Man’s mental health mission for run clubs

A man who is running the Principality Cardiff Half Marathon in October as part of the SuperHalfs Series, is on a mission to get mental health champions in running clubs.

After experiencing a dark period three years ago, Andy Ball, says he was only able to get through it thanks to the support of his running friends and his wife, Anita.

The 46-year-old from Morpeth, Northumberland, has now set up his own mental health training business for workplaces and hopes all running clubs recognise the importance of offering a safe space for runners to seek help.

 

He said: “I’ve run on and off since 2000 but started running consistently six years ago when I moved house. I found a running club, made a new network of friends and my running improved which was amazing.

“Blokes don’t tend to talk about their feelings as it’s, wrongly, viewed as a weakness. But we’d find ourselves running together and chatting. So, when, three years ago, they noticed I wasn’t coming to training sessions, they asked me if everything was OK.

“It wasn’t. I was in a really dark place and having a difficult time with my two boys. That’s when they said, ‘right, we’re going on a long run, we can go as slow as we like, but it will help’, and it really did.”

 

Andy says that running has always helped his mental health, but he’d never noticed before. It was only at that point that he realised the true impact the sport can have.

Wanting to help others, Andy started learning more about mental health – discovering how to communicate with others and what to do if someone else is struggling. He then left his job in the voluntary sector and set up his own business, Thrive Together Training and Coaching, teaching mental health first aid to other businesses and organisations.

 

He’s also taken on the role of Welfare Officer and Mental Health Champion at his running club and wants to encourage more clubs to have something similar.

He said: “I changed from being a ‘lad’s lad’ who didn’t recognise mental health to someone that stood up and took notice. I’m on a mission now to encourage the implementation of mental health champions in run clubs. I’ve helped six clubs so far but that’s not enough and I need a body behind me which is why I’m also speaking to England Athletics.

“So many people use running to help their mental health and I guarantee at every club there will be someone who’s tried to take their own life or living with anxiety or depression. They’ll be those who have psychotic episodes or self-harm and others who may have an eating disorder.

“Running clubs should be centre of the community, where people go and feel safe and where they can have a conversation about mental health where they don’t feel judged. It’s really important that we break down that barrier and are able to signpost where people can go to get further help.”

 

Andy says that running is a form of therapy for him, and now, if he hasn’t been out for a run, his wife will send him out for one as she can see how much he benefits.

He’s now signed up to complete the SuperHalfs Series with his first race being the Cardiff Half Marathon 2024.

He added: “It’s something I’ve wanted to do for years and now that my boys are older, I have the freedom to do it. Cardiff will be the first in the series for me, I’ve heard loads about it and the route looks class. I think I’ll do Lisbon in 2025 and continue to do two a year, finishing in Valencia. I’m really looking forward to it.”

 

Matt Newman, Chief Executive at event organisers, Run 4 Wales, commented: “We never fail to be inspired by the incredible runners, like Andy, taking part in our events.

“His story shows the amazing power running can have on our mental health and overall wellbeing. The running community is a great community to be part of and I hope this helps to not only encourage others to lace up their running shoes and try the sport for themselves but also open up the important conversation around our mental health.

“We wish Andy the best of luck in his SuperHalfs journey and can’t wait to cheer him over the finish line in Cardiff.”

 

The Principality Cardiff Half Marathon takes place on Sunday 6 October 2024. To find out more visit: www.cardiffhalfmarathon.co.uk/