Can exercise bring out your emotions?

I’m running Bristol 10k for the Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Appeal in memory of Abi. For various reasons, I’ve not run since November last year, so while in my mind I could ‘easily’ run a 10k, having run a few in 2012, my body needs some reminding! There’s 8 weeks till the run, so I should be up to speed by then if I take it slow and steady.

When this happened to Abi, things that had been important to me day-to-day fell into insignificance. I felt that I would never want to run again, and certainly never work again. As time has passed, my attitude has changed, and I’m very relieved about that. Abi loved me being ‘fit’, like her. I would say she even nagged me when I missed a class or a run. It was our mutal interest. I could almost hear her talking to me, saying ‘get up and run, Mum’.

But starting up a routine like running again isn’t easy… not least with an extra stone to carry and muscles that haven’t been used for a while, but this time the barriers are more emotional than physical. Whenever I run alone I listen to music, it really helps me get through those miles and I enjoy it… but I can’t listen to any music at the moment, so much either reminds me of Abi or just the general time when she was alive. Although, this doesn’t matter too much at the moment as I’m only running 20 minutes at a time and when I am up to speed I’ll rejoin the fabulous ladies in my running club so I will have company to get me through the miles.

Another thing is memories. Running in my local village obviously brings back memories of Abi. But it also reminds me that life is still going on around me; cars rushing by, children going to school, pedestrians chatting in the street, the spring daffodils on the kerbside… that’s life, a life that Abi won’t see again.

For my second run last week, I decided to run around the playing field across the road from my estate – my shins had taken a bit of a battering on my first road run, so I thought it a good idea to take it easier the second time. In my mind, this was a great plan. However, I wasn’t prepared for the flashbacks.

The last time I ran in that field was in November last year. I ran through from the top to the bottom to reach my house, it wasn’t my normal route as it’s a bit of a short cut, but on that day I felt tired so I decided to shorten my run a bit. On the field is the hockey pitch used by the school. It was around 9.30am and as I approached the hockey pitch I could see there was already a game going on. I didn’t have my glasses on so it took me some time to focus; I recall wondering if by chance Abi would be playing. Sure enough, as I got closer I saw her blonde ponytail bouncing in the wind. It was freezing cold, yet she was playing in a white polo top and skort – brrrr! A fleeting ‘mother’s instinct’ scolded her in my head for a moment for not ‘wrapping up warm enough’.

She caught sight of me and waved and smiled to see her mum. I could see her body straighten as she responded to having ‘an audience’ and she bounced along and went for the ball. I didn’t stop to watch, as I didn’t want to distract her, but I ran slower to take in the scene and smiled with pride at how happy she was. She looked brilliant and was clearly having fun, running around on a freezing pitch so early in the day. It spurred me on to finish my run with a little more gusto, if Abi could do it then so should I!

However, on my run today, the field and pitch were noticeably empty. I ran up to the top, past the pitch. The memory sprang into my mind and I told myself not to look at it, but I did. I saw her again, as though it were yesterday, bouncing along waving at me, looking so pleased to see me.

I ran a full circuit of the field, right around the pitch. I’m not sure how I forced myself but every time I looked ahead it was as though I could see her skipping along ahead of me, bathed in yellow. I felt tired and out of breath, but I carried on with her in mind.

When I got home, I went to my room and began to do some simple exercises. I got into the plank position and braced myself to hold it for a minute. As I stretched out, I lifted my head slightly and looked at Abi’s ‘flower frame’ photo, which we had for her funeral and was resting on the floor beside me. It was the image of her on a white background, looking back into the camera (below). It was the strangest thing because, as I looked at it, her cheeks looked rosier, pink, almost flushed! Had she really run round that field with me?

My heart was still pumping and the sweat began to pour, that ‘after-run’ rush. I sank back onto my heels, my arms stretched out in front of me – ironically, called the ‘child’s pose’ in Yoga – and I sobbed my heart out.

I wonder if it’s common to feel such strong emotions after running or exertion from exercise? I’m familiar with the ‘high’, the rush, the buzz, but have never experienced my stress or grief coming out this way before. It hasn’t put me off though, as I got back out again today, Abi is nagging me to do that 10k…

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