Run Wales

Illustrating how running has the power to change lives: Josie’s Story

Welcome to the third instalment of our #shareyourstory series! Over the coming weeks and months we’ll be sharing the stories of those who’ve found a positive impact on their life through running. This could be through finding solace, happiness or a way to overcome hardship as they progress on their running journey. There will be stories of challenges dramatic change or hardship, yet also those who utilised the everyday power of running to make positive changes for their lifestyle, mental or physical health and wellbeing.

The stories will come from across Wales, whether they be from North, South, East or West. We hope that you enjoy hearing about them and can find inspiration for yourself to start or continue your running journey. This week, Run Wales‘ very own Josie tells us her story, sharing how starting to run helped her turn her life around after her mental and physical health declined following bereavement.

Please be aware that some readers may find elements of this content distressing:

I never dreamt that I’d be a runner. Some years after a friend planted the seed of Couch to 5k in my head, I eventually gave it a go to help with my physical and mental health in the aftermath of the loss of my eldest son, Elis, some 5 years earlier.

Having been born extremely prematurely following a complicated pregnancy, and weighing less than a bag of sugar, Elis defied the odds for almost 6 months before the fight became too much for his body to bear. Three very challenging years later, we were overjoyed to welcome our healthy twin boys into the family.

Elis lived in an incubator for the first weeks of his life and was constantly ventilated. Despite his tough start, and extended stay in hospital, he enjoyed lots of stimulation and developed well.
Elis enjoying playtime at about 4 months old.
In stark contrast to Elis, the twins were born at full term weighing a very healthy 6.5lbs each. It was easy to absorb myself in keeping them safe, healthy and entertained until they started in school.

Soon after the boys were born, we relocated from the south Wales valleys to Anglesey to be closer to family. However, by throwing all of my efforts into my new family and home, I was ignoring my own mental and physical health. Eventually, I recognised that this had hit a low point.  The loss of a friend to bowel cancer in 2015 was the wakeup call I needed to take my own health seriously and make some significant lifestyle changes. Both for myself and our boys who deserved a happy, healthy mum.

With the safe arrival of the boys and then giving up work when we moved, I felt that I should be striving to be the perfect mother but ‘got lost’ trying to play the role of modern-day housewife.

We had lots of fantastic times experiencing new things together, but as the boys got bigger, so did I…

Things needed to change. I needed to change.

Elis’ fight for life had been so strong that I felt that I needed to challenge myself to do something that I thought was impossible. For me, that was running!  

By January 2016, my weight had crept up to a size 22 and I was embarrassed to be seen exercising. I downloaded the NHS Couch to 5K App and started going to quiet places where no one would see me to see if I could complete just one more session.  The first 60 seconds were so hard I thought there was no hope of success, but by keeping in mind that so many other people such as Elis and my friend had no choice but to keep fighting. I refused to give up!

Imagine my surprise when I not only managed to run 5k, but found myself going further and faster over time.  Within 10 months, I had used Elis’ strength as inspiration to help me lose 6.5 stone in weight and completed the Conwy Half Marathon (with a good friend who eventually cajoled me into trying parkrun), marking the 9th anniversary of Elis’ passing. I have run the Conwy Half every year since, taking Elis’ bear on his annual lap around the Great Orme, aware every time that I am running alongside people who have fought their own battles and have unique stories behind their running journeys. 

I was so nervous to run in public for the first time at this 5k colour run, five months after starting C25K.
My first 10k distance run with my sister-in-law to mark Elis’ 9th birthday.
Crossing the finish line of the Conwy Half Marathon holding Elis’ bear in my hand and his strength and determination deep in my soul.

A group of us who had become friends at parkrun started running together outside of the usual slot. We entered our first marathon the following May. What a joy to share the training and excitement of the event with friends!  Less than a year after my first half-marathon, I chose to run a marathon on my own just to see what would happen.  Well, I learnt that I could run a sub-4 hour marathon (albeit missing out on a GFA time for London Marathon by 90 seconds), but I absolutely hated the experience!  It highlighted that, for me, the joy of running comes from sharing the experience with friends – a sentiment that was reinforced when I ran the London Marathon in April this year, but really missed having friends to share the experience with. Having a friend at your side can get you through the toughest of times, and the memories will last a lifetime!

My running journey has been immense and whilst life had given me times where I felt emotionally broken, running has helped me explore the edges of my physical and mental strength, from persevering during those early days of Couch to 5k when I was totally out of my comfort zone to a complete overhaul of my lifestyle to embrace physical activity. I’ve had so many fantastic experiences along the way, making new friends and trying new activities in the stunning North Wales playground in which I am fortunate enough to live. I can’t imagine a more fitting highlight of my journey than completing the Anglesey Coastal Path during the Ring O’Fire Ultra Marathon with a great friend at my side every step of the way as we raised money for Bowel Cancer UK.

Friends completing our first marathon together!
Enjoying the Sandman Triathlon.
Celebrating completing 135 miles of the Ring O’Fire Ultra Marathon with my running buddy in 2019.

I love what running has taught me about myself and how it has changed not only my life, but the lives of family and friends too.  That passion has helped me to gather people from all walks of life to establish our local parkrun and the fantastic Môn Milers social running group, providing more opportunities for people to find their love of running as I did.  Running gives us a shared activity, especially with the wider family volunteering and participating at parkrun, and it gives me enormous pleasure when my boys choose to participate in running activities! 

A family affair at parkrun with my kids, husband, parents, sister-in-law and father-in-law all participating.
The Môn Milers on tour at the Cardiff Half Marathon.
Coaching a session for the Môn Milers.

For me, the greatest reward is inspiring others and seeing them enjoying their running journey, whatever direction it takes them in.  In my spare time I qualified first as a Run Leader, then as a coach, and now I help other volunteers learn how to lead safe and fun running activities as a Coach Developer with Welsh Athletics.

You may know me from my ‘day-job’ working on the Welsh Athletics Run Wales programme, initially as maternity cover, supporting social running groups and Run Leaders across the country and now championing the health and wellbeing benefits of physical activity afforded by social running.

I am excited to be contributing to making running more accessible to everyone. This includes people who, like me, think that running isn’t for them. Come on, let’s help someone else discover what running can do for them!

Josie’s story is a reminder that of how running can be used to turn the existence of hardship into something positive. If you have a story to inspire others, please get in touch by completing the form below:

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