Guest post: Michelle. What are you running from?

A post by our lovely Michelle Heale about her running journey and so much more.

What are you running from?

I joined a running club back in 2012, the year after my marriage had broken down. In all honesty, I was a bit lost, I was a working single mum to two young children and in amongst all the day to day doing, I had lost my sense of identity and couldn’t find any purpose in my life. As always, I was particularly hard on myself for not ‘being’ better when in fact, I was doing the best I could with what I had available and the perceived lack of forward motion was ok, slowing down for a while had been what I needed to do.

When a friend suggested taking part in a beginner’s running course in April, it wasn’t expensive, it was local and the timings suited, I thought why not? Thinking back now, I joined with all the nervous enthusiasm of starting something new, but I don’t think I ever truly believed it would stick, or rather I would stick at it. The first time I ran a mile, I genuinely thought I was done in, I felt sick, I was sure my heart was going to come through my chest like the alien out of Sigourney Weaver and I was adamant that it was not for me. It is amazing how quick I forgot the pain as I was making plans to run a couple of days later! My friend had already stopped coming by this point so that pushed me even further out of my comfort zone; it was much harder to turn up solo, much easier to find an excuse, but I had already realised the amazing strength of a running community. For the first time in what seemed liked forever, I belonged somewhere, these were my people, and I could not wait to get to the park on a raining, miserable Wednesday night to make myself feel physically sick as I pushed my body past what it thought it was capable of. I graduated the running course and ended with a four-mile fun run and a sense of pride and accomplishment that I didn’t think was possible.

Running became something I just got up and did, as often as possible, with whoever was around. I found myself joining running forums, meeting (almost) strangers for a quick 3 miler before tea. I barely recognised the person I was becoming, physically and mentally. I lost a significant amount of weight, my social life was where I wanted it to be… but, and there is always a but, one slight injury saw it come crashing down. I started to struggle with pain in my ankles and knees and as quickly as I had come up, I came back down again. The problem with being injured when you have very little confidence or self esteem is that you convince yourself that you are to blame for the injury. For me, I was absolutely convinced that my joints hurt because I was too heavy so I went headfirst into restrictive dieting convinced that it would be the answer to all my problems. Unfortunately, once I started dieting, I couldn’t stop, it didn’t matter how much weight I lost, I still saw a fat person in the mirror. I knew something had to change but I genuinely didn’t know where to go for help and unfortunately, I had to break completely before I could be put back together again.

If I thought breaking down was hard, the process of rebuilding is ten times harder. I ended up in 12 months of therapy, identifying where those harmful behaviours and coping mechanisms first appeared and more importantly, how to change them. Towards the end of my sessions, we started talking about what things I needed to do to manage my mental health moving forward and we identified exercise as being key, so I got back in touch with some running buddies and went from there. There have been times where I haven’t run over the last few years but I have generally been quite consistent.

A couple of years later, I moved to Cippenham and saw this mad bunch of people doing workouts on a field, it took a bit of time, courage and seeing a face that I recognised to make the call and join up but two years later, I know that it was the best decision.

Now, I am part of an even bigger and better community in EL Fitness than I could have ever hoped for. I love the support that everyone gives, and I love being able to support other people. I still struggle with my weight and I find it very easy to slip back into disordered eating, but I know that if I ask for help, it will be there.

Something Sam said has always stuck with me – you are not exercising to earn food; you are exercising to enjoy the benefits. So now, I enjoy the exercise for what it gives, not for the calories that it burns, it took 40 odd years to understand it but got there eventually!

In terms of running, I am still out there at least 3 or 4 times a week and I have learnt that the pain I experienced before was nothing to do with me, I just needed a supportive pair of running shoes! I have completed my first half marathon and have another one booked and I am particularly pleased with my lockdown medal haul, I think it is fair to say that running regularly throughout the last 12 months has been key to maintaining my mental health.

So, what am I running from? Well, that has changed over the years, I have gone from running away from my problems and trying to find a purpose to running towards a great community, great friends and a more active and fulfilled life. It was a journey worth taking.

8 thoughts on “Guest post: Michelle. What are you running from?

  1. I can relate to every single word you said there, it was like myself speaking. Thank you for sharing and keep being YOU as you are clearly smashing your goals

  2. Wow Chelley! Amazing article and so pleased to be one of your running buddies. A problem halved springs to mind, so much easier to keep going when there is someone waiting to run with you, the fear of letting them down is far greater. Keep going and I look forward to us smashing the Serpentine in September xx

  3. Amazing post Chelley!!! so brave and powerful!!! your SO amazing and the support you give me and everyone around you with our own running journeys is amazing and so patient!

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