By Andrew Smith
Why I run is a question I’m often asked and a question I ask other runners too. I find it fascinating and intriguing to discover the many and sometimes complex reasons why people run. In today’s increasingly time consuming and fast moving society, why anyone would want to run with an already crowded social and work calendar when it is easier to get home, switch on the television and watch others running round a track, can be hard to comprehend.
I can only speak for myself why I run but like many others my reasons are various, complex and intertwined. What I get from running mentally and emotionally has changed too as my journey has continued and may even change again.
The best place for me to start is with some background information on my life and my running journey. This is my story of why I run.
Growing up I was never sporty. I played football, rugby, cricket and ran round a field at school, but I was always the runt of the class, one of the last to be picked and usually the last to finish. Through my teens, twenties and thirties I would play 5-a-side with work colleagues, but that was it as far as sport and running was concerned. Running was not for me. Into my forties and I stopped playing 5-a-side and the weight piled on. I soon went from around 14st when I turned forty to 19st 10lbs aged 45. I didn’t think anything of it. I was getting older and getting fatter was part of the process. Everybody went through the same thing and I was no different. This was life as I knew it.
But before all the weight piled on I had been diagnosed with depression in April 2001. For months before this I hadn’t been feeling well mentally, emotionally or physically. I was tired and disinterested in many things. The only respite I had was drinking with my mates at the weekends. Long term this didn’t solve anything but you don’t think long term when you get that short term fix of drinking yourself into oblivion so you can forget everything that you perceive as bad about your life. Your problems seemed solved because you can’t remember them. Until you come round the next day to realise that they’re still there, they haven’t gone away and all you can think about is the next weekend and going through the same routine.
So off to the doctors I went, and with his usual abrupt manner he told me I had depression. He put me on anti-depressants to help lift my mood so I could ‘man up’, get a grip and carry on with life as if nothing was wrong.
Except it was. The anti-depressants are, in my opinion, like state sanctioned alcohol tablets. They mask the problems causing you to be depressed because they make you drowsy, dull your senses and you are not fully aware of what is going on around you. This is my own opinion and others will have a different experience depending on what tablets they were prescribed and the dosage. I ended up on 40mg of Citalopram a day which made life bearable and forgettable. I tried Prozac for a while but not being able to stop inside because all four walls were closing in on you is not a good experience.
The depression, stress and anxiety continued to get worse as my problems mounted, despite the anti-depressants . I was reluctant to ask my doctor for an increase in dosage because I was already on 40mg a day and was having problems functioning fully day-to-day. I was also fearful of becoming addicted to them and then asking for higher and higher dosages to ensure that I got the same hit.
So during the mid 2000’s I found myself dependent on anti-depressants to get through the day. Stress and anxiety levels were increasing all the time, as were problems with alcohol and money, and I was in a job I hated. I could see no way out. I didn’t know who to turn to or where to go. This is the loneliest place to be. I decided that the only way to solve everything would be to take my own life. I mean who would miss a loser like me? So I made my first suicide attempt sometime in 2005. I attempted to overdose on tablets. I remember falling asleep and waking up the next morning drowsy – but alive. That morning I phoned in sick to work but was in work the following day as if nothing had happened. I told no one about this. What could anyone do to help me?
But life carries on regardless. I was alive and I had no choice but to regather my thoughts and get on with life. So I did.
Things got more and more intense and overwhelming for me though. I was in a desperate cycle of depression, anxiety and stress with no way out. This carried on for years and during the latter part of this period of my life I was somehow surviving on one hour of sleep a night and constantly have suicidal thoughts all through the day. This was not good for me or anyone around me and is not the way to live your life. Something needed to change.
And change it did. For many years, I had felt different and slightly out of touch with the rest of society. I didn’t know why, I couldn’t put my finger on anything and no one around me seemed to know either. And then my best friend Jill suggested I may have Asperger’s Syndrome, a high functioning form of autism. I did some research into Asperger’s and for the first time ever I could identify personality traits in myself with the characteristics of Asperger’s. It was like a light switch coming on in my head. I began to understand myself in a different way and look at society and life in a different way too.
