Vitality London 10,000 runners reveal why running is vital to their mental health and wellbeing
- The 2023 Vitality London 10,000 is encouraging participants to #DoItForYou to promote better mental health
- Scott Mitchell says ‘running saved my sanity’ as he cared for late wife Dame Barbara Windsor
On Sunday 24 September, thousands of people will take part in the 2023 Vitality London 10,000 and champion running and activity to improve mental health and wellbeing.
Around 15,000 participants will line up to complete the iconic 10K, which takes in some of London’s most famous landmarks.
Participants are being encouraged to join the campaign to #DoItForYou this year and to showcase how activity helps their mental health and wellbeing. This includes the Run to Overcome wave, in association with Mental Health Mates, where participants can run, jog, or walk to feel the many mental health benefits of being active.
Activity is proven to improve self-esteem, stimulate chemical changes in the brain to boost mood, improve sleep and manage stress and anxiety. A recent survey of Vitality London 10,000 participants found that 92 per cent of respondents said that running was important or very important to their mental health and wellbeing.
This year’s event takes place two weeks before World Mental Health Day – on Tuesday 10 October – with entries open until Monday 18 September.
Some well-known names and faces have discussed how running impacts their mental health, and their personal journeys and reasons for being active.
“For me, running is the best anti-depressant on the market and you don't need a prescription” – Scott Mitchell
Scott Mitchell began running five years ago following the passing of his late wife Dame Barbara Windsor, who was living with Alzheimer’s disease. Now an ambassador for Alzheimer’s Research UK, Scott has completed three London Marathons and founded the running group Babs’ Army, a group of friends and running enthusiasts.
“Running is highly important to my mental health,” said Scott, ahead of his first Vitality London 10,000. “It lifts my mood, as I am prone to having periods of feeling low and lethargic if I feel stressed at any time. Running completely changes the way I feel every time.
“Running outdoors is the most beneficial for me, being among bigger spaces and being a part of nature certainly helps to clear my mind and feel in touch with myself again.
“I ran my first marathon while caring for Barbara and it came at a time when my life was 100 per cent stressful and I felt emotionally and physically drained. In truth, I believe running saved my sanity and kept me strong and able to continue caring for my wife until she passed away. I have continued it ever since.
“When I run, I feel alive and positive about myself and life in general. I feel energised. When I stop running for periods of time, my mental state can decline and a feeling of sluggishness usually takes over.
“For me, running is the best anti-depressant on the market – and you don't need a prescription.”
“It is about showing up and moving in whatever way suits me on that day” – Shareefa J
It has been four years since Shareefa J first discovered her love of running. Since then, the presenter and plus-size model has featured on the front cover of leading running magazines and worked to support underrepresented groups find a place in fitness spaces. An ambassador for mental health charity CALM, Shareefa is running the Vitality London 10,000, having been part of the Celebrate You wave in 2021.
“During the pandemic I learned the value of the amazing power that movement can have for your mental health. If you are setting yourself a challenge – whether it is 1K, or 5K or more – putting in the work and reaching that goal releases a huge number of endorphins and gives you a sense of achievement every day.
“I have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and struggle with what feels like a 'broken brain' at times. Getting out running helps me with that. For me, it’s about showing up and moving in whatever way suits me on that day. One thing I never regret in life is a little walk!
“Running has given me a real connection with the running community. I have made invaluable friendships, mostly from race days, and have created memories which are among the most special and life changing moments of my life. What sets these relationships apart is the closeness that evolves when navigating the challenges of a gruelling 10K and are on the verge of giving up, only to find encouragement from a friend that keeps you pressing forward.
“I have moved house five times in 2023 and life has felt a bit overwhelming at times and being active went to the bottom of my priority list. After spending so much time glued to my laptop or buried in packing and unpacking, I have begun to get myself to the gym and am training for the 10K.”
“Running has been a source of solace and strength” – Anoosheh Ashoori
Anoosheh Ashoori used activity to support his mental health during his imprisonment in Tehran’s Evin Prison. Anoosheh was abducted in August 2017 and spent five years in the prison, which was where he felt the profound impact of running as a source of solace and strength. Since his release, Anoosheh has run the London Marathon twice and is gearing up for his third around his 70th birthday.
“Regular running and physical activity have played a vital role in maintaining my good mental health, whether in prison or in the free world. Running has served as a powerful outlet for stress relief and emotional regulation, allowing me to channel negative emotions into positive physical exertion. It has been a source of solace and strength, helping me overcome challenges and maintain a sense of wellbeing.
“I find that running or participating in activities, such as the Vitality London 10,000, offers a valuable opportunity for self-reflection. When I don’t run, I feel as though I am missing a key element that fuels my motivation and sense of accomplishment. It makes me feel empowered, strong and capable, allowing me to overcome challenges and boost my confidence.
“Activity gives me liberation, especially in contrast to the confinements of Evin Prison. Running became my escape – a way to reclaim my sanity amid the turmoil. It provided a respite from the harsh realities, allowing me to focus on the present moment and find solace in the rhythm of my footsteps.
“Through running, I channelled my emotions, transforming anxiety and fear into determination and resilience. It gave me a sense of control over my own body and mind, helping me fight against the grip of insanity and maintain my mental wellbeing in the most challenging circumstances.
“I take part in a range of physical activities to stay in the best shape I can, especially at my age! Strength training helps me build muscle and improve my posture and yoga enhances my flexibility, balance and mindfulness.”
