Gareth Stephens – Runner

FB_IMG_1444069042673Age: 39
Favourite race: Would have to be my First Win At the Montane Delamere trail 13!
Best result so far: 3rd at the Buff trail Marathon Wales – Coed y Brenin
Racing ambition / goal: To build myself to an ultra distance event

A bit about me, running therapy…
I have always been a keen sportsman and in my late teens I concentrated on hockey (at 17 I played hockey for North Wales and had trials for Wales) My other passion became mountain biking and when I went on to university I started racing a bit of cross country as well as playing hockey. As I progressed through my twenties I rode less and less until I gave it up. Reaching 30 I decided to get back on the bike and as my fitness improved I began racing with some close friends. I had also discovered that I enjoyed running, in fact more than enjoyed it. I found that running gave me something I didn’t get when I was riding – my mind would become quiet and as the miles ticked by I would find a sense of peace. As is my nature I became obsessed with running (strictly tarmac at this stage) I read every article, followed every tip and program, (and, ignored any advice I was given!). I treated every run like a race, I ran too often, too hard and inevitably picked up an injury that eventually put an end to my running. Fitness was once again a big part of my life and so I threw myself into road and mountain biking again where my injury wasn’t a problem.

Gareth StephensMy love of exercise took me to train as a gym instructor and with the birth of my daughter finding the time to ride was becoming more and more difficult, so I decided to start running again and so that I wouldn’t be chasing times and old habits I ventured off road. I quickly fell back in love with running – at the same time my mum was diagnosed with cancer and running in the hills of Shropshire and crossing the borders into Wales became my release and gave me the strength to face what was happening.

buff image (1)In 2013, to set myself a challenge I entered a night marathon in the Brecon Beacons – Come race day I was petrified! It was one of the toughest things I had ever done, there was no strategy, and I just smashed my way round the course and to my amazement finished in third place.

I was diagnosed with bipolar when I was in my twenties and in the weeks after the race I suffered my first relapse in eight years and I stopped running. Within 6 months mum had lost her fight with illness and I was lost. It was about 18 months until life settled down and I realised that I needed to get running again, at first it was tough, but I persevered and entered the North Devon AONB coastal marathon (2015). I trained harder than I had ever done before but more importantly I found a love of being in the hills and just running. I finished third and this spurred me on to enter a few more races. My first win came in September at the Montane Delamere Trail 13, this win came as a shock to say the least and I enjoyed every minute. In October I had my first taste of Running in the Lake District at the Lakelands trails Coniston 15k, I led from the start and finished with my second win on what was a stunning course.

20151003_164549After my win at Delamere the organisers asked me to write a blog and share my Journey, I have always refused to accept that my diagnosis will define my life – I had never been open before about it and truth be known I carried a lot of shame (I now know needlessly).   Last year I was going to do a few races and call it a day but the atmosphere of trail events and the people I have met along the way reminds me of my early mountain bike days.   When I did some road running years back I found it (a little bit like road cycling can be) a bit elitist, the best runners wound huddle about talking times and there was quite often a division to the fun runners and first timers.  Running off road seems to pull people together irrespective of whether it takes you an hour or three hours to get it done it’s a great leveller somehow.   If through sharing my story I can encourage someone to try or reach someone who is struggling that’s great, I think the role that exercise can play in mental health is huge.

  • Trail26 half marathon success Gareth Stepehens prize presentationLessons learnt… Training for the marathon last year I realised the difference good nutrition makes both in preparation and during racing, in the Devon marathon I decided to just carry gels ...