Over the past 3 months I have been facilitating a wellbeing support group for a local mental health charity. A small bunch of wonderful people show up every 2 weeks and support one another in improving their wellbeing. It is a highlight of my week, observing the power of peer support and celebrating peoples’ passion and commitment to their own recovery journeys.
In our last group session we discussed the benefits of exercise on our mental health, of which the research is extensive. Each member shared their own experience with exercise. When it came to my turn, I was honest about my current lack of motivation and/or commitment to any real exercise. I went on to make a (very) weak commitment to complete a 5km parkrun sometime before the year was out.
I have had a pretty inconsistent approach to exercise over the years. Ranging from a year of intense 11 hour field days/6 days per week during my stint in Tanzania to the present day, where I am desk bound for most of my week. I cautiously dip my toe in to a bit of cycling or running now and again, but quickly come up against my persistent and rather intimidating inner critic. It’s usual message arrives shortly after beginning any exercise challenge and goes something like; ‘You can’t do this, you should just give up, why are you torturing yourself, etc etc. More often than not I obey and give up for another few months.
After the group had finished that week, my colleague whom I had been facilitating the session with (an avid runner herself) confronted me about the vague commitment I had set. ‘So, are you free in 2 weeks time, lets do the park run together?’. I agreed without much thought or intention to actually follow it through, plus I had 2 weeks to form a believable excuse.
As the day approached, I found myself actually considering doing it, I even signed up for my barcode (just incase). The sun had been shining for most of the week and I was feeling pretty positive. As Friday night approached, I turned down drinks in favour of going home and getting an early night, (just incase). Was I actually going to run this? (It was starting to feel more likely!). Saturday morning arrived with light drizzle and a text from my friend – ‘are you still up for it?’ This was my last chance to back out, but I somehow committed.
The rain was falling thick and fast as I parked up. I was immediately drawn to the trail of people in colourful raincoats marching towards the starting line, goals in mind. I found myself feeling excited (much to my own surprise).
I sit writing this post after having completed my first ever parkrun and I am feeling proud of myself! To many, this may not be much of an achievement, but it took a lot to get myself there and out of my comfort zone. 3km in I had a stitch, my feet were soaking wet and I felt mis-er-a-ble. I was complaining out loud (between desperate breaths) and my inner critic was wrecking havoc inside; ‘I knew you couldn’t do this, why did you bother, you are no runner, you could just stop after the first lap’. I kept going. My colleague offered words of encouragement and the amazing volunteers cheered me on through mine/my inner critic’s protests.
The overall experience wasn’t particularly pleasant, but it wasn’t completely awful either. And there were some highlights – a coffee at the end, the sense of community and support throughout, being out in nature on a Saturday morning, and speeding up to cross the finish line.
As I write this, I realise that by committing to the run, I was also committing to myself and my personal journey. I completed something that my inner critic told me I couldn’t do. I pushed myself forward when I wanted to stand still and give up. I do feel nervous about committing to next week’s run and my inner critic has already piped up to tell me that today was a one off, so I shall finish with saying….watch this space!
If anyone has any tips to share with a beginner runner they would be gratefully received!
You can also read about me committing to climb a mountain here: LESSONS LEARNED FROM CLIMBING A MOUNTAIN