I started running in April 2012. I had – without considering the true heft of the decision – agreed to take part in the 2013 London Marathon for a charity I was involved with at the time.
It wasn’t until I received confirmation of my place that the realisation hit I would now have to learn how to run. I didn’t run. I didn’t even run in school – I always managed to dodge that particular shuttle and stuck firmly to events that didn’t involve much movement like shotput and occasionally rounders if I thought I could get away with hanging out in deep field.
I’ll admit it seemed like a good idea at the time though. I was a few stone overweight and I figured running would help shift some of it and would give me something else to do. I’d been a keen mountain biker for years (it’s how I met my husband) but had fallen out of love with it and needed something else that could be my ‘thing’. When I look back on my initial decisions to start running I chuckle at how naive I was about how many areas of my life it would impact – weight loss and being able to say I had ran a marathon paled into insignificance as the months wore on, but I’ll come back to that.
I initially joined an absolute beginners group in Gosforth. The run leader was superb and I hold firm in my belief that without her non-judgemental approach and constant encouragement I probably wouldn’t have stuck with it. I made some great friends through that beginners group who I trained with, did parkrun with and completed events with as we gradually progressed beyond beginners.
I fell in love with running really quickly. There’s a gross misunderstanding that running is hard, but once you realise that it’s actually a mental struggle and it’s not your legs that give up first it becomes easier and easier to keep going, so it wasn’t long before I managed my first 5km non-stop, then a 5 mile, then a 10k and before I knew it I was on the start line of the 2012 Great North Run standing next to my running buddy and donning a Guide Dogs tee.
That event, that 13.1 miles through my hometown was magnificent and to this day remains the most proud 2hrs 40 minutes of my life. I struggled so much through it, my legs ached and my breath was laboured but it felt like such a monumental achievement to be able to run from Newcastle to South Shields non-stop.
Running gives me an incredible headspace I just didn’t realise I was missing. During a trail run nothing beats the feeling of the soft earth under my feet and the metronomic rhythm of my legs. If I’m listening to music I find myself singing along out loud, gloriously lost in my surroundings.
If I’m music-less I love the sounds of the woods – the rustling leaves and the birds chattering. It’s never easy; despite how much I love it I still have to talk myself into it each time because it’s far easier to sit on the sofa mindlessly watching TV, but inactivity breeds lethargy I know how much better I’ll feel once I’m out.
I did lose some weight through running – two stone or so over the course of about 18 months – but what started out as a primary reason for starting soon paled into utter insignificance. As I got stronger and could run further, my weight didn’t seem to matter as much as my ability. The feeling of being fit and able to run a decent distance made me far happier than anything the scales said and I stopped paying attention to them after about a year and instead concentrated on running up bigger hills and getting faster.
I suffered quite a bad injury about two years into my running. It took so long to heal that when I finally got back to health I had lost the spark for running. I ploughed all my efforts into mountain biking again, but always regretted my decision to set running to one side. It wasn’t until an opportunity arose at work that it snapped me out of my slump and put me back on the road to running strength.
I work as an instructional designer at the Newcastle Hospitals Trust. It’s a mostly sedentary desk-based job involving a lot of computer design, video editing and analysing and designing educational content – not conducive to an active lifestyle. Towards the end of 2018 our Better Health at Work lead put out a Trust-wide advert looking for people to train as Run Leaders to help raise the profile of running in the Trust.
I took it as an opportunity to force myself back into running and so I put my name forward and in the first week in January I started running again, taking it slowly to prevent a recurrence of any injuries. My long suffering husband joined me this time and has been a tremendous support, even agreeing to do a half marathon with me later this year and tolerating my mutterings of doing an ultra-marathon next year.
I completed the Leader in Running Fitness training in June 2019 – it’s a one day course from England Athletics involving both theory and practical components – and we’re now busy putting plans in place for me to start up groups for absolute beginners once my license comes through from England Athletics.
I want to be that source of encouragement, enthusiasm and non-judgement that helps people find their power through running. I want everyone to know how incredible it feels to be able to run a mile non-stop. I want to give as many people as possible the opportunity to give running a chance in a safe and welcoming environment. In those early stages I think the social aspect of running is absolutely essential and the value of having the support of peers who are progressing alongside you cannot be underestimated as a motivational tool so that’s what I want my groups to embody.
One of the great things about running is how accessible it is – all you need is a pair of trainers and some supermarket gym gear and you’re off. No lugging equipment around, no travelling to specific locations, you just start where you are and go where you want. I generally go for a run after work to shake off the day and I’m typically out for no longer than an hour. Of course there are times I really just want to go home, but I know that going out will benefit me far more.
I feel more grounded after running; it de-stresses me at times I don’t even realise I’m stressed. It maintains my mental health; I suffered with generalised anxiety disorder a few years ago and running and mountain biking were the only things that made me feel ‘normal’ because they forced me to concentrate on something other than the anxiety. But mostly – and not to sound trite – it makes me feel empowered. It has such a profound effect on so many areas of my health and wellness and I just want to share that with everyone and encourage others to strive for that feeling of greatness.
One of the biggest lessons I learned through running is that the human body is naturally designed to do it; it’s physiologically geared up to run and it’s very happy doing so. The problem is that we’re so unconditioned to it – sedentary lifestyles and excess weight being key limiting factors – that we give up after a couple of sessions because it seems too difficult or unattainable. Like all the best things in life though it takes time and effort to build up the strength to run. It takes hard work and an amount of dedication to get your body conditioned to the point where it feels comfortable, natural and GOOD. But I tell you what, it’s worth every sweat bead of effort so for anyone who wants to change their story and discover their potential I say find a beginner’s session and keep showing up.
I’m a big fan of motivational quotes and one of my favourites goes like this:“Never give up on your dreams because of the time it will take to achieve them, because the time will pass anyway.” So just keep showing up.
Carrie Walton – Workforce Development Officer – Technology Based Learning