At some point during the first lockdown, I think it was June, I took up running.
I’ve always been the worst at long-distance running. I have no stamina for it at all, and I get very breathless. This has been the case my whole life.
In February of this year, I was diagnosed with asthma. I’ve been diagnosed before, as a child, but I stopped taking inhalers and generally convinced myself I didn’t need them when I turned 18 and was no longer eligible for free prescriptions in England. It’s easier to tell yourself you’re not asthmatic than to face the truth that you are and you can’t afford your inhaler.
One of the good things about living in Northern Ireland is that ALL prescriptions are free, for everyone. So when I got rediagnosed with asthma, I got inhalers.
They were life changing.
For the first time in my life, I can run.
At first, it was hard going. I couldn’t even do 60 seconds of running without stopping, tired. I had my breathing right, but my ankles, my knees and my back had no idea how to do cross-country.
Not to be deterred, I signed up for my first of several run challenges. Some were better than others. Race At Your Pace and Run Challenges were both fairly decent, but for my first challenge, I signed up with another company and they didn’t send any sort of explanation about how to get a medal, so I missed their 3-day “evidence submission” window. I emailed them after to ask how it worked, and received a snotty reply that implied I ought to have known how to submit the evidence.
Their system used this idiotic and unnecessary online portal that they didn’t send you an emailed link to access.
I hate portals. My former psychiatrist now uses one and it’s hopeless. Good thing I don’t need to see a shrink anymore.
Actually, I can (partly) thank running for that, too.
After 1 month of running every second day, I didn’t need my antidepressants that I’d been taking for post-natal depression. Once that layer was peeled away, we were able to discover that my underlying mental illness wasn’t bipolar, as I’ve been misdiagnosed with for 5 years, or borderline, as was suggested in August, but PMDD – Pre Menstrual Dysphoria Disorder – and ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
PMDD isn’t really improved by running, but I find my ADHD is. When I run, I get the energy out that builds up and can turn in on itself during the afternoon. When I run, I take time to focus on my breathing, so it’s inadvertently a mindfulness exercise. And when I run, I am doing self-care. I am also increasing my confidence.
In February, I read in a leaflet about someone who had “beat Post Natal Depression” by running. I was extremely scornful of this idea. I don’t think mental illnesses are invaders that we should approach with a “fight” mentality, they’re part of us that we need to accept in a self compassionate way while ameliorating symptoms.
My opinion on self-acceptance hasn’t changed, but I do think there’s mileage (no pun intended) in running to help with mental health symptoms, and I can understand why other people feel that way.
It’s also given me confidence in my own body. After pregnancy, I felt weak and tired all the time, whereas now I feel strong and (dare I say it?) powerful in a way I never have felt in my entire life.
The hardest thing about running was the first month. About two weeks in, I hurt my knees due to not warming up enough and not taking enough rest days. I had to rest completely, but I still had several kilometres to go before completing my challenge. I made it, at a limp, but because I hadn’t rested fully or recovered entirely, I carried those knee problems into my second month.
Three months into running, in August, I was working with a very unethical self-styled psychotherapist who I later found out had faked her credentials.
She questioned why I was going running and denigrated it as inappropriate and boring. She told me I should do ice skating instead (she was utterly oblivious of Covid and she also contributed to me getting another borderline misdiagnosis so I’m a bit annoyed but because she has faked all her credentials, there’s no one to report her to).
I thought she was full of crap and yet somehow, it got into the back of my mind and I stopped running. For two months.
I also got too invested in my stats, and when I couldn’t beat my distances and speeds, I felt like a failure. My new (ethical, qualified, and registered) therapist encouraged me to try again, without timing myself or logging my runs.
It was great advice.
I started again in October and I’ve been going ever since.
I no longer have any idea how far I’m running in any given run, but I have been doing the same route since March (lockdown… there’s literally only one lane to run down here) and I know I can get further down the lane without stopping. And my knees are no longer struggling to keep up, nor are my ankles.
I’ve realized running is all about incremental progress, not trying to do everything at once, or perfectly first time. Sometimes you don’t meet a particular challenge, for whatever reason.
Who cares? Challenges are constructs, they’re not real, and they’re not a true measure of your running ability.
So to anyone else looking to start running, I suggest you try it! With an inhaler in your pocket, if you need it.
I hope the featured image inspires you that almost anyone can start running; it’s all about the mindset.