With 2017 being my first full on year of racing, I can't help but look at every medal, t-shirt, race bib, recorded mileage and smashed PB without smiling.
A lot of cliché blood, sweat and tears has gone into something that is very important to me. My family and friends just can't keep up with my running schedule. Some still can hardly believe the girl who loved to lie in on the weekends until almost midday is now up early going for runs. It hasn't always been an easy journey though. There have been days I don't want to train. Some runs have gone wrong. Injuries and overtraining have been a steep learning curve. But what really helped was having the mental strength to carry on when I could easily just quit.
The sense of perseverance and determination really kicked in last March after my long term relationship ended. I was completely devastated and blindsided by it. But what came out of it was my continued love of running and wanting to push outside my comfort zone. In fact the day my ex broke up with me I went out for a run to try clear my head and make sense of it all. Grief was expected but I decided that I wasn't going to feel sorry for myself for too long. I embarked on a regime of early morning runs and training sessions with my PT and local exercise groups. It's a decision I haven't regretted since.
Fast forward to December 2017 and I feel like I have most of my life back on track (sorry running pun wasn't intended!). My list of running achievements and ambitions continue to grow longer. Given that I was adamant I would never run beyond 10k a couple of years ago I completed my first two half marathons this year and bravely, or maybe stupidly (I've yet to decide), signed up to run my first full marathon in 2018. As added motivation it is for the Royal Society for Blind Children, the charity I started working with this June.
There is no doubt in my mind that London would be my first marathon. The last 3 years I have been lucky enough to go watch it and the atmosphere on the day is always unforgettable. A few of my friends ran it too, including Michael Law, who has the Guinness World Record for running the fastest marathon dressed as a star.
He is also in the exclusive group of those who have completed all six of the World Marathon Majors. It's something I would quite like to attempt but that is getting ahead of myself. Weirdly, I was disappointed I didn't get a ballot place for Berlin next year. It just goes to show how far I have come when I get disappointed about not running a marathon.
Another thing I have gained through running is the support and advice from others. I can't remember exactly how but I stumbled across the UK Runchat community on Twitter. It's such a great thing to be a part of.
I've hosted UK Runchat Hour twice and I love chatting with like minded people every chance I get about races, training tips, triumphants and failures. Mental health is also a very important topic that is discussed. There are two points in my life where I had a mild form of depression. The first I dealt with through counselling, whilst the second was through running. The latter worked well until I hit a disastrous patch of over training, injury and facing redundancy earlier this year. It was an awful time. But I am so grateful that my PT, close friends and members of the UK Runchat community pulled me through it and were the voice of reason. They didn't judge me and gave me the time I needed to get back to a sense of normality.
Being open with my struggles has lead to some people coming forward to say they need help or that they understand. It really is OK to say you are not OK. You can be strong but you can also ask for help. That is why I always ask how people are doing and want to lend an ear if someone is feeling low or needs comforting. It's also why joining in with Marathon in a Day and Run Up to Christmas for Mind was an easy decision. The medals for these particular challenges will be cherished. But the collective effort from everyone to raise awareness of mental health is something very special indeed.
Thanks to Carmen for her blog and it shows how running can be such a positive sport to get your mind in the right place. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at twitter.com/sportygirl_85
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Happy running and be proud to be a runr!