6 weeks ago, I decided to restart the Couch to 5K programme. I used to run regularly, but had rarely more than a mile in the past 2 years. When I started C25K again, I realised that I didn’t need to start at the beginning and was able to skip a few weeks. I started off on the treadmill, but within 2 weeks I had taken to running outside. I swapped music for audiobooks and I started to love the half an hour I spent outside running and walking three times a week. I’d never been excited to run, until then.
Three weeks after discovering my new-found love, I got a chest infection. I was out for three weeks and if you ask anyone, including my doctor, I was pretty unhappy about it. My chest eventually cleared, I got a new inhaler, and I was ready to go. I was anxious about my first run back. I’d been running for as long as I’d been ill, so I anticipated my progress would be wound back to day one. I managed a mile. Rather than feeling disheartened, I praised myself for getting out. I was breathless and wheezy by the time I got back, but couldn’t wait to go back out again.
A couple of days later, I came across someone posting daily in a C25K group. She was on just over 1000 days of a running streak. I had no idea that running streaks were a thing that anyone except crazy, hardcore ultramarathon runners did. I looked into it. The aim is to run at least a mile every single day, for as many days as you can. Each time I ran, I resented the fact that I had to take rest days to let my body recover. But, somehow, these people didn’t. Their rest days were running 1 relaxed mile instead of 3 miles, 10 miles, 20 miles. I got excited. Maybe I could do it? I made a promise that I wouldn’t be self-critical if I missed a day and started back at day 1, so I started on Sunday.
I completed day 5 this morning. On day 3, I set out to run a slow mile and kept going. I ran 5K (3.1 miles) without stopping. It was the first time in 2 years that I’d managed anything more than a mile or two. I can’t tell you how happy I was. I couldn’t stop smiling all day. As soon as I got home from my run, I signed up for a 10K race. I knew it would be a much bigger challenge, but I was excited for it. I jiggled and giggled in the car on my way to work.
My ankles and one of my knees have been sore the past couple of days, so I’ve done my mile, ticked my box and applauded myself for going. Tomorrow I’m planning to go for a longer run, if my body says I can.
One of the highlights of starting to run each day has been that, for the first time since I went off ill from my job in London in May last year, I have a routine. My work schedule varies daily: some days I start at 9.30am and finish at 7pm, on other days I start work at 1pm and finish at 9pm. Each day I’ve set my alarm for 7.30am, hopped out of bed straight into my running gear, had a glass of water, gone out for my run with an audiobook playing through my headphones, come home covered in mud (I run a very muddy route and puddles make me happy), jump in the shower, have my breakfast, make my lunch, then either go out to work or spend some precious time doing absolutely whatever I want to do, then I get home and am in bed by 11pm.
Up until last week, whether I was in work at 8am or 12pm, I hopped out of bed 30 minutes before I needed to leave for work, jumped in the shower, occasionally grabbed a banana, and ran out of the door, then I was in bed usually by 2am.
Having a routine has done more for me than I ever expected it do. The routine came naturally, without deliberate intention. I wake up happy, rested (having had 8 hours sleep) and optimistic about the day ahead. The intense anxiety I was experiencing has mostly disappeared and the people around me have noticed that I seem to be happier. I eat three full meals a day, which rarely happened, and my energy is much more level than it has been.
On my runs, I’m listening to The Happiness Project by Gretchin Rubin. In her book, she shares this quote from the poet W. B. Yeats: “Happiness is neither virture, nor pleasure, not this thing nor that, but simply growth.”
Running is making me happy because each time I run I’m growing – running is making me push myself and allowing me to reward myself. The nature of struggling with depression has meant that I’m self-critical and don’t often feel a sense of achievement when I do things. I’m running for pleasure, not for praise; but, at the same time, I feel like I’m achieving something. I excitedly share my achievements with those around me, but I don’t look for praise from anyone except myself.
When I don’t run as far as I set out to, I don’t feel any need to chastise myself: I feel good that I’ve gone out. I’ve accomplished something. As of yet, I’ve never been unhappy after coming in from a run.
I’m excited for tomorrow. A new day, a new run.