Danny Fletcher provides our next runner’s profile. A brutally honest account at times, but ultimately an up-lifting tale of how running, and running with friends and team members, can be life-changing.
I’ve suffered with depression on and off since my late teens, I have self harmed, had unhealthy obsessions with food and spoken to numerous people with lots of letters after their names, all in an effort to feel better in myself. I battled through without medication, be it brave or stupid, I don’t know? I do know that running, and latterly joining Tyne Bridge Harriers has done wonders for me. There are probably hundreds of articles online about mental health and the benefits of exercise, but here is a little piece about my journey.
I’ve never been good at sport. I never lacked enthusiasm at school, but I was always the one picked last. I have never been confident with the way I look, I can assure you its not just women that have body issues. When I am low I will eat, and then this is followed by a feeling of guilt so I eat some more. Its a vicious circle. When I left home and didn’t have any proper structure my weight went up and up and I eventually tipped the scales at just short of 18 stone. I managed to get some weight off using various methods that were both dangerous and stupid, but for whatever reason exercise and running never crossed my mind. When I’m low its hard enough to leave the house, and looking back at my school days I struggled to run from one end of the football field to the next, so I’d think, what’s the point as I am only going to fail. Only thin people run and go to the gym.
Fast forward a few years and I did try running. I remember seeing a bigger person on television taking part in The Great North Run, and I think it was this that made me think that if they could do it, I could at least give it a go.
Being self conscious I really struggled to begin with. Somebody shouted something about me wobbling when I ran, so I stopped and walked home. I did give it a go again, but I would get out very early in the morning and wear numerous layers of clothing to hide my body. I still had thoughts that every person passing in their car was staring at me, if I saw somebody laughing I assumed it was me they were laughing at, and a car horn was not sounded in anger at other drivers, it was mocking me. I still have these thoughts, but now I can put these to the back of my mind and feel smug that I am the one running a 5k,10k, half marathon etc and they are not.
My distances slowly increased. I started doing the same loop twice, then three times and more until I got bored and thought I’d explore further a field. I signed up for my first 10k, which at the time felt like an ultra marathon. It was a cold, damp and foggy Memorial Day 10K, which was two 5k laps of the town moor. I can’t remember much about the race itself, but I can remember that I ached for days after and the sense of achievement was something that I had never felt before. The high was amazing. Finishing those 6.2 miles made me feel better than any talking therapy or food binge ever could.
The running and racing continued. I learned to run longer, and I gained some extra pace when my weight dropped. A friend suggested joining a running group, and initially I laughed it off. I was now ok running by myself, but had the feeling that the skinny runners in their stripy vests would take one look at me and shake their heads in disgust and disappointment. I initially joined The Sweatshop Running Community as I didn’t see this a formal running club, and I knew it was open to people of all ages, shapes and sizes. There were incentives to run every week, collecting stamps in a book that added up to various prizes. 5 weeks and you get an Adidas running top, right up to 50 weeks and you got a Garmin. There’s not much I won’t do for free running top. We met each week and ran a 5k loop of the quayside and town moor. There weren’t any structured sessions or warm ups, it was more of a social run and incentive to get out and keep fit. My confidence grew massively during this time and I met some fantastic people, some who now run with TBH and probably don’t realise how much I appreciate their friendship and words of encouragement when needed.
A few people from Sweatshop took the leap to join a ‘proper’ running club, and although I wasn’t sure to begin with, still having the same thoughts I had before joining Sweatshop, I decided I may as well give it a go. Louise [Kelly] mentioned in her piece that the TBH website jumped out her, and the same happened with me. There are running clubs closer to where I live, but the websites used words like ‘competitive’ where as TBH used words like ‘friendly’. Instead of endless pictures of skinny people running cross country it had people smiling, race reports and people of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds. So, a year ago I officially became a member of Tyne Bridge Harriers.
I was amazed that on my first session I wasn’t right at the back of the group, desperately trying to keep up. I was running alongside other people who had run marathons, and on occasion I could even hold a conversation. I have continued to improve in the time I have been with TBH. I am pushing myself harder, enjoying the challenges set and just as importantly made some great friends. I’ll never be a fast runner, but I am becoming a faster runner. I’m becoming more confident and now when I am running I am focused on what I am doing, rather than the negative thoughts about the way I look etc.
I’m a different person when I run on a regular basis. Although I love running, prior to joining TBH there were regular occasions when it was hard to force myself out of the door. The structure of a running club really helps and now without fail I take my running gear to work every Tuesday and Thursday, knowing that I’ll go out after work. If its part of my routine I don’t even think about doing it. No matter how hard a day it has been at work I know that after running with the club I’ll be on a high by the time I get home for the night.
Recently I undertook the Leadership In Running Fitness course. It felt great to be asked by Davy Anderson to undertake the course, especially after only a year of joining the club. Every leader I have had since joining have been fantastic and really enthused me. I hope that I can have the same effect on club members, both old and new and help them achieve their goals, whatever they may be.
So, that’s a bit about my journey. I hope I haven’t bored you too much I’m not going to lie and say the black dog doesn’t continue to creep up on me, but the episodes I do have are milder and shorter and I do feel that this it mostly down to running and my TBH family.
If there is anybody reading this who is thinking about joining a running club, but is plagued with the same thoughts and feeling I had, come along, I promise it will be the best decision you will ever make.