I feel a million miles from where I started my journey when I found myself crippled by post-natal depression and anxiety four years ago. I was morbidly obese and the prospect of a half marathon was laughable. I vividly recall watching Melbourne Marathoners on television arm deep in a packet of chips wondering how that torture could possibly be fun? I started a long way before any start line and I have come many miles more than those required during my first half marathon in Melbourne last year.
I have undertaken a virtual obstacle course and my scenic running journey has included overcoming myriad health issues including a cigarette addiction, poor body image, emotional eating and mental health challenges which compounded my lack of motivation. I lacked so much enthusiasm and zest and spent so much time on the couch in front of the idiot box I was affectionately dubbed “Norma” from the old 80’s ‘Life Be in It’ advertisements.
Early on in my running journey I found myself quite literally running for my life to overcome waves of serious depression and anxiety as well as feelings of being overwhelmed by general helplessness. My self -confidence had really plummeted as I transitioned into only wearing plus size clothing and my need to compensate for my emotions by consuming crappy food became a vicious cycle akin to a self-fulfilling prophecy. I felt like crap, so I ate like it and the more I ate like it the worse I felt.
To my credit though I refused to remain my own victim in a cycle many people get stuck in. And so before long running became a saviour and I was embarking on a journey that was about so much more than simply weight loss. With the encouragement of my husband (Steve), I commenced walking laps of my street in a bid to get off the couch, get active and recommence getting out and about. This eventually lead to early morning strength training which I saw as complimentary and helped me build my physical capabilities and agility.
As I went from intervals to longer runs starting with 5 and 10km events, I discovered adrenalin highs and a sense of satisfaction. So I therefore traded the counterproductivity of cigarettes and alcohol which played a problematic role in my life for natural exercise endorphins that I now refer to as being “high on life.”
My greatest satisfaction was when I saw how happy and proud my young son Ted (aged four) was each time I was awarded at the end of each event with my “bling” (also known as a participant medal). With every milestone and event my view of myself began to change. In my mind I transitioned from a give up, quitter and inactive couch potato to a runner. I made a conscious decision to show an attitude gratitude for the body that had proven to be a sophisticated vessel for voyages that lit my soul.
As I ran and trained my weight dropped significantly. With each and every run I regained previously lost confidence. My self- esteem and mental health improved. I became less reclusive and less preoccupied with my weight and appearance. And I believe that as a direct consequence I my post-natal depression and anxiety lifted. I felt a far greater clarity of mind. To me, running is so much more than a physical challenge. It is a mental challenge, an emotional test in willpower, strength and adaptability. Each race is a challenge and by successfully completing events I began to move from barely surviving to thriving.
I no longer feared facing unflattering photos on social media and let’s not pretend that in the running game there are few opportunities for this to occur. Instead I embraced each journey and began to facilitate the sharing of running pictures, regardless of how poorly I felt I looked, because “every picture tells the story of part of my journey.” And running in particular is a journey which I believe has helped make me a better person.
Sometimes I feel like The Very Hungry Caterpillar who eventually transformed from it’s cocoon, found wings and became a butterfly. I know I’m so far from where I started and my smile these days is genuine. I am so delighted to take a far more active role in my son’s life instead of being a “from the sidelines Mum” who hides from being a full participant in the world. I cannot wait to see where running takes me next and am aiming for a full international marathon in Hawaii for my 40th birthday. I am really committed to showing respect for my body and embracing and pushing my own physical capabilities.
I am reminded more than ever that every epic journey or voyage of discovery starts with just a few small steps and a will to try. So my advice to others who feel as though they are merely (surviving rather than thriving) is to embrace your own life journey as a metaphorical run. Commence with a will to be challenged and then just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Move around obstacles, celebrate each milestones and do your best to enjoy and of course, go the full distance.
I concede that in the short term it might have been an easier option to stay a ‘from the sidelines Mum’ and merely watch as the world went by… and my son grew up. But that was something I couldn’t stomach for my future. I’m so glad that realistically now my life has much more meaning and is far richer in each and every aspect. I urge others to create their own adventures and futures instead of letting life butt drag you around. Imagine where YOU could go or even where you could take others (your family included) if you decided to change your life today! Get involved. Get active. Get up and about. Oh, and Life- Be In It!