Ribble Valley mum Katie Skelton explains how she found fitness and wellbeing when, as a complete beginner, she joined a local running club
Having recently completed her first marathon, Katie Skelton started on her drive to get fit following the birth of her second child. Having a young family, and with limited time and money, Katie first began running using the free NHS Couch 2 5K app, which promises to get new runners up and running within eight weeks.
“I didn’t do any exercise at all at the time,” recalls Katie. “I always enjoyed being outdoors and walking as a child but as I grew up and family life took over, there seemed to be less and less time for exercise, especially as the tiredness crept in! I started with the Couch 2 5K app and I vividly recall struggling to run for just 60 seconds! Also, after a while I felt something was missing – that I was on the journey ‘alone’. That’s when I began to research local running clubs and what has happened since has literally changed my life,” says Katie.
Looking to join a running group that catered for all levels of ability and to make new friends, Katie joined Running4CF in 2017: “I came across the Running4CF page on Facebook and was really impressed to see it was a local running group, based in Billington, that not only catered for all running abilities but also raised money for Cystic Fibrosis. I was nervous to go to my first meeting alone but from the very first evening I was made to feel at ease and like I was part of a big family. The fantastic thing about the club and about running in general is that runners are very accepting. They are like one big family and want to see you achieve, to see you improve. It really does do wonders for your confidence and mental health!”
Soon Katie had progressed to running longer distances and began entering races with her new found confidence. “I never enter races to win – I’d have to be a lot faster than I am! But the achievement of crossing that finish line, receiving that medal, is a feeling I can’t compare. Even if you’re struggling with other areas in your life, running is something that anyone can achieve. The camaraderie, the support – it literally is like one huge family,” adds primary school teacher Katie.
“I have always used running as a way to clear my head and support my mental health but I don’t think I fully appreciated its benefits until 2020,” she explains. When March came around and the country was plunged into lockdown, Katie suddenly found that running was one of the only bits of ‘normality’ left.
Home-schooling her two young boys, Katie, like the majority of parents, began to feel the stress and isolation take its toll on her mental health. “There were times that it certainly felt like groundhog day,” recalls Katie, who says that when she began to feel overwhelmed, she turned to the one thing she knew would make her feel better – running. “I used to relish the time of the day when I could ‘escape’ for a while and just run. I’m not your typical runner – I still don’t find it easy and I’m decidedly average! But I now run four times a week, it saved my sanity in lockdown!
“The joy of finding new interesting routes, exploring little known areas of our local countryside, can’t be underestimated,” adds Katie who remembers planning carefully to make the most of her allocated daily exercise time.
“Over the first part of the lockdown I made it my mission to run more off road, finding new local trails and making the most of our beautiful countryside. There is nothing more satisfying, heart lifting and soul nourishing than breathing in fresh air and taking in all the beauty that nature has to offer.”
Katie also explains how the mental health benefits of the friendship developed with her running buddies, continued to be shared despite not being able to physically meet. “Even though we now had to run alone, there was always a ‘family’ spirit with the club that kept us all connected during a difficult time for many. We also had ‘virtual’ relays which were great fun!”
As we move into Spring and Katie’s favourite time of year to run, she has begun to reflect on what the last four years of running really means to her. “Running is not an elite sport,” she says.
“It’s not just for those who are ‘super-fit’. It’s not about being as fast as you can or beating others. It’s about teamwork. It’s about support. It’s about friendship and sharing a common goal. But most of all, it’s about growing your confidence, making you aware of your abilities and supporting great mental health. I’m not being dramatic when I say that running has literally changed my life.”