I suffered post-natal PTSD after my first son was born. It was a fairly rubbish birth, which left me both physically and emotionally scarred. I was very unhealthy afterwards (having gained over 6 stone during the pregnancy) and was left anaemic, exhausted and with an awful lot of stitches!
I hated my appearance – hated feeling so ill. I’d suffered body image problems before pregnancy so I was an emotional wreck at the ‘New Me’. After the usual 6 week check, I decided it was time to try the old ‘get back into shape’ routine … but then when my son was 4 months old, I suffered a Pulmonary Embolism. The embolism (caused by a blood clot that had lodged itself in my lung) had left my body weaker than ever. It left me with breathing difficulties and chronic chest pain, which meant simple things like walking were completely exhausting. I started not eating enough, in order to lose weight, which failed – it just sent my body into panic mode and made me feel lower than ever.
I fell pregnant again soon afterwards, and with hormones taking what little strength I had left, my health and emotional state were at an all time low.
Two months before my youngest was due, I saw an advert online for a local race. A half marathon, at the Eden Project in Cornwall. I have no idea why it appealed to me – I was still overweight, still unhealthy, still struggling. But something in me though ‘That sounds really hard. I bet I could do that.’ So, while 7 months pregnant in March 2014, I signed up for the October race. And when I’d gone through my second labour (also traumatic, thankfully less scarring), I started training.
Training did not go as easily as I’d hoped. I was not good – short legs and bad lungs do not a good runner make. I struggled to run for more than 2 minutes at a time. But at the same time something drove me – a need for something that was ‘mine’. Something that didn’t involve being a Mum, or being anxious. Something to distance myself from the unhealthy, unhappy person who’d suffered two traumatic births. I felt that I’d been weak (not true I now realise!) and I needed something to make me feel strong.
So I ran in circuits around my tiny village, plodding along in maternity joggers and a T-shirt I borrowed (read:stole) from my partner. I ran at night so no-one would see me. I cried more than once.
Eventually, slowly, I could run for 5 minutes. Then 10. Then suddenly something changed – I was running in the daytime, jogging though the woods behind our old house, or along the coast beside the sea. I was breathing in deep lungfuls of fresh air. I was smiling at people as they passed, enjoying being outside, alone, unencumbered. Once another runner high-fived me as I ran uphill, and the indescribable feeling of acceptance made me feel like I was flying.
I was still slow, I was still above my target weight. But I felt strong. I felt unstoppable.
With a few weeks to go to the big race, I was searching for inspiration when I found a poem online. It was written by Charles Hamilton Sorley (1895-1915), a Scottish soldier in the First World War. He wrote a lot about how running gave him freedom – something away from reason or purpose. He, like me, enjoyed running in the rain. But it was this one that gave me chills.
The Song of the Ungirt Runners
We swing ungirded hips
And lighten’d are our eyes,
The rain is on our lips,
We do not run for prize.
We know not whom we trust
Nor whitherward we fare,
But we run because we must
Through the great wide air.
The waters of the seas
Are troubled as by storm.
The tempest strips the trees
And does not leave them warm.
Does the tearing tempest pause?
Do the tree-tops ask it why?
So we run without a cause
’Neath the big bare sky.
The rain is on our lips,
We do not run for prize.
But the storm the water whips
And the wave howls to the skies.
The winds arise and strike it
And scatter it like sand,
And we run because we like it
Through the broad bright land.
It didn’t matter why I was running. I ran because I liked it. And sometimes, when you’ve been through dark times, finding something you like is the thing that saves you.
I ran my first Half Marathon when my youngest was 5 months old. I’d gained a new life. And yes, I’ve lost several stone – (in total I’ve now lost 100lb). But it wasn’t about the weight, not after a while. It was about being strong. It was about being determined. It was about kicking some backside, about telling the world that I wasn’t going anywhere, that I wasn’t going to be ignored.
I still run. I’m involved in a huge online running community, I have made friends through running. I’ve been privileged to run for charity, to be invited on a run for peace, to be part of a team of people hoping to run for PANDAS in the London Marathon next April. I’ve set myself goals I’d never dreamed of, and it’s even gotten me into new hobbies – if you told me two years ago I’d be doing yoga, I’d have laughed you out of the room. But I do it.
It’s not too late in life to carve out a little piece of happiness for yourself. Whatever that turns out to be – fitness, cooking, meditation, singing, dancing, crafts – there is something that exists just for you. A million other people might do it too, but it’s still just for you. I will never win any races, I’ll never get any prizes. But what I get is the feeling of sunlight on my skin as I race through a cornfield, trainers on, music blaring. What I get is watching my two-and-a-half year old son race around the living room, shouting ‘We running Mummy! We running very fast!’. What I get is knowing that, by looking after myself, I’m being the best Mummy I can.
I run because I like it.