Yesterday, I completed the Great North Run for race number 27 and visited the MIND charity tent at the end of the day. I told them all about the 30for30 challenge and explained the reasons for doing it. As I was telling them, I realised how important this challenge has been for my own mental health, and how doing this has helped me drastically over the past 10months.
I talk about the mental benefits of exercise a lot in the blog – But whilst I am recovering from yesterday’s race, here is a guest blog on the topic from my friend, Bianca, who recently ran Man Vs Mountain as a personal challenge, but also to raise money for Cancer Research in memory of her Mum.
Race: Man vs Mountain
Distance: 22 miles
Time: 6 hours 11
Runners: Bianca Hartley, James Wells, Kate Howard, Claire Wood
When Em asked me to guest blog about the Man vs Mountain race I recently did, my initial reaction was that of extreme flattery. I’ve been a huge supporter of her 30-for-30 challenge from day one (quite literally – it was after a run we did together that Emma came up with the idea) and I love her blog and the way she advocates the link between exercise and mental health.
My second reaction was: shit, what do I write about?
Anyone who knows me would probably describe me as stoic and strong. Someone who puts on a damn good front and who doesn’t like to let their guard down, even to those closest to me.
You may be thinking: what’s that got to do with a race? Just write about running up and down Snowdon – job done.
But if I said that I’m sitting down to write this three months to the day since the passing of my beautiful Mum, then it might give a better idea of why I reacted the way I did.
Yes, I could just write about the race. But I don’t feel that would be in the spirit of this blog, and wouldn’t do justice to the way training has helped me in a way that I could never have imagined, both physically and mentally.
So, I decided to call this blog ‘Highs and Lows’. Not just as a somewhat naff nod to the literal ups and downs of the Snowdon race (you know, it being a mountain and all that), but as a perfect description of the last year or so, and what training has turned into for me.
I’ve always dipped in and out of exercise, giving it more focus during some periods of my life more than others. I’d always done it as a bit of a box ticking exercise: done my three sessions this week, pass me the wine as my reward.
It was in January 2017 things started to change when I began training with James at LDJ Fitness. The energy of him, his classes and the people in those classes gave me a taste of something I’d never experienced in training. Before long I was completely hooked and training became life; an outlet for a stressful day at work, an hour to escape the kids, or simply just because.
What I didn’t realise in those first few months was that it was setting me up to be able to deal with one of the hardest things any of us will have to deal with: a diagnosis of terminal cancer for one of our nearest and dearest. In this case it was Mum.
So, when I was sat in the office on that cold October afternoon and got that dreaded phone call, the first thing I did was go and see James and train.
That pretty much set the tone for how I dealt with the coming months up to Mum’s passing, and how I continue to deal with it now.
The race: Man vs Mountain
Or in our case a team of one man and three women.
In April, James threw down the challenge of the Man vs Mountain race: 22 miles starting from Caernarfon Castle, up to the summit of Snowdon and back down again.
I rang Mum and told her about it. With the unwavering and often blind belief of a parent, she said: “Go for it, you’ll smash it like you do everything”.
I’m not a runner. But thought I’d give it a go. And so a team of us from LDJ signed up: myself, James, Kate and Claire.
It’s safe to say that the following few months certainly had their lows. Not least the passing of mum in June. But training continued to anchor me and having Snowdon in my sights gave me a much-needed focus.
The race itself was like nothing I’ve done before. Steep climbs, followed by leg-shattering descents over rocky ground, taking in the breathtaking scenery of Snowdonia, and finishing with some obstacles – including a 20-foot quarry jump and an abseil.
It was mentally and physically challenging, but utterly amazing.
The lows: The hardest part of the day wasn’t the unrelenting trek to the summit when I could barely see 10 metres in front of me, or the quite frankly cruel ‘Kilometre Climb’ that the organisers threw in two miles before the finish line. It was finishing and not being able to ring Mum to tell her.
The highs: The high of the day wasn’t running in beautiful scenery or reaching the top of Snowdon. It was doing those things with great friends, friends that I’ve made through training. The whole experience wouldn’t have been a patch on what it was without them.
In fact, I couldn’t have got through the last few months without them – never mind over Snowdon.
As Emma’s 30-for-30 nears its completion, we’ve been talking a lot about ‘what’s next’. She’s put her all into this challenge – not just the races that she writes about, but all of the training she does inbetween. For Emma, it’s important that this doesn’t stop once she crosses the last finish line.
And that’s what training should be about. It’s not just throwing yourself into something for the glory of one event; it’s keeping it up even on the days when you really don’t feel like it. Through the lows as well as the highs: that’s the real challenge.
As for me, I can confidently say that training is a huge part of my life. I’m fitter than I’ve ever been, but by no means have I ‘made it’; there’s so much more that I have to give to my training. That front I put up – I need to work on letting that down, it might just unlock some other aspects to training I’ve not yet tapped into.
James always says to me: training is like a friend who will never let you down.
But treat her well, because you never know when you might need her.
If you’re feeling low, get out and go for a walk, join a class, do anything. If you’re feeling high then get out, go for a walk, join a class, do anything.
No one ever regretted exercise.
Thanks to Bianca for a lovely blog post ❤️
As today is World Suicide Prevention Day, I just wanted to end with a couple of useful infographics to help spot warning signs in others and steps that you can take:
Samaritans: 116 123
If you would like to donate for the 30for30 challenge, please visit: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/EmmaBramwell2