As I type the first words of this post, I am sat in my pyjamas (this seems to my default blogging situ these days) staving off a cold and wishing I was out doing the Saturday morning parkrun instead. Yes really – wishing I was running…outside…with other people.

I’ve written previously about how running has been a vehicle for me losing weight, and that being more active has actually been easier than I anticipated but I haven’t really gone into the mental health benefits that have come with it.

As a naturally anxious person, often too comfortable in her comfort zone, running has allowed me to step outside of that zone and do something that a few years ago I would have laughed at the idea of. Me? Running? Outside? With other runners? LOL. OK THEN.

But then I tried it. It was hard, but running changed from this thing I felt I had to do, into this thing that I wanted to. OK, that’s not strictly true. I’m not quite at the point where the running part is the bit I get hyped about…the bit I get hyped about is that feeling afterwards when you know you’ve worked hard and achieved something. Even if that something is a lot of sweat and maybe a bit of a stitch.

But the actual running has been the part that has taught me the most about my outlook on life and the way my mind works, too.

Before running, I rushed at almost everything I did

Wave your hands in the air if you’re an anxious person who just wants to get shit done – I hear ya. 100% me. Relatable content. Etc etc.

But with running, I can’t rush it. When I try and rush a parkrun I burn out pretty quickly. I do not have the stamina to sprint around the course and get home in time to watch a Frasier repeat with a cuppa.

Any runner will probably tell you that it’s not about being the fastest, it’s about maintaining that stamina from start to finish. It’s about starting slow and building up as your body gets used to running.

Now I can apply that thinking to everyday life too. Instead of rushing around trying to get all of the housework done at once, or ticking off those other to-do’s in record time, I can now take my time with them. I can take little breaks in-between, and remember that if I’m going too quickly, I’ll need to stop because that stamina, that energy…it’s gone.

Before running, I never knew how to switch off my thoughts

Some people use running to plan things, to think about the “what’s next?”. I worried that this would be me because I spend pretty much all the rest of the time thinking about “what’s next?”.

But I quickly realised that thinking about running, psyching myself up to reach that next km milestone, or achieving a new personal best is all I think about when doing a parkrun or even just jogging on the treadmill at the gym. Well, those things and the lyrics to the song I’m listening to. Oh, and if there are cute dogs at the parkrun I may spare a few moments to think about how cute they are. I’m only human.

Before running, I rarely challenged myself

I’m hopeless at goal setting because I overthink about how “realistic” that goal might be. I want goals that I know I can achieve, but also stretch me and help me improve. However, setting those goals is my Achilles heel.

However, with parkrun, I am able to challenge myself every week with a very simple goal – to improve my time. It could be improving my personal best, or simply improving on the previous week. It’s the first type of goal setting I’ve ever done where I don’t beat myself up over it if I don’t achieve it. Y’know why? Because I always know I’ve tried my best. The sweaty, matted hair and muddy trainers a reminder that I pushed myself and made it out the other side.

“Getting better” at running is a process – and processes rarely operate purely in an upwards trajectory. Processes (especially self-improvement ones) are more like messy, wriggly lines that stretch up, down, and all around. But they are always going forwards…even if they don’t always feel like it!