The first time I experienced runner’s high, I was in a blissful state but also confused. Having played football competitively for the majority of my youth, I was well aware of the positive effects of exercise, but I had still not experienced the same feelings of mental clarity and motivation that I would continue to be the grateful recipient of after these particularly intense runs. During the early stages of the pandemic, I started running both more often and more intensely than I had ever done before, and in doing so happened to learn a lot, both about myself and the activity itself. For example, I learned that the harder and faster I ran, the better I felt afterwards. This taught me that in spite of my skepticism, there was a lot of truth in the famous saying ‘you get out what you put in’. The correlation between my effort and my reward was undeniable, and because of this, I started to put in a lot more than ever before. 

Running also represented transformation to me. During my days playing football, I relied heavily on my natural ability. Over time, a narrative was constructed that I was ‘not naturally fit’ and I really believed it. As I started getting closer to 20 minute 5k runs, I began to seriously doubt the narrative. When I went sub 20 minutes I was forced to tear it up completely. 

On longer runs, I began to notice that that time alone would really provide some order to the chaos of my thoughts and internal chatter. On one afternoon that I had originally set out to run my usual 5k on, I just continued to run, and kept running until this 5k became a half marathon. The longer I went, the more determined I became to go long. I’d never run anywhere close to this distance before and wouldn’t advise it but I wanted to really test my limits. As the run progressed, I inevitably began to slow down and cramp up. I realised that if anybody were to run past me now, they would probably either guess 1) that I was unfit, or 2) that I was just slow at running. 

In a beautiful way, I realised that when passing someone, you never know how long they have been running for or how arduous their run has been. Comparing ourselves to the girl whizzing by us in the park, we may beat ourselves up by believing that we aren’t going quickly enough. But, what if she’s only running a single mile at her maximal capacity? Similarly, I had to concede that I did not know anything about the runners I appeared faster than. I was simply seeing things the way that suited me. Life is the same way; everybody’s run is unique and hence, it’s right that we refrain from judgement before really exploring the nuances of each individual’s journey. 

Running was curative for me. Initially I noticed that my inattentive ADHD symptoms became less of a hindrance. As time went on, I began to feel a real boost to my self esteem. For many others, with many different problems, running has had very similar transformative effects. 

Primal Roots

In Kent, a fitness programme called Primal Roots is using the power of running to deal with addiction. The Community Interest Company will take referrals from the homelessness charity Porchlight on an alternative route to recovery via a ‘Couch to 5k’ training programme led by coaches who’ve turned their own lives around from addiction and crime to employment in addiction recovery services and the fitness industry. 

Each participant who completes the Primal Roots version of the ‘Couch to 5k’ programme will be accompanied to their first Parkrun by their mentor / pacer with a view to it becoming a regular feature in their lives; including the possibility of volunteering at their local Parkrun

Interestingly, organisers of the programme are convinced that individuals susceptible to addiction can often access mental zones during running that would put them at an advantage over runners that don’t have an addictive past. 

Carl Adams, Co-founder of Primal Roots, said, “Since the country’s first lockdown we’ve heard unprecedented cries for help from people who’ve either relapsed into addiction or feel as though they are on the brink of doing so. Our hope for this project is that once participants form a running ‘habit’ as we did, they too will turn from Addict to Athlete. We know from first-hand experience that the part of our brain that kept us at the bar, reapplied to running actually gives us an advantage over your average runner. So, we’re looking to flip the script here; turning a disadvantage into an advantage, for the sake of health, happiness and our community.” 

Josephine McCartney, Chief Executive, Kent Community Foundation, said, “Kent Community Foundation was delighted to fund this project which will help many addicts who have previously tried traditional routes to recovery and found these have not worked for them. Primal Roots originally applied for £10,000 towards the total project cost of £15,000 but we felt that this was such an important initiative that we would award them the funding needed to add to what they had already secured, to ensure the project could get off the ground. We wish them every success and are looking forward to hearing about their achievements.”

The Primal Roots programme is looking at addiction and mental health in a refreshingly nuanced way that is necessary in society today. It is overwhelmingly positive that the programme is getting the funding it needs to put people on the right track. One benefit of running is that it is accessible and cheap. All that’s needed is a pair of shoes and the desire to start. The hope for Primal Roots (and similar initiatives), is that individuals can trade their negative habits for an extremely positive one. With awareness growing and vital funding being given, real differences will be made. 

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