RED: How Running Saved My Sanity

This weekend’s activities have been Things I Would Have Done Anyway – South Norwood parkrun and a RunThrough 10k in Crystal Palace – and finally I find myself without enough time to post some musings on running and mental health, although that may mean I will not have time to post about South Norwood parkrun until Wednesday.

I became A Runner five years ago, in response to the break up of my last serious relationship.  This had been a horrible relationship with a horrible person who had always implied, if not directly stated, that I was punching well above my level being with him and that I was a massive pain in the arse for insisting that he stop doing things like spending the weekend in Paris with his ex girlfriend, marrying his flatmate for a visa and concealing a $600,000 fortune from me whilst pretending to be skint and getting me to play all the bills.  In his view, I should be happy with the fact he was actually in a relationship with me and no one else, expecting him to actually be faithful, honest and nice on top of that was asking for the moon on a stick.  Eventually he tired of my unreasonable demands and upped and left and because I can never give up on anything instead of celebrating my lucky escape I went into mourning and totally and utterly lost the plot.

Nearly a year prior to his departure I had started to get my health – mainly my weight, which was actually starting to head for “two seats on an aeroplane” territory into check (partly motivated by the fact that if I looked a bit better perhaps he might start to value me a bit more) and had already lost somewhere in the region of 20kg through rigorous use of MyFitnessPal, a primitive Fitbit that kept getting lost in my boobs and taking very long walks.  I found I was actually enjoying the walks for their own sake and decided that for the first time in my life I would go for a run outdoors.  Since my new flat was right next to Tottenham Marshes, that is where I went.

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Tottenham Marshes

I’ve just rummaged through my old MapMyRun data and have been quite surprised to find my first ever solo run in the great outdoors took place on 14th April 2014, a whole six months after the break up.  It appears that it was sparked by my getting a place in the Royal Parks Half.  What was I doing for the preceding six months?  I actually have no idea but I suspect it involved a lot of Jeremy Kyle, Take A Break and dissecting my ex’s behaviour over a cold pint of tequila.  I am not entirely sure what possessed me to enter the Royal Parks Half in the first place.

What I do know is that that first run on Tottenham Marshes was the beginning of the rest of my life.  After 6.38km I came home exhausted – it did not take much to make me exhausted back them – and finally that nagging voice in my head which alternated between shouting at me for letting my ex get away with all that rubbish and prodding me with the nagging fear that everything he said about me was true shut up and went to sleep, and finally I felt a sense of peace that had eluded me for the last five years.  It sounds a bit of a fat, pink, inspirational cliche but I really think running saved my sanity.

Between 2014 and 2017 running became something that I did very much on my own.  I delighted in leaving my phone behind, saying goodbye to the computer and going out for an hour or two, knowing that no one in the world could contact me or even knew where I was.  Each time I explored a little deeper into the depths of the local marshes, delighting in the fact that I could run for less than ten minutes from my exceedingly urban looking flat and be amongst rushes, unusual birds, ponies and canal boats.  I felt like I had discovered a secret land where I could lose myself in music and scenery and all the bad things that happened were left behind in the mundane world of Not Being Out For A Run.  I even started to feel slightly possessive towards my newfound hobby and of Tottenham Marshes in particular.  That’s my place!  You can’t go running here!  I’m putting up a sign saying “Keep out and leave me alone” and anyone who disobeys will be summarily pushed into the canal.  Have that!

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Over the next three years my mind moved to a very different place.  I have not had any contact with the ex since July 2014.  I do not know where he is or what he is doing and I hope things stay this way forever.  (I heard his name mentioned on Facebook recently, for the first time in years.  It was in the context of him screwing someone else over.  The more things change…)  I have come to terms with the fact that I am not the only person in the world who goes running (though I still bristle a bit when a friend dares to set foot on Tottenham Marshes).  2017 was the year I went to my first parkrun, first RunThrough race and first viewtube track session (things I had been resisting for some time).  After all the business with the ex I had a deep distrust of new people (I figured that if I couldn’t suss that my ex was a bad lot after knowing him 20 years I was a prime target to get sucked in by any passing psychopath) but gradually I started making new friends through running and none of them seem to have turned out to be serial killers.  In fact, I have found hanging around with other runners to be quite good for my mental health in itself, especially when compared with my previous habit of hanging out with goths.  Goths have a habit of saying things like “I am so sorry I can’t come to this party that you have been planning for months and spent a week’s wages on but my hamster has a cold and I am going to tell you this in a Facebook message after the party has actually started”.  Runners say things like “No, of course 6am isn’t too early to meet, but I have to warn you that as I have broken my arm in three places I will only be able to run the 10k and not the half marathon”.

The ironic thing is that the cancelling goths are probably doing all that cancelling because they are all a bit depressed themselves and perhaps they need to take up running to get into a runners’ mindset.  So with that in mind, I will finish this entry by saying that if any of my friends are reading this and are feeling as lousy as I was five years ago and think a run might help, I am more than happy to keep you company, suggest routes or explain how the parkrun token system works over a nice cold pint of tequila.

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