Feet don’t fail me now, take me to the finish line

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On Sunday morning, following not quite 5 hours of sleep, I woke up and headed to Bath for the Bath Half Marathon. I was incredibly nervous. This was my first ever half marathon and I hadn’t quite hit the distance in training. This was also the biggest race I’ve ever been part of. Sticking to 5ks, 5-milers and 10ks means I’ve never been part of a pack of 15,000 and I’m somewhat claustrophobic. Getting there early meant I was at the front of the final starting pen and had some breathing space for the hour pre-race. The only time the crowds really affected me was on the occasions where I looked back and saw the tide of people behind me, and then feeding back through into the runner’s village to collect medals at the very end. It’s safe to say that I prefer smaller races for my comfort levels but I’m also absolutely sure I wouldn’t have made it to the end had it not been for the crowd support.

12814144_10154063272878307_2090980128523154213_nIt was about 10 degrees and bright sunshine for the duration of the whole race. This isn’t hot weather by any means – it’s actually probably as close to my favoured running conditions as it’s possible to be, but it was decidedly more pleasant than I had been counting on in mid-March. My chest, upper arms and forehead are all showing a touch of sunburn (the perils of being ghostly pale) and plenty of people around the course were commiserating about being warmer than expected. The ultimate way to send my mind spinning off into meltdown? Diverge from my best laid plans.

During last summer’s heatwave in London, I ran 5km on the hottest day of the year when the temperatures hit 36C. I’m not averse to heat. But I wasn’t planning on it, and I’ve just trained through a long rainy winter. I drink a lot of water anyway – a lifetime of migraines has made me live in fear of dehydration – and I don’t even think about water for anything less than a 10km. Even for longer runs, I pop my credit card in my shorts pocket and get a drink if and when I feel I need it. On Sunday, I was unreasonably panicked by how hot I felt after only 3km, a mix of nerves and the glorious weather and at the first water station I practically inhaled a bottle of water I didn’t really need. Rookie error. I knew that. Shortly after the 6km mark, I was sick. Having never had much grace or dignity to start with, my main concern was that if I was seen, someone would tell me I had to stop running.

I picked myself up, cut my pace right down and trudged on. Around the 8km mark, my left hip flexor started to niggle. It’s been playing up a little bit on my longer runs recently but I’ve never known it to hurt so early on before, definitely something I need to address sooner rather than later. I suspect post-sickness my form was really suffering which probably didn’t help matters. By the end of race, picking my left leg up was agony and as soon as I crossed the finish line, I suddenly discovered I could barely walk. Funny what the body forces itself through when it knows it “has” to. It did make 2/3 of the race extremely uncomfortable and I didn’t really need any extra misery!

My 10km time was 1:15:03. I knew then just what dire straits I was in. Even on my long slow runs, I hit 10km at just under the hour mark. Not even halfway through and mentally I was just beaten. From there on, it was only about the very possibility of finishing. Any plans for a time were long destroyed and there was no hope of recovering. I really started to worry that I wouldn’t make it through the race.

At 12km, not long after starting the second loop of Bath, I spotted my friends in the crowd. Slightly over halfway through the worst run of my life, there’s a tiny blip in my Garmin data, where my pace suddenly and briefly hits 4:13/km as I sprinted across the course to high-five them both. The second loop was hard, I ran/walked the entire way. At 18km, I was sick again, I think probably just from exhaustion at that point. At 19km, I sat down at the side of the road and cried for a bit. At that moment, with only 2km left to run, it seemed so impossible that I would actually finish. I dragged my feet, alternating running and walking in about 300m bursts, I didn’t have enough left to manage anything more. As I rounded the corner on to Great Pulteney Street and saw the finish line, my pace climbed and climbed again. I saw my parents in the crowd, I spotted my friends slightly further along the straight and I ran.

After collecting my medal and finisher’s shirt, I phoned my parents and genuinely cried down the phone like a lost child as I tried to find my way back to the Abbey to meet them. I was really truly broken. Yet more proof that I can’t cope with exhaustion.

