Modern wisdom suggests that if you ask the question ‘Why?’ five times, then you ultimately get to the true reason. When I asked myself why I’m writing this blog, it also made me realise how it was that I came to be an ultra runner…
Why am I writing this blog?
‘To help and inspire people to break down their self-imposed limits on what they think they are capable of doing. To make people happier in themselves, in their lives, and in their relationship with others.’
When I first ran as an adult, it was on a treadmill in a gym. I would have been 25 or so, and although not by any means overweight, definitely guilty of one too many sausage cobs and chocolate hob nobs. I’d run a couple of K’s on the treadmill as part of an hour-long gym routine. Over the course of a few months, I moved up to 5K and then 7K. And then I hit a wall. I wanted to do 10K but something in me stopped me from even trying. It wasn’t laziness, not a physical thing, but my head said it was too far for me to run. My head said it was 6 miles, I can’t run that far without some help and advice. I spoke with the trainer at the gym. He asked me how far I was running now. I told him 7K. He looked at me bewildered, and said ‘If you can run 7K, you can run 10K!’. I felt so stupid. In one sentence, he’d shattered the irrational mental barrier I’d unwittingly sealed into place. So the next time I was at the gym, I ran 10K. And the time after that. And the time after that…
This was the first time in my life that I became consciously aware of how my mind had created limits and barriers in my head. ‘You can’t do that!’ Rather than agreeing, I now ask myself ‘Why’s that then?’.
‘My life and mental attitude have changed completely thanks to running, especially running ultras. I’ve also seen the incredibly positive effect running has had on others around me. I want to share the lessons I’ve learned and the inspirational people I’ve encountered, so that I can spread this positivity to as many people as possible so that they can have these incredible feelings for themselves.’
Running gives me all of these things in abundance
An amazing feeling of well-being
Community and belonging
Belief in myself
My place in the world
Before I ran, I didn’t have any of these things in my life. Right now, I really can’t imagine life without any one of them. I’m so much happier. I’d love to be able to share this journey with as many people as possible.
‘Life can be hard sometimes, and all sorts of things can happen which make a person feel ‘down’. Running – always – makes me feel ‘up’. And I’ve been very down at various times in my life (although not recently). Running gives a perspective on problems, so that you can rationalise more easily. Also, if you tackle something with a good mental attitude, the outcome is invariably better.’
Running hasn’t of course fixed every problem in my life. Like storm clouds, problems can either build slowly on the horizon, or come on extremely quickly, but either way, they come, and they hit you, sometimes from the side, sometimes from directly above, and sometimes with such force, it’s frightening. But one thing I have found is that running helps to firstly reduce the problem down mentally to something tangible and thus manageable, rather than something immeasurable and all-consuming, devouring any mental capacity to even contemplate the problem in the first place. And secondly, to separate the problem out into its constituent parts, so that each part of it can be tackled individually, in the right order.
For me, this mentality was born on the road, running. Thinking of mile 25 of a marathon whilst at mile 5 is generally, in my experience, a bad idea. I think of mile 10 instead, as that’s so much closer, so much more tangible, so much easier to deal with. I plot my way through the distance like that, never thinking of the amount of time it will take me to get there, as this always feels like a longer measure.
And after the marathon, 26.2 miles doesn’t seem anywhere near as big as it did at the start line…
I took up running when I was feeling at my lowest. I think without running, I may well have become an alcoholic in my late 20’s.
So, in my mid 20’s, I was a gym user, regularly running a 10K distance on the treadmill. Like many gym users though, the novelty and will-power became diluted over time, there always seemed to be lots of other things crowding my time, and the gym and running fell by the wayside. The running shoes sat in a cupboard, making me feel momentarily guilty every time I saw them, but not guilty enough to get them out and go for a run, because of course, you don’t need a gym and a treadmill to go for a run. But I didn’t put those shoes on again until my entire being needed it to drag myself up from the gutters.
I got married at 27, and less than 2 years later, was divorced. It hit me hard. I went back to live with my parents. I started to go out more with mates, watching games of football down the pub that I had no real interest in as an excuse for a few pints on a Monday night. I then decided I didn’t need any other excuse other than I’d had a taxing day at work and so deserved a bottle of wine. I’d sneak it into my room to drink, so my folks didn’t know.
My days were spent working hard and blocking out the thoughts. My nights were spent drinking to block out the thoughts. I was spiralling.
‘Divorce hit me hard at 29. I began drinking too much, too often. I took up running to try to stem the tide of negativity which was threatening to engulf my very soul. Running saved me.’
This pattern of working and drinking continued for some time. Then I caught myself in the mirror one night, and the guy that looked backed at me turned my inside cold and jolted me, shocking me painfully and suddenly out of my drunken state. My eyes were red, my skin bad, my face getting fatter. I decided there, and then, that I was going for a run the next day. I did. That night, for the first time in months, I didn’t have a drink. I didn’t have one the next night either. But I did run again.
Little did I think that those first runs after my separation would set me on a path that, only a few years later, would see me toe the line at my first 100-mile race. Read the story here.