My reasons to run
by Sandra Brower
I ran the London Parks half marathon last year for three reasons. First, if I don’t have something to train for, I usually don’t make it a priority to keep fit. Second, keeping fit physically is a good way to keep fit mentally. Like many people, I’ve struggled with poor mental health in the past. I’m happy to say I’ve been well for a good few years now, and doing the half was both a way to celebrate that and to raise money for Lambeth and Southwark Mind, a charity that supports people who struggle with mental health. Third, and most importantly, I ran to mark a milestone. A half marathon is just over 21km, and I’d just entered the 21st year of marriage to my wonderful husband. One of the promises we made to each other all those years ago was to be there for each other ‘in sickness and in health’. He was, and running the half was one small way I could say ‘thank you’ – I dedicated the run to him.
It was also a chance to get back to London. Back to the vibrancy, the colour, the busyness, the noise, the faces, the food, and the familiar haunts. Each time I step off the train at Euston, it feels a bit like coming home. London’s the city that welcomed me as a foreigner over twenty years ago; the place where both my children were born (the first arrived the day after I received my citizenship!); and the place where I earned my PhD in theology.
I stumbled upon Lambeth and Southwark Mind when searching for charities that still had places for the event, and was so glad I did. During our ten years in London, we spent half of the time living in these two boroughs. Our first flat was in Lambeth (Brixton), our second was in Southwark (Denmark Hill), and our third flat – where I suffered my first serious bout of clinical depression – straddled both boroughs (Herne Hill). So it was good to give something back not only to a charity that supports people like me, but one located in part of London that I had known and loved.
The run itself was great. I wanted a time under 2:15, so was delighted with my time of just over 2:04. I couldn’t have done it without the help of LSM’s CEO, Ajay Khandelwal, who I met only about an hour before the race started. Having run many marathons before, the London Parks Half was a walk in the park for him (ok, literally a run, but…). I told him the time I was aiming for and he said he’d run with me and make sure I got it. His running was graceful and effortless, and the joy and pride he obviously takes in his work and the charity bubbled up and spilled over as continual encouragement along the way.
Recovery from poor mental health or mental illness is a journey, and sometimes a long one. I had a lot of Ajays on mine. With my theology hat on, sacred texts are always close at hand, and I can’t help but think of this one: ‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us’ (Hebrews 12:1). The visual imagery is a long race, the side-lines heaving with encouragers. Mine expressed theirs in a lot of different ways: patiently listening to the repetitive loop of my narrative and gently trying to disrupt it; visiting me in hospital; providing a stable environment for my kids in the times of acute crisis; providing support and companionship for my husband as he held things together; making food and sorting domestic stuff; offering manageable employment to ease me back in to work; helping me recognise and not be scared of a ‘normal’ bad day; challenging me to be my well self when I was better; and so many more ways.
In addition to my time, I was thrilled to raise over £1500 for LSM. Many of my encouragers who’d helped me on my journey to wellness knew what this race symbolised for me, and generously marked the occasion by donating to the cause. One thing my faith has taught me is that all things can work together for good. Of course I wish that I had never suffered from mental illness, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. And I’ll never believe there was any intrinsic good in it. But now, having passed the metaphorical finish line, my place on the side-lines is a significant one. As I ‘cheer’ others along, I really know what it means to have run the race. And being in a unique place to help others finish it, is a good thing indeed.