I started running at the age of 20 and really enjoyed the barriers I could put my body through and challenge how far I could go. I started running 20-minute routes (slowly) along the canals where I lived in Weybridge, Surrey. Getting the bug for it, I was soon running 6-7 days a week and that 20 minutes grew to 60-90 minutes. I used to call running "my little world" because of the beauty that you could go anywhere with just your iPod (old skool) and no one would know where you were. Just you and your thoughts, with some pretty decent playlists ranging from dance anthems to MJ to some Oasis!
It became clear to me that running wasn't just about getting fit, losing weight or getting some great mile times. It was more than that for me. This helped me clear my head of the troubles and feel confident if I am honest. I always have come across as confident and a joker in the pack of friends, but really it is a screen placed up to deflect the fact that inside I am always anxious about peoples thoughts and opinions towards me and looking for acceptance.
Although this was a great thing, it didn't come without its difficulties. I became obsessed with running and what it was doing to me. I used to own a cross-trainer and would do 60 minutes on this every day without fail, usually right after dinner. Not an issue you might think, but when I was calorie counting everything and making sure I didn't get off the trainer until I'd burn those calories, I then said to myself that it was okay for me to now go run. I quickly fell into the pit of eating very little and burning off too much without giving my body I hope of any recovery. I would then take it to the next level and go out in the blistering heat dressed in a sweat suit, tracksuit and even woolly hat, just to push myself, when really all I was doing was unsafely punishing myself with the great hobby that had rapidly turned into an obsession. The obsession took a back seat at Christmas 2011 when I was diagnosed with early stages of Osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer totally out of the blue. This was something I thankfully only had to battle for around 19 months, but for the majority, I did this alone and shut off all of my family from this journey, which looking back was the most selfish thing I could've done.
At the time I was playing a high level of semi-professional football and I wanted to always be the best I could, which started with my fitness, commitment and determination. Running was the same and within weeks of completing my final chemo stage, I ran my marathon PB at 3:19:58 which gave me such a sense of joy and achievement. Football and running were my two outlets and I always gave them everything, but there was still that one thing always playing on my mind, the thoughts and feelings when I wasn't doing these two beautiful things.
When you go day-to-day looking for acceptance it becomes hard and makes you distance yourself. You find a million and one reasons to excuse yourself from seeing friends, going out for a few drinks or just generally socialising. Over the years I lost a lot of friends with the commitment I gave to my football, but once I stopped playing competitively in 2013, the feelings and hardships have become worse and more difficult to deal with. I feel totally lost and rarely socialise outside of work, even finding time with family hard. My obsession with running was lost and I would just lock myself away and lived in my own flat alone. I would get in from work and run a bath most evening, which I would stay in for 5-6 hours, sometimes just laying there thinking and doing nothing.
Fast forward to current day and I am still fighting these thoughts and feelings, but I am dealing with them in a way that helps me be more sociable and less anxious about being accepted and looking the right way. I have gone on to run 28 full marathons, but the journey of running is only just re-kindling for me after a number of on/off years. I am not less focussed on times and distance, instead, I run for fun and feeling free so that I can remain clear-headed and feel happier about my day.
At 35 I am not as fast as I was, but I am only still just as strong-minded and determined. However, the daily battle will live on and it's how I manage that which will keep that smile on my face. We never have the perfect days or lives, everyone has challenges, but if we all smile at a stranger and be nice to each other then we're halfway there.
Finally, good luck to all those taking part in the brilliant "Miles for Mind" challenge in May, when an achievement.
"Be kind to one another, for everyone is fighting a battle we know nothing about" - Something so true and yet so simple! Remember always, it's ok, to not be ok.
As part of #MilesForMind we want to raise money for Mind and also awareness of mental health issues.
It's OK to have a mental health issue, it's OK to talk about mental health, and it's OK to ask for help.
We firmly believe that running can contribute to a healthy body, and healthy mind and we hope sharing people's stories of mental health and running will inspire others to lace up for better mental health.