Miscarriage, Mental Health, and Marathons
That's the story of Bethan Pritchard, who has run a marathon in every month of 2023 with the aim of inspiring better communication around motherhood and grief.
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One of the boldest, most inspiring stories I’ve heard this year is that of Bethan Pritchard. The Malton, North Yorkshire beauty salon owner is running a marathon every month of 2023, raising money for two charities close to her heart.
I heard about Beth’s mission through a viral tweet by her brother, British journalist Will Pritchard. He was documenting his sister reaching the midpoint of her quest - from miscarriage to marathon number six - and was trying to help her reach her donation goal.
Beth has now completed her fundraising for Tommy’s - the first of two challenges - which “funds medical research into the causes of premature birth, stillbirth and miscarriage, and provides an information service about health in pregnancy.”
While running a marathon every month is itself a huge physical and mental effort, the fact that she is encouraging conversation around this difficult topic is an even bigger deal.
Not that Beth is new to running. She ran cross country at school in Yorkshire, England and “weirdly really enjoyed it,” and remained fit enough to accept a charity place at the 2015 London Marathon from her then-employer.
In her early 20s at the time, she’d never watched the race and all its festivities on television and hadn’t run further than 13 miles before. Still, she completed the race and duly caught the running bug.
Then, in spring 2016, tragedy struck.
On the day Beth was due to fly out to Italy to run the Rome Marathon, she suffered a miscarriage. Understandably, depression hit her hard. Despite having family and friends all around her, conversations were difficult. A sense of loneliness descended upon her.
“I didn't take the time to let myself grieve. It's odd because you are grieving somebody that you've actually not met, which is probably why