It gives you an instant connection to a place.
I hate to think how my life would be without running. I genuinely don’t know how I would have accomplished anything that I have. I wouldn’t have my family or career, that’s for sure. It’s running towards your goals, not running away from your problems.