OVERCOMING MENTAL HEALTH STRUGGLES TO COMPLETE HIS SECOND MARATHON
Although I am an able-bodied man who runs, spins and does yoga, I never take this for granted. 10 years ago, aged 33 and leading an inactive lifestyle, my body was plagued with aches and pains. My lower back complained constantly. My ankles were so weak I kept falling over. I’d ask myself, jokingly, if I was 33, or 53? Then, more seriously, I began to consider that my body was seriously unhappy and trying to communicate with me through its pain; I couldn’t ignore it any longer. At this point, I remember thinking: “so what are we going to do about it?”. The first steps were relatively simple: I committed to make a health push and because I was far from confident in a gym, I decided to start running. I started to build from nothing, couch to 5k in the gym (until I realized that the treadmill quickly bored me) and was introduced to parkrun in early 2014. It wasn’t long before I began working towards my first big targets – a series of half-marathons, followed by my first full marathon in 2017.
A welcome side effect of starting to run was that it helped to my mental health demons: namely stress and anxiety, which I have suffered from for many years. I enjoyed working towards a target and joining a community of other runners (largely at Portobello Parkrun where I live in Edinburgh). When it comes to endurance running, I treat my body kindly by gradually building up my distance, and try to be as organized as possible to reduce unnecessary stress. Running at my first ever event – a half marathon – I came over the line in just over 2 hours 50. I beat the sweeper bus and so was delighted really! Achievement takes many different shapes and forms; in a short space of time, I’d gone from despairing over my fitness to running 13.1 miles! For me, that was worth celebrating. It was then great to go on to complete my first full marathon in 2017, where I was supported by the running community I’d built at parkrun in the last 4 miles when I really began to struggle.
Towards the end of 2018 my mental health really started to struggle again, issues bought on by a combination of stress and anxiety. This was made worse, similar to many people, over the pandemic and also during this time when my mother passed away. Around this time was especially dangerous as there was no real ‘release’ from what was causing me the biggest issues. However, as I have built up a relationship with exercise and in particular, running, I understand the benefit it has on my mental health. Although I may still have bad times, running helps me to switch off – an almost meditative effect on longer runs.
More recently, a male friend opened up to me about his own mental health journey and experiences which are very similar to my own. He spoke about how close he came to suicide, and so while I never got that far, it is clear to me that my life changed at a really pivotal time.
Going into Manchester, I am looking forward to the challenge of my second marathon (after 6 years) and am trying to train smarter rather than overload my body. I have had issues in my feet and have had an operation in my windpipe, which have affected my running for the past few years. However, I am stubborn-minded enough to refuse not to cross that finish line and claim my medal and the very cool looking finisher t-shirt. Yes, there have been set-backs, but I am on the home stretch now to getting a second marathon under my belt in the fantastic city of Manchester. Nothing is going to stop me now!
Too many men suffer silently with their mental health, and we need to break the stigma that surrounds getting help and reaching out. My friend brought on the cliché but true understanding that ‘for things to change, things need to change’. This could be speaking to a loved one with how you are feeling or setting small but achievable targets for yourself like jogging for 10 minutes each day. From my experience, talking will help, support is always available and bottling up your emotions only does more damage than good.
I can’t wait to celebrate my wellbeing journey at the adidas Manchester Marathon. This will actually be my first visit to Manchester – being a definite sports nerd I am looking forward to seeing the two “Old Traffords” over the weekend. I hope that sharing my story is a reminder that good mental health requires is a constant management process, but it’s never too late to take control over your life.