Today’s guest blog comes from a dear friend of mine Ali, who publishes Diary of a Detour As part of my Self Help for Mental Health series, Ali shares her story about how running and exercise keeps her demons at bay.
Let me start this blog by saying that I’m no Paula Radcliffe. When you see runners gracefully moving along roads or in parks then they don’t look like me. I’m a 51 year old, wobbly, sweaty, tomato-faced, slow, jogger. I never ran at school (God forbid!) and didn’t actually start doing any proper exercise until after I had my older son, some 20 years ago, mainly because I was a size 18 and needed to change my lifestyle for the better.
So I started running to lose weight, and I started slowly, building it up gradually for a few months, but then in my first 10k ‘race’ (I wasn’t actually racing, I was just grateful to finish!) I got an injury which has plagued me periodically ever since. My knee hurt and so I saw a physio who diagnosed ITBS, which is usually when runners do too much too quickly, and the ‘band’ which runs from your hip to your ankle rubs against your knee and causes inflammation. I have had an issue with my iliotibial band (ITB) ever since then and although I go to the best places to be fitted for my running shoes (I can’t recommend Alexandra Sports in Portsmouth highly enough) I still feel the odd twinge. But I’ve generally been fine since I switched to the Brooks GTS range which suits my odd gait and pronation (where my foot rolls when running). So please take my advice and always get fitted with the right shoes before you start running!
I have always felt really self conscious running in public. Even in the right gear, with a good and supportive sports bra, you can’t beat a Shock Absorber! I wobble in all the wrong places. This is why I run so early in the morning, to try and get back before most normal people wake up.
I spent a number of years taking part in 10k events, just because they are good for giving you something to focus on. In the year I turned 40 I challenged myself to get a personal best in the Bognor 10k (my local race) and I did it! I haven’t actually beaten that time in the decade since, which is fine by me. In fact, two years ago I knew I wouldn’t beat my best time so I decided to go incognito and dress up in a character outfit to run for charity. I raised a few thousand pounds for the Alzheimer’s Society and waved at lots of happy people along the route, along with high fiving many children as I ran.
The longest I’ve ever run was the Great South Run in Portsmouth, which is 10 miles, which I’ve done twice. It’s in October so the weather is a complete lottery. The first time I ran it was on a wet and windy day, which was horrific, and the second time was on an unseasonably scorching ‘Indian summer’ day, which was equally difficult as it was SO hot!
In 2015 a friend and I decided to run 1000km over the course of the year, which for most proper runners doesn’t sound like much, but it’s 20km per week, EVERY WEEK OF THE YEAR, regardless of illness, injury or weather. We are made of hardy stuff and we did it, finishing with a lovely 5km run together in Bosham which is midway between our respective homes in Portsmouth and Bognor.
But now, I don’t run for speed. I don’t run for distance either. I run for my SOUL! I’m still really into exercise and keeping fit, as I strongly believe it will help me stay mobile and alert when I get older. It will help my heart and my bones, but most importantly it will help my MIND.
Running is ‘me’ time, it is when I plug in my earphones and listen to the same playlist every single time, which allows me to really switch off. I get to think my problems through. When I’m stressed (which is most of the time) or especially anxious (which is extremely often) then I can often put things into perspective during a run. I resolve issues too, as it’s a chance to think through my problems, whether it’s something to do with the family, work or anything else. I also get brilliant ideas for my blog! I can be really creative, and if I need to then my phone is with me if I want to write anything down.
On top of all these benefits, when the weather is nice, then that period of the day when the world is waking up is just so glorious. The early morning dogwalkers are out and about but the streets and beach are generally deserted. It’s ‘your’ time of the day.
What is also brilliant is when you take your running shoes on holiday and get to see much more of a city than you would have done by just walking, or even travelling by car. As I go out early still, I’ve seen some incredible sunrises in amazing places. Whether in Paphos, Cyprus, or Toronto, New York, Los Angeles or Santa Monica. The memories will stay with me forever!
I know running isn’t for everyone, and to some people I probably AM Paula Radcliffe, as they do nothing at all, but I would highly recommend taking up any kind of exercise if you are suffering from mental health problems because IT WILL MAKE YOU FEEL BETTER. The endorphins in your brain are so powerful! You’ll feel a fantastic sense of achievement. You’ll start the day with a clear mind. And on top of that your heart and body will thank you for it. And if you want to, it can help you lose weight – although diet and resistance exercise are equally beneficial, and I have plenty of other fitness ideas in my blog for fitness challenges. Although I run on my own, it can also be extremely sociable, as there are many running clubs who welcome people of all abilities. Or just enlist a friend and try the ‘couch to 5k’ plan.
Your soul will thank you. Good luck!
Do check out other posts on Diary of a Detour, a fab lifestyle blog that includes fitness, nutrition, travel, street art and scooters.
And have a look at some of the other posts that I’ve previously written about Self Help for your Mental Health.
1.Self Help For Your Mental Health
2. My Mental Health Story
3. Medical Help
4. Learn and Accept
5. A Mental Health Diet
6. Sleep and Duvet Days
7. Panic Attacks
8. Suicide Awareness
9. Talk Support
10. Qi Gong & Tai Chi
11. Meditation, Hypnosis and Relaxation
12. Help for Carers and Friends