Mind Over Marathon — running with a difference

The BBC documentary about 10 people with mental health issues training for the London Marathon has inspired me to tackle my mental health, start running again — and try and take a few people with me on the journey…

This week I watched the BBC’s Mind Over Marathon with Nick Knowles. In fact, I watched it twice, it was that good.

As someone who has had a lifelong struggle with my mental health, I related to every single participant in the show. I loved how candid they were about their struggles, how unafraid they were to show the bad days, but most of all, their sheer determination to do this one thing, against the odds, in defiance of mental health conditions that often mean it’s hard to get out of bed and get dressed, let alone go for a run.

I know how beneficial running can be, because I had a stint of doing it last year. It really did benefit my mental health. I felt better while I was running, and I even managed a 10k, but when the UK winter hit, so did asthma and ill health. I found it difficult to get going again, not only because of the breathing problems, but also because the reason I’d started running was actually for weight/aesthetic reasons, primarily. I felt guilty and ashamed that I’d put a lot of that weight back on and felt like I didn’t deserve to feel good. I guess I denied myself the benefits running had brought me because I was ashamed of my body.

The one thing that stuck with me about Mind Over Marathon was that there was never any talk of weight loss. The participants were all different shapes and sizes, but there was nothing in it about who lost weight, how much weight they lost, etc. It was wholly about the mental health.

It struck me that if all of them could run and not think about weight, or body shape or size, and still reach their goals, then perhaps so could I. Perhaps I could run for no other reason than because it helps me tame my mind monkeys. Perhaps I could run just for the sense of achievement, even if it’s simply getting off my couch, because I have those days when I don’t want to and it’s hard. Perhaps I could run for self-care, not self-punishment.

And if I could do it, maybe others could too. Maybe people in my home city of Leeds could benefit from going on this journey with me. So I’ve started the Mind Over Marathon Leeds group and I’m hoping some people will join me, with the eventual goal of doing the Plusnet Yorkshire Marathon 2018 in York, perhaps with a team of solo runners and a relay team for those who don’t feel ready to do 26 miles!

If you live in Leeds and want to join, then you can join the Facebook group here. Even if you don’t live in Leeds and want to follow the journey, you are welcome to join and support.

I’ve started doing the Couch to 5k, building up my running slowly again as I’ve struggled with doing intense cardio since the winter. Since the group will be open to total beginners, that’s probably where we’ll begin. Like the Mind Over Marathon participants, we’ll build up by doing shorter events like the Abbey Dash and the Leeds Half Marathon, and we’ll build up over a longer time period. Running Coach Jenny Hadfield explains that it’s much better to give yourself at least 10–12 months to train for a marathon rather than some of the shorter training plans out there, as you reduce your risk of injury and overtraining.

The summer goal is to build the group, start regular runs and training sessions, and to figure out by October (12 months until Yorkshire Marathon 2018) who wants to stay in for the long haul and commit to the big one!

Obviously we won’t have the support of the professionals that the BBC documentary participants had, but I’m hoping there will be some kind souls out there willing to share their expertise and skills along the way.

It’s going to be an interesting journey!