However, this was only the start of a very long and tortuous journey through the minefield of getting a diagnosis which I eventually got in October 2008 after 18 months of battling a system that was seemingly more interested in money than the wellbeing of the patients it was supposed to be serving. I didn’t give in though and I got the diagnosis I felt I needed to move on with my life.
And move on I did. In 2009 I returned to college and got my O and A Levels. This enabled me to study for a degree in sociology at the University of Huddersfield. I began writing and performing poetry which fulfilled a need I had in me to be creative and express myself. But there was still something missing and this is when I discovered running.
I was chronically overweight and unfit due to an unhealthy diet and drinking too much alcohol. I had tried going to the gym but didn’t stick at it. Lifting weights in a room just wasn’t doing it for me and I got bored easily. Then on one of the Queensbury Facebook pages I saw an advertisement for people who wanted to start running to join a new beginners group at Queensbury Running Club. The guy who was running it was someone I had worked with many years before so I decided to give it a go.
That first session was hard but I enjoyed it. It was a nice pace with some walking in between. I coped with it and didn’t feel it was beyond me. This was around April 2014 and I carried on going all through the summer. Then autumn came; it got colder, wet and windy and I didn’t want to go out running anymore. Without realising it I had become a fair weather runner.
Over the autumn and winter of 2014 I stayed in and didn’t do any running. The weight stayed on and I was still searching for that missing something that would give my life more meaning and plug a hole in it.
March 2015 came round and I went to London for a professional voice acting recording. I was told I have a very good voice for recording but found it difficult to breath correctly due to weighing so much. I knew I needed to change if I was to make anything of my voice and so I went back to the running club at the first opportunity.
I soon got back into running, even more so than before. The club had expanded since my last visit and a lot more people had joined but after a couple of weeks it was as if I’d never been away. I was struggling, especially with getting my breathing right, but I was enjoying it and looked forward to running every Thursday night with the Queensbury Running Club gang.
I started slowly. From memory my first parkrun at Lister Park, Bradford was around 45 minutes and most of that was walking. I went to Shroggs Park, Halifax and I ran 40 minutes. I had knocked 5 minutes off my time but I was still walking part of the course. This was my next aim, to be able to run a full 5k with no stopping for hills or else I felt tired. I was determined that nothing would stop me achieving this target.
This was a major breakthrough for me. Rather than giving in and telling myself I couldn’t do it I told myself I could do it. And I did it. One summers day I laced up my running shoes and ran down one of the local roads. This was a good tactic as it allowed me to warm up without the added pressure of running uphill and get my legs ready for the long journey ahead of them.
I went down the hill and felt good. This is a nice road and at about a mile long is perfect for a warm up. Right up a small hill before down again. Before I knew it I had run 2 miles non-stop for the first time and I was running into uncharted territory. Would I manage 3 miles or would I collapse in a heap waiting for some dog walker to come by and rescue me?
I needn’t have worried. I carried on and on and on. All of a sudden I was running very slowly uphill but I was still moving and I passed the magical 3 mile mark according to my watch. I was so happy. I had achieved my running dream and run 3 miles without stopping. I felt like a Olympic superstar.
And from that point on running became fun as well as a way of losing weight and getting fit. I started running 3 miles and more on a regular basis and hills that had previously defeated me I conquered. It wasn’t easy and I would never pretend it was but the sense of achievement I felt was like nothing I had experienced before. I proved to myself I could do something, that it was not beyond me and most of all I enjoyed the experience.
And this continued. I entered races which, whilst I knew I had no chance of winning, I derived pleasure from by pushing myself to my limits and beyond. I found that I was capable of far more than I thought I was. I could do things I never believed I could and I discovered a new me, a better me that had more self-belief, more ability and more confidence.
This has gone over into other areas of my life. I now have more confidence in everyday life and I have learnt to be more patient. Running is a good analogy of life. It’s hard work, the results don’t come quickly but if you stick with it and persevere you do see an improvement in your physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.
And now over two years since I started running I’ve been to places I would never have been otherwise. I’ve met people I would never have met and had some of the most amazing experiences all through running. My mental, emotional, and physical health has improved immensely. I’m eating better, sleeping better, and living life to the full and I’ve got running to thank for it.