This Sunday was Brighton Marathon. The sun shone and the city came alive as residents came out to support and cheer on the runners. As a young child, I used to watch the London marathon on TV, in awe of these people, dressed up in all sorts of outfits who managed to run 26 miles.
Fast forward 30 years and I found myself turning to running as a way of managing my own emotional difficulties. 5km quickly became 10km, and I found myself signing up for the Brighton Marathon. I discovered the character trait of endurance that I learned from boarding school really came into its own with marathon training. Come rain or shine, I would be out there pushing myself over the South Downs clocking up my miles. Two weeks before marathon day, after a 20-mile run, my calf muscle tore and I had to hobble home....
I kept my hope up until the day before the race when I had to admit defeat and pull out of the marathon. I was devastated. The hardest part was that I had to stop running. For months. Running had enabled me to literally run away from my problems so I didn't have to face the difficulties I was experiencing in my personal life. It was time to turn towards them....
3 years later a friend had entered me for the ballot for the London Marathon, neither of us believing it was likely. I got a place and decided to slowly start training, but did it differently. I had worked through the issues that I was using running to escape from and therefore my motivation was different. However, a fundamental difference was that I chose to look after myself. I didn't push myself. Every time I felt a niggle, I stopped. I stretched properly. I had sports massages. A month before the Marathon I took myself off to a yoga retreat to unwind and soothe my parasympathetic nervous system.
The day of the London Marathon came and was one of the best days of my life. As I crossed the finish line, I could not believe that my body had supported me to do so. I had also supported my body.
Ex-boarders can often find it hard to look after themselves. They may have high levels of endurance as a result of being abandoned at a young age and having to get on with it on their own. They are trapped, they have to get their head down and endure many difficult emotional and physical situations. Ironically, many schools use running as a punishment and I have heard many tales of children as young as 7 being forced to run around their playing fields for all sorts of reasons such as talking during prep, or being caught with their sock downs.
High levels of endurance can have advantages but when paired with low levels of self-care it can be dangerous. My marathon lessons taught me that if I slowed down, nourished, and looked after myself I could cross the finish line. By abusing my body and pushing it through gruelling long runs, it broke.
Taking care of myself does not come naturally to me. At times it has felt like I simply don't know how to do it. That there is comfort in the discomfort, taking pride in appearing so tough and not needing the comfort that others appear to need.
However, by recognising that this defensive behaviour is a result of having to care for myself at such a young age at boarding school, I have started to change the ways I treat myself. A way that children may manage their difficult feelings of abandonment at school is by developing a belief that they don't need looking after. This prevents children from feeling any anger or sadness towards their parents for leaving them. "I didn't need them anyway."
If any of this resonates, try and look after yourself in the way that your child- self needed looking after when they had to fend for themselves prematurely. Remind them that they can slow down, that they are important and that they matter. I hope you can start to find ways to turn towards yourself and take care of your mind, body, and soul.