By Conan Marshall
Running for Solace is a new project I’ve created to show how running benefits the mind as well as the body. Over the next couple months, I’ll be sharing the stories and opinions of fellow runners from Cornwall to London. I’ll be campaigning for others to start running in order to improve their general well-being.
Recently, I met up with Penny Bedford, a blogger and clinical psychologist based in Cornwall, who will feature in Running for Solace. In this short interview, Penny talks about her story and experiences with running.
Have you ever faced a specific time of adversity where you have used running to cope and reflect in a positive way?
I would say I experienced consistent low mood in my 20s, but I wasn’t sure why. In my mid 20s I ran the London Marathon. Looking back, my mood was certainly better when in the throes of marathon training. I made new friends through a running club. I was running further and more consistently than ever before. I was realising my own potential for running long distances and I had a goal to focus on.
I was also connecting with a sport that I’d always loved but I’d never really channelled my interest in it before. While I didn’t start running to improve my emotional wellbeing it’s since become a reliable way of managing times of stress, problem solving and coping with the more difficult times life throws at you.
A few years ago, running was certainly my escape from a very difficult emotional time. I didn’t know what to do so I just ran at any time I could, even at 4am on one occasion. I found it regulated my emotions and thoughts and offered an outlet. Plus, when you’re running, you’re moving forward. This in itself made me feel like I was making progress.
There’s a lot of research which suggests that running can help ones cognitive function, sleep pattern and motivation. How does a running routine help you instigate a positive state of mind?
Running helps my mood stay on an even keel emotionally. I’m usually a fairly steady person but find when I’m stressed or have stuff is on my mind, I feel so much better if I work through it with a run. I find running helps me find solutions and order my thoughts. Sometimes following a good run, I feel like I can take on anything!
I certainly have more energy and motivation for other areas of my life when I’m in a regular running routine. It’s like the more I do, the more energy I have. I sleep better too; I feel the quality of sleep I have is better. If I squeeze in a lunch time run on a work day, I’m more focused during the afternoon. The 3pm slump is less likely to happen!
Do you promote the mental and emotional benefits of running on your blog?
My blog covers all areas of running, including the benefits on our mental health and emotional wellbeing. This is an area I want to expand on further though, especially as I’m a clinical psychologist! I’ve posts planned on the connection between running and mental health/emotional wellbeing; there’s loads of research out there to support its positive impact as well as personal accounts where people believe running has literally saved them from the grips of depression, addiction or anxiety.
There’s recent research to support the emotional and mental health benefits of being outdoors, walking and hiking too, with all these activities promoting positive changes in the brain. I find this totally fascinating, alongside the chemical changes that take place while we run, and how we're able to train our body and minds to potentially endure a phenomenal number of miles.
I recently wrote a post on mindfulness and running. Life’s so busy that it’s important to have moments where we are focused on the here and now. It’s good practice but I think it’s selling point to others is that it can improve experience and performance.
When did you first notice the effects of running your mind and general well-being?
I think just before I started training for the London Marathon, around 2002. I started running regularly to lose weight. The process of running, making progress and getting fitter left me feeling quite elated.
In hindsight, I think that’s when I started to feel different and noticed how running was offering so many positives aside from improving my fitness. My confidence started to grow, and I think that’s when I started to believe in myself more.
As a clinical psychologist, would you ever recommend running as a way to cope with adversity and deal with poor mental health?
Absolutely! I’ve always worked in children’s services and one of my standard questions has always been about exercise and whether a child has a sport they’re interested in. I’m always pleased when the answer’s yes, and either way try to encourage it.
I now work in Fostering and Adoption, and there’s a growing body of research to show that exercise and movement, including running, can help children (and adults) who’ve experienced trauma that’s impacted on their overall development.
Movement, such as bouncing and swinging as well as running can help regulate overwhelming feelings of fear. I’m sure more information will come to light in the future.
There’s also a Psychoanalyst in London who offers Dynamic Running therapy. This shows the power of movement, cadence and running and how it can be used to afford change.
Follow Penny via instagram @thepennyslane.
Her blog can be found here: https://pennyslane.co.uk/mindfulness-running/
And stay up to date with @runningforsolace, more to come!