2016 was possibly the worst year of my life.
In fact, it was the worst year of my life. I felt like I’d lost everything: anxious to the point I couldn’t leave the house, I quit my job due to mental health without having another job to go to and my spending got out of control. I cried myself to sleep most nights. I’d hit rock bottom.
But, amidst this overwhelming distress, I found running.
However, nothing in life is simple. In April 2016, I ran the Brighton marathon, smashing it in four hours, ten minutes. I loved it but hung my boots up because I just wasn’t in love with it – I hadn’t caught `the bug`. But in November, after a period of being at my lowest again, I found some Run Through (@runthroughuk) events that caught my eye.
The first one was the Olympic Park 10k in December. So, I dusted off the trainers that still had the laces done up from the Brighton marathon, put on my old running gear, and went out for a training run.
And, just like that, I finally fell in love with running. Being out there was where I found peace – I was gone for ages! It made me realise that running could help me a lot.
When the 10k came around, I went there on my own, to a place I had never been, lined up with a few hundred other people in a big crowd, and ran a 55-minute 10k. To say I was over the moon is an understatement! I got home and immediately signed up to more races. The buzz of the Run Through events got me hooked. I was so inspired by other runners on social media that I decided to go to a runners’ gathering at Hyde Park in February to meet them.
2017 – Time for change.
When the day of the meetup came, I was nervous as hell! I got to Hyde Park and turned back, then went back again, and again, and again until, finally giving myself a kick up the backside, I walked into the Serpentine Bar.
Instantly I felt relaxed. The runners greeted me with hugs, and I was able to run with them for two laps around Hyde Park, chatting about their wedding plans, careers, and my own life. We then sat and chatted while eating pizza. It was a great day! I felt happy for the first time in a long time.
The next day I cheered the guys on at the London Winter Run before going to London Bridge for drinks. I couldn’t remember the last time I had laughed so much.
This is when things changed for me. I realised that I could help people in my own way. I realised that anxiety and mental health troubles were far more prominent than I had thought – it wasn’t just me suffering! I wanted to share my experiences and help others also try running as their outlet. Something clicked, and I set up ‘The Anxious Runner’ on Facebook and Instagram: they both grew rapidly, and I was reaching out to people from all over the place!
Meanwhile, more races came and went. I ran again at Olympic Park and got a time of 47 minutes – eight minutes faster than my personal best! I was so happy to see my daughter at the end, who had come to watch with my parents despite the fact it was freezing.
I was gaining confidence and becoming more aware of mental health issues and different ways to maintain positive mental health. I could see new ways in which I could help, so I decided to start up my own virtual challenge business. I thought that a brilliant way to get people into exercise would be to reward people for achieving their goals. I threw myself in at the deep end and went to a large event.
It was time to show people that you can do anything if you put your mind to it. So I booked the London to Brighton challenge: a gruelling 100k ultramarathon from Richmond Park in London to Brighton race ground. I had 11 weeks to go! I ran 10ks, half marathons, and even a couple of full marathons – all part of the training for the ultra. I was super excited!
I really didn’t know what to expect when the big day rolled around. I knew I could run a marathon, but could I tackle an ultra? The first 10k was fine, pounding the streets of London, and then the trail running started.
The first checkpoint was at 12.5k, where I sat and rested. I felt good, but I didn’t get anything to eat, which proved to be a huge mistake. The trails were hard, and the course was so widespread that it was difficult to stay motivated, especially as I was running on my own. It was my toughest mental battle so far. The second checkpoint was at 25k, with 75k still to go. I was alone with my thoughts for two and a half hours.
I was crumbling but still battling on. I wanted to get to the halfway point (56k) and see where that would take me. After 25k I ran with two other people; one incredibly motivational, one very much not.
“You’re going too slow!”
“I’m pushing on!”
“We aren’t going to hit my target if we go at this rate!”
I didn’t need this!
I found the inner strength to carry on through extreme mental and physical pain and made it to 56k in six and a half hours: bang on what I expected.
It was then that I broke down. I sat for an hour before calming down and giving my number back. I made my way back to Brighton via train and hardly slept a wink, giving myself time to think. I was so happy. I may not have completed the whole 100k but I still smashed 56k and was an ultramarathoner!
More races followed the ultramarathon. I continued to find new ways to manage my anxiety and used that to motivate others to get into exercise. I had wanted my Instagram name to follow my journey ever since discovering I suffered from a severe form of anxiety (kieronsruns to theanxiousrunner_). Now, I wanted my name to reflect my achievements, so I changed my Instagram name to @anxious_to_ultra. I wanted to show that you can manage your anxiety through running, like me.
By this point in the year I had completed four marathons and two ultramarathons (my second being the St Albans Stampede). I felt this perfectly reflected my progress in 2017!
I’m an anxiety sufferer with a dry sense of humour and a massive heart.
Anxiety is something I’ve suffered from since I was seven, when I used to walk to school worried about whether today would involve name calling or being beaten up. I suffer from it on a daily basis.
2017 has been a year that has changed everything. I constantly find new ways of dealing with my anxiety, using that to help others. I’ve made friends with some amazing people, both in person and over Instagram. For the first time in my life, I am proud of myself and everything I’ve achieved. 2016 saw me fall apart and hit rock bottom, but the only way from there is up!
So, 2016, thank you for the struggles, 2017, thank you for the lessons, and 2018 – look out!
This blog was written for us by Bobbie-Lee