Running through grief and matters of the heart

My running story begins in January 2017, when I wasn’t well.  Being unwell was only apparent to those close to me.   I still functioned: on the outside I appeared to be me, my professional self, my social self.

Inside I was broken.  My father had died only weeks earlier, while a long-term close friendship had fractured, enflamed with all-consuming hurt.  It felt like the foundations beneath me had shifted, like tectonic plates, along fault lines.  I fell apart, reeling from an emotional aftershock.

I didn’t want to eat – sleep went out the bedroom window.  I clung to a few close friends, trying to process, feeling ill-equipped, repeating, repeating in my mind (then out loud to others) the cause of the pain.

This didn’t release it. Then physical illness set-in, tiredness, a blanket of depression.  A visit to the doctors ensued, to talk through my physical symptoms, no mention of what lay beneath the surface.

Love, loss, heartbreak, grief.  What to do?  Learn to dance?  I’d never danced properly. Could dancing bring back my happy self?  It seems to work on Strictly.

I started with Cuban Salsa lessons followed by a six-week course of Flash Dance choreography then a spot of ballroom.   I discovered two things, one: It wasn’t that easy to dance well; two: I wasn’t fit enough to dance well.

I thought parkrun would improve my fitness, so I could dance better, so I signed up, running with other people in my local park – in Shepton Mallet – on Saturday mornings.

At parkrun, the distance is 3 miles (5K), or 3 times around the park. People walk it, kids whizz around. Mums and Dads push prams.

50% of parkrun runners start out as non-runners (like me), of all ages, some have disabilities, all sizes and shapes, recovering from operations.  Many have stories of discovery.

After joining parkrun I discovered something unexpected. I began to feel part of a collective sense of achievement – with the other runners.   I feel a bond with those, like me, who are getting better.

Exercise is already known to reduce the risk of heart disease, strokes and diabetes, while recent wide-scale studies suggest that exercise can improve mental health, reducing episodes of depression.

As I practiced regular physical activity I felt less stress, a good sleep pattern returned, the depression was lifted.  This was all within a year.

My personal running best (pb) started at just under 41 mins and is now around 28 and a half minutes, an improvement of over 12 minutes (for a 5K distance).  At the same time, I’ve noticed benefits in my work life.  I am more focussed, more confident.

After my physical exhaustion of a run, cycle or robust walk I feel a natural mental reverie.  I feel connected to my body in a positive way, as the source of my mental reward.

You see/feel what is good about your physique, especially as exercise does change your shape.  Muscles start to be less shy in places you never noticed before (like badges of honour), your behind is first to acknowledge your achievement – it lifts rather proudly!

When you run, you are in a thinking zone. This is a time to figure stuff out.  What had made me unhappy – the heartbreak – was not what I thought it was. The scales had fallen from my eyes.  I was released from a relationship that didn’t make me happy.

It’s important to learn from what went wrong with any relationship break-up, not blame the other person, instead to learn about yourself so you don’t repeat patterns.

Grief is a journey you travel through, it’s not an easy road, which takes time.  Being happier in yourself will help you pass through it.

What I learnt in 3:

YOU CAN BE BETTER – you can find a positive from what is making you feel negative, a by-product – if you like – from what has failed, or what has caused you pain, this is transformative.

BE YOU – stop compartmentalising – don’t focus on what you perceive is making others happy, focus on your internal happiness.

MOVE – run, walk, play games, sing, enjoy nature. Measure your progress, do it regularly, think about how this makes you feel and map this to your goals, even if the goals are just small steps forward.


Running through grief and matters of the heart was performed at Write Up! Speak Up!  Wells Festival of Literature.

The event was hosted by BBC Somerset’s Simon Parkin, curated by Bryony Jayne Brook.

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