Back in March I wrote a blog post about choosing the right exercise for you. Whilst writing the post, I thought of a former colleague of mine, Richard, who had taken up running and really fell in love with it. Before he started running, he had overhauled his diet and lost a lot of weight. Once he started running, I noticed that Richard was not only healthier, but happier too.
I invited Richard to share his story with me for 15 minute wellbeing, because I think his journey is really inspirational. Richard has a real passion for running and has run distances that I couldn’t even imagine running, but like all of us, he had to start somewhere by putting one foot in front of the other. Read on to find out about his running journey and the great mantras he uses – these can benefit us in all aspects of our lives, not just exercise. I hope it inspires you to start or persevere with the exercise that is right for you.
Can you tell me about what your life was like before you started running?
“I’d gone through my weight loss and eating healthily and the next step for my wellbeing was some exercise. I started walking. I walked to Hounslow station which was 40 minutes away.
What really got me started with running was the running group at work. Jason said he’d come with me, just running one lamppost to the next. But I didn’t want to inconvenience him.
It took me 3 months of building it up until I could run 5km without stopping. I’ve kept the date when I went for my first run and refer back to it so I know how far I’ve come. It’s easy to forget what it was like before.”
Richard then went through the key dates in his running journey. I put these into a graph to show how Richard built up his endurance over time and the milestones he has achieved so far.
“My first run was on 7thMarch 2015 and first 5km on 31st May 2015, the bank holiday weekend which continues to be significant through my running journey. My first kilometre of running took just over 7 minutes.”
As you can see from the graph, Richard completed his first marathon on this bank holiday weekend in 2017 and his first ultra-marathon running from London to Brighton on the very same weekend last year.
“This year on the May bank holiday weekend I want to run the 78 mile capital ring – 3 marathons in 3 days! Just get up in the morning and get on public transport to the starting point. I’m hoping to get some of my friends to join me.”
I found it incredible that it took Richard 3 months to run 5km without stopping and that he never gave up. Many people would, but he persevered. So what was his first run like?
“I remember the straight tarmac path was 150 metres and I ran that and my legs were like ‘what the hell are you doing?’ After 700 metres my legs were hurting and I had to stop and did lots of stretches. I eventually managed 3km on that first run.
I didn’t feel too bad, otherwise I wouldn’t have gone back. So each run thereafter I tried to get round the same distance a little bit faster. I didn’t make it too painful and unpleasant. I remember when I would really push it, my eyes would lose focus. Probably fight or flight kicking in. At the time I thought this couldn’t be normal.”
What motivated you to keep running?
“My approach has always been to keep improving, whether it’s running further or faster. There’s no point comparing myself to others – I want to be the best I can whilst fitting it into the rest of my life.
I very rarely run more than 4 or 5 times a week. My body gets to the point where it says ‘give me a rest’. It’s important to listen to any niggles and rest so they don’t get worse. That’s where not comparing yourself to others really comes into play.”
Richard then went on to tell me about the social aspects of running and how the variety of running events on offer keeps him motivated:
“I have completed three marathons and am training for my fourth in Boston, Lincolnshire. It’s an opportunity to go and stay with my sister. Every time I’ve done a marathon, I’ve done the parkrun the day before. You then get to meet other people you’re running in the marathon with. Then, when you’re running it, you spot someone from the parkrun!
“Last weekend I ran just short of 50km in total. What keeps it interesting is the variety. I’m doing a bit more trail running: meet at a tube station, someone plans a route and run on trails, it makes a nice change to pounding the streets of London. It usually finishes at a nice pub!
I’ve signed up to tower running for more variety. Broadgate Tower is 35 floors. There’s a group that run up and down it 12 times – a vertical mile! I’ve been training and I’ve managed it four times, I’ve got a bit of work to do to get to 12 times. You walk it but take two steps at a time but use your arms to pull yourself up. I’m doing the tower run in July.
There is always an event going, such as the green belt relay where you run 200 miles around London in a team of 10. There’s also so many inspirational people you come across – there’s an 85 year old man at parkrun every week. I’d love to still be running at 85.”
For some, running just doesn’t appeal at all. So why running over another form of exercise?
“The gym has never really appealed to me. I used to swim 5 evenings a week and was a good swimmer, but lost interest in my teens. I re-started [swimming] in my 20s but lost interest. When I was younger, running didn’t really appeal to me, I only did it at school.
