How running changed my life

This post is less about Thomas and more about me, so I apologise now! It does however relate to life with Thomas. 

There are many stresses and strains involved in caring for Thomas. I have experienced anxiety for many years and I had managed this with occasional medication (Propranolol and Diazapam). I don’t need to take regular medication but sometimes there are times when issues arise and I struggle to sleep, as these things play on my mind and cause my heart to race. I try mindfulness/meditation initially but when this doesn’t work I take medication to help me sleep.

I had for some time considered I’d like to do some running as it would help my mental as well as my physical health. I know it’s important to keep myself strong and healthy given I will have to care for Thomas for the rest of my life, or his. 

In January last year I saw a local running club were starting a Couch to 5k course and I signed up. I was looking at being able to get out running for about 20 minutes at a time, 2 or 3 times a week. That, I felt was all I’d have time for and would be enough to help my mental and physical fitness. 

I knew my husband was keen to get back into running too and my parents agreed to come over so we could do the course one evening a week. So off we went in the cold and the dark, with a group of about 60 others all wanting to start the new year improving themselves. We got out in all weathers and having the course to attend meant we made ourselves do it and then made sure we did our homework in between so that we could keep up the next week. In March we did it, we ran our first 5k. I had achieved what I set out to do and I had also noticed an improvement in my mental health. I was relaxing easier at night and relying on medication less often. This is despite the fact that a couple of weeks after we started the course we had a very difficult and upsetting experience with a professional, which escalated and led to a number of problems with others. It continued throughout the year (and in fact hasn’t really ended) but I handled the stress a lot better than I would have in the past. I am convinced it relates to the affect of running. (I had also read this book which explained the links between running and mental health https://amzn.to/2kAHMcU )

It turns out that that was just the beginning though. Our trainers at the running club said they’d carry on if we wanted to progress from 5k. I initially wasn’t going to, I’d achieved my goal, and I didn’t want to trouble my parents any further, but when they found out they insisted they were happy to keep coming over to look after the children so my husband and I could have that evening together and I could keep running. So I went along and a small group of us increased our running week by week and in July we entered our first race, a 5 mile (8k) local run organised by the running club. I was at the back of the pack, eventually 4th from last but it didn’t matter, I had done it.

The group of us who’d been running together then agreed to keep meeting to run together. One in the group set up a Facebook group so we could co-ordinate meeting up and running together. Again we increased our distances and I entered a 10k race in early September, completing it quicker than I hoped and earning my first medal!

At around this time we had put in an application to the Sequal Trust for an eye gaze system for Thomas. On our runs we got to chat to each other and know each other better. We’d been individuals during our training, now we were friends and one night I was chatting to Pat. I explained about Thomas and mentioned the eye gaze. She told me she wanted to run a 10k race but she felt to push herself to do it she’d need to be sponsored so she asked if she could do it for Thomas. I was overwhelmed and humbled. I agreed and in October Pat completed the 10k race, raising over £500 in the process.

I began to consider taking part in a half marathon then. I now knew I was capable if I could fit in the training though the one I had my eye on, Conwy, was only 6 weeks away so I sought advice from Josie, who had trained us. She assured me I could do it and said she’d run it with me. She also then asked if she could continue the fundraising for Thomas’ eye gaze. She explained she ran the Conwy half marathon each year in memory of her son Elis, who was born prematurely and died aged 6 months in November and she’d like to run for Thomas too. So “Team Thomas” was launched, with fellow runner, and now, friend Sal contributing running buffs (neck scarves) to be sold in aid of Thomas and his eye gaze. The final sums were raised for the eye gaze and he received it a week before the half marathon.

The day of the half marathon was a beautiful, clear crisp morning. It was a very special day and when I really felt like part of the running community. I kept spotting the orange buffs on people whom I’d never met, whom had chosen to get behind the cause and join “Team Thomas”! It was such a boost. I can’t say I enjoyed the run but, with Josie’s support, I did it! Within 11 months I’d gone from couch to half marathon!

This year we joined the running club and attended a number of races with them. It’s lovely to go and be part of the club. It’s a social event. I may not be anywhere near the fastest but the advantage of coming in as one of the last ones from the club is there’s plenty of people to welcome you as you cross the finish line!

The whole family has also become involved in parkrun. My husband and I started running parkruns after we completed Couch to 5k as they are free, timed 5k runs on a Saturday morning. In August Josie and others from our circle of running friends set up a new one close to us. As well as running it I volunteered occasionally. One day I dragged our 10 year old daughter along when I was volunteering as my husband was taking Thomas skiing. A volunteer failed to attend and I roped Emily in to take over barcode scanning. She was less then keen and even less so at being told she had to wear a high vis top! At the end though she loved it and insists on going every week. She has achieved her 25 volunteering milestone and is really part of the team. Every Saturday morning we are doing something together as I run or volunteer there and I don’t have to feel it’s impacting on family time. On the anniversary of the parkrun starting a few weeks ago all volunteers were asked to dress in fancy dress so we went as a family with my husband, Thomas and I manning a marshall point with an 80s theme, having made Thomas a boom box costume.

Getting into running has meant so much more than just fitness to me. I am more relaxed and experience less anxiety symptoms. Added to the usual stress and burdens of caring such as fighting for services I have found I had lost my identity and become “Thomas’ mum”. Medical professionals even call me “Mum”. (What’s that about? They even do it when they don’t have to. “How’s he doing Mum?” Why add the “mum” to the end?? Anyway, I digress.) I gave up my job and career after Thomas was born. I’ve taken on voluntary roles but all related in some way to having Thomas. Now running and the running community has given me my own identity again but it’s also involved our whole family. It’s completely changed my life. I’m so grateful to all who have helped me with my journey.

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