Living and Running, with Cancer
Elizabeth took up running after a secondary cancer diagnosis.
Date: 8 April 2021 Author: Energise Me
Georgia had sworn off running for life. Fear and anxiety meant she avoided it at all cost. Yet this March she challenged herself to run 27 miles for charity. She shares how getting out of her head allowed her to overcome her fear.
Since I was a teenager I’ve had a fear of running. It was just something I couldn’t do. I was always really active – playing netball, dancing and going to the gym. Every day of the week would be filled with activity after school, during lunch and on weekends.
When I was 14/15 I played on an under 16s netball team that competed in the local adult league. At the time I would train for netball 3 times a week and play matches on Thursday too. Our coach took it quite seriously and decided that it would be good for the team to also run together. The idea was that it would be bonding but also improve our fitness.
Although I’d never been someone to go for a run, at this age I don’t think I had the fear or any running anxiety. I was cautious about running because I have asthma but not scared. So, I went along adding the runs to my weekly routine.
I remember on those runs I would get so out of breath it terrified me. I’d take my inhaler but then panic that I couldn’t breathe. This only made things worse. My mum would come with me but I still often had panic attacks. I couldn’t make it as far as everyone else and I did not enjoy it. I would spend the run clinging to my inhaler as a lifeline.
Deep down I was scared. I doubted what my body was able to handle.
Shortly after I left the netball team for other reasons and decided running wasn’t for me. I always said “I’m just not someone who can go out for a run” and told people I found it boring. But, deep down I was scared. I doubted what my body was able to handle.
In sixth form, I went on one hash with my friends but didn’t do well. I also tried going for a jog once at university after seeing my housemate doing well running. I just couldn’t hack it. By the end of the run, I’d have a burning throat and be struggling to breathe deep enough.
I think over 8 years I attempted to run twice. It wasn’t something I ever chose to do and I was adamant I would never run.
Over the last year, I have had a bit of a transformation in my relationship with exercise. I started doing home workouts in the first lockdown and something that started out of guilt from working for an active charity turned into a real love affair.
I found workouts that I enjoyed, and I discovered my body was capable of way more than I ever thought. My confidence grew and I found myself becoming so much more positive. After interviewing one of our This Girl Can Hampshire champions I was inspired to take on a challenge. Debbie told me to always have a challenge or goal to help motivate you and keep things fun.
In October I decided to take on a 28-day challenge. After completing this I signed up for Red January, hoping to keep my motivation up in the new year. I also started taking on challenge workouts that contained sprints on the spot. To my surprise, I was able to complete the sprints. It took time and I had to build it up but soon I was managing a 3-minute sprint mid-workout.
Even though I had shown myself that my body was so capable. I still didn’t believe I could manage to run.
I was amazed at what I was managing to do but I still couldn’t bring myself to go for a run. I had so much running anxiety that it wasn’t even something I ever considered doing.
Then one day whilst scrolling through social media I saw an ad for a challenge. It was to run 27 miles in 27 days in aid of raising money for Mind. Mind has always been a charity close to my heart, having struggled with my mental health in the past. But still, it took me about a month to actually decide to sign up.
I was so worried I would not be able to do it. Even though I had shown myself that my body was so capable. I still didn’t believe I could manage to run.
Before I even signed up, I decided to have a trial run, just to see if I could do anything. My anxiety was so high before that first run that I forgot to even take my inhaler with me. I dragged my fiancé out to walk along with me. I was convinced I needed him with me in case something went wrong!
It wasn’t long after I started running that he was left in my dust. I didn’t actually even notice I hadn’t taken my inhaler with me until after I got back home. This proved to me I didn’t need to rely on it.
I’m not going to lie; I didn’t suddenly go out and run and everything was fine. I ran short bursts on that first run, stopping to walk after only about a minute of running. But I did it and that was all that mattered.
I also made a big mistake of not stretching properly before that run. My hips felt it for about a week!
My body was capable but I wouldn’t let myself try out of fear.
I went on three more test runs before the challenge started just to try and combat my running anxiety. I became a bit more comfortable running but I still wasn’t there.
The challenge started and I soon started logging miles. I built a routine of stretching before I went, taking my inhaler, walking up the hill at the end of my road and then starting to run. I still didn’t take my inhaler with me but felt compelled to take a dose before running. Funny thing is, the one time I forgot it nothing bad happened.
One thing that bothered me as I did more runs was that I could sprint for 3 minutes at home but not run for that length of time without stopping when I was outside. I was running slower so it couldn’t have been my fitness level. I think this is when I really realised that it wasn’t that I couldn’t run but more something I wouldn’t do.
My body was capable but I wouldn’t let myself try. I started talking to myself on my runs, I would tell myself that I was breathing fine, that I could make it to the next lamppost and that I’d be fine. I finally made it to three minutes. Then on my next run, my fiancé came with me and we made it to 7 minutes. It was definitely easier being with him, I was calmer and less panicked. I think this proved to me that my worries were in my head.
I think I can finally say I do enjoy running and I can’t even believe I’ve just said that!
The next time I ran I told myself I’d done the distance before so there was no reason I couldn’t do it again. I eventually managed to get to running 1 mile without stopping and I am so proud of this.
Not every run was easy. There were times when the anxiety came back and I really struggled. The first run back alone after running a few times with my fiancé was difficult. Or when there was suddenly more people around in half term. My calmness was delicate and could be thrown off easily if my run wasn’t the same as the one before. But I didn’t let these experience instil fear in me like I did when I was 15.
I think I can finally say I do enjoy running and I can’t even believe I’ve just said that! It’s something I never thought I would even be close to saying. I still prefer home workouts but the running anxiety has definitely gone. There is just something about the feeling I get after reaching a new goal running.