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Sprinting for the finish (out of sheer relief)

My chip time ended up being 2:38:34, a good 30 minutes slower than I had expected/hoped for. A lot of weaving about meant that I covered more additional distance than I usually manage over the course of a race and the Garmin clocked me hitting half marathon distance at 2:36:18. Either way, the whole thing was a hard knock. As I joked (not at all joking) to several friends yesterday, why be proud of what you’ve achieved when there’s the opportunity to relentlessly punish yourself for not being better? I’ve written before that this is a constant issue in my running (and life), and the worse the day, the harsher I am.

Cdc51bmWoAQkPYOThe key here is that I still ran it. Whilst it wasn’t a good time, it’s a bloody good time considering that it involves stopping to be sick twice, sitting down to cry, and running 15km of it on empty – no fuel, minimal hydration. If I can manage that, I should have no problems running the distance on a better day.

So. Bath was a bad race. They happen; the fact that it was my first half is sad, but they happen. I have 8 weeks until Run Hackney (with a 10km between now and then). Training for a half, from a half, should (theoretically) be reasonably straightforward. I know I can cover that distance now, even when I feel awful. I’ll be factoring in some glute strengthening to try and sort out this hip issue. Lighter, warmer evenings should result in a more positive attitude to training. At Hackney, I’ll be crossing the line in the time I know I’m capable of.

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Medal #2 of 2016

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The floors are falling out from everybody I know

This morning, I was sat at my desk when the phone rang from a meeting room downstairs. It was the head of our HR team, asking me to pop down. When I got there, I was quickly dismissed. I was still in my probationary period and it has been decided that the role and I are a bad fit. The wording in my explanatory letter is that I don’t exhibit “essential qualities for the role to the extent required”. Or something equally woolly sounding. The most blindsided I have ever felt. At my one month review, everything seemed fine and targets were set for me to work towards by the end of my 6 months probation. Certainly, at no point was I warned that I needed to be doing things so differently that my job was in danger.

4 weeks pay in lieu of notice. HR collected my bag and coat. I was walked out the office without saying goodbye to anyone. That’s that.

I don’t really object to the reasoning. Some matches are wrong. Employee and employer don’t always fit together in terms of culture and this was a total 180 from my previous firms. I do object to the lack of warning. Nothing mentioned was so significant that it couldn’t easily have been remedied if I had actually been made aware of a problem. But oh well, worse things happen at sea. So I’m told.

So what now? I’ve decamped to my parents’ house, for a few days at least. I’ve been in touch with recruiters straight away and the market for what I do seems buoyant. I now have the chance to reassess what I truly want out of my life. It was only very recently that I was wondering if any of this was right for me. The last few days before the Bath Half are now full of rest, of my mother’s cooking, of short runs in the sunshine. I’m reading Rod Junkins’ The Art of Creative Thinking and finally planning some time to invest in personal projects I’ve been talking about for years.

Out of all this, there has been serious positivity. In the most dire of circumstances, there was no panic attack. I sat through the meeting without breaking down. I scratched my arms in a desperate attempt to keep control while waiting for my possessions to be brought down, but recovered and a few hours later there’s no damage to be seen. I left the office, called my parents and walked back to Waterloo. I text and called various friends to try and keep calm; thank you to everyone who rallied in the middle of their working days. Throughout it, I stayed reasonably calm. The panic and the tears were there, looming, but for once they were shut behind a door. The best text in response, “to be honest, you should have quit last week the second you didn’t get the bacon roll you were promised”. I laughed.

It’s February again, we must get older

It’s time for the month in review! What’s been going on inside my head and where have my feet been taking me this month?

