Guest blog: Why Parkruns will continue to be my anti-depressant

Victoria Leggett has completed more than 40 parkruns since taking up running a year ago. In a guest post she explains how being diagnosed for depression was the catalyst for her first run and the downs as well as ups along the way.

When I got home from my first-ever Parkrun, I ran upstairs, laid on my bed, curled up in a ball, and sobbed.

As a complete non-runner, it had taken me what seemed like an age to get round the 5km route at Eaton Park. I had had to walk at least half of it. As I jogged along the finishing funnel, I did not feel proud of myself, a sense of achievement, or full of adrenaline.

That was not what I had expected. I had gone along to Parkrun because it was supposed to make me feel better.

Six months before, I had been diagnosed with depression. It’s still something I don’t really like to say out loud. On the odd occasion I open up about it, I explain that I’m “on anti-depressants” – but rarely that I’m depressed.

The combination of the depression and medication left me permanently exhausted. I could sleep for 12 hours and still need a nap to get me through the rest of the day.

Sometimes it was because I was genuinely tired. Other times because curling up in a ball and going to sleep helped the day end faster.

Add that to the feelings of hopelessness, pointlessness and uselessness and it’s not surprising that exercise had not been high on my “to do list” for quite a while.

Is running really the mother of all anti-depressants?

By August, I had decided I needed to do something about it. Doctors had promised me the tiredness would ease, but it hadn’t.

And it seemed like everyone I had spoken to with a history of depression, everything I had read about mental health, insisted exercise – and in particular running – was some kind of silver bullet. The mother of all anti-depressants.

When I got home from that first Parkrun, I felt – to put it mildly – a little disillusioned. Even writing about it now has reduced me to tears.

I slept for a long time. Yes, I was tired. I also wanted the day to be over as quickly as possible without having to think about how pathetic I was, how unfit I was, or how naive I had been. It was one of many pretty rubbish weekends.

I certainly wasn’t going to go back to Parkrun. What was the point?

That had become a familiar train of thought for me over the last six months – and probably longer.

There rarely seemed any point in anything. Getting out of bed. Seeing friends. Definitely not exercising.

I told my sister what had happened. She took it in her stride – and told me she would be coming with me to Eaton Park the following Saturday. She, like me, really wasn’t a runner, but she knew it was a good thing for me to do.

I was determined not to give up too easily

I think I took a couple of minutes off my PB the second time and ran the whole way round. It felt a little better – but still not the silver bullet I had hoped for.

But I was determined not to give up too easily. I had done that too much recently and, given the amount of weight I had gained and fitness I had lost, it couldn’t be a completely wasted enterprise.

Over the next few weeks, I gradually trimmed the seconds, and minutes, off my PB. I even kept going in the winter when it was freezing cold and icy underfoot.

I eventually let my boyfriend come along too – no longer appalled at the thought of him seeing me struggle round the three-lap course.

A new PB and my 40th Parkrun

And at the beginning of February this year, I completed my 40th Parkrun. My PB is now 27.33. I’ve run 14 different courses, including Glasgow, Dartmoor and Copenhagen.

I’ve also run four 10km races – beginning with Run Norwich last summer, a year after my first Parkrun – and am already signed up for another three (so far) for later this year.

I regularly go out running with my sister and am finding it less and less difficult to force myself out on my own. I ran to Catton Parkrun and back a few weeks ago, on my own, notching up 13.6k in total.

Victoria Leggett's Run Norwich medal
Victoria Leggett’s Run Norwich medal

I finally feel proud of myself

Don’t get me wrong, I still can’t call myself a runner. I still don’t particularly enjoy it. And I still look for any and every excuse to get out of it.

But when I’m out there, my head is empty – it’s not beating itself up about something, it’s not over-analysing or worrying about things. It is almost completely blank – and for that half an hour, or an hour, or even hour and a half (yay me), the fact that nothing else really matters, nothing else really has a point, becomes a really good thing.

I’ve found that enormous sense of achievement

I finally feel proud of myself. I’ve found that enormous sense of achievement that I expected to feel 18 months ago. And can finally see an end to all this – a time when I will be able to come off the anti-depressants and get through a busy week at work without having to sleep the entire weekend to recover.

But I’ll keep running. Despite the achy legs, truly horrendous blisters and never-ending pile of leggings and sports bras that need washing, running will continue to be my natural anti-depressant.

Victoria celebrating post run with her boyfriend Mark.
Victoria celebrating post run with her boyfriend Mark.

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