“Couch to Mountain” - Beating the blues & conquering a personal mountain
By Amanda Richards
How it all started
It started in June 2014 at a routine GP check up. I let slip that I was feeling quite low. We’d had a tough few years as we had lost both my parents , we’d moved 300 miles and I’d had cancer. Inevitably everything caught up with me and combined with a busy family life I was feeling a bit lost.
I will always been grateful to my GP as instead of suggesting medication for anxiety he asked me if I did any exercise. The answer was a big fat no! I’d done some running at school but since then apart from the occasional keep fit class when my boys were small I had done nothing.
He suggested couch to 5 k and assured me it was almost guaranteed to help how I was feeling.
Getting from Couch to 5k
I ordered a book online and read it non stop, got some trainers and was ready. Day one was run for 60 seconds and I remember feeling confident ..until I got to about 10 seconds and thought I was going to die.
It was so hard! Once I’d finished day one though I knew that without doubt I would be out there for day two.
I plodded on through the course bit by bit, improving slowly.
About 4 weeks into the course I bumped into an old school friend, Juliet and got chatting about running as she was a real enthusiast. She somehow persuaded me to meet her at a local parkrun. I was petrified but she promised to stick with me throughout. All around the course she kept chatting, I had no idea how long we’d been running for or how far ,but I felt sure a walk break should be coming soon! She had kept my mind focused all the way and then all of a sudden she announced we were on the final straight. I wasn’t stopping now. We ran the whole 5k in almost 40 minutes and I loved it.
The all important 5k to 10k stage
Shortly after that, a young lad I worked with lost his mum to kidney disease. He was a Physical Education student and for his final year project had decided to get together a group of 5 non running, unfit women to train up for the Cardiff 10k race. I gladly agreed to join them and put in real effort to our weekly sessions, particularly to support him. Together we formed a team called ‘Mum’s Strength’ and ran Cardiff 10k to raise money for Kidney Wales in memory of his mum.
I began that training convinced that I would only do this one race and then stop. I finished the race and knew that running was giving me something that I was longing for; headspace. As I have 5 sons and a noisy home life, running gave me some ‘me time”, time without phone calls or someone needing something. I had time to think and I believe running was how I did my grieving for my parents and processed my health issues.
10k & upwards!
Bit by bit and very slowly I grew in confidence regarding my running but more importantly I was really enjoying it. I soon learnt that I’d never break any records but my rhythmic plodding became part of my routine. My husband soon began running with me and together we went along to parkrun most Saturdays .
In January 2015 we ran our first race together. This was the “Lliswerry 8” organised by the local running club that was soon to become a huge part of our lives. Shortly after completing this we ran Newport half marathon. We’d definitely caught the running bug!
One step forward two steps back!
Later that year, we ran several more half marathons and eventually joined Lliswery Runners. We next set our sites on participating in our first marathon. This was to be Snowdonia Marathon in October 2016 and duly signed up as soon as entries opened at midnight on New Years Eve. However, in February 2016 disaster struck. I broke my ankle quite badly and I was told by doctors that it could take a year to heal properly as I also had badly damaged a tendon. Still determined to run Snowdonia Marathon one day, I followed every exercise and instruction my physiotherapist gave to me. The healing process took time but I had to be patient.
Tackling the mountain
The injury pretty much whiped out my running for the remainder of 2016 but at midnight on New Year's Day 2017, we once again we entered Snowdonia Marathon. My husband (Nigel) had sold his place for the previous year rather than run it alone, so we could do our first marathon together. This was a big deal for us both.
To make sure we were properly training we received help with a training schedule from the club coach and our preparations began. Week by week we followed the plan, whatever the plan said was what we did.We both met some lovely people through the running club. One member who was to become a special friend laughingly assured us that Snowdonia was just 3 hills and everything would be fine. Sadly he passed away this year, but I always remembered his advice.
As the weeks ticked by, life became separated into either 'before Snowdon' or 'after Snowdon'. Marathon training really does become a huge part of your life. Sundays soon became a routine of long run, lunch then not much else for the day. Each time the mileage increased (15,16 then 18 then 20miles) I felt a growing sense of pride.
However, with about a month to go before the race my nerves started getting the better of me. I felt completely out of my depth and petrified. I felt overwhelmed and a bit confused when runners who I respected and felt inspired by were all telling me that they had followed my training and how well I had done,how they were impressed. These were proper runners, they had done marathons in good for age times and ran crazy ultra distances. Couldn't they tell that I wasn't a proper runner and didn't really belong? I had visions of some marathon official telling me to get off the start line as I didn't belong there. Thankfully our club coach had already detected a confidence wobble as he’d seen it many times before and reassured me that these feelings are absolutely normal.
Although this calmed me down, my nerves returned in the week leading up to race day. I was a bag of emotion and cried every time someone was nice to me or wished me good luck. Following advice about being well prepared, we arrived at Llanberis in good time. Registration was smooth and efficient. Then armed with our race numbers, safety pins and race t shirts we made our way to the B&B for a restless night sleep.
Race day arrives
The next morning, a group of us travelled to the start together, queued for the loo several times then stood chatting nervously. I felt aware that even the 'proper runners' were a bit nervous too. As we made our way to the start line I couldn't stop the tears. It had taken almost 2 years to get here since we first signed up There were hours and hours of training and hundreds of miles completed.
Once we began running the tears soon stopped as the first few miles are uphill and I felt I needed to focus on breathing not crying! The atmosphere was electric, everyone was chatting and wishing each other good luck. Gradually we ticked the miles off, the views were outstanding, I had been told this marathon as well as being brutal was special and I now knew why. The scenery is awe inspiring.
When we hit mile 20, I felt amazed that today I was going to run further than I ever had before. The final miles include the biggest uphill you can imagine, followed by a sharp off road downhill. This finishes just before the town centre and you can even hear it before you see it. As we came around the corner I saw my friend (from another running club) and heard her scream my name, followed by all the members of our club. Even the really fast runners had hung around until all of the club were home. Nigel and I crossed the line together and then I burst into tears. I had done it.!
The mounatin conquered & "Runner's High"
Someone told me that you spend weeks wondering if you could run a marathon and then a lifetime knowing you have. It's true. I am proof that anyone can do it. All it takes is a plan and someone who believes in you.
I swore I was only going to run one marathon, but I may have to rethink.
As for my GP, the man who told me to do a bit of exercise to aid my mental health instead of taking medication? He runs parkrun each week, so I may even give him a huge hug on Saturday.
What now? Giving something back!
Now the marathon is done I'm looking forward to qualifying as a Leader In Running Fitness and helping with the club’s Couch to 5 k group to see if I can give something back and encourage other people just like me. I believe that mental health is an area that we know so little about and yet it has a huge impact on so many peoples lives. Running can't always fix every problem but I genuinely believe that it can go a long way to making every day a little bit better. This is what its done for me and it’s sometimes all we need