The month began on a serious high with my Time To Talk post going the smalltime blogger version of viral. I was asked in advance by the event director at Southwark parkrun if I had anything suitable for them to share as part of the day. I didn’t, but they’re good people so I wrote a piece on how parkrun has been more than just running to me. It ended up being retweeted a ridiculous number of times and being shared by so many parkruns, by parkrunners and by the founder, Paul Sinton-Hewitt. A bizarre day of people sending screenshots of my face as it popped up in their Facebook feeds via parkruns across the country.

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Sporting my parkrun performance shirt. A ginger in apricot. Bold.

That post has now been viewed well over 5000 times, in over 40 countries. Thank you to all who supported, shared and talked about mental health on that day. You know how much the cause means to me and to have had even the tiniest impact was fantastic. The blog will probably never reach such lofty heights again!

Running has been a mixed bag. Again, the month started well. I managed a couple of post-work 5 milers, as opposed to my usual 5km. I’m slowly trying to up my overall mileage and it’s reassuring to have broken the mental block I had of doing more than 5km on a school night. This will seem such a tiny breakthrough to so many of you but my running is plagued with arbitrary and nonsensical negative mental blocks of my own forming and it’s taking a lot of resolve to dismantle them.

The first weekend in February I once again smashed my longest run, taking the distance to 17.1km/10.6 miles. With 5 weeks to go until Bath Half, this was hugely reassuring. Thank you to everyone at #ukrunchat that evening who confirmed that yes, that was indeed completely on track when I was having a wobble! The other bonus of that run was my pacing was almost spot on; a little slower than usual but that led to consistency with a couple of (actually very small) blips that I think correlate to where I paused to stretch my niggling calves.

But then came the dreaded lurgy. Classic February cold/flu/misery had been doing the rounds at the office and I finally succumbed in the second week of February. Coincidentally, also set up to be the toughest week I’ve had at this job yet. Life, oh life.  A week of feeling terrible both physically and mentally and not being able to run at all, so once again a month where my mileage is nowhere near as high as I had hoped. I’ve actually only run about 50km all month which is appalling. I’m frustrated but I know how dangerous for my emotional resilience it is to push myself too hard. A lot of rest, a lot of cups of tea and watching Netflix in leggings and ratty old jumpers, a lot of envying everyone talking about their running. I attempted a long slow run exactly one week after having run 17km. I made it through 3km with legs and a stomach feeling like lead, went home and was promptly sick. Another attempt at 5km in the week was cut short at around the 3km mark again with burning lungs. Super disheartening.

The following weekend I made it out for my long run with minimal confidence after almost 2 weeks off. I put myself through 16km, although with a few short walks thrown in there (at 3km, 10km, 14km). I’ve already written about how negative I felt after that run. I’m trying to be objective about it and be a lot kinder to myself. I was on course to be only about 2-3 minutes slower than my 17km run 2 weeks earlier. Considering that there was a good 5+ minutes of walking involved, I was just coming back from illness, I’d had some time off and it was horrendously windy out there, that’s not at all bad going. Pain and Panic are whispering that I’m making excuses but they can hush. I ran 16km when I wasn’t at my best, having expected to struggle to hit 10km, and I didn’t run them that badly. I didn’t run them anywhere near as well as I would have liked but you can’t always get what you want.

Given the setback of illness, I now won’t run the full half marathon distance until race day but I’ve now comfortably hit 15km+ on several occasions in the past 6 weeks without any real ill effect and I think I could probably have kept going. I think the adrenaline and atmosphere on the day will carry me through without too much fuss. It’s “less than a parkrun” (a well-established unit of distance!) to be added on my longest run and that’s not too terrifying. I’ve just hit the initial fundraising target I set when I signed up for Bath but as I’ve now planned an entire year of running for Mind, I’m hoping to absolutely smash that amount. Anyone feeling kind and inclined to donate, you can do so here and it means the world to me.

I went back to work and had a panicked couple of days trying to progress various matters before putting the out of office on and heading to Iceland.

