Words & Pictures by Michael Parish
When the government put the country into lockdown life changed for all of us. Old routines ceased and we had to start making new positive ones. Not just in terms of how we are living temporarily but how we want life to be after the pandemic.
A positive outcome from COVID is an increase in the number of people who have started running. People run for different reasons whether it’s to compete, improve their fitness or maintain good mental health. Behind each person is a journey and a story of how running has had a positive impact on their lives.
It isn’t all about running. It’s finding an exercise that you enjoy doing and will consistently return to. Running isn’t for everybody but for those who enjoy it there are huge advantages to opening a doorway to fresh air, forgotten footpaths and the local Sussex countryside on your doorstep.
Four years ago, I suffered from work related stress and didn’t know how to deal with it. I knew that exercise was good for stress so I joined the Dolphin Leisure Centre Gym. This was my first steps towards fitness and good mental health.
Starting with running machines I moved to outdoor running by downloading the C25K app. (Couch to 5km). Later I discovered “Run Together” groups. They are affiliated to England Athletics and train/coach/support runners to learn and develop to their own potential.
It was whilst doing this that I was introduced to parkrun. Parkrun isn’t a race, it’s about the community - you can walk or run the distance, it doesn’t matter and there is no judgement attached to it.
There were so many health benefits for me just running 5km. It’s a wonderful workout, burning 700 calories an hour, I started to lose weight, lowered my resting heart rate and improved my aerobic capacity, lowered my blood pressure and relieved my feelings of stress and anxiety.
I started to look at local village days in my area and found they ran events from 5 miles to 10km. The favourites for me were Lindfield and Ardingly, whose fully marshalled runs through the countryside are amazing. Making a shift from 5km into 10km reinforced the benefits and started to impact other areas that are really important for my good mental health. Particularly with my self-esteem, sleep, energy levels, resilience and it also has a positive impact on depression releasing feelgood hormones into your system such as Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin and Endorphins (D.O.S.E).
I found the running community really supportive and finally went to Haywards Heath Harriers and after a trial period joined and registered as an athlete with England Athletics. My membership opened up so many opportunities; I discovered the West Sussex Fun Run League, 18 running clubs hold and marshal one run per year, which are all very different ranging from cross country underneath the Sussex Downs to a 5-mile beach run at Littlehampton.
I never started running to lose weight, but I have now lost 3 stone, my stress and anxiety is under control, without the use of medication, and I had covered the five pillars of good mental health. I was exercising on a regular basis, I had looked at my diet and improved it, my sleep was much better, I had my self-esteem and was feeling much better and I was giving something back. Being involved in the running community improved my support network which works in more than one direction.
Mindfulness has played an important part of my running journey. Endurance running tends to focus your mind on the moment, looking at the here and now. Whilst your mind is pre-occupied with the state your body is in, it breaks the bigger problems down and allows to you work through them in a logical way, with all of the D.O.S.E chemicals being released into your body you can maintain the good mental health to come up with solutions.
Two years ago, I became a mental health champion for England Athletics. As part of that I started to organise runs under their #runandtalk campaign with Mind the mental health charity encouraging people to run a short distance have a coffee and a chat about good mental health and running.
This year during lockdown, I qualified with England Athletics as a Leader in Running Fitness (LiRF) which allows me to organise, risk assess and take groups out running with the ability to coach them to their own potential.
[Michael Parish is a member of Haywards Heath Harriers and is one of the club's mental heath champions ([email protected]). Michael also writes his own blog - 50plusandrunning.blogspot.com