Words by Alex Melling
Samaritans have launched Samarathon a brand new virtual marathon, as an exciting fundraising initiative that encourages supporters to run, jog or walk a marathon in their own time over the month of July. Samaritans want to motivate more people to get active to improve their mental well-being, rather than focus on a physical endurance challenge that requires participants to run 26.2 miles in one stretch. That is why Samarathon invites the nation to go at their own pace, take part with friends and family this summer and raise money to help us be there for those struggling to cope.
We have interviewed Lyndsey and Lucy, who have signed up to do this marvellous event; they share their stories on how they are going to approach the event to how Samaritans and sport have helped them in their lives.
How did you get into running?
Lucy: I started running properly when I worked overseas to get a bit of alone time and head space, and when I returned I carried on, running a marathon, a few half marathons, but always going out a few times a week.
“No matter what personal problems I might be going through I've always been able to lace up my shoes and go for a run. I think I would really start to worry about myself if I couldn't do that. I run with music to help me focus, with a podcast to distract me, and sometimes without to just help me think. I always come back feeling better than when I left, always.
How are you going to approach the Samarathon and why do you think it is such a great initiative?
Lucy: I'll be running it. I usually do over that mileage in a month anyway, but there's something about running to a set distance, and knowing that other people are doing a similar thing as you, which is quite comforting. Even if you don't run with them, it's a shared experience. I think it will give me a focus in my running to reach the target; rather than just getting in the miles, doing it for a cause and reason is always an extra incentive.
Lyndsey: To cover the distance, I will need to make sure I go out twice a week, once with my son in the buggy and once on my own or with my running partner. I plan to run most of it but I also hope to do at least one country walk with my husband and son. I think it's a great initiative because it's true to the "your race, your pace" philosophy that so many runners live by, myself included. It's a way of increasing your distance raising awareness and funds for a worthwhile charity and completing a realistic running goal.
“You'll have days when you don't want to go out. Usually those are the days when it's probably the most helpful”
How has running and exercise helped you through difficult times?
Lucy: At Christmas I was really struggling personally, and I decided to go on a run with a pretty steady climb and then a steep downhill. It was a pretty scary and lonely place to be. I found myself just running faster and faster up the hill, until all I could think about was my breathing and the ache in my legs and nothing about what was going around my head. At the top I stopped and got my breath back, then carried on running downhill as fast as I could, just letting everything all away from me. It was a bit of a turning point in my personal situation.
From that point running helped me to think about what was going on for me personally. It helped channel my energy into something else, and to get a bit of perspective. I came back exhausted from that run but feeling like I would be okay. So, it's a bit of a personal therapy for me; running. I love running with other people, but nothing beats going for a run on your own, clearing your head, having some space, achieving personal goals, and the feeling you get when you finish. I always find that running helps my mood, they say the hardest thing is putting on your trainers, and it always is, but once you start it's easy, and at the end you're always glad that you've gone. I've never come back from a run feeling worse than before I went out.
Lyndsey: Like most people, I've had times in my life that have been harder than others. When I was going through my divorce I stopped running for a while as I didn't have the confidence to go out. I really noticed the difference in my mood and so plucked up the courage and got back out there. It was hard at first but the more I ran, the stronger I felt and my confidence started to grow.
I also found becoming a mum very challenging; once my son reached six months old I began buggy running with him. Whilst on maternity leave we ended up going three times a week along the seafront, around our town and over the South Downs (pushing 20kg of buggy and baby into the wind up Highdown Hill was good resistance training!) Running with a buggy can make you quite conspicuous (not really what I wanted when feeling self-conscious about my post-pregnancy, wobbly body) but I get so many smiles and words of encouragement when I'm out with my son; it may be hard pushing a buggy but I absolutely love our buggy runs together. By taking him with me it gets us both out in the fresh air, it makes me feel good because I'm exercising and I hope that it shows him that exercise is just a normal part of everyday life and anyone can do it. I run because I enjoy it, not because I'm particularly good at it! For me, buggy running is such a great opportunity to continue doing something for me but at the same time not compromising on spending time with my son.
Do you have any advice for those out there who are in a difficult place and don’t feel confident enough to sign up and try the Samarathon?
Lucy: I'd say there's no rush. Everyone starts off somewhere, be that running for 10 metres and then walking another 10. Runners don't judge other runners, they know what it's like to start at the beginning. You'll have days when you don't want to go out. usually those are the days when it's probably the most helpful. But don't beat yourself up if you can't face it. I'd also say that running with someone else is better than running on your own; you keep each other going and you usually forget that you're actually running!
Lyndsey: If it's something you want to do, go for it. When I first started, I couldn't even run for a minute without becoming out of breath. I borrowed a book from the library and used to run in the evenings when no one else could see me. The sense of achievement I felt when I ran for five minutes non-stop was incredible, I literally felt like I could conquer anything at that moment.
I find running with someone really motivates me, I've found a lot of inspiration and support in a couple of Facebook groups - Run Mummy Run and The Original Buggy Runners. It's amazing what being out in the fresh air and being in nature can do for your mood. Whether I'm running along the seafront with my son or walking over the South Downs with him on my back in the sling, I always feel better for being outside.
“I always find that running helps my mood, they say the hardest thing is putting on your trainers, and it always is, but once you start it's easy”
Why has volunteering for the Samaritans been so important to you?
Lucy: As a Samaritan and as a Samaritans caller at times, reaching out for help and to talk to people is one of the best things you can do. But it's okay if it takes a few silent calls to pluck up the courage. It's the same as running, it can take courage to run down a street, and sometimes you might just get to the end of the road and that be enough. Be kind to yourself it's okay to not complete a run, or to hang up before someone answers, you can always come back to it.
Lyndsey: I’ve always done volunteering work and I chose Samaritans as I wanted something that made a difference. A college lecturer once suggested I should be a Samaritan as everyone tended to confide in me with their problems. I applied when I was 18 and been one ever since.
My fellow Samaritans in my branch are like a family to me, I have made some amazing friends. I had a year off when my son was born. I really missed my team. I think volunteering really puts your life into perspective. I realised I don’t get annoyed about silly things, like a slow person in the queue at a supermarket; people have problems and difficulties that make your problems pale into insignificance, we are all human. Samaritans have been a part of my life for a long time; I've been very privileged to be able to support our callers over the years and they have taught me a lot about life.
To sign up for this amazing event you can register to take part in Samarathon here: https://samarathon.samaritans.org/
Anyone can contact Samaritans for free in confidence any time from any phone on 116 123, even a mobile without credit, and the number won’t show up on your phone bill. Or go to www.samaritans.org to find details of your nearest branch where you can talk to one of their trained volunteers face to face.