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Iceland was like Narnia

This actually prompted the biggest meltdown of the month, a severe 2 hour panic attack the night before my holiday and the first serious one I’ve had in a while. I can’t explain the terror that I experience knowing that emails are flooding into my inbox and not being able to deal with them. Holidays are more stress than they’re worth really. Anyway, Iceland. The highlight of my month and you can read about it in a lot more detail here. After recently wondering where I’m going in life, I’ve realised that maybe this is where I’m supposed to be right now, booking holidays on a near-whim with one of my best friends. Now we are home and I am planning our trip to Japan next year.

This morning I turned my work phone back on to be greeted with over 300 emails. I was only out the office for 3 days…A moment of inner panic, a couple of whiny messages to people, a tube journey spent sifting through the noise. By the time I stepped into the office, I knew where I stood, a huge number of emails had been deleted, more had been filed and I could start prioritising the relatively few that required any level of attention. That’s real progress. Once that scenario would have resulted in so much panic that I wouldn’t have made it to the office.

I’d hoped to pick the running back up tonight but leaving at gone 7pm and having to be back in for 7.30am is making that seem unlikely. Law is all kinds of fun.

That’s February done. On we march to March. In 2 days, I will be 27. In 13 days, I will be running my first half marathon for Mind. Work is set to be very busy (when is it not?). I have two incredibly exciting projects relating to this blog that I’m hoping to announce soon, I’m just waiting for confirmation on some details. It’s going to be a big month.

Are you satisfied with an average life?

I’m having a quarter-life crisis. Again. We shouldn’t worry, I’ve been having a quarter-life crisis approximately every 6 months for the past 5 years. This is not a symptom of anxiety, this is exacerbated by anxiety. Important distinction there – the way I feel is legitimate, the extremes I feel it to is not.

These crises are triggered by any milestones in life, personal or annual. At the moment, I’m not long into a new job, Valentine’s Day has just passed, and I’m about to turn 27. Triple whammy. All these things make me evaluate where I am with my life. I don’t think I’m where I want to be but at the same time, I’m not sure where it is that I want to be so I can’t plan how to get there.

I’m a Senior Business Development Executive at a law firm. This broadly means that I support lawyers in winning new business as well as advising them on how to maintain and strengthen their client relationships. I can’t pretend this is what I’ve dreamt of doing all my life. I’m good at it and I’ve progressed quickly but is this the dream? Shouldn’t there be something…more? Possibly not. I’m not a special snowflake and probably need to find happiness in mediocrity. It’s not that I had particularly grand aspirations. It’s that I’m 26 years old and I still have no ideas about what to be when I grow up.

I had vague aspirations to write. I suppose this counts to some extent. If you want to be a writer, write. My job involves writing (although arguably I did not mean that I wanted to write about why the firm I work for should be selected to give property law advice) and I like that. I’m not quite ignoring that dream, I’m just not realising it either.

Friends are settling into careers rather than jobs. Getting married. Having babies. I have a job I’m not entirely certain about and the rest of my life is equally fluid. I could jack it all in tomorrow and run away to Mexico if the whim struck me. There are days when I love that freedom and days when I despise the lack of things anchoring me while everyone else builds a life. It is of course foolish to compare yourself to others, the lives we portray are to an extent always curated. My ex used to complain that other couples didn’t have our problems. I used to point out that to other people, we didn’t have our problems. So yes, there are the days of desperately envying your gorgeous newborn children and wonderful relationships. But I also appreciate you’re up at 3am for a middle of the night feed while I’m either out dancing or fast asleep and in that instance, I’m happy with my lot.

It’s not wanting what other people have now, not really, it’s the crushing fear of not knowing what’s coming next. I’ve always had this impatient rampant perfectionism, a truly crushing need to be perfect and brilliant at everything and for that to be immediate. The better I naturally am at something, the greater the meltdown when I eventually (and inevitably) hit a challenge. I thought that running would temper the perfectionism. Old friends will confirm that I’m not a natural athlete, school was spent dodging PE lessons and I probably couldn’t run a mile until I was 25. An activity I would be forced to work at (and hard!) to improve was supposed to help me finally realise that not being brilliant immediately was fine, still worth it. I now don’t think too much of running 10 miles on a Sunday as part of my final efforts for Bath Half in March. Still, it all needs to be better and it needs to be now and that is unrealistic. Every bad run is, to me, a punishing failure.

