“I’m living proof of the inextricable link between running and positive mental health.”
As a child, I ran a lot; my dad was a marathon runner. I drifted away from the sport in my 20s, and then had three children.
After my third daughter was born I joined my local running club. I knew I had to do something for me.
I was so nervous before going to the first session. I had to force myself to leave the house, but it was exhilarating! I felt free and found a community of like-minded people.
Not long after I went through divorce.
It was very prolonged and complicated as my ex-husband moved to New Zealand. I found myself bringing up three girls alone. Anxiety overcame me.
As much as I tried I struggled to keep going during my divorce, let alone keep running.
With no partner to help with childcare I could only run if I put my children in a field, then ran around them. I lost my fitness and stopped going to races. Just getting through each day took all the energy I had.
As I went in and out of the school playground, every day, so many women would share their life issues with me. We all needed an outlet. I wanted to offer support to other mums like me, who could only run when their children were at school. I qualified as an England Athletics running coach, then set up a morning run group.
For the first few years post-separation my life was a mess. My ex-husband moved 12,000 miles away and it took four years of battling before I received maintenance. It really was just me.
It was a slow journey back, but I received constant support from the women in my group. If I hadn’t kept running through the experience, I wouldn’t have been able to cope with the pressure. Running gave me strength, a new focus, time away from mum duties and a sense of purpose again.
Watching the women I coached get fitter and stronger, and believe in themselves kept me going during the dark times.
My group forced me to leave my house when I wanted to hide away. Carrying on running, however slowly, while helping others improve, was the best decision I made.
I became an England Athletics Mental Health Ambassador, and organise #runandtalk events to encourage people to give the sport a try.
My view is: if I can do this, so can you. I’m living proof of the inextricable link between running and positive mental health.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done some awful races in the last few years, as I try to balance being a mum with work and training.
Some weeks I manage four runs, others none. But I’ve learnt there’s no right or wrong way to train, and listening to our bodies allows us to keep our running consistent.
Sport is a big part of our family; it’s helped my three girls and I cope with difficult experiences and emotions. At the moment, all three of my girls ‘hate’ running! But two of my girls are dancers and the youngest, Sienna, aged 11, is a gymnast; she placed 23rd in the UK this year. Maybe one day, when they’re ready, they’ll give running a try.
Without the group, I wouldn’t have coped with a dark chapter of my life.
Running, however hard it feels at the time, gives you strength and self-belief, a theme in my new book, The Divorce Survival Guide: How Running Turned My Life Around, which has six easy steps on how to introduce exercise, and running, into your life to help you cope with difficult emotions and give you strength to face your future.
I have running to thank for helping me believe in myself again. I’m so happy I didn’t give up and so grateful to the women (and men) I run with.
You can run, too… tips on getting started
If you’re new to running start slow; do a five-minute warm-up such as power walking or jogging on the spot to raise your heart-rate and body temperature.
Then do some simple dynamic stretches such as single leg lunges (10 on each leg) and squats (10).
Try a walk/run between lampposts. Start by jogging two lampposts, then walking two. Slowly increase the numbers you run.
Run with a buddy; it will keep you motivated and committed to going out, which gets harder during the winter.
Look for a local, friendly group led by a qualified leader on the RunTogether website (runtogether.co.uk).
Find your local parkrun (parkrun.org.uk) and walk it. Then every week, as you progress, start off running and see if you can keep going for a few minutes extra, until you eventually complete your first 5K!
Reward yourself when you reach every small milestone such as 10 minutes, one mile then two miles etc of continuous running. Buy a magazine or go for a coffee – you deserve it!
To kick-start your fitness, use the NHS Live Well Couch to 5K training plan (nhs.co.uk/livewell/c25k).
Tina Chantrey is a running coach and contributing editor of Women’s Running magazine. Her latest book is The Divorce Survival Guide: How running turned my life around
You can follow what her running group gets up to every week on Instagram @shewhodaresruns
Tina’s freelance career spans over 20 years, during which she has written on all aspects of health, fitness and nutrition.
Tina is contributing editor of Women’s Running magazine, the award-winning blogger shewhodaresruns and her book The Divorce Survival Guide: How Running Turned My Life Around, was published this summer.
She is a qualified running coach, England Athletics Mental Health Ambassador and mum of three girls, Lola, Amelie and Sienna.
You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @shewhodaresruns
Feature Photo Claire Kelson