Last week I posted about taking part in the fantastic Marathon In A Day event which supported Mind and I commented on the importance of people feeling able to talk about any mental health issues they may have. Having read my post back I started to think about mental health and how unique running, and in particular long distance running, is when it comes to having a lot of time to yourself to think.
I have played team sports in the past (yes one of those handsome young men is me 20 years ago!!) and they are generally pretty fast and furious, you react largely to what is happening around you and you are utterly immersed in the game. Likewise there are individual sports where you compete against someone but your focus is the game in hand. Running is a different beast though. Most people train on their own and even during a race unless you are super fast and chasing a podium you are only really competing against yourself and the clock. This leaves you with a lot of time to think and how you fill that time is I believe really important to keep your mind healthy.
For some people thinking time is fine, you take in the view, a nice hill, some wildlife, maybe the odd dual carriageway or industrial estate but on the whole you switch off and just run. Others, and I include myself to a degree here, need some form of distraction and for most that is listening to music or perhaps a podcast or talking book, these distractions help to pass the time and some people also use them as a means to increase motivation. There are also runners though who use their time on the highways and byways as thinking time and again I fall into this category. Running helps me to clear my head, I work in a school and last Monday was the first day of term, it was hectic to say the least and I came home with what can best be described as head fog. I knew that I needed to run, I spent the first few miles or so going through the events of the day in my head and rationalising them, I then banked that in my brain, the fog cleared and I gave over my thoughts to more pressing matters, what was I having for tea, how would my daughter get on with her first day at primary school the following day and how many chat group messages with goat gifs would I return home to? This run was less than two hours but as I have progressed in my marathon training I have been running for over five hours in total most weeks and so I have a lot of time to think.
On some longer runs when a mixture of delirium and pain set in, mental fatigue can take over and the need to dig deep and find something from within I find really tests my mind. I know I have it in me to push on but sometimes the legs aren’t always as willing, I have used various techniques to overcome this, as I said above the distraction of music is one and a favourite of mine especially in races is to have the names of my wife and children written on my arm along with other motivators so they are right there clear in front of me. I smile, I think of funny things and I do everything I can to keep my mental state as positive as possible, the worst thing I can do is to get down, think negatively and beat myself up.
Taking my own advice was essential on Sunday when I completed my first ever run of over 20 miles, ok it was only 20.03 miles as I lapped the cul de sac to edge the distance over the .00, but for me it was a real milestone in my marathon training. It was a tough three hours, it wasn’t pretty at times but I used all of the above to stay positive as the wind howled, the rain soaked me and my calf muscles screamed at me to stop.
If you are reading this and struggling have a think about what I have written, use your running time as head space time, gain some clarity in whatever way suits you and if you need to, never be afraid to share with someone else.