Today is World Mental Health Day: a day dedicated to raising awareness about mental health issues and advocating for mental wellbeing.

We celebrate mental health in almost every issue of Like the Wind magazine because running and mental health are inextricably linked. Running is powerful, versatile and takes on many forms. It can be an escapism for someone seeking comfort. It can be a meditation tactic or therapy. It can also be a confidence-booster, a cathartic release, a form of punishment and pain, or it can simply be running for the sake of running.

To celebrate World Mental Health Day, we share snippets of LtW stories that speak to the transformational power running brings to all facets of the mind and body. We hope these stories move, inspire and educate – or bring you solace today, or when you need it.

Running and control

Two hundred and sixty miles from home, depressed and suicidal, I’m locked inside a mental hospital. An obese alcoholic who eats junk food to escape my feelings. There is a runner inside me but my poor mental health led to poor physical health. I use alcohol to escape my loneliness and always need more of it. Whenever I see a runner I feel utterly hopeless, like a piece of me is dead.

Two weeks in, they ask if we want to use the sports hall. Almost rejecting the idea as a joke, I decide to go. There could be a way to escape, or even send a message for rescue to my friends on the other ward. To everyone’s surprise I decide to run a few laps around the tennis court.

I feel a lovely freeness running in that tennis court. It’s a small court; you are always turning – I would do five laps one way and five the other, all the while dreaming I’m running down the River Mersey where, all those years ago, I used to run with the person I’m in love with. Sometimes it has just rained and I run my hand along the mesh fence to knock the raindrops off in a wave, giving a sense of speed and an out-of-body feeling allowing me to see the whole scene. Running is the only time I feel in control, given where I am.

words by Sofie Lewis in Sans shoelaces, issue 19.

Running and pain

When I was first diagnosed with the illness in April 2014, it completely changed the course of my life. It brought me to my knees and callously stole precious moments I will never get back. It snatched me away from my loved ones, leaving someone I hardly recognised in my place. I wasn’t living, I was merely being dragged through time; a compliant slave to the voice of anorexia as a war broke out between my mind and body.

Those early years were some of the darkest days I have ever experienced.

Running was just one of anorexia’s merciless accessories. It was another method of torture, and I despised it. Every night, I’d force myself to run for miles until my chest burned and my bones felt close to shattering. I hated every single step. Running was a quick way to burn off the food I had eaten during the day. Through a fitness app, I was able to track exactly how many calories I had consumed, and how many I was burning off. I became obsessed with watching the calorie deficit appear. I also became addicted to the warped sense of achievement that running granted me, although I realise now that it was not a positive achievement. I was running simply to inflict pain on myself and to punish my body. Despite the fact that I was slowly killing myself, the feeling of my bursting heart and the searing soreness of my bones made me feel alive. I believed that I deserved the pain.

words by Cara Jasmine Bradley in Dear anorexia, thank you for giving me running, issue 32.

I have been spinning a web for years now. I don’t remember which came first, but in my mind the two things are tangled up together. Chasing lampposts on cold, dark winter nights. Lonely hours spent in toilet cubicles and under the shower, holding a sharp object, watching beads of blood appear across my skin, feeling nothing. Trainers slapping against the canal towpath. There were places where the two habits collided in a confused clump of teenage emotions. An overwhelming feeling of despair would hit during a run and I would hesitate in a deserted tunnel under the motorway, teetering on the crux of a bad decision. Or an impulsive swipe towards barbed wire. Each time looking for damage.

I used to run alone. I used to run to survive, an intrinsic part of the web I spun. I thought the web would protect me, comfort me. But it is a web my adult self has been trying to untangle for many years. Finally, when the sun breaks through the trees, I look back and see the change in myself.

words by Bethan Logan in Silver web, issue 32

Running and catharsis

Running is the most effective tool I have at my disposal to manage my mental health, providing a reliable outlet to express feelings that otherwise might go unexpressed and to feel things that might otherwise go unfelt. There have been many times when I have inexplicably burst into tears after around six or seven miles of an easy run, a torrent of repressed emotions unexpectedly pouring out of me. The combination of movement, outdoors and quiet solitude that is absent in all other areas of my life gives me the permission I didn’t know I needed to connect more deeply with my subconscious, even if (especially if) it means examining the parts of myself I find unseemly or shameful.

It has taken me a long time to learn to respect running for what it is, and – crucially – what it isn’t. It can be a wonderful vehicle for self-actualisation, it can be also soulful and meditative and it can bring us closer to others and to nature. However, it is not required to be any of those things. To expect it to be will ultimately leave me disappointed and damaged. Running cannot fix me, it cannot make me whole and it cannot teach me self-compassion. Instead, I am now learning to treat every run as it comes and to allow myself to discover it as it unfolds, taking me wherever it and my feet allow.

words by Andy Punter in A means to an end, issue 36.

Running and solace

It’s an odd feeling when you’re told someone you love may only have 24 hours to live. Everything slows down. You begin to feel as if you’re dreaming. I must have stood there, staring at the floor, for at least 10 minutes. Finally I found the courage to go and sit by her. The tears were endless.

As I drove home I stopped by a regular five-mile route and ran. I needed time alone to gather my thoughts and come to terms with what was happening.

As my mother started to deteriorate, my anxiety and my training increased. I decided to target the 2019 Manchester Marathon as my sub-three. I put everything into running and stuck to my training plan like glue. This kept me focused and motivated, which meant I could cope with what was happening to my mother. At the Vitality Big Half, in horrendous weather, I crossed the line in 1h24m – a half-marathon time I never thought I’d achieve.

During the two years of my mother’s illness I discovered running was my saviour. Without it I don’t know how I would have coped. I still cry every day and have found a positive during the pandemic – I am able to grieve.

words by Ania Gabb in Mum, issue 27.

Being home all day led to countless trips to the kitchen. It became easy to get into a habit of unhealthy eating and not exercising. I would eat away my feelings. Breakfast turned in to two meals, then a snack. Lunch was three. And I always went back for seconds at dinner. I was the eldest of six boys and the responsibility of having to maintain a spotless image for my younger brothers was always at the forefront of my mind. I had to set a good example. Sadness, loneliness, shame, fear, guilt, the expectation of having to be the “macho” older son – to conform to my parents’ idea of what a young, Black male teenager should be – got to me when all I wanted was to be myself and not to have to hide who I am.

I started to use every opportunity I could, when I had a break in between classes, to get a 15-30 minute run in my neighbourhood. Eventually, those 15-30 minutes became an hour. I no longer dreaded the thought of having to exercise; I welcomed it. I felt exhilarated and at peace. Any worries about school or my home life would vanish. Running allowed me to clear my head and harness my strengths by entering a whole new world that I hadn’t known existed.

words by Aaron Nixon in I just wanted to be free, issue 32.

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