In 2019, I completed over 30 races and multiple parkruns (yes, I have more medals than I know what to do with!), so a huge chunk of my spare time was devoted to running. Naturally this meant that when lockdown hit, I felt a huge void in my life from the loss of organised running events, and it hit me harder than I expected. Having the routine of a training plan, regular events to look forward to, and the amazing sense of community that comes from a shared addiction to running really transformed my mental health last year - so to have that taken away was devastating.
I spent way too much time scrolling through Instagram in lockdown (didn’t we all!?), and I came across an account called Run Talk Run by chance. Run Talk Run is a global community of free, weekly 5km runs that exist to make running & mental health support less intimidating, and more accessible. It isn’t therapy, but a safe and confidential space to speak honestly about how you’re doing, with other caring, non-judgemental and understanding people.
Jess Robson founded Run Talk Run in London in 2017, after running enabled her to open up about how she was feeling in a way she couldn’t in a medical setting. There are now over 80 leaders hosting weekly Run Talk Runs worldwide, and I instantly knew I had to be a part of it. After a few lovely chats with Jess, I set up a new branch of Run Talk Run in Hackney.
The format of Run Talk Run is the same no matter where you are in the world. We always run 5km at a ‘talking pace’ – all levels are welcome, and walking breaks are ok! We really don’t care about pace, and it’s empowering to let go of an ego that usually focuses on ‘Garmin data’ and run with a new sense of purpose. For some people, Run Talk Run is an escape from a cycle of negative thoughts; a chance to switch your brain off for an hour and just natter. Other times, it might be a cathartic chat about anxiety, depression body issues, grief, loneliness, or a concern for someone close to you. Perhaps you don’t feel like talking at all - but gain comfort from the energy of running alongside other people. The world has been a difficult place for us all in the last few months, and people who didn’t think they’d ever need help have found themselves at a low point. Unfortunately, the NHS and other mental health services can’t always keep up with the immense need for support, so free, regular, reliable initiatives like Run Talk Run are more needed now than ever.
It doesn’t matter what stage of your mental health journey you’re at to run with us. You might be feeling lonely and isolated, needing a change of scenery from your lockdown buddies, or new to an area and in need of a sense of belonging. You might know that exercise makes you feel good, but struggle to find the motivation to get out there without some encouragement. You might be on a waiting list for medical treatment, or currently receiving it, and need some extra help. You might even be feeling better than ever, but fancy coming along as an empathetic ear to support others. As long as you leave feeling happier and more optimistic, Run Talk Run has served its purpose.
Although I lead the Hackney Run Talk Run to help other people, the effect it’s had on me too is profound. I was shaking with nerves before my first few sessions - but I soon realised I had no need to worry! Every single person I’ve met has been so lovely; I leave every week with the biggest smile on my face. Having just an hour’s distraction by chatting to someone else can make your worries melt away, give you a fresh perspective on how to cope with your troubles, and remind you that you’re never alone in the way you’re feeling. Running side by side takes away the eye contact that can sometimes make you feel vulnerable – it’s easier to let the words flow when you run, without overthinking what you’re going to say.
I’m so grateful for finding this community and to Jess for establishing such a great cause. If you’d like to get involved, as a runner or a leader, head over to the Run Talk Run website or Instagram to find out more.
Keep looking after your mental health, it’s so important.