“From a mental health perspective, nothing comes close to beating the runner’s high” – Laura Hughes
Laura Hughes is running the virtual Vitality London 10,000, which can be done any time between 16 and 24 September, with a community of runners who run for Colin McGinty. Laura is the sister of Colin, who was murdered in 2001 in a case of mistaken identity. More than 200 runners run in Colin’s memory for #kNOwKnifeCrime, which raises awareness of the negative effects of knife crime and fundraises to pay for youth anti-knife crime projects. Laura runs when she is distracted and enjoys putting the world to rights when she’s jogging with her friends.
“Running is so important for me. There’s no better feeling than finishing a long run on a Saturday morning and coming home for a hot cup of tea and a good nosey at your Strava to see how you did.
“Getting moving gets all my feel-good hormones going. I usually do my long run with my running pals and the mental health benefits of doing this are huge. We typically have a good moan about all the things that are bothering us and then hatch a plan about how we can fix it all.
“I love running outdoors and through nature where there is so much to see. My best kind of runs are the ones where I am distracted, as I tend to find when I am focusing on something other than my pace, I end up with a personal best!
“One of the best memories I have from running was when a small team from our youth anti-knife crime campaign ran the London Marathon. We were dressed in costumes that school children from across Merseyside designed for us and when we ran past the Stephen Lawrence mile marker, we had so much support and encouragement. This gave me so much strength to continue not just the marathon but our campaign afterwards.”
“When I run I feel alive” – Rhian Mannings
Rhian Mannings has been running since she took part in Mind over Marathon on the BBC in 2017, which focused on the positive effects running has on mental health. Rhian lost her husband Paul and one-year-old son George in five days in 2012 and over the last 11 years has tried everything to help with the grieving process, including counselling, medication and complementary therapy. However, running has had the biggest impact on her recovery.
“If I don’t run, I feel anxious. It plays a huge part in my weekly routine and it’s a huge part of my life now because of the mental and physical benefits.
“I need to schedule running into my diary, and the feel of my feet pounding the streets and my heart beating faster and faster in my chest sets me on the right path. Being outdoors, breathing in the fresh air and appreciating life around you puts my mind at ease.
“I do struggle when my routine means I can’t get out. I have a Peloton bike, which I love, and a treadmill so I can try and get that much-needed exercise in.
“Quite simply, when I run I feel alive and when I don’t run I feel jittery. My boys’ lives ended too soon, I owe it them to live life to the full and appreciate the world I live in.”
“A run in the rain is just as enjoyable as a run in the sun” – Team Kerr
David and Sandra Kerr and their son Aaron make up Team Kerr. The mum and dad from County Down, in Northern Ireland, push Aaron in his custom-built running wheelchair as part of a family running group that began back in 2014 to support their mental health and be part of the community. Since then, the family has completed 51 marathons together and participated in hundreds of events across the UK and Ireland.
“We are both carers, so taking care of our mental health is a priority and running plays a big role in managing those pressures. It allows us to forget about our daily stresses for a while, and we always end a run feeling better than when we started. We always like to set ourselves a goal in our running and we feel that goal-setting is a positive way for us to find focus.
“We run all year round – a run in the rain is just as enjoyable as a run in the sun for us and it always has a real boost to our mental health. Breathing in the fresh air always leaves us feeling healthy and revived, ready to take on the next challenge. We enjoy finding new places to explore. We have a floating wheelchair and are lucky to have some beautiful beaches in Northern Ireland and try to visit when the weather is good.
“Being carers can often be lonely, so it’s good to be part of a community that is inclusive. We attend many running events and always come away having met someone new. Sometimes it’s not easy to get a conversation started, but when out running or at an event you are with like-minded people and there’s always something to talk about.
“It was very difficult during the pandemic as we were unable to leave the house for almost three months due to Aaron being immunosuppressed. We set up a circuit course in our back garden and being able to exercise really helped us to get through that difficult time.”
“Being able to support people get active and gain confidence gives me a real sense of purpose” – Jo Gennari
Jo Gennari has gone from barely being able to run for the bus to running multiple marathons and ultra marathons and training others for the challenge. Her journey began in 2012 with the Couch to 5K as preparation for the Great North Run, which she was running to support her friend, whose son was ill and passed away during her training. Jo runs in celebration with one of his toy cars through the laces of her trainers at all her races.
She has inspired hundreds of her colleagues, as well as friends and family, to get active, with more than 250 runners taking part in events. She has also been a pacemaker at the London Marathon and is working to improve the experience of the Back of the Pack runners.
“Running is a non-negotiable part of maintaining my positive mental health. It helps me clear my head, especially after a challenging day, and I also time short runs sometimes before meetings I am anxious about to allow myself time to think.
“I have a history of poor mental health and where I may have needed medication before running has helped me cope without. I wouldn’t have believed that was possible years ago. It also gives me a huge amount of confidence. I’ve undertaken things that have surprised me, including a 106K ultramarathon, and must be tougher, or possibly more stubborn, than I thought!
“I work from home and it’s easy to find yourself tied to the desk. I run in local parks where I can stop, listen to birds and I love to go to new places and explore by running – I’ve just come back from Aberdeen and ran along the beach every day, which did wonders for lifting my mood.
“I was treated for post-traumatic stress disorder a few years ago and I sometimes found myself in tears on a run. After the run I felt much better and running among nature made a huge difference when I was agitated or anxious.
“Recently, I undertook my Leadership in Running Fitness course while working at a hospital and set up beginners’ run groups. Many of them have gone on to complete The Big Half and even the London Marathon. I coach a group online each week with a Facebook group of 200 members. Being able to support people to get active and gain confidence gives me a real sense of purpose.”