Guest Contributor: Emma Furnival
I would like to start this guest post by saying I am not a naturally “athletic” person. As a young girl, I was awful at PE – I was regularly picked last for teams, and would actively avoid running as much as possible in cross-country, by half-hardheartedly jogging until I was out of the teachers’ sight! If you had told me at that time that in my twenties running would have become a vital part of my life, I would have laughed you out of the room.
My first “proper” foray into running happened last summer, when my mum was unexpectedly diagnosed with breast cancer. I was on a train from my home town in Chester (UK) to my new home in Manchester, feeling frustrated, desperate and in complete despair at the lack of control this new situation had left me with. Then, while swiping through nonsense on my phone, I spotted a post promoting a sponsored 5k run for Cancer Research UK, one of the biggest cancer charities we have. “This is it, this is how I can salvage something positive from this awful situation” I thought. Just one slight problem – I hadn’t ran for over ten years (not counting running for buses), and even then I hated every second! I also felt like I wasn’t particularly “built” for running; I have always struggled with body confidence, and wondered if I was actually capable of completing this challenge I had set for myself in the heat of the moment. I knew then that I couldn’t do this on my own.
I am lucky enough to be a part of an all-female gym, Siren Asylum, which is full of fierce, fearless, wonderful women. Through this, I discovered their running club. I started going out with them twice a week, listening to their advice and tips, sharing experiences, and laughing together. I have seen an amazing quote doing the rounds on Instagram – Behind every successful woman is a tribe of other successful women who have her back. This quote couldn’t be more relevant to this running club, and Siren Asylum in general. I had already experienced a wealth of love and support from my fellow Sirens, however this in particular hammered home the importance of being surrounded by positive, strong, wise women.
Another thing that running has given me is headspace. To me, there isn’t much else that is more therapeutic than putting my headphones in, cranking some music up, getting out there and seeing how far I can go. Running gives me time to process every emotion, negative and positive, although I find it particularly effective if I’m angry or sad. After suffering from depression and anxiety in my late teens/early twenties and having adopted some unhealthy coping mechanisms, I have finally realized a healthy outlet that benefits my mental health rather than serving to further destroy it.
I have since completed the 5k, then ran a 10k in my home town in March. After that, I then completed my first half marathon in May! I guess the main things running has taught me are:
- You don’t have to run (or do any other sport or activity for that matter) with the aim of being “the best” at it. The thing that put me off exercise for years was my experiences at school, where “winning” was prioritised over giving your best effort, or exercising to feel good about yourself. In my opinion, this is the wrong approach, and needs to be shut down. I know full well I am probably never going to win any of the races I take part in, and that’s totally fine with me. I am doing this for my own sense of achievement, and to prove to myself that I can do it.
- Pay close attention to the positive influences in your life. Listen to the voices telling you that you are capable of amazing things (because you are!). I am super lucky to have a supportive partner, family and friends, as well as the tribe at Sirens I mentioned earlier. However, I appreciate that this may not be the case for everybody – and sometimes the worst criticisms can come from our own minds. If you’re struggling with low confidence, or self-esteem, or just generally feeling beat down by life, reach out to someone – a trusted friend or family member. Another thing I have found helpful is looking back over what I have achieved each month, and writing it down in my diary; it doesn’t have to be anything “huge”, even if it’s something like “asking for help”, or “keeping going when I felt like giving up”. That way, if I’m having a bad day I can look back and see how far I’ve come!
To close this little post, I would just like to add that I had my 28th birthday a few weeks ago… will I reach my goal of running a full marathon before I hit 30!?