When Louise Wilce was dealt a double blow by post-natal depression and the death of her father, she never dreamed running could help her turn things around. She told Women’s Running her story.
When I started running, I never dreamed that a marathon could ever be a possibility. My first ever run was fairly typical: a cheap pair of running shoes which had been tested with a couple of laps of the living room, Couch to 5k app dutifully downloaded, far too many layers of clothing on my lumpy, post-Christmas body. I waited until it was dark and headed out. It was January 2015 and it had been snowing. I didn’t dare venture too far from home but, after wheezing up and down a few of the cul-de-sacs near my house, I returned home triumphant, and freezing: I was a runner!
I wasn’t put off by being slightly overweight, or not wearing the right things, or having not exercised since a short stint on the netball team at school. Once I got my breath back, I felt energised and excited with a focus I’d not felt before. In fact, the only negative thought pulsing through my head that first night was “I have got to get a sports bra!” In the first two weeks I ran 12 miles. I was hooked.
My reason to run came from tragic circumstances. I’d spent the previous 18 months living under a black cloud, not wanting to open my eyes in the morning. Not long after having my son, Alexander, in January 2013, my dad, Geoff, was diagnosed with a rare form of bile duct cancer. Everything I had ever known was wiped out. I spent my maternity leave travelling up and down the M6 (my family live in Manchester, I live in the Midlands) or hanging around a hospital ward for days on end, all with a tiny, colicky baby in tow. My dad underwent surgery and recovered, but in August 2014 a routine scan showed that his cancer returned and in October of that year he passed away. He was 59. It’s no surprise that I broke down and was eventually diagnosed with Postnatal Depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
It felt inescapable. My dad was a lovely man and my very best friend. How on earth could I go on without him? I trudged through each day. I knew my tiny son and husband needed me. I knew something needed to change. I needed a focus, something to break the cycle of work, caring for my son, crying, drinking…
I don’t know what changed one evening but I thought, “Enough is enough.” I wanted to feel better and start living again. I also felt a huge desire to give something back to the people who had helped my dad and my family so much during those dark times. So… I went online and entered The Great Manchester Run, a 10K race in my hometown of Manchester, a place which we love and reminds me of my dad on every corner, every street.
My dad had chemotherapy and follow-up treatment at The Christie, a world-famous cancer research and treatment centre in Manchester. I went with him to most of his appointments. I was terrified of seeing him in pain, scared and hooked up to drips on a bleak hospital ward. It wasn’t like that at all. It was comfortable, the staff were friendly, and we ended up having a right laugh sometimes. There was a kind of ‘blitz spirit’ amongst patients. Maybe this was because everybody was truly in it together, maybe it was because of the unique spirit of Manchester and the other Mancunians also having treatment. But I really believe it is because The Christie is a very, very special place.
When someone you love receives a terminal cancer diagnosis, your world crumbles and you very quickly learn to live in the moment, because you have no control over your future. What the team at The Christie taught us was that, while tomorrow could not be guaranteed, today could at least be OK.
So fast forward from that first frosty run and, six months after losing dad, myself and most of my family, including Dad’s two brothers and two sisters and a handful of cousins, ran our first 10K, the Great Manchester Run, both in his memory and for The Christie. We were so pleased that something positive could come from something so tragic.
More and more races followed as I well and truly got the bug. A weekly parkrun and the odd 10K became several, then a few half-marathons, some 10-milers, even a 20-mile race in March 2016. As a family, we were doing great things, raising lots of money for The Christie, and my mental wellbeing started to improve as well.
Running helped me rediscover the joy in life. An ‘ex-journalist’ and wannabe copywriter, I started writing again, starting my own running blog under the moniker ‘therunnerbird’. I discovered how much I love being active and added pilates and spin into my regime. Of course, some days are still a struggle, as I’ve been left with anxiety issues, but I now recognise those triggers and know that heading out for a run will help enormously. I have learned a lot about what it is to be pushed to the very limit of what you can take emotionally, so when it came to pushing myself physically it was like a huge release.
I don’t remember one day waking up and feeling ok, but gradually I rediscovered what it felt like to be happy again. You know when you have a really, really good run where your heart sings and everything around you is bursting with colour and light? Every single run is like that for me. Of course, I’ve had the odd injury and frustrating times, but I am so grateful for what running has given me that I can’t ever see myself giving up.
Running hasn’t just been my saviour. It’s saved my family too. Most of us are still running and I plan to keep it going with my son also. Alexander ran the Mini Great Manchester Run, aged 3, in memory of his Grandi in 2016 and now goes to a local Kids Run Free club – he wants shiny medals like his mummy has! My cousin Emily ran the 2016 London Marathon for the same fantastic cause. I went to watch her race in London and as I saw her with her medal and my dad’s name on her back I thought, “I have got to do this too.”
So my next goal? Well, I didn’t get a ballot place for London, so am bursting with pride and excitement that The Christie offered me one of their 2017 Golden Bond places. I am well into my training plan at the minute and loving it. The Christie is such an amazing place and I will always, always support them and raise funds for them, for the rest of my life. We’ve raised almost £6,000 in my dad’s memory so far and our plan is to just keep going. Keep running.