'Running saved my life' says North Yorkshire mum of five

Helen Foster, 43, from Gargrave, North Yorkshire, says the simple act of taking up running changed her life and now she is on a mission to do the same for other women.

Helen Foster, 43, from Gargrave, says running has saved her life since she took it up two years ago. (Picture: Tony Johnson).

Two years ago, Helen, a single mother of five, was in a very different place to where she is today. Four stone heavier, struggling with depression and juggling five children by herself.

“I’d struggled with my mental health since my 20s, feeling fat and ugly, and refusing to have any pictures taken. All my pictures on Facebook were only ever of half my face,” says Helen, who lives with twins Oliver and Katie, 17, son Archie, 13, and seven-year-old twins Jack and Nancy.

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“I’d been badly bullied at school when I was younger and never quite got rid of the feeling that I wasn’t good enough.”

Helen has struggled with her mental health at times. (Picture: Tony Johnson).

But on New Year’s Day 2019 Helen decided it was time to try to take control and set herself a challenge.

“I decided to use the Couch to 5k app to see if I could lose some weight, but I was so embarrassed about anyone seeing me that I would only go out at night,” she says.

“That first night I set off around 7pm down pitch black country lanes, although I was slow, I managed it. Two days later I went out again, praying that no one would see me and was determined that if a car came past I’d hide in a ditch.”

She definitely doesn’t hide any more. Having lost four stone, she has not only completed 10ks, but half and full marathons and even the Yorkshire Three Peaks. Her favourite thing is to run up mountains.

“My favourite mountain is Coniston Old Man. There is no better feeling than standing at the top of a mountain. It is the only place where I feel real peace.”

She did this with support from It’s Grim Up North running support group.

“They have been so supportive – I am not sure I could have done it without them,” says Helen.

Now as The Running Mum on both Facebook and Instagram, (@the_running_mum_) she regularly posts inspirational pictures and stories of her runs in the North Yorkshire Dales and organises running groups for other women to join her on some of the trails.

“Running gives you the best feeling in the world and I am so lucky to live in one of the most beautiful places on earth – I never take it for granted and forever feel grateful for where I live,” she says.

“Being in nature makes you feel so calm and the endorphin rush you get from the exercise – well, there’s no feeling like it.”

But Helen admits that when lockdown hit and exercise was curtailed, her mental health suffered again.

“The pandemic was horrendous at first,” she says. “I particularly love running up mountains but during lockdown, that was no longer allowed. I felt myself getting more and more depressed because I wasn’t able to do the thing I loved.

“When the schools closed, I cried and cried. Teaching the children at home was impossible, it was too stressful and I sank further and further into depression.

“At one point, I couldn’t cope any more and got into the car with no shoes on feeling suicidal and I drove away, not really knowing where to go. In the end the police brought me home,” says Helen. “I called a crisis line but that wasn’t much help.

“The police would check on me all the time. They could see I was struggling and when I told them I simply needed to get out there and run, they said I could. As long as I wasn’t mixing with other people, then they wouldn’t stop me running. From that day on, I went out every day. It saved my life and I have never looked back.”

Now Helen runs every day, her “medicine” against depression. It helped her through the heartbreak of losing her beloved dog Hoover and she hopes to help others realise how much exercise can help in bleak times.

“I’ve been on medication most of my life but hated it because it made me feel sick and tired, but I no longer need it any more,” she says.

“Doctors should prescribe running and fresh air because it really does help. I will never be a fast runner but that doesn’t matter because I’m still getting the exercise and always feel fantastic afterwards.

“Running makes me a better mum, a better person able to cope with things. I do still struggle. My eldest son recognises when I need to go for a run and hands me my trainers and say’s he’ll look after the little ones while I go for a run.

“Within ten minutes I feel like a new person. I want people to realise that you don’t have to be the best or the fastest or have the best kit.

“I help out with Grim Up North and I’m their back runner, who accompanies the person at the end of a race. My own running club is going well, we’re such a mixed bunch of older ladies and younger mums and I’ve made lifelong friends from it. I really enjoy the fact I can get out there and show off the Dales.

“Friends say they can see such a difference in me, I’m so much more positive now and even carry myself differently. My eventual goal is to train up to be a personal trainer. From being the person who never wanted to be in a photograph and who went running in the dark, I’m now wearing brightly-coloured leggings and I’m happy to pose for a snap on a run or at the top of a mountain.

“I want to show people that however bleak things are, you can pull yourself out from it – just get your trainers or walking shoes on and get out there. If it wasn’t for running I wouldn’t be here.”

It’s Grim up North running club

Grim Up North Running is an established race company that offers multi distance events on both trail and road.

With several years of experience, they offer a wide variety of races and – with a range of distances and levels of difficulty – there is something for everyone.

Grim Up North Running is known for its low key approach and all runners will be greeted with a warm smile and friendly chat.

Their aim is to get people out running, help you to enjoy both the beautiful countryside , great camaraderie and sense of wellbeing that you will get when you cross that finish line.