Running and resilience by Hannah

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I’ve always been an introspective person, and consequently also an escapist. The world is a very loud, roaring place and my mind is constantly buzzing with thoughts, doubts and plans. As a child reading used to be my preferred method of escape, the words on the page jostling away troubling thoughts. Although I’m still self-proclaimed bookworm as I progressed through school and university with its reading lists, essays and exams, reading became necessity rather than a haven into which to escape. Running became my new coping mechanism, a way to combat my monkey-mind.

From the start running has been more of a mental practice than a physical one. I began running to combat the paralysing depression that started during A-Level exams, those first laboured miles quieted the gnawing thoughts, reminded me I was more than a serotonin-deficient brain and that I had a capable body, even if it had taken me all day to leave bed. To quote the author and marathoner Haruki Murakami “when I run I seek the void”- a place where I feel at once present but untouchable, my restless mind is soothed into a meditative state and the world quiets. The freedom and wonder that running affords me is something that I haven’t experienced since childhood. I’m forced to focus simply on now: the colours of fallen leaves against the tarmac, the nip in the wind, the rhythmic pounding of my feet, propelling myself forward no matter how drained or apathetic I felt. In other words, running forces me to recognise that I’m alive. There’s the hit of endorphin’s but the deep satisfaction that running gives resonates long after that fades, instilling discipline, gratitude and resilience that permeate other areas of my life. Running is self-care, therapy and sanctuary in the guise of an exercise routine. Whatever obstacles life throws at me my legs, heart and lungs will still be there to help me get through.

In many ways, it’s tempting to characterise running as evasion, a delaying tactic, running away from emotional discomfort, difficult decisions and unwanted tasks. However, running is also about moving towards something, embracing your innate resilience and tenacity, your ability to get stronger, keep going for even just one more minute.  The resilience you build when you run longer than you ever have before, realising your body has done something for the first time, something you once believed impossible, is monumental and makes you realise obstacles in life can be overcome. I’ve run over the Sussex Downs of my childhood, through the city streets of my adopted home Edinburgh, in the National Parks of Norway…the terrain and emotions of my runs change but the solace of my homemade void does not.

The rhythm of running is incredibly comforting; the repetition soothes me even when everything else is volatile. Last weekend on a blustery February morning, I crossed the finish line of the Brighton Half Marathon with a PR, aching but triumphant.  A few weeks previously, I’d undergone the breakup of a long term relationship which left me feeling exhausted and lost. I felt half-dead, a huge negative-space gaped in my every day but running reminded me who I was again. As I lifted myself from the fog of despair, I rediscovered moments of tenacity on long runs in the Scottish winter, of joy, and satisfaction. I realised I wasn’t irreparably broken as a person, that I already had everything that I needed to succeed. There’s so much more to running that chasing times and logging miles, there’s more than muscular calves and medals, there’s hope and salvation, freedom and reassurance. It’s taught me the art of perseverance and proved I transcend goals I once thought impossible. In short, when I run my mind moves forward along with my feet.

Hannah Stephings is a Philosophy and English Lit student, often out running but more likely drinking coffee and tearing down the patriarchy. She is particularly interested in mental health, movement, media representation and self-confidence and hopes to inspire girls and young women to view themselves as instruments rather than ornaments, empowering and valuing themselves through what they can do rather than how they look. Hannah has worked for various blogs and zines, writing on everything from book reviews to breakups and actively campaigns for mental health for charities such as Young Minds, Time For Change and Mind.

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