Hi, I’m Leigh. I’m mum to Hugo, who sadly died aged 35 days. My Christmas demons were banished by running my very first parkrun last month, and I hope that by talking openly about my own grief others will feel able to engage in conversation about theirs. I have no doubt there are many people in a similar situation to me – bereavement and grief is still such a taboo topic – meaning many people feel like they are unable to talk openly about it.
Christmas is one of those extra-tough times, the times when my loss and grief is felt more acutely. Early in December, the anger and resentment started to build: another challenging time to get through, a time when there seems to be pressure to be joyful and happy. Hugo would have been three-and-a-half: this would have been the first Christmas he was aware of and fully participating in. Shopping in a local florist’s for Hugo’s Christmas present, rather than in toy shops, hurt too. I do the best I can with Hugo’s garden, filling it with bright colour, sparkle, and toys, but obviously it is nowhere near the same.
So, what on earth possessed me to get out of my nice warm bed early on Christmas morning and take myself along to Bedford parkrun? The prospect of being proud of myself, having achieved something…and taking positive action to be in control of my day, my feelings, not feel sorry for myself.
More than a decade ago I used to be a regular runner. It was a regular activity when I lived in New Zealand, and Mount Eden, the dormant volcano in the suburb where I lived was a favourite route (the views were epic, well worth the effort!). I could run a decent-ish 5k time – such as in the 2005 Race for Life, which I ran in about 24 minutes.
So what happened? Why did I stop running? A knee injury on the first day of a walking holiday in the French Alps in 2006…I thought popping Ibuprofen and just carrying on would be fine. It wasn’t. Duh. During the lengthy recovery period I got out of the habit, and then, well, life happened. Until recently…
Over a period of four or five weeks I got back into running, in addition to my regular gym awesomeness. Work commitments meant that there were occasions when the only time I could get to the gym was during the busy times. The gym is supposed to be the place where I reduce my stress and lower the cortisol levels, but I found myself getting cross or not going. The result of that, inevitably, was gaining weight, feeling unhappy in myself, feeling less able to manage my stress, and my PTSD symptoms. I’ve worked so hard – physically and emotionally – during the past couple of years I couldn’t let all that go to waste.
Running outside, on the other hand, is liberating. No one gets in my way, I’m out in the fresh air. I’m in control. The endorphins flow, counteracting the cortisol. It’s also another challenge for me – I like variety to keep myself interested and motivated. I’m fortunate to have many off-road routes close to where I live, and I’ve been slowly building up my distance.
Never having been to a parkrun I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I know my local event in Bedford usually attracts several hundred walkers and runners to the regular Saturday morning event, and thought surely there would only be a few people turning up on Christmas morning. Wrong! There were a good couple of hundred runners, many of whom were kitted out in a variety of festive fancy dress.
The Bedford route is a lovely one, around a beautiful park that has been awarded Green Flag status. I tried to not get dispirited as long-limbed super-speedy runners lapped me. Strava told me that I did my fastest mile, and my fastest kilometre, which was all good progress! Being cheered on by the fabulous volunteers felt good, too. The endorphins, coupled with the sense of purpose and achievement meant my Christmas was the best of the past few years.
I’ve caught the parkrun bug. I went along the next Saturday, and will even make sure I get out of bed early on a Saturday morning to make it a regular event. I’ll be working on improving my running pace and endurance to reduce the walking, so I can once again run a whole 5k.
Running has given me new challenges for 2018: I’m taking part in the #NHS1000 mile challenge in honour of the health service’s 70th birthday and, just to put it out there, I’d like to run a 10k. All perfectly achievable!
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