When Joanna Fraser took up running last year, it changed her life – and mindset – in more ways than she could have ever imagined. Having seen her father grapple with depression, and subsequently experience the benefits of running in looking after her own mental health, Joanna is passionate about raising awareness of mental health issues, and the benefits of running for sufferers.
In May 2015, I completed my first ever running event, The Edinburgh Marathon Festival 10K. The route was stunning but the distance scared me. It seemed so far. A year later and I have just picked up my first marathon medal. I had a small panic attack when I ran my 10K, after getting to the top of the hill at the 3K point and feeling so hot, thirsty and out of control. How ironic that throughout the marathon I felt calm! A distance that required me to push my body’s limits and the footage surprisingly shows me smiling the whole way. I received a lot of messages after the marathon and the words from my brother, who ran the half on the same day, stuck in my head.
“You set your mind to it, did your training, smashed the 26.2 miles yesterday and did it all with a smile on your face. Very proud big brother”
You see, I put my feet in front of the other and I run but there is nothing special about the way I do it. I am no athlete nor do I have a petite frame. I am curvy and I still have a bit of extra weight on me from my two beautiful but HUGE babies. So what do I feel are the qualities that work for me to make my running a true success? As my brother wrote, I set my mind to it.
I am so passionate about mental health. Over the past year, I have raised around £4000 for The Mental Health Foundation. Watching my best friend, my Dad, being diagnosed with severe depression in 2014 was heartbreaking. I missed him so much. I knew how ashamed, scared and helpless he felt. All I could do was hold his hand and tell him I loved him. I decided I needed to be brave and started writing about depression and other taboo topics on my blog, mummyjojo.com. I wanted to spread awareness of how much exercise and, in particular, running has helped me.
Running provided me with the much-needed energy I needed after sleepless nights with a small baby and a two-year-old, while also helping ease some of the pain I was feeling from missing my Dad. It provided me those crucial – and all natural – feel-good endorphins I needed. People started to compliment me and tell me I was looking great, I was glowing, I had lost so much weight. What they didn’t realise was that these compliments were just the icing on the cake. Running, to me, goes so much deeper than that. This is the key to me sticking with it and never giving up as I have before. I now understand that fitness helps us so much mentally as well as physically. Even the days I crave the sofa, instead I lace up my shoes and head out. I never regret a run.
I love the meditation running brings me, indulging in a few minutes of calm and breathing. Our world is so fast paced. How good does it feel to stop? Running to me is stopping. My feet are moving but my mind is calm. I am lost in the run. I feel free. I feel alive. #keeponrunning