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Neil Featherby: Running can be part of the answer for those with mental health problems

PUBLISHED: 10:30 13 July 2018

Joe Woodley out on a run with Neil Featherby's dogs. Picture: Mark Hewlett

Joe Woodley out on a run with Neil Featherby's dogs. Picture: Mark Hewlett

© 2013 Mark Hewlett

This week’s column is something I have wanted to write about for some time.

However, and after a discussion with Mark Armstrong, whilst he said it was a good idea, he also said it is a subject which needs a lot more space than what our weekly On The Run articles have available.

Nevertheless, it is something I do want to touch on for which I will do my best.

For many years I used to struggle to come to terms with people who said they were suffering with depression although that was also at a time in my life when I think it is fair to say I had a lot going for me.

Sportlink was doing okay and apart from my long running career, I was also heavily involved in professional boxing and football which are two other sports which I grew up to love as a youngster and to be totally in awe of.

Therefore life was good and for the boy who at junior school was told that day dreaming about sport all day long was going to get him nowhere. This led to low self-esteem but at the same time it also gave me a huge determination to succeed to prove to myself (and others) in later life that I was better than, deep down, I actually thought I was.

As far as I was concerned it was all about getting off your butt and making it happen!

Even though I was scared, I would put myself through challenges in sport and business while also putting up this brave confident front.

Amazingly a number of doors did indeed open and whilst some of it was luck, at the same time you have to be there in the first place to be lucky.

Then one day after a long discussion with a number of professional medical people, we got on to the subject of the feelgood factors brought about through running and self-achievement. I also realised that I had spent much of my life testing myself and putting myself under pressure to continually prove that I could achieve get the highs whatever it took and to the detriment of other things in my life.

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Even just running every day as I have done for 37 years is one of my continual challenges.

During the last few years I have got close to a number of people whereby behind their own hardened exterior there was also an insecure soul who didn’t have the best self-esteem when it came to thoughts about themselves.

Not only did I recognise many of their fears and traits, but at the same time I also knew that if I could introduce them to running, this would lead to so many benefits for them by way of mind and body.

Needless to say the initial reaction was usually one of them saying that there was no way they could ever run whilst at the same time there would more often than not be a spark in their eyes which said they would love to give it a go.

For me that spark in their eyes was the first big step.

I explained that running is something which we can all do providing we do it at our own level, but it also has to come down to wanting to do it and being prepared to being committed and determined.

It couldn’t be any other way and if it was then there would not be the same self-achievement at the end of it.

We set short, medium and even long term goals to build up very carefully whilst also regularly obtaining any set targets.

The results were great and the buzz from each session was one which was truly infectious and of course addictive.

Then last week I just happened to see a post on Facebook from a gentleman by the name of Joe Woodley asking if his club the Norwich Road Runners could get involved with a project being set up by England Athletics and supported by Mind, called Run-Talk & Mental Well Being to help people improve mental health through running.

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Joe used to come along regularly to my FOP (Field of Pain) running group sessions during the week and on a Sunday morning too to run with my dogs.

He was always very open about his health at that time for which it was obvious he not only enjoyed the running, but being part of something whilst also helping me by way of giving the others lots of encouragement.

At the time he did also live in the same village as me, but has since moved for which most of the contact I have with him nowadays is from seeing his posts on social media which tells me how far he has come since those first meetings.

As a runner he has gone from struggling to run 5k to having now completed an ultra-marathon. He has also made a few little films of some of his running challenges and of course the many thoughts which were going through his head at the time.

As a person he is a very caring one and whilst he is keen to spread the word about his many years of what I think is fair to say of having gone through the mill, he is also very keen to actively help others in general.

Be it those with similar problems or for those who just want to experience the benefits to mind and body which can be gained from running.

Whilst he still has plenty of daily battles with himself, the camaraderie and friendships which he has found within the running world has indeed demonstrated just how running is so much more than just a sport.

Mark was right about not being able do this subject and indeed Joe justice in my column this week, but I feel pretty sure something more in-depth will follow soon.

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