Last week a tremendously insecure Charity Chief Exec ran her first 10k..
She ran it in a rather FABULOUS 75 minutes.
Nothing terribly unusual there, you may say. The thing is, this 46 year old (yes, mid life crisis time too) only took up running a few months ago amid crippling fear that she would never EVER run a mile. Or a minute of that mile.
Here is the thing. I am living proof that all sorts is possible. I even think that more is possible and have signed up to run the Cardiff Half marathon (I still have to repeat this daily to believe it). Getting to the point where I would turn up to run a big event like the Admiral Swansea Bay 10k was a journey and of course the journey continues.
So how did I do it and what’s the big deal?
I have struggled my whole adult life with insecurity and periods of depression (post natal), a breakdown (stress related), periods of self loathing and bulimia (following a traumatic exit from a very unhealthy relationship when I was way too young to realise what was happening to me), fear (watching family members near and dear suffer too).
I stress a lot, take anti depressants and have had therapy.
I am also the worlds’ best example of imposter syndrome.. by day I am a successful and popular Chief Executive of a charity; a great networker (hate that word – it is after all only one letter away from NOTworker), a trainer, corporate event host, public speaker, I dress like a boss, strut like a boss, have raised two amazing (albeit grunty) teenagers, I have a lovely home, a patient husband (who himself has suffered a severe and unexpected bout of depression for over a year now and is recovering) a good lifestyle, two cars and a dog.
It’s all good then? Fake it till you make it, yada yada..
But poor mental health sucks. It does not discriminate. What people see on the outside (a woman in control of her shit) is not what is really going on..
Poor mental health sucks your energy, is selfish and unforgiving, and is a voice that makes you feel unworthy. Not quite good enough. No matter what people tell you about your special gifts, your talent, your lovely personality, your pretty face.
Yeah, whatever – you still are not good enough. You feel too awkward. Too plump. Too ungainly. You can’t exercise; you will stick out like a sore thumb. You can’t run. You can’t do it.
I have tried, purchased and suffered my way through every kind of exercise my whole life. Nothing ever stuck. I faded away from it every time because it never made me feel any better. It just felt a bit pointless, too easy to skip, too bothersome to bother with.
Then one day several months ago, a lovely pal of mine suggested we did the Couch to Five K programme. What have we got to lose, she said? It’s dark out, we will be in a group of other people who think they are just as crap as you are at running, we only need trainers and who knows – it may make us feel better…
I did show up. I struggled to run 30 seconds. I enjoyed the walking bits in between.
After several weeks of showing up, I managed to run several minutes at a time (with no need for paramedics or oxygen) and before I knew it – I ran 5k.
Like, ALL IN ONE GO..
I felt very accomplished. Better. But would I say changed? No way. That came later..
For the first time EVER, I began to notice that I felt different. The sense of achievement after a run felt different to being TOLD I had done well. Instead I FELT that I had done well. I felt it through my whole body; my legs, muscles, arms, lungs, head.
I felt lighter (not physically – my thighs could crack walnuts compared to the wobble of the past) but lighter because I felt stronger. That feeling is a lasting one and is empowering. Empowerment makes you feel like you might just be able to do more.
I signed up for the 10k. I knew that I was scared of the occasion – but not so much of the physical challenge. The thought of thousands of people that I knew would be surrounding me TERRIFIED me. All the old doubts stayed with me right up until the day (in fact right up until the moment I started to run). My head felt something like this:
Shit, everyone will be looking at the awkward and unfit looking one. Everyone will know I am a fraud, that I can’t run, that I won’t finish, that I will fall over. I don’t belong here. I am not as fit as everyone else. They all know where they are going and what they are doing. They know the rules, where to gather, they are prepped and I am not. I feel shaky, weak, and ungainly. I feel too fat, too tall and too clunky.
I followed the crowd sheepishly to the start lines (obviously I went to the back!) and literally felt like diving into the bushes and quit as we shuffled further to the START line..
Then we were off! I just put one foot in front and moved. Within a minute, people around me were talking to each other, laughing and chatting – to me and to each other. After 1 rather slow km, people walked, and talked around me. I kept going because.. well…I could.
The rain started to fall and the wind was whipping my hair up. I started to hear people clapping and cheering us all and began to embrace the sounds and sights. The route is lovely and I kept my head up. I began to feel better. This ain’t so bad and I AM doing it.
Before I knew it we were at the 5K mark and I could hear a samba band. I was tired, my legs ached, my hips were a bit numb and the bloody weather was making my mascara run and I looked like a panda. I had no dry bits of clothing to wipe my eyes. I had no dry bits full stop. The water was squelching from my trainers, my feet felt heavy and don’t even get me started on my hair and wet pants.
“You can do it Kate! Keep going!” someone shouted.
“Thank you!!!” I spluttered – wanting to apologise to the world for my grubby (aka filthy) appearance.
AND THEN! I got that feeling. You know that feeling in a run where suddenly it is not hurting so much, when you breathe deeply and have it under control, where you feel stronger and less like an idiot? Yeah, I felt that..
I was like – look at me – I am soaked to the bone and it does not matter. I am running and have just seen the 7k marker. I am feeling really bloody good right now.
On I went until unbelievably, amazingly, I was running faster and stronger all the way across the line.
I grabbed the free banana and a goody bag before I could even catch a breath and finally I stopped. My legs were on fire but as my breathing slowed down I felt mind numbingly good.
I had done it. Who knew?
I had hugs with some fellow runners I had met along the way, I put that medal on (and wore it till bedtime) and I phoned home. Tearfully, I felt more proud of myself than I had in years.
That hot shower later was the very best I have had and I did not stop talking and smiling (even though I walked like a rusty tin man) all afternoon.
All the fears doubts and questions were left long behind. I took a leap of faith and it paid off. That empowerment? It lasts because once you take the chance, the payoff is incredible.
I looked at the race photo and could not believe it was me. In it (apart from looking a mess) I could see determination in my eyes and a strength that only running has given me.
I see running now as being part of who I am. Not part of who I could be.
I know firsthand how it makes me feel; more positive, less anxious, more calm, less stressed.
Better. Stronger. Clearer.
When I get out there, even when I don’t initially feel like I want to, I know with absolute certainty that it is a part of my day that will only end WELL. It never lets you down like that, running.
It is a sure thing. You never regret it – you are always glad you did it.
I will never break any records, but I will always be grateful that I took the chance, that I found running. It is the single best thing I have done for my mental health in years and it was such an easy answer.
I run alone and I run with a club. We share injuries, talk about anything from cake baking, to work shit, to arranging a curry night, heartbreaks, highs and lows.
Talking and running is therapy. It is a pure joy. It is a simple but incredibly powerful pleasure. It is transformative. I am wrapping up to go for a run this afternoon – waterproof mascara at the ready.
Written by Run Talk Run community badass, Kate.