It’s no secret that many people find exercise is one of the best mental health remedies available. They are starting to realise that getting to the gym or going for a run can be what gets them through the day. I’m no different. Despite being literally the worst at sports in my whole year at school, I started running when I was at uni and it helped me get over a nasty break-up and pulled me through a very dark time in my life. I’m not fast and I’m not athletic, I just enjoy the feeling of freedom it gives me.
Although my running had only ever been recreational, I have to admit I’d always wanted to run a marathon. I knew that raising almost £3,000 for a charity to run the London Marathon would be a mammoth task, but I had read that the Paris Marathon doesn’t have a ballot or minimum charity entry, it’s just 99 Euros and you’re in. So I entered.
Suddenly, I had a solid goal. I bought a proper pair of running trainers that supported my flat feet and I worked on my running technique. What do you know, I could run pain-free! One of the most amazing feelings was being able to run further than ever before. I entered half marathons. I enjoyed them. I entered more. I beat my PB.
Before I knew it I was up to 15 miles, then 18, then the big 20. Running 20 miles for the first time was amazing. I was able to run to places I’d never been able to run before because they were too far. I checked in with my family halfway and they couldn’t believe how far from home I was. Neither could I. It felt like an adventure.
There’s something so incredibly freeing about being able to just run and reach a destination under your own steam, carrying your own water and nutrition, feeling like you could go on forever. If I wanted to walk, I walked. If I got a text, I replied to it. The key to my marathon training was that I wasn’t taking it too seriously. I didn’t have a time goal, I just wanted to finish. I was told it was rare to get to the start line uninjured. I was doing star jumps after my 20-mile training run.
The winter absolutely flew by, as did some 300 training miles. I’d listened to the entire music library on my phone. I wore out three pairs of socks. I ate carbs without regret. Before I knew it, race day had arrived. I was so nervous! Little did I know it was going to be the best day of my life.
I arrived at the start line a different person from the person who had signed up to the race. I’m notoriously flaky and there have been a lot of times when I’ve said I’ll do something or sign up to an event and then never go through with it. But this was different. I had worked by butt off (almost literally) to get to this point. This was it. I was going to run a marathon.
Before we even started the race I could feel myself getting choked up. A song that I love started playing on the loudspeakers. I looked around at all the thousands of other people here, wearing similar outfits, bouncing nervously, all about the embark on the same challenge. We all had different reasons for being here, or maybe they were all the same. Ultimately, if you don’t enjoy running, you wouldn’t do it, and you certainly wouldn’t run a marathon. This was a sea of people with a shared passion.
As we ran through the streets of the beautiful city, people were calling my name (which was printed on my race bib) and cheering me on. I felt like a celebrity! I smiled and waved to the fans. One girl even held a sign that said (in French) “Hey stranger. I’m here for you! You can do this!” I started choking up again. I waved at her.
As I ran, I sang dramatically to my music and made sure I took in all the sights. Le Louvre. The Eiffel Tower. The Seine. I saw my boyfriend at Mile 20. He said that under his sunglasses he was tearing up because he was so proud. He wouldn’t take off the sunglasses so no one could see him crying. I didn’t have enough water in my body to produce tears.
Physically, I felt terrible. I was running on empty even though I was drinking and eating and I felt exhausted. But mentally, I felt the best I’ve ever felt. It felt like my mind and my body were separate entities, helping each other move forward, supporting each other like best friends. I felt differently about myself that day. I no longer hated myself or loathed my flabby legs. They were getting me round the course. I was proud of them.
I didn’t cry when I got to the finish line. I was too tired. All I could muster was, “I did it! I ran a marathon!” I had defied the odds and reached my goal. I worked hard to get there. No one had helped me. It was something I did myself and I can be eternally proud. And that’s why I think you should run a marathon, too. It’ll change your perception of yourself. It’ll help you to fall in love with yourself. It’ll make you realise what both your body and mind are capable of, no matter where you start. Even if you’re five stone overweight. Even if you’ve never run in your life. Even if you’re so depressed you haven’t smiled in weeks. Give it a go, it might just change your life too.