I get asked the same question time and time again, “Why do you run so much Jess?”. I have always been sporty. I grew up running cross-country events and taking part in athletics throughout my adolescent years. So the answer to that question is simply, because I love it. A lot has changed since then and now; two years ago you would have found me going out on a Friday night, smoking 20 cigarettes a night, drinking an obscene amount of alcohol and ending the night snorting cocaine on someone’s sofa. Two years ago I would never have considered going for a run.. this year I’m running four marathons, the last one being the Great Wall of China marathon – so what changed?
City life vs runner gains
The seed was initially planted in 2014. I was entered into the Standard Chartered City 5km through work. The thought of running a 5k was the absolute worst and to be honest, I was dreading it. I wasn’t really interested at all and thought it would be a little bit of a laugh. Off I went running through the city along with all the other office workers who were also dragged into this event. I recall swearing the whole way round as lactic acid filled my muscles. All I could taste was the cigarette I had had before the run, I was sweating, I looked like shit, my legs hurt, everything hurt. The only things that kept me motivated to finish was the fact I had entered into a bet with a colleague that I would beat another colleague (I am very competitive) so the fact that I saw him on the other side of the road behind me made me run faster. I finished it in 31.05 seconds that was the moment I realised that I quite liked this running lark.
The turning point in Hackney
The Hackney Half in 2015 was hard work in +25°C temperatures. I was running through Hackney with my half marathon playlist blasting through my headphones when, at Mile 10, when I had felt I had reached the dead zone, I saw a big group of people with banners and confetti who were cheering all the runners on. They were all part of a running club but I wasn’t sure who but I knew I had to find out somehow. I eventually finished my first half marathon in 2:10, which was a time I was very happy with. I was ecstatic, elated and proud.
Buzzing from my sanctimonious victory, I decided to go all out and commit to becoming a long distance runner. I bought myself some more lycra, some new Nike trainers and decided to join a running club. I put it off for weeks because, believe it or not, I am an extremely shy person or at least I have become one. Eventually, when I did pluck up the courage, I joined LDN Brunch Club, a Sunday brunch loving running club. Running and brunch? Bloody perfect. My first run with them was cut short when I gave up at 8km. I stopped and thought, “Why am I doing this on a Sunday morning when I could be at home in bed, ordering sushi and watching Netflix?”. On my journey home, I felt disappointed in myself for giving up but then I remembered that these things happen in stages so I went back, every Sunday morning thereafter (this involved 6:30am alarms on Sunday mornings!).
Running started to present more opportunities to me. A few friends from LDN Brunch Club were running the Berlin Marathon 2015, so I decided to join them in support. The night before the marathon, we all went out and carb loaded. After the Berlin Marathon, I got the bug, I started running more frequently with the Run Dem Crew, a collective of creative people with a passion for running, and I began running 3-5 times a week.
I never ran alone. The great thing about running with a crew/club is that no one ever gets left behind and everyone is so supportive. The attitudes of the people around you affect the way you believe in yourself. I couldn’t have done it alone the first time round.
The journey to China
Late in 2015, my relationship started to crumble and I had a ton of stressful events happen in my life whilst being reminded of past tragedies. It all seemed to happen at once and I found myself spiralling back into my depression I had thought I had long gotten rid of. As a way of trying to defy it, I spontaneously booked the Great Wall of China marathon one evening as a way of giving myself something to look forward to in 2016.
I wanted to travel and explore the world but I felt trapped in a relationship, my job and it felt like everything was holding me back until one moment of realisation: the only thing holding me back was myself.
People have called me crazy, mad, nuts but all I can say is that I now live for this. With my eyes set on China, I started to commit most of my evenings and weekends to training. I setup a fundraising page for Mind, the UK’s largest mental health charity and boom, a revitalised sense of purpose.
The four Mara-challenge
With China booked, I was training hard through the winter months to keep my fitness up and build up my strength. I write this now as I have just completed the Manchester Marathon with a 38 minute shaved off my PB!
The running community
In these last two years, I have quit smoking and cut down on my alcohol in-take. Having two of the marathons a week apart has forced me to step out of my comfort zone, which in turn has lead to some great things, not just running-related. I have take up swimming and have signed up to complete my first ever bike ride, a 100mile Dunwich Dynamo in July.
I started 2016 with a very sore break up and my mental health hanging by a thread, so I decided to speak out about my depression on my blog. The amount of support I received was truly overwhelming. I felt uplifted and it reminded me I wasn’t the only one in the world who was feeling the way I was. I have been able to help others who either had a mental health problem they wanted to talk about or who wanted to get into running. It has been a challenging one but an eye opening whirlwind of a ride that has opened so many doors, opportunities and positive outcomes.
This was once a journey to China but in the last six months it’s has been so much more than that. It has been a journey discovering myself, keeping myself stable after a few depressive episodes and learning to love myself again. I hope, that with my experience and knowledge, I can help other people break through those walls to see the light at the end of the tunnel and to help them recite the most important four words in life “I can do this”. I left my drug and alcohol life behind me and not once have I missed it. And I say this with tears filling my eyes but I well and truly am starting to love life again and I have so many people to thank for that, most of those people I met through, haha, running <3
It isn’t always going to be sunshine and smiles, life will throw you a few curve balls but there will always be another day. Another day for improvement. So get out there, write a list of the things you want to do. Plant that seed, surround yourself with people who push you to do great things, who encourage and compliment your efforts. Feed off that positive energy and power through to become a better you.
Ain’t Noah Mountain High Enough for Jessica Noah. China, I am coming for you in full warrior mode.