Ask a group of runners why they run trail and the chances are some of those answers will be related to positive mental health. Read one runner's first hand story of how taking that first step onto trail gave her back control of her life.

From a young age I have always been a ‘worrier’.

Worrying about things that weren’t even happening or were never ever going to happen, worrying about the future. I became obsessed with other peoples’ lives and thinking that everyone had this ideal life that somehow I needed to achieve and didn’t have. I got worse as I got older and worries became bigger and more life changing.

On the outside I was able to put on a front and pretend everything was fine.

At home it was a different matter. I became more and more anxious and would often get wound up, ending up as a bawling mess on the floor for simple things like the laundry not drying in time. After one particular bad spell, my other half sat me down and said ‘you need to get some help’. It was the push I needed to go and speak to someone about how to cope. I had a formal diagnosis of anxiety from the GP and was told that CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) was the next option and then medication. This in itself was enough to spur me on to take action before medication was needed. 

Walking the Coast to Coast was two weeks of absolute heaven. When I came back, I went for a run.

It was at this time that we planned to walk the Coast to Coast. Walking the trails with no agenda other than to reach the next stop. When I came back, I went out for a run. I had run a half marathon that year as well and was used to treading the pavements. It was at this point that I realised the running on the pavement was boring and was making me more wound up as I ran to the same music, the same route and the same time. I decided to just turn off the path and go for it.

I probably ran for just ten minutes that day in the woods, but it revolutionised my running and my worries melted away.

I felt once again like I had on the Coast to Coast, completely and utterly free. After this, my partner was amazed at how relaxed I had become. He began to join me and push me to go outside my comfort zone. Out came the ear plugs and on went the trail shoes. We would go for runs or walks, following a route that he would plan so I could take that worry away.

Running trail helped hugely with the panic attacks and anxiety but it didn’t go away completely.

After a few months, I started running with a small group and a coach. This made me realise I wasn’t completely bonkers wanting to just run through woods and up hills! This gave me confidence to run safely on the trails, think about my technique and get me up the hills. In terms of anxiety, I have made huge progress, one attack in three months compared with the three a week I was having a year or two ago.

My partner likens my anxiety to walking a dog…I need to get out and off the lead!

When I feel the worries slipping in, I open the cupboard, put on my trail shoes and head for a hill. When out running, I listen to the birds, listen to my feet, take in the views and look out for new paths to take. I never listen to music and am happy to run with others and equally by myself. I find it incredibly relaxing to take all the worry of pace, route and time out of it and just go. I have now entered different trail runs, different lengths and terrain and cannot wait to keep getting quicker and go up bigger hills! Eventually I would love to run the Coast to Coast but perhaps I will settle for one or two stages for this summer...

For anyone who suffers with anxiety I would say just go.

Just go out and let your feet take you where they want to go. Forget the route and the well oiled 5km and 10km. Take every footpath as an opportunity and an adventure, and stay off the pavements as much as you can! It’s your trail.

Anonymous