As well as sending me into a silent panic about how quickly time seems to be passing now I’m a proper grown-up, this information also got me thinking about why I started running all those years ago.
The simple answer is heartache (yep, time to get your violins out people). When I first started ‘proper’ running, rather than just the odd 15 minute tootle round the park, it was during a messy on/off relationship, where my emotional energy and self esteem were dipping, and I suddenly found myself craving an outlet for all my ~feelings~ (really, there was only so long I could wang on at my poor flatmates).
Running became a means to channel my feelings – whether it was anger, stress or just plain ‘waaaah I’m sad’ – into something physical and productive. It sounds weird, but I felt that I could almost fuel myself on the energy of my emotions, like each chunk of heartache was a coal I chucked on the fire, making me run further and faster than I ever imagined I could.
Running was also a means of proving my strength to myself. When relationships get messy, it can really knock your confidence, which is where the endorphin boost comes in mighty handy. The little sense of achievement at the end of every run, plus the greater glory at reaching bigger goals (a 5k, a 10k, a half marathon), reminds you that actually, you’re just fine thank you. Curating a break-up running playlist featuring Alaina Morrisette You Oughta Know and Beyoncé’s Irreplaceable helps too.
Now, whenever a friend is going through the pain of a relationship ending, I always recommend exercise to help them recover emotionally (all this #revengebody stuff is all well and good, but post break-up exercise is about so much more than that). Whether it’s running or boxing or yoga that floats your boat, the simple act of making time for yourself and accomplishing physical feats will help restore emotional equilibrium.
My broken heart was long in the past by the time it came to my marathon training, thank the Lord. By then, I was leading a fun but hectic lifestyle, working full time as a journalist, going out out every Saturday night and dating like a trooper during the week, which meant a whole lot of booze and probably not enough rest and recuperation.
My weekly long runs, always completed on a Saturday morning, became my weekly headspace. It was a time when hitting work deadlines and wondering whether some boy was going to text me back became irrelevant. Instead the focus was all me, myself and I – a time to reflect and test my physical capabilities. As a woman, you’re often so obsessed with how your body looks that it’s liberating to instead focus on what it can do, and during those months, I didn’t give a crap about whether my legs looked hot in a miniskirt, but took pride in how they withstood constant training sessions and smashed out PBs at a rate I didn’t think possible (my 1hr40min Reading half marathon is still one of my proudest achievements, especially because I was nursing a Six Nations hangover).
I ran the London Marathon in 2013, and completing it was real proof to myself that I had mental strength, as well as physical stamina, that I hadn’t really appreciated before. It seems completely apt to me that the charity supporting the marathon this year is Heads Together – I’ve experienced for myself the emotionally soothing effects of running, and can well believe that the sense of purpose marathon training gives you is an antidote to all kinds of mental stresses and strains.
Nowadays, I see running as a kind of mental escapism; an opportunity to switch from emails, tweets, WhatsApp group threads etc. Whatever particular stress I’m having at the time – and as an anxious person, there are a lot – running gives me balance and a boost of happiness, even if sometimes of the thought of pulling on my trainers and leaving the sofa is mildly horrifying.
To me, running is as much about training the mind as it is your body. Both have surprising reserves of fortitude, and both need to be given equal amounts of attention in order to have a happy and healthy life.