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Emotions Run High

By Bryony Gordon. Writer

 

My name is Bryony, and 18 months ago I was over 200 pounds and couldn’t run for a bus. Last month, I ran my second marathon in a year. I did it in my underwear, because I wanted people like me—people who don’t think they look like runners— to know that anyone with two functioning legs can go out there and jog. It’s really not that difficult, I promise you. All you have to do is put one foot in front of the other, and you’re away.

Of course, I didn’t always think this way. Back in 2016, when I was this lazy oaf whose idea of exercise was lifting a glass of wine to my mouth, the idea of running terrified me. I didn’t trust the people I saw pounding the pavement, the people who told me that running made them feel good. Every time I had tried to run, it had made me feel bad, like I was on fire and I was going to cough up a lung. No, sitting in a pub or at a dinner table made me feel good... until it didn’t.

I have a history of depression that goes back to my childhood. A particularly nasty bout in 2016 had me so desperate that I actually listened to the experts who said that exercise is good for depression because it releases endorphins. I pulled on a hideous pair of tracksuit bottoms, a Star Wars T-shirt belonging to my husband, and a battered pair of Converse and took myself to my local park. I looked like a woman on day release, but I didn’t care. I was in the midst of a breakdown, and if you’d told me to stand on my head naked I would have if it made me feel better.

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“I didn’t trust the people I saw pounding the pavement, the people who told me that running made them feel good. Every time I had tried to run, it had made me feel bad.”

Running did not come easily to me. What I did at first was more like a shuffle. Eighty-year-olds walked faster than I ran. I kept expecting people to laugh at me, but nobody did. Other joggers smiled and waved, the kinship of running more important to them than the size of my belly or thighs or the speed I was going. I realised the great secret of this simple form of exercise, the thing that nobody had told me: that even if you didn’t want to run, you would never ever regret going for one.

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I was offered the place on the 2017 London Marathon through my work in mental health advocacy. (I have written a book about my mental health and run a podcast where I interview others about theirs.) And while 26.2 miles was daunting, I knew it could be no harder than the days I couldn’t move at all due to the crushing weight of depression. So, when the charity Heads Together offered me a place, I knew I had to take it; I had to show my mental illness I was stronger than it. Training for the marathon was one of the best experiences of my life. Every weekend I did something I thought I couldn’t; I ran three miles, then four, then five, and so on and so on, until I found myself crossing the finishing line at London with tears in my eyes. I had done it. I had run an entire marathon without stopping to walk once.

 

Every weekend I did something I thought I couldn’t; I ran three miles, then four, then five, and so on and so on, until I found myself crossing the finishing line.

 

A month later at a yoga event with lululemon, I met the model Jada Sezer. Like me, Jada is curvy. She had never run, and when she heard my story she asked if I would help her do a marathon. Her enthusiasm was so infectious that I said yes. A few months in we decided to do it in our underwear, something that felt totally bonkers in the freezing depths of February, less so on race day, the hottest London Marathon on record.

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The experience was every bit as exhilarating as my first marathon. We couldn’t believe the support we got from the crowd and runners alike. The heat was sometimes completely heinous, but the cheering kept us going. At mile 25, we were both in floods of tears. It was hands down one of the hardest, most brilliant experiences of my life and though I vowed never to do one again, I have signed up to run another one in June. Marathons, it seems, are addictive.

Running doesn’t keep me sane—I’m not sure anything does—but it does keep me feeling in control. When I’m out there, I’m showing my demons who’s boss. I’m reminding myself that the world is still spinning and my blood is still pumping. When I run, I can make myself feel good in a way that no amount of food or booze could. I can create my own highs. And that, to me, is magical.