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Three Years Free by Hazel

First and foremost, this is a running blog but it’s also my own platform for talking about bigger social issues. However, the purpose for this particular blog is to introduce myself and share my story of why I started running three years ago. As you read through, do so with care & gentleness as I touch upon the impact of Domestic Abuse. 

November 2018: It goes without saying I was in one of the darkest times of my life where it had taken many months of attempting, planning and committing to leave an abusive relationship which left my mental health in a state of breakdown. I made the decision to go stay with family as the other option was moving into a women's refuge outside of my city which I felt would have been really isolating for me. I was grateful to have had that choice.  

This November 2021 marks three years of freedom and three years of running - in equal to the three years in which I endured coercive control, emotional torment & assault.  

Thank you for reading this far if you're still here, it feels good to finally be sharing this! Now let's share some love about running, overcoming trauma and finding purpose on the other side of it!  

As a kid I was an avid runner! I was part of my school athletics team and excelled particularly at long distance events (1000m track events & 1 miler fun runs at my dad's 10k races). 

I'd say it's my blood, my dad's love for running has seen him surmount marathons, muddy off-road trails, relays & taking on Mount. Snowdon! He excelled in competing nationally whilst myself, brother & grandparents stood at the roadside cheering him on! Now a veteran runner he's still putting in epic milage and smashing his own goals, what a legend!  

At the point I decided to lace up and go for my first run (in many years) I approached it like a complete beginner. I was pretty unfit, out of shape and low on self-confidence.  

My aim: once around the block with a walk break if I needed it. It was awful but you can't mask the runners high afterwards!  

I ran again a few days later, then again and each time getting faster and running slightly further. I was achieving something; I was changing and for the first time in 3 years I felt focused on something. I was becoming committed.  

“Life has the ability to move us in a direction we never envisioned for ourselves, yet somehow through great mystery, can end up being where we needed to be all along.” 
 
 

After a month of consistent running my dad approached me with the opportunity to take part in my first Parkrun - a 5km, I'd never run one of them before!

A daunting thought which filled me with anxiety but knew it was a challenge I couldn't refuse. I took the same approach as my very first run - 'run as far as you can and walk when you need to'.  

I finished with time of 37:34. It was wet & soggy and I was in my bloody element!   

Parkrun had a real impact on me. The sense of community, belonging and overwhelming support was what struck me the most and I've come to recognise that running is a massive community filled with those of a genuine heart.  

These early days of running have inspired me to go on and smash many goals which once seemed like impossible challenges, including; 

  • The Southampton 10k 2019 on hometown ground 
  • My Parkrun PB in March 2020 came at the very last Parkrun event before Lockdown, smashing the sub 30 benchmark at 28:24 
  • Three Years of Red January - (Year 3 was the hardest - morning sickness is a horror show!) 
  • My biggest challenge so far and a marathon of a different kind - having a baby! Being able to run throughout my pregnancy prepared me to get stronger in mind & body and to accept my limits gracefully. There's no medal for enduring unnecessary pain when running in pregnancy! I'll save that for another blog post though. 

Over the last 3 years running has become my healer. It’s during those brief 30-45 minutes when all I would think about was my breathe and the rhythmic sound of my feet pounding the floor provided stillness for my mind. The burning in my legs reminded me I was getting stronger and that glorious, sweat-drenched afterglow was my reward for perseverance. 

During this time, I discovered the power movement was having on my mental wellbeing, healing through my own trauma and improving my resilience in daily life. Because of this I wanted to take things further by training in Counselling & qualifying in Mental Health Support.

I then went on to become a community ambassador for Women's Aid, through the Welsh Women's Aid Change That Lasts Campaign, where I've had the opportunity to find out how other amazing ambassadors are helping others. I’ve had the privilege of supporting experiencers of domestic abuse just by listening and signposting and I’ve worked with colleges and on social media to educate others about the nature and signs of abuse in our society.

It’s nothing short of justice to see others get the support they need, which is my motivation to keep campaigning! Using social media and my blog, I aim to open a doorway of support to more people. I'm not aiming massively big, I'm being realistic about this, but rather reaching those who need it and creating a safe space for education and recovery is my intention for the project.

With my Post-Partum running journey looming, I’m also embarking on training as a run leader and forming a running group aimed at creating space for friendship and support for survivors of abuse and those looking to improve their mental wellbeing. Experiencing any form of abuse can leave an individual feeling isolated and disconnected from the support of others, if we can work together, men and women (men we need you onboard too!) we can create a space within our communities for transparency and zero tolerance of abuse. It starts with us and ripples onwards. Come ripple with me!  

If you’re interested to learn more about the Change That Lasts Ambassador Training programme, I’ll attach the link below. Or, visit my LinkTree for the web link on my Instagram page.  

Big Love 

Hazel 

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We want to say a big thank you to Hazel fr sharing her story and we wish her all the best!

If you want to share your running story, then get in contact with us at info@runr.co.uk.

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