All you need is a pair of trainers and a shirt and off you go. The social aspect of running at work, could have a chat. I don’t really go to my running club as people are focused on their time. The social aspect has kept me going, making friends…
I did do some swimming as part of my getting fit. I signed up for a 5km swim and then had a few goes training. Once I did it, I stopped. I still want to challenge myself with a swim. Triathlons interest me but they’re expensive buying all the equipment.”
15 minute wellbeing is all about mental health and improving our overall wellbeing through different activities. What impact (if any) has running had on your mental health?
“I’ve become much more relaxed, I don’t worry about things as much. I used to be a bit of a perfectionist and running a marathon has taught me that I can’t run the whole thing perfectly. I’ve applied it to the rest of my life – you can’t perform at your best every day, some days when you go into work you just have to do the best you can.
Running has probably made me a more positive person, building relationships with others, giving each other positive feedback on their runs and times which makes me more positive overall. In my last marathon I didn’t get the time I wanted, but when I look back I can get delayed gratification from knowing I did a good performance.”
Richard then told me that he felt running involved many of the 15 minute wellbeing themes. In addition to the benefits to his physical health and aforementioned connecting with others and giving feedback, Richard told me how running links with the other themes:
- Mindfulness – “Running is my form of mindfulness. Sometimes I’ve been running for 3 hours and I haven’t thought about much apart from running and how my body is responding.”
- Learning – “Running is a really good learning tool, you only improve if you put the hard work in. There’s no quick wins with running.”
- “Reflection is an important part of my running – reflecting on what went well, was the training right, did I rest well?
What advice would you give to anyone is a similar position as you were?
“Never outrun the joy of running.”
“Start off being realistic. Start off slowly and build up. Enjoy it. Never outrun the joy of running, that’s my current mantra. My previous mantras were ‘Get comfortable with discomfort’ and ‘If I believe I can achieve’.
“If I believe I can achieve.”
Find people to run with. If you’re in London there’s so many social running groups. Running shops often have running groups. Midnight runners in central London with music playing.
Parkrun is great as you get to know regular runners with the same time as you. Parkrun is ideal for people starting out. They [the parkrun organisers] want the average time of a 5 km run to get slower as they want to attract more people who want to walk 5 km. Parkrun operates all over the country.
Find out what works for you. Some people are content going for a leisurely run and talking with the same group of friends. Others need a target to work towards.”
Huge thanks to Richard for sharing his story – he really is inspirational and his passion for running is contagious. Since meeting with Richard I have started running again, taking it slowly and building my way up to 5 km non-stop. Richard has reminded me that it doesn’t matter how long it takes to do it, as long as I’m enjoying it.
I hope you have taken something from Richard and he has inspired you. If you would like to share your wellbeing-related story on 15 minute wellbeing, please do get in touch.
Sharing our stories with others can help inspire them to make changes in their lives to support their wellbeing. Often, hearing from others in a similar situation can help us believe that we too can make positive changes. Not only that, sharing personal accounts can start discussions about wellbeing and mental health which can increase awareness and reduce stigma.
In addition to the weekly 15 minute wellbeing blog posts, ‘Real-life stories’ are a new, occasional feature on the site. Some stories will be long, some will be short and some may read a bit like interviews. Each story will be an account of how someone has made a change to their life or put one of the 15 minute wellbeing activities into practice and improved their wellbeing. They will all be linked to the seven themes associated with improved wellbeing:
- Physical health
If you would like to share your story, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our first real-life story comes from Felicity, who kindly shared her experiences as part of Time to Talk Day in February. Her story shows how opening up and asking for help can make a huge difference to our quality of life.
“It’s so difficult to have conversations about mental health and we’re not having nearly enough. I find it so difficult myself to open up about my mental health.
But sometimes when I open up someone tells me it’s helped them and it makes it all worthwhile. Often when others speak up it helps me and I’m so grateful for that.
I’ve been talking to my doctor and to a therapist for 18 months now and it is not easy. But it does get better. My life is more different now than I could possibly have imagined then.
To anyone struggling, please talk about it!
Felicity, thank you so much for sharing your story.
If you’re unsure about who you can turn to for help, check out this previous blog and activity that help you identify the different people (or organisations) you can turn to when you experience different types of problems.