#WhyWeRun (or why I’m running a half marathon)

#WhyWeRun (or why I’m running a half marathon)

As the months, weeks and days have been ticking down to my first half marathon, the Great North Run, I’ve been meaning to put down in words my thoughts about it (other than “holy crap what am I doing?”) and what it means to me. Only now it’s THIS WEEKEND I really had better get my skates on… or should that be trainers?

As if to give me a final kick up the arse, a handy reminder came in the shape of a tweet from Run England asking people to share the reasons why they run (check out the #WhyWeRun hashtag for more info).

So here’s why I run, and more specifically why I want to do something silly like running a half marathon…

The physical challenge

I am not a natural long distance runner. At school I could run a fast 200m (still can) but any more than that, even at slower speeds, would have my asthmatic lungs out of puff. I was most likely found lingering at the back of the field during cross country, or waving a faked sick note when it came to any other sports.

So running is not something I’m naturally good at. And when I started out training for my first 5k back in 2012, the perfectionist in me hated that. Why could I not run gazelle-like with speed and ease the way I imagined in my head? Why could I not run for more than five minutes without feeling like my lungs wanted to escape my body?! Why was I not Paula-bloody-Radcliffe already, goddammit!?!

But despite my body’s limitations, and by putting in the miles, it’s something I’ve got better at and being able to see that progress – no matter how tiny it might be – is pretty sweet.

If I can manage to make it around 13.1 miles it will be the longest distance I’ve ever ran (current max is 11 miles) and I will be beyond proud.

The mental challenge

Because I wasn’t very good at sports, I thought I just wasn’t very good at anything physical. So for the longest time I didn’t even bother trying. Turns out it was a load of self-defeating bollocks.

The biggest barrier to lacing up my trainers and getting out has been my SELF. I know that if I don’t believe I can run a certain distance, get under a certain speed or achieve a personal best then I might as well run backwards, blindfolded, in the opposite direction.

Running has helped me believe in myself and that I can achieve things I never thought possible. So there.

The headspace

Running is more than just a physical exercise for me, it’s become a kind of therapy.

Obviously, running is innately physical, but it also uses a lot of mental energy and awareness. By running for over three years (and doing lots of yoga) I’ve felt the connection between my body and mind get stronger. I know myself a lot better these days, I understand what my mind, my body, my life does and doesn’t need; when to push forward and when to let go.

Running is also often the only time in the day I get to truly be alone with my thoughts. A run is the best thing to clear my head or work through a problem I’m having without any interruptions.

For a good cause

There’s nothing quite like accountability to make you get out the door, and what better reason to show up than to help others?

In previous years I’ve run for a number of charities, but this year I’ve chosen to run the half marathon to raise money for the mental health charity Mind.

I’ve lived with or around mental illness for a large part of my life, making each of these 13.1 miles extremely personal to me. It’s not always the easiest thing to talk about, unfortunately there is still a big stigma and shame around mental health – despite the fact that it is something that affects 1 in 4 of us every year.

But the fact that it is so common, that many people I care about have been affected by it and that it is often so hard to get the help that is needed to overcome or live with these issues makes me want to talk about it, to start that conversation, and to help an organisation that exists to provide the support and a voice for people who are experiencing mental health issues right now.

Here’s a little video about what they do and why others run for them…

A personal achievement

Most of all, I am running for myself. This feels ever so slightly self-indulgent but also kind of great cause it’s not a day I ever imagined I’d see.

When I was ill, I was literally hopeless; devoid of any hope that things would get better. If someone had told me that doing exercise would actually be good for my mental health and wasn’t just a way to lose weight or to punish myself, I’d probably have laughed in their face.

But running, among other things, saved me from a life of hating myself and reducing my body to a collection of parts; a punchbag for everything I was feeling (or not feeling, as was often the case).

Weirdly, doing something physical actually helped me get inside my head and gave me the space to sort shit out. It wasn’t a magic bullet, there was no overnight success – in fact it’s taken years – and it wasn’t even a conscious thing that I would do X and Y would happen. I just wanted to do something for charity and get a bit fitter in the process.

But slowly, slowly I’ve learnt to appreciate my body for all the cool stuff it can do rather than focusing on how it doesn’t measure up. I learnt that there was a whole world to be explored, things to see, people to love. And I also learnt how to cope with the things life throws at me in a fairly healthy way.

And I for one think that’s something worth celebrating.

So if you’re watching the Great North Run this Sunday, send me – and the 56,999 other participants all running for their own good reasons – a few positive thoughts.

Or you know, maybe slip on some trainers and go for a run yourself.

You never know where you might end up.

Are you a runner? I’d love to know why you run. You can let me know in the comments below.