There will always be bad days and they are frustrating and disheartening to everyone. Their effect on me is just too extreme. Today I ran 10 miles. I’ve barely run in 2 weeks (I think I racked up a grand total of about 6km in 14 days – my month in review post should be brief next week!) following a lingering bout of lurgy. Fitness is slightly down. Confidence is dented. I am still recovering. The conditions weren’t great with high winds on the coast so huge portions felt like a battle. I should be overwhelmingly pleased that I managed that distance. It was slow, a little painful but it’s more than I was really expecting to achieve given recent circumstances. But still, I came home and cried because it’s never enough and the more I achieve with my running, the harder it’s becoming for me to accept my current limitations. I need to be faster, to be running further, every bit of training needs to bring with it improvement.

That’s the worry. That nothing is ever enough for me. That I will never be satisfied because there’s always more out there. Most runners experience it to a degree, that need to take a few seconds more off each PB. To take your long run a mile further than ever before. I just don’t find much happiness from achieving those goals because there’s the immediate replacement with harder/better/faster/stronger. Then apply that to every single aspect of my life. If I could only learn to rein this way of thinking in, even the tiniest bit, it would probably flip and become one of my better qualities. There’s a lot of drive and a reasonable amount of ambition firing all this panic and it’s got me a lot of places in life.

It’s okay to feel a bit lost at 26, I know that. So what that I have a job that isn’t what I dreamt of and I now have a couple of very serious but catastrophically failed relationships behind me? So does almost everybody else. This isn’t full-blown panic, but it’s constant gnawing unease that is grating away and consuming a lot of my thoughts. There isn’t much to be done for it. Write more. Run more. Stop leaving jobs and purposefully destroying relationships because I’m worried they’re not quite right. Treat my friends better. Got to stop worrying about everything to the letter.

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

Parklife

[Written as part of Time to Talk Day, part of the anti-stigma campaign Time to Change, led by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness. As part of this, England Athletics have worked on #runandtalk, which seemed apt given the content of this blog. A friend from Southwark parkrun asked if I had anything suitable to share for the occasion. “No,” I said “But I’ll write something”]

One in four people will experience a mental health problem this year. Four in four people have mental health. Just like physical health, we all vary in how “well” we are and that wellness varies dependent on more factors than I can list. Sometimes you’re the picture of health. Sometimes you feel fine but problems are lurking, the mental equivalent of bad cholesterol. Sometimes you’re aware of a niggle, the emotional version of a bad knee or a slight cold. Once in a while, the devastating life changing illness or injury comes along. That’s exactly like a physical devastating life changing illness or injury except nobody can see it and nobody offers tests or scans that prove “You’re Sick”.

I’ve spent most of the past 10 years with a mixture of anxiety and depression, dancing back and forth over the line of niggly problems and devastating illness. Just as it improves physical fitness, running has done wonders for my mental health. We don’t wait to need a filling before we head to the dentist (not strictly true, I do); we shouldn’t wait for a problem before considering our mental health. So this post is for the four in four.

At 9am on a Saturday, in various parks, you will find hundreds of people running a 5km course. Across the country this number adds up to several tens of thousands. Welcome to parkrun. Your Saturday mornings just changed forever.

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The view from Lee on Solent parkrun

For the uninitiated, parkrun is a free, weekly, timed 5km run that happens at venues primarily in the UK but across the globe. All you need is a pair of trainers, to sign up on a website and print off a barcode that’s used to help determine your time. No further cost, no need for fancy gear. It’s a phenomenon and those of us who participate regularly can verge on evangelical about it. For the four in four, here are ways that parkrun has contributed to improving my mental health:

Exercise

The benefits of exercise to your mental health are well publicised, although nobody seems quite sure of the exact science behind it. When I first began running, I lost a little weight although I didn’t have much that I needed to lose. It improved my posture. It forced me to reassess my diet. I drank more water. I drank less alcohol and caffeine. I started sleeping better. My skin, hair and nails suddenly all looked healthier. It was the first step in completely overhauling my physical health and that has impacted on my mental health in an extreme way.

