My marathon journey

Andrew Smallwood running the London Marathon

On Sunday 29 April 2019 I was one of 35,000 people who ran the London Marathon. Everyone has their own special reason for running and I am no different.

Some may be running to support a loved one, others may be running to remember someone. 

I didn’t run for anyone. For the first time in my life, I’ve been completely selfish. I ran for myself.

But this was far more than just a 26.2 mile run. It was far more than the 359.2 miles that I did in training and it was far more than the three half marathons I did in the 12 months leading up to the marathon.

This journey started on 18 October 2017. It was three months since I became separated from my wife. Three months of not sleeping in my own bed, three months of barely seeing my dog and also followed a period of being under immense pressure at work. It was my first opportunity to get away from things and go visit my parents in Florida.

At this point in my life I could have gone one of two ways. 

I could have gone off the rails, turned to alcohol, eaten loads and lost my way completely. Mentally, it would have been very easy to slip into that lifestyle.

Instead, I woke up at 6am on that first crisp morning in Poinciana, laced up my old battered running trainers, plugged in my headphones, played Joli Mai by Daphni and ran into the morning sun.

Andrew Smallwood running in Poinciana

I got lost. Both physically and mentally. 

Having been to Poinciana many times before I thought I knew where I was going, but the streets all look the same and I took some wrong turnings. But those wrong turnings took me on a new path. I got lost in my thoughts about who I was, where my life was going and what should happen next. 

It took an hour for me to run 6.6 miles and find my way home as the Florida sun rose but it set me on a path to continue running; primarily for the mind rather than for physical fitness.

I started to realise that the main reason to run was to give my mind a break. 

To think. 

To switch off. 

I can’t underestimate the effect this had on my mental wellbeing and it’s the reason I continue to run. 

Shortly after returning to the UK, I signed up to run the Hackney Half Marathon and I ran for the charity CALM. This gave me a sense of purpose and the choice of charity was very apt. 

Team CALM

CALM stands for the Campaign Against Living Miserably and it raises awareness about male depression.

The biggest killer of males under 45 in the UK is suicide

Read more at The Calmzone

This is a shocking fact and it needs to be highlighted so more people are aware and more people talk about it. But I understand the stigma around talking about it. Because I never have. 

This is my first public admission that I struggle. 

I’ve never got close to the ’S’ word and I’ve never been diagnosed with depression but I’m very self aware that I have had a cloud over my head over the 21 month period since my untimely separation. It’s not only a recent thing, I’ve consistently had periods of being down over the past 20 years and I’ve never been able to explain it.

It’s more than just having a bad day. It can sometimes last weeks and months at a time. But life goes on and you have to put a brave face on things, especially at work where you need to be seen to be resilient, even though you may not be.

So what do you do? Well, I continue to run.

It gives me time to think. It gives me time to switch off. It helps me sleep at night and hey, I can fit back into some clothes that I thought I’d never wear again too!

I said at the start of this post that I ran for myself. That’s a bit of a lie.

I officially ran for NSPCC and have raised about £3000 for them.

But more than that, I’ve run for everyone that has supported me throughout this testing period of my life.

  • For the colleagues at work who have always invited me out for a drink and a chat.
  • For my new friends in London who are always there to help me look after Slinky.
  • For my childhood friends who keep me going with every WhatsApp message I receive.
  • For my sister and brother-in-law who gave me a place to live when I had no where else to go.
  • For my parents who are always on the end of a FaceTime call.

The road to the marathon has been long.

But after conquering London it feels like it’s the end of the first act of my life. The second act starts now…