In January 2018 I signed up to run the Bristol half marathon. I had never run further than 10k before and at just over 5ft, I wouldn’t say I had a natural runner’s physique!
I knew 13.1 miles was going to be a big challenge for me, but with my clear goal of raising money and awareness for mental health behind me, I knew my passion and determination would drive me to complete this.
So my plan was:
Saturday 3rd February 2018 was my first training run. I created a plan to organise my sessions averaging around four sessions a week focusing on interval training for the first four months to build my speed up.
Training was going great, I was really enjoying it, I could feel myself getting fitter and sessions becoming easier. My biggest challenge was the 5:45am alarm and the beast from the east! (Though trust me, I’d take the snow over the scorching highs of this summer any day!)
The morning of the 10k came and I was ready. It was blimmin’ hot but I had done my training and I was excited to give it my all. I got to the start line and with that, I ran.
I hit 6km in under half an hour and I felt like I was going to pass out. But I powered on and reached my goal. Coming in at 50minutes 50seconds I’d hit just over two and a half minutes off last year’s time. I was pleased, but I didn’t enjoy that race one bit – maybe my worst run to date? Over the next two weeks my feet paid the price, I was unable to run due to some very ugly blisters.
Once my feet had recovered my training adapted to suit my next focus, slowing my pace to increase my distance. My weekly mileage increased to around 20 miles a week as my runs started to become longer. But this training was short lived.
(Completely sober I may add) I was walking home from the bus! At the time I was more embarrassed than anything. It bloody hurt and looked unsightly, but I thought little of it until my next run. I would’ve never guessed I would be spending the next six weeks with my knee strapped up having intense physio with five weeks out of my running programme.
I was devastated. How could something so trivial cause so much damage?
The next few weeks were a rollercoaster of emotions. I had to come to terms with losing sight of my goal of a sub-two-hour half and accept my ability was now different. I attended regular physio sessions where I was advised to stop running and rest. This killed me. I had worked so hard and already raised so much money. I felt like I was letting everybody down. There was no way I was not completing the half marathon, even if I had to walk parts of it.
After two weeks of rest I started experimenting with what my knee would allow me to do. I found running and spinning were ‘no-go’s’, but the cross trainer was actually manageable. So off I went, completing my training plan of sessions of up to 11 miles, facing a white wall watching Coronation Street, on a cross-trainer. Using a cross trainer varies quite a bit to running in all weathers on uneven surfaces around Bristol. But still it was something. And it kept me focused.
With five weeks to go until the half, I was back on the treadmill. Slower paced, strapped up and completing distance in intervals; but I was back running.
Over the next few weeks I worked on my fitness and managed to get back up to 11 miles at a sub-two-hour pace. I was over the moon. Although there was progress still to make, this was telling me I could do it.
I was terrified, why on earth had I signed myself up for this? I hadn’t run outside for three months and had only been back running for just over one. The morning came and the conditions were awful. I’d been worrying about a sweltering half, it was freezing cold and pelting with rain. I was dreading it and couldn’t wait for it to be over.
As soon as I got across that start line and I started running I can honestly say that I had the best run I have ever had. In some miraculous way it all came together.
I was about 100m from the finish line, I could hear my family cheering me on along with a sea of unknown spectators. I crossed the finish line and I had done it. I had ran 13.1 miles and it felt fantastic. I came to a halt as I joined a queue of ‘fresh through the finish line’ runners to collect our medals and t-shirts. I started to notice my body was painful, my calves were tight and achy already. I wanted to cry. But in this sea of people I didn’t recognise anyone, so I made my way to find some space.
All that I had been working towards, the reason I was running the half, my uncle, all my hard work, early mornings, injuries, blog posts, had come to a head.
The challenge was complete and I was in a daze. I felt tired and sick but was ecstatic I had run 13.1 miles. I was amazed I had raised so much money and awareness and I was overwhelmed by the support I received.
I want to say a massive thank you to everyone who has supported me in this journey. To those who have put up with my lack of sleep, moaning, tears, injuries, you name it, I’ve had it. Those who were there on the day and at the finish line, who have shared my story and donated to Freedom of Mind.
These past eight months have been very challenging, both mentally and physically. I have had so many fantastic conversations around the topic of mental health which may never have been approached otherwise. I’m super proud to have raised more than double my target £500 and smash my personal goal of a sub two hour half coming in at 1 hour 50 minutes 16 seconds. Making it all worth it.
With her fundraiser closing on Friday, Emily has currently raised a total of £1,129.00 to help destigmatize mental health. There is still time to donate to her. Just follow this link.
Exercise releases endorphins.
Endorphin [noun] ‘Any of a group of hormones secreted within the brain and nervous system and having a number of physiological functions. They are peptides which activate the body’s opiate receptors, causing an analgesic effect.’ (Oxford Dictionaries | English, 2018)
Endorphins make you happy. They can have a similar effect as morphine, reducing your perception of pain; however, unlike morphine, you cannot become dependent on endorphins. Nor can you become addicted.
