Most of us know that running can improve our mood and mindset and help us cope with stress. When stressful or traumatic situations arise, the temptation is often to go out for a run to clear our heads and feel better. It can also help us to deal with grief and trauma. “If something traumatic has happened, going for a run can be a really good opportunity to break things down,” says Philip Clarke, a Lecturer of Psychology at the University of Derby. “A run can be a really good opportunity to make sense of situations in your head.”
Clarke believes that emotional issues and the impact they have on our brain and thinking can be a powerful motivator, too. “First of all, any exercise releases endorphins,” he says. “You feel a lot happier for it. At the end of the day, it’s a happy drug. But emotion can also lead you to do incredible things. I’m sure you hear the stories of a mother whose child is under a car and they get this massive strength to lift the car. That comes from an emotive drive. It can lead to you being very reactive and can be very powerful.”
Here’s three women who, affected by difficult life events, used running as a powerful coping mechanism and, as result, went on to accomplish some brilliant achievements.
Janet Murray, Director, 42, Gravesend
“I took up running four years ago after a miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy and subsequently finding out I couldn’t have any more children (I have one daughter). Taking up running not only helped me get in shape after becoming a mum, it helped me cope with the difficult emotions I was experiencing.
Joining a running club and becoming a regular at parkrun has also helped me make new friends and given me something to focus on. Since then, I’ve run two marathons, lost a stone in weight and have discovered I’m reasonably quick for my age. This year I’m running the Virgin Money London Marathon to raise money for the Miscarriage Association for the second time.”
Jenny McNicholas (on the right), press officer, 26, Derby
“I lost my dad at the age of 25 and found running helped me to manage my emotions. I signed up to a half-marathon and I used to use my training time to think about him. Sometimes I’d cry, sometimes I’d laugh, but it felt far more constructive than lying in bed crying. I ran before Dad died but it was more of a hobby and I’d only run about 5K. Afterwards, I decided to sign up to a half-marathon. I felt frustrated because when he was ill there was very little I could do but, with running, it felt like I was in control. Getting fitter was unintentional, but it happened. While I was running my emotions were strong. It was time out for me to digest that Dad wasn’t here anymore.”
Lekha Mohanlal, communications manager, 26, West London
“I took up running to distract me from a horrible job and now am able to run a half-marathon, and have lost just over a dress size. When I first began running, I was often in tears because work was getting me down and I felt out of control. I wanted to be in control of my body and running gave me that. Pounding the pavements had a bigger impact on me mentally than physically. All I could think about was work and the moment I laced up my trainers and set a new distance goal all I thought about was hitting that goal. Afterwards I felt calmer and happier. Running long distances helped my self-confidence grow in all aspects of life. Five years ago I wasn’t able to run for 10 minutes, now I can run a half-marathon.”