The key thing that exercise has granted me however, is confidence. As a 26 year old woman, I finally really like my body. That’s sadly, quite unusual. I’ve slimmed down and I eat whatever I like without (much) guilt. I have legs that are now strong enough to carry me for 10 miles at a reasonable speed and they’re about to make it to 13.1 miles. The best thing of all is seeing photos both during and after any run. My hair will be scraped back, I’ll be devoid of makeup, I’ll be exhausted, I’ll be decked head to toe in clashing neon. Despite all of that, I think some of these photos are the absolute best photos taken of me because it’s when you really see pure bright-eyed happiness in my face.

Sense of purpose

This came in two stages. First, the ability to run 5km. I could (just about) do this when I started attending parkrun but it was a bit of a struggle. Being able to run the full 5km without stopping was a massive achievement, as it is for a huge number of parkrunners. Parkrun is not just for “runners”, it’s for everyone. Sure, some people go sprinting round the course in an agonisingly fast time but there also plenty of people who walk/run it.

Once I could run that 5km, then came the relentless quest for PBs (personal bests). At the end of each parkrun, you receive a text with your timed result. Here begins a maddening relationship of trying to improve your PB. Every week you wait for that text; some weeks it disappoints you, some weeks it elates you. If it elates you, then you just try to beat it again the following week. It’s strangely futile because although you’re incredibly happy, you’re never quite happy enough. There’s always a new goal in mind, the next barrier to break through.

It’s interesting that no matter my lack of motivation or enthusiasm in other aspects of my life, the drive to be a better runner doesn’t fade. I don’t necessarily always back it up with the motivation to train enough to get there but the goal remains. Sometimes the only thing in my life I’m striving towards is a new PB. But that’s something at least. It’s a spark in the darkness.

 Community

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The start line at Southwark parkrun

Loneliness is a routine issue that’s brought up in connection with mental illness. It’s isolating. Loneliness extends well beyond that of course; to the old – as we all know from John Lewis’ Christmas advert in conjunction with Age UK, to parents who feel their life now revolves solely around their child, to young people surrounded by friends in the greatest cities on Earth. I never felt so lonely as when I moved to London. Strange, to feel alone with 8 million people around you.

The parkrun community is a) massive, b) wide ranging and c) welcoming. Constantly on the lookout for new participants, each parkrun begins with a new runner briefing where all new runners to that course have the concept and the route explained to them. No shame here in being the new kid. There is also no one demographic to parkrun. Children run it with their parents (and indeed it has proven so popular that there are number of junior parkruns springing up), parents run it pushing buggies with sleeping babies inside, the young and old alike run it. From people embarking on their first runs, to those who have run ultramarathons, they all flock to parkrun and that’s part of what makes it so great. Wherever you are in the pack, you’ll be cheered over the line. Fellow runners offer their support and advice. Eventually (and surprisingly quickly) you make friends. Recently, when some drama in my personal life made me nervous and reluctant to attend, it was that community who supported me and coaxed me back.

The community is such that no matter where I am in the country, I can turn up at the local parkrun and be welcomed readily as a parkrun “tourist”. I seem to pack my running shoes no matter where I am for the weekend and end up chatting to strangers about running and the other parkruns I’ve attended.

It’s also very easy to be involved through Twitter and Facebook. So many individual parkruns now engage through social media that there’s an extra layer of participation. Even outside the hour on Saturday mornings, the connection to the various parkruns I attend lingers on throughout the week because I continue talking to the people involved and the organisers. I see photos of friends and people I recognise, I see increasingly brilliant statistics about the number of participants and volunteers and PBs set that week. It’s a little like a club, that will have anyone as a member and that I’m incredibly proud to be part of.