So why do we repeat the activities that become tiresome and draining? That are painful and impossible?
I am a rollercoaster of countless attempts at becoming what I desire to be. Sometimes achieving, sometimes failing, but forever aiming to reach my goals. I am a creature of habit, but yet again, aren’t we all? It doesn’t take much for me to be absorbed into the Instagram fantasy of ‘Women’s Health’ dreams. But nevertheless, a downward spiral of regret and hate which always follows an off track few days, is never far away.
Recently I have experienced a new challenge which has physically prevented me from training: injury.
Even though the injury is a very physical prevention, the mental hurdles which follow are just as challenging. I have been unable to maintain my half marathon training plan and haven’t ran any distance in over a month. This challenge has come at the worst time, just two months before I run to raise money and awareness for something so close to my heart. It’s been a challenging five weeks experiencing emotions of anger, sadness and frustration. I am still angry at myself, but I accept. Acceptance has come from moving the goalposts. My original idea of success was completing the distance in a certain time. After understanding healing takes time and is out of my control, I know this is no longer a reachable goal for me.
I have come to learn what my ‘triggers’ are which lead to my view of personal failure. I work well with routine. If I know I have time to exercise, or what I will be eating the next day, this often leaves little room for distraction. However, left to my own devices my decisions can lead to those I will later regret. I have become accustomed to ‘self-help’ mechanisms I have adapted into my life to help me stay on track. I record my food in ‘my fitness pal’ app to keep an eye on what I consume, I wear a Fitbit to log my exercise and no longer take my purse to work to prevent the 3pm binge. I find having a plan and an understanding of what my body and mind needs helps manage my motivation.
I am a tried and tested prototype of the affects activity and diet can have on the way you are and your outlook on every aspect in your life. I not only despise the way I look and feel when I don’t have my diet and activity levels in my control, but I feel I lose myself. I no longer enjoy the things I enjoy. I lack motivation and a sense of care or purpose. I spend my days wishing for the new start to come the following morning. As soon as that day is ‘broken’ and I’ve failed my eating or exercise goals, I’m wishing for my next clean slate. The days become weeks and weeks, months. I no longer enjoy, I don’t see the good in all. I don’t appreciate.
I am a loving, caring person who sees the good in everything. I embrace my day and look forward to things. I enjoy the moment, not wishing for another chance to come. I take pleasure in my accomplishments and am proud of who I am.
The morale of the story is simple. I sound like a drink awareness advert mixed with a theory PE lesson. Eat and drink responsibly and move as much as you can. But putting this into practice can be the challenging part.
It is the challenging part.
For me, I know my way to a better, more positive, metal place. Balance. My life needs balance. Without balance I lose purpose and without purpose, I am not me.
Support Emily with her run in order to raise money for Freedom of Mind here: https://www.goldengiving.com/fundraising/bristolhalfmarathonforfreedomofmind
If you have something you want to say about mental health send us a pitch to firstname.lastname@example.org
Keep your pitches to less than 150 words and tell us what content you want to make and why you want to make it. It can be anything, from a poem, to an article, to a video, to a piece of artwork – we’re just after stories to tell. We can keep things anonymous if you’d like and we’ll help you to edit your piece then get it up on the blog.
Hi I’m Emily, I’m 25 and I will be running the Bristol Half Marathon in September 2018 for the Bristol based mental health and wellbeing festival Freedom of Mind.
I have taken on this challenge as I want to raise awareness and encourage conversation around our mental health, as well as raising much needed funding for an incredible project that does so much good in our community. One of the most powerful things that captured me when I began working with Freedom of Mind, was recognising that ‘we all have a mental health.’ In the UK one in four of us struggle with our mental health at some point during our lifetimes and I’m working with Freedom of Mind to encourage discussion and bring mental health out of the dark.
Tragically he took his own life, leaving behind a devastated family who loved him unconditionally. One of my last conversations with him was around my new found love of running. Andy was such an outdoorsy man and loved nothing more than a bike ride, a run or a kick about in the park and so I will run 13.1 miles in his memory in the hope of making the topic of mental health and wellbeing a day-to-day conversation for us all.
Even though there has been lots of positive change towards removing the stigma attached to mental health, it still exists. Freedom of Mind are doing some amazing work in our community to bring about this change, and every year they host a festival across Bristol encouraging people to talk more and learn about wellbeing. However, they need support to continue.
I started training on 3rd of February with a 10k run – my first run since losing Andy in August 2017! This run went well but I’m under no illusions of how tough my training journey is going to be over the coming months as I look to extend my distance.
So please get sharing and donate what you can so I can keep motivated and my training plan on track, and I promise I’ll keep you posted on my progress throughout!
Together we can encourage conversations, educate each other and make a change to how mental health is perceived and supported in our community.
Freedom of Mind would like to thank Emily and her family for the support they are giving us through this. Every penny raised really makes a huge difference and helps us to run Freedom of Mind even better.