How Running Transformed This Runner's Mental Health

Ben Robertson is a legend. He has picked himself up from the lowest point possible and used running to improve his mental health and completely turn his life around. We invited him to share his story to help others do the same.  

This is Ben’s story 

The first time you meet me, you will see a fun, sociable, and active guy with an obsession for all things outdoors. But this hasn’t always been the case. 

After years of personal struggles and a divorce, my mental and physical condition started to deteriorate.  I was admitted to hospital several times with exhaustion and stress, then on 18th September 2018 after coming home from a normal day at work, I had reached my limit.

My judgement was clouded by negativity and exhaustion, and I attempted to end my life. 

Recovery

After the early recovery steps, I set out to transform this truly devastating event into an opportunity, not to just recover and improve my own life, but backed with passion I was determined to help others not get to the same point as I had.

My recovery was massively aided by my love for running. I prefer to run in nature and am often found running around the tops of the peak district carrying a car tyre, promoting the lifesaving benefits of running and general ‘green time.’ Whichever way you choose to exercise, the motivation needed and the benefits remain the same.

One of the key realisations that came from this traumatic life event was understanding the importance of making time for ME and allowing myself mental rest. Just 30 minutes away from everyday stresses can make a difference. It’s not about running away but running gives you the headspace to dampen down pressure and stress, with each step lightening the load. 

At this stage in my recovery, I was desperate to share my passion for running and the outdoors to help others who were struggling to see solutions. Remembering the feeling of being weighted down by a tyre from my obstacle racing days, I likened this to the feeling of being weighted down by mental health struggles. 

So, naturally, I adapted a car tyre with straps to carry on my back, to run with with the purpose of attracting attention and inviting questions. Anything to open up a conversation and get people, particularly men, talking about mental health. I have trained in the hills with the tyre strapped to my back and this has resulted in many honest, meaningful and hopefully helpful conversations with total strangers.  

Just one year and one month from my darkest day, I completed four solo ultra-marathons, running from Southport to Hornsea (approx 140 miles). More recently I took the #CoalsToNewcastle quite literally when I ran from Derbyshire to Newcastle towing a 25kg sack of coal, to support mental health charity MIND.

How to Get Motivated

While most understand the correlation between exercise and good physical and mental health, the motivation to actually get out can be hard, particularly for those already struggling. Use these 3 tips to help you get on your way: 

  1. Be ready: banish procrastination by having your kit out and ready the night before. This will reduce your stress and the only step left to take will be the one out of the front door.
  2. Plan and review your route: Be in control of your adventure. Mark on a map or make mental notes of targets on your route – these could be goals, rest points, safe points or even exit points. Whatever way you see it they will be achievement points.
  3. Look around you: stop and write down or make mental notes of things you see, trees, flowers, birds, animals, landmarks. This will help you to absorb the delight of the outdoors and distract you from troubles in your head.

There is no doubt that the pandemic has been a mental struggle for many. To help with the additional stress and lack of motivation: 

Do: 

  • Stay hydrated – it helps to keep you active and alert.
  • Sleep well – avoid late nights, caffeine before bedtime and stay away from screens.
  • Eat well – stick to regular meals, especially breakfast.

All these will impact your mood and motivation positively, and that's a great start.

Improve your state of mind further by:

  • Limiting your exposure to the news, particularly via social media - social media stores can often by misinformed or exaggerated and can cause unnecessary worry and anxiety. Mute conversations or groups that you find have a negative effect on you. 
  • Keep communicating – in person, text, phone, video and share your worries. You're not a burden and it's good to talk.
  • Get your ‘green time’ - go for a walk or run, or if you need to self-isolate use your garden or open your windows to let in fresh air. 
  • Get up and make your bed – it may sound strange, but it’s one task done, which will make it easier to do another task, and then another. 
  • Try something new – draw, bake, read, garden. Doing something new will make you feel good about yourself.
  • Plan your day – it doesn’t have to be timetabled to the minute, but a simple plan such as, this morning I will call my family, this afternoon I will do some exercise, after lunch I will rest for 30 minutes will give your day structure and help you to achieve some positives.
  • Remind yourself of the positive things that you do have - health, food, a roof over your head, family, pets, future plans such as weddings, birthdays or a sporting event. 

Don’t: 

  • Neglect – yourself, your diet, your sleep or exercise. 
  • Believe everything you see on social media – even if it’s from a trusted source. 
  • Overexercise – keep it steady and achievable. 
  • Drink alcohol – it won’t help. 

Always remember, this is temporary, you will get through it. If you can surround yourself with positive people, supportivfriends and a running buddy to help you get out of the door. 

 For more inspiration or if you are struggling for motivation, visit Ben's website at Get Out Get Muddy

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