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The Cathartic Power of Running

If you’d have said to me 25 years ago that I would be regularly running 3-4 times a week I’d have been very surprised! My memories of running were having a smoke on the cross country run at school and subsequently finding that running was really difficult for me, when I did it as fitness training for rowing.

An uphill battle

In early years I’d had a small draw to exercise in fits and starts with aerobics, stretching and tennis and netball when I was younger. Fast forward some years later and floored (actually, couched) with M.E., suicidal anxiety and depression, I didn’t know how I ‘d ever move again without feeling weary. Making a cup of tea was exhausting and elements of this lead-weight limb fatigue were echoes from childhood too. Going upstairs or climbing hills had at times felt insurmountable and exhausting. Rather than having a natural energetic uplift and a healthy tiredness, it often felt like I was trying to push through deep mud or quick sand (or maybe wading continually through water).

First Steps

As I started to improve my food choices, my health improved. I also cleared out many chemicals from my environment, took supplements, importantly (and significantly for me) stopped smoking and got out for more and more walks in nature. I took homeopathic remedies, learnt reiki, had massage therapies, used crystals and I started to improve, very slowly and gradually. It took many years, I am no hare, but very much the tortoise! I joined a gym and began to rebuild. However, I still had that running resistance and found the treadmill quite boring, even though I overcame the shin splints and had managed to get past 2 mins. I started very very slowly!

Taking Flight

When out walking in Moss Valley one day, the conversation my ex and I were having, triggered something in me. As anxiety rose within, I went into ‘flight’ mode. I realised that it was reminding me of the times I wanted to run away as a child, but back then I was too scared, so I ‘froze’ and didn’t. That frozen, fearful, sad energy had become ‘stuck’ in me and was, certainly in part, the root cause of M.E. An environment that had been unhappy, and so too my cells were still.  I needed to move that energy and get it out! I needed to ‘melt’ that frozen ‘ice’ of dis-ease and let it go.

Realising this, I told my ex and said I’d see them at home and off I ran. I ran purposefully, focused on the knowledge that the anxiety that I was feeling was from the past and I was using this as fuel for the run in the present and releasing it and getting it out. As I ran a thought occurred to me, I can do this! I can run! 

Rude Awakenings!

The next morning my inner-PT woke me at 6am!. What on earth for? My intuition nudged me, ‘take Lionel out and do a ‘walk run’, ‘walk run’ round the valley’, just listen to your body and what you are able to do and go with it’. So that’s what I did and how I started running.

I ran and I ran further. When anxiety rose within me, I mindfully used that energy of flight to fuel my run, knowing I was burning up that toxic overload and also increasing the endorphins to combat the depression that often weighed heavily on me too. Running is a great tool to ‘escape’. A particular challenge in the past had been feeling self-conscious walking down the street. Perhaps it was right timing, as this seemed to dissolve as I ran. Taking that first step and having that inner ‘go for it’ just helped me to overcome and let go of that one, as I claimed my place on the pavement!

I’m running free, yeah!

I built my distance up and was often doing 12 miles or so. I found favourite routes and listened to the birds singing rather than listening to music and headphones. I felt a sense of freedom. I would often hear Iron Maiden’s song ‘Running Free’ spontaneously playing in my head and powering me along! I was running through fields, woodlands, country lanes, discovering new routes and not planning them but intuitively following my nose as a guide to where I’d go.

I conquered my discomfort of the rain and getting wet, consciously allowing myself to feel the sensation of getting sopping wet, relaxing with it rather than wishing it wouldn’t happen (which creates tension). As I came to face that hurdle and allowed and embraced the rain, the sun would often come out as my reward! 

Running up that hill

I faced my fear of hills. Living in North Wales you can’t escape them. I realised how symbolic they were of that uphill struggle of the mind, when we are pushing through something. Going out of our comfort zone and learning to master which thoughts to pay attention to or not can mindfully help us to become stronger within. The first time I ran up the side of Moss Valley was scary!  I’d only ever cantered up there on a horse or puffed up there at a slow walk. 

However, the day I decided to give it a go I ran the straight path along the valley, trying to relax myself and breathe into my fear, as Kate Bush’s song ‘Running up that Hill’ came into my head as motivation! Kind of like ‘if the spirit moves you!’ and shifted I did.  I ascended and realised at the top that the mental obstacle was my real challenge. I next gravitated to Cappers Hill, a longer, steeper hill that runs up the side of the valley. A friend’s retort, ‘I get tired driving up that hill’ still makes me smile at that achievement that started with small steps and continues with slow ones! But the tortoise won the race. That said, I’ve never felt a pull to do marathons, or group runs, as I’m not keen on crowds, so running is just time for me.

My enthusiasm has waned at times over the years and I’ve had a few mindful rest breaks from it. I’ve experienced less illness, (only one covid like illness which floored me a couple of years back) as running and being out in the fresh air helps immunity. Colds, if I get them, tend to be much milder and something that I’d still go running with if my body said yes! Not so long back I fell and hurt my knee and the fear of falling again, (it was the second time in a short space) continued for a long time. I couldn’t seem to get over it, until I realised it was a call for me to ‘pick my feet up’, I’d got somewhat shuffly and needed to get those knees up and raise my feet higher again.

Give it a go!

The last year has been more difficult with my work having to keep temporarily closing due to Covid, leading to that weight gain (love of food) that many of us have had from sitting more on zoom than doing physical work of massage. I noticed my fitness has decreased, but on I plod! And as I do there are frequently words of encouragement from people as I run, saying ‘keep it up’, ‘you’re doing well’ etc. 

And like the seasons the challenges come and go, and I learn from them. I use the time to mindfully check in and receive inspiration, sometimes poems or words come to me or understandings of deeper processes. I love the morning runs where the dog-walkers say hello and I’ll stop to exchange some words,it can put a smile on everyone’s face to have those passing moments of communication. Or it might be that something in nature catches me and I pause and take a breathe stopping to picture it, or just take that moment in.  It’s not about the amount of steps, the distance and the timing anymore, that was fun whilst it lasted, but now it’s about the enjoyment and being in the moment, that deep appreciation of better physical health, getting the circulation going, experiencing the connection with nature as the birds sing their morning song and the gratitude that I am able to take these steps and I can do this now.

I feel consciously fitter and more well in myself in my 40’s than I ever did, so it’s not too late. If, like me, you get that inner nudge to give it a go, don’t make a mountain out of a molehill, baby steps and all that, never say never, you can do it, pick your feet up, off you trot one step at a time…and enjoy the benefits!

This article was first published here at Emma Sims Holistic Therapies on 30/01/2021.

Emma Sims
Emma Sims is a complementary Holistic Therapist and Reiki Master Teacher with 20+ years experience in the field. She is based in the Community Resource Centre, Gwersyllt, Wrexham, North Wales.

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