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Exercise as a coping mechanism

A personal account of The June 500 Challenge

Lockdown has been a uniquely difficult time for everyone and I consider the month of June to be the real ‘slump’ of this strange timeBy June, personally felt lost and completely lacking in any sense of purpose, routine and my usual zest for life. I had no goals, no motivation and I was losing my sense of self. And then, along came The June 500 Challenge…  

As one of the 180 people who took part in, I wanted to share my personal account of how the physical challenge benefitted me and why the cause became so important to me. 

The Challenge

Designed to keep the community mentally and physically fit throughout lockdown, The June 500 Challenge was to walk, cycle, run, swim (or otherwise) a total of 500km across the 30 days of June, whilst raising funds for Dorset Mind. 

Why I took part

I first saw the challenge on social media. It was started by my brother, so I felt that I should somewhat unwillingly at least consider undertaking it. I did the math and quickly realised that I would individually need to complete 16km per dayevery day! Plus, managing the self-promotion to fundraise on top of that... The whole challenge was a big commitment, both in time and energy. 

To be honest, I wasn’t particularly motivated to join the challenge. As lockdown continued, I wasn’t particularly motivated to do… well… anything! I’ll admit the reason I finally decided to commit to this challenge was wholly selfish: I needed the motivation to keep active; and I was desperately craving a sense of purposeSo, successfully recruited my cousin, Lauren, to share the distance and committed to a modest initial fundraising target of £100. 

How COVID affected my life

In January, I took a huge leap of faith, leaving behind my dream marketing job, my home and my London lifestyle to go travelling. I had big plans! I had completed Indonesia, Australia and had a long list of South East Asia left to cover before I was forced to return to my family home in Bournemouth at the end of April. I returned to lockdown, to a stagnant job market and no opportunity to continue my travels in sight. 

How lockdown affected me emotionally

I am sure many of us have experienced emotional lows during lockdown. We have felt isolated, bored, we’ve missed loved ones, lost jobs and it has been hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. For some of us, these low points have lasted hours or daysfor others they can last far longer. 

My life has seen a huge amount of change. I expected to come back from my travels excited to rebuild my life. Instead, I found myself desperately frustrated that life seemed to be on pause with no end in sight.  

My copying mechanisms

June was a particularly difficult month for me. It marked six weeks of being back in the UK with no shiny new prospects having arisen. I could feel myself sinking in the glum reality of 2020. 

Historically, when I am lost inside my own thoughts, I find myself running. This is strange to me, because I would not class myself as ‘a runner’. In fact, there was a point in time where I hated it! However, at every pivotal low point in my life, I have found myself embarking on an abnormally long run, refusing to turn back until I had organised my thoughts. There is something magical about the long mundane distance work that provides me with amazing clarity and perspective. It has continually proven to be useful tool for navigating both personal and business decisions and regaining control of my emotionsIt has certainly become a coping mechanism for my needs.  

Undertaking the 500km

The June 500 was exactly what I needed in that difficult month. It had me out of the house, nearly every day, walking, running, cycling and kayaking. We were embarking on distances I never felt possible of myself as we valiantly chased down the once ‘unattainable’ target of 500kmThere were many particularly difficult days in June on which I would grab my bike and quietly make sense of my muddled thoughts whilst peddling the coast. It was during these long and exhausting rides that I found my sense of calm. Crucially, I reminded myself not to evaluate my life based on this small snapshot of time, particularly during a Global Pandemic 

Mblood was pumping, my lungs were full of fresh air and my eyes and mind were both benefiting from replacing the view of my phone screen for the picturesque beauty of Dorset. I felt uplifted, revelling in a sense of achievement as I completed mega-distances and closed in on the target distance. 

The tragic consequences of mental health

Heartbreakingly, as we were finishing the challenge, we lost someone very important to us as they lost their battle with their own mental health. It really did and still does break my heart for so many reasons. It highlights the fundamental importance of mental health: 

I wish this person truly understood how important they were.  

I wish this person truly understood how loved they were, by so many.  

I wish this person could see how much they had to live for.  

I wish this person could have seen the light at the end of their dark tunnel.  

I wish this person had found their own coping mechanism, whatever that may have been  

Looking ahead

I finished the challenge at 525km, cycling a final 25km in honour of the loved one that we lost. I shared my story and from the incredible community of people around me, Lauren and I raised £514, for which I am truly grateful.  

Alongside the other 178 participants, together we have raised an INCREDIBLE £42,000! But just as importantly, we have raised awareness. I hope the online spectators of the challenge or anyone reading this is encouraged to reach out when they need support. I hope you know that thanks to organisations like Dorset Mind, you are never truly alone and that help is readily available. I hope that maybe you will also be the outstretched hand to someone else who may need support.  

Finally, from me, a huge and heartfelt thank you to Dorset Mind for their inspiring work, to everyone who participated and donated and in particular, thanks to Ty, Jamie and Benjamin for spearheading the challenge. I know it has directly benefited me during lockdown, but I am sure you will never truly know the reach and impact of this challenge on the wider community. 

Read more about the benefits of getting active on your mental health, click here. 

And who knows… perhaps 2021 will see our next efforts actually ending in Paris! 

Big thanks to Jade for writing this blog.

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