Routine

There’s a lot to be said for routine, it brings some structure when perhaps the rest of your life feels like it’s crumbling away and being swallowed by a sinkhole. Personally, I am not a morning person and so really, parkrun is a fresh type of hell. Being somewhere by 9am? On a Saturday? Madness. Most weeks see me complaining about how early it is, especially on the weeks when I volunteer and I have to be there even earlier. As I pointed out in my most recent tweet on the subject, I actually get up earlier to volunteer at parkrun than I do for work. Arguably that’s because I have a dreamy commute but hush.

When ballerinas pirouette, they focus on a fixed point to fend off dizziness. That’s what parkrun has become to me, my fixed point and my anchor. No matter how bad work is going, no matter how much I’ve dreaded social commitments, no matter the other things falling apart, I know that 9am on a Saturday is there. The worst case scenario is that I have to get through 6 days until then. It’s amazing how much that can help, knowing there’s a glimmer of positivity on the horizon.

What’s more is that there is so much Saturday left afterwards. Did you know Saturday existed before midday? I didn’t. A day that was often previously lost to feeling sorry for myself is now wide open because I’m awake and I’ve conquered the hard part of getting out of bed and then out of the house.

Volunteering

It’s easy to feel like a burden when you struggle with mental health. People tiptoe around you. You screw up a lot. It gets tiring. You offer very little back to anyone in return. I know in my heart that I’m one of the most loving, supportive people available to the people I truly adore, I really am. It doesn’t stop me feeling like a leech every time I ask for help.

Parkrun is organised by volunteers, that’s one of the ways that it remains free. Every week, people drag themselves out of their warm beds to shiver on part of the course wearing hi-vis. Hi-vis is cool. Thank the volunteers when you run past them because they have no chance of a PB that week and a tiny bit of them is dying inside. Also they’re wearing hi-vis and it looks really stupid.

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Hi-vis is cool; I look exceptionally glamorous in it & I will not be told otherwise.

Without the volunteers, parkrun couldn’t happen and all things considered, it really is a staggering effort that is put in by people up and down the country to put on these events every single week, come rain or shine.

The idea is that for every five or so parkruns you participate in, you volunteer for one, giving back to the community that you’re now part of. There’s a wide range of roles available, from marshalling, to handing out finish tokens, to acting as a tail runner making sure there’s no man left behind. I do genuinely believe I get as much, if not more enjoyment out of volunteering as I do running. I have made friends through it but most importantly for me, I get a sense of self-worth. I know that parkrun needs my efforts to exist and seeing the huge amount of enjoyment it provides to literally hundreds of people running past me results in so much satisfaction.

After a long week of feeling useless, I can stand about on a drizzly Saturday morning and know that in that moment, I’m doing something on behalf of 300 other people. That has to make you feel a little better about yourself.

I’m sure there are more ways that parkrun has helped me feel “normal” again but I could lovingly ramble on forever. I encourage anyone, from any walk of life to attend your local parkrun which you can find here. I’ve never come across anything so welcoming and that provides so much benefit to so many people. Anyone in south/central London who would like to attend but is nervous about trying something new, give me a shout and I’m more than happy to come along with you some Saturday morning, I’m a very friendly creature and not all that fast so I’m the ideal running mate for newbies.

With thanks to all the parkruns who have hosted me, but mostly to Lee on the Solent, Wimbledon and finally Southwark, for providing inspiration. The nicest bunch of people you’d ever want to meet.

Links:

Time To Change: http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/

Mind: http://www.mind.org.uk/

Rethink Mental Illness: https://www.rethink.org/

Parkrun: http://www.parkrun.org.uk/

Southwark Parkrun on Facebook and Twitter

Wimbledon Parkrun on Facebook and Twitter

Lee on the Solent Parkrun on Facebook and Twitter