Gareth Stephens (winner of this years Trail 13 Delamere) & His Running Journey

T13 WinnerWhen I splashed out on some new running gear last October and committed myself to get fit again I had no idea that almost 12 months later I would be celebrating my first ever race win (aged 39!!)

I was in my thirties when I started running, I had always loved sport but as I got older I focused more on hockey and mountain biking.   Truth be known I started running to help me cope with having bipolar and, without being over dramatic, without running I’m not sure where I’d be. There is no doubt in my mind that running was pivotal to my recovery. Running became a replacement for the medication that I had come to rely on so heavily.   After six months I entered my first 10k and achieved my goal of under 40 minutes (by a few seconds). I could barely walk for the next week but I was proud of what I had achieved.  Life continued to improve, I got back into full time employment, met my wonderful wife and started a family. Injury eventually forced me to stop running but it didn’t matter as the injury didn’t affect my cycling so I threw myself into that instead.

I didn’t pick up my running trainers again until about four years later when, in 2012, I received the devastating news that my mum had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she was only 66. My injury was now long gone so I dusted off the trainers and started running off road. As mum battled her cancer I took my frustration and emotions to the hills. It gave me the strength to smile when I saw my mum while she was having chemo. I spent many runs with tears streaming down my face, but it became my outlet as I found it impossible to really talk to anyone about what was happening.

I decided I needed a challenge so a entered an off road midnight marathon in the Breacon Beacons. I stood on the start line not knowing what to expect, the race was like a pressure valve, everything I’d been feeling and all my emotions burst out.  I ran most of it on my own and I screamed and shouted my way round the course willing my mum to get better.  I finished third and it broke me! It emptied me physically and emotionally.

Within a matter of weeks, after 8 years of stability, I had a manic episode.  Things spiralled quickly out of control and I found myself (not for the first time) being sectioned under the Mental Health Act.  By October the worst was over but for every up there is a down and my mood crashed. I was lucky that I was able to return to my job and slowly began to pick up the pieces.

Shortly after Christmas my mum took a sudden and drastic turn for the worst.  A pre existing heart condition caused complications and we nearly lost her. Mum began to recover a little and moved to a local hospice before coming home.  Unfortunately my mum lost her fight a few days after arriving home, and she passed away surrounded by her family.

I tried running after my mum died but it wasn’t the same. I didn’t know if the very thing that had turned my life around had cruelly precipitated a manic episode that very nearly cost me everything I had, it felt tainted somehow. Also when I tried to run I couldn’t feel mum there anymore. This pattern continued throughout last year until October when I decided enough was enough.  I bought a head torch and told myself I would give it three months of running, that was my first goal. To begin with it was awful! I was walking up hills that I had easily run up 18 months ago, 5 or 6 mile runs left me sore and dejected, but I carried on.

My goals were simple really this year, to run as many miles as I could as fast as I could and to get back to myself. I’ve done a couple of races and my results have been good but I’ve struggled with feeling tired. The Montane Trail 13 Delamere was set to be my last race. It ticked all my boxes, single track, twisty trails, a few hills! I rested up the week before the race and Sunday morning quickly arrived. As I stood on the start line I went through my race strategy, I would start steady, try and keep the leaders in view if possible, settle into a pace and push hard at the end giving it everything I’d got. Winning the race wasn’t in the equation…..suddenly someone shouted “GO” and all strategies went out of the window and I took off at a sprint. I tried to rein it in but a little voice wouldn’t let me so I began to relax and enjoy leading the race.   The race was surreal, I found myself at the front but I expected to get caught at any moment, it didn’t matter, I felt great, the sun was shining, and I was enjoying every mile. I was in my element, I thought of my mum and it made me smile given 12 months ago life had felt very different. I tried explaining my huge grin to “the lead bike” (Marc Laithwaite) and we enjoyed some light hearted banter for the remainder of the race.

My wife and two children were waiting for me at the finish and my daughter crossed the line with me.  I couldn’t have felt happier. My wife and I both shed a few tears, I’d come a lot further than 13 miles to finish with a win Delamere Trail 13.  Running has given me back something I’d lost and that above anything else is what I will take and cherish from the Delamere Trail 13 race.

In sharing his story, Gareth hopes to show that you don’t have to be elite to achieve something special and maybe someone in a similar position will read it, pull on a pair of trainers and think why not!

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  1. #1 by Loraine Duncan on September 16, 2015 - 5:18 am

    Wow what an amazing story you are strong both inside and out. Your mum would be so proud of you, if you never forget them they are always with you.

    • #2 by Gareth on September 22, 2015 - 7:20 pm

      Thank you Loraine, you are so right and when I think of mum I see her smiling, she was the most optimistic person I’ve ever met, that’s what I try and remember.

  2. #3 by Matt on September 17, 2015 - 9:05 am

    A true inspiration. Having suffered from mental health issues for many years I too found salvation in running and applaud Gareth’s honest and inspiring account. A true hero and role model.

    • #4 by Gareth on September 25, 2015 - 6:32 am

      Hi Matt, it’s good to know that you have found running to be a great help, I really would be lost without it. I still have, and always will I guess have those “bad days” – getting out of the door is often the hardest part of the run! But I know that chances are things will look better once I get back. Thank you for your comments – i have never been open about my mental health, but I am glad that I have had this opportunity.

  3. #5 by Anna on September 18, 2015 - 10:05 pm

    What an achievement and an inspiration to us all! I can kind of relate to some of this as i took up running after my dad took his own life due to depression (to raise money for Samaritans in his memory). I was a couch potato and am now running (albeit very slowly) mountain marathons and did my first ultra this year! Running definitely helps with low moods and coping with life’s pressures. Glad you found the strength to give running another chance and what an amazing achievement! Keep running! Well done!

    • #6 by Gareth on September 22, 2015 - 7:16 pm

      Thanks Anna, I think running gives me peace and allows the space without distractions to process things. I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. Congratulations on completing an ultra, now that’s an achievement, I would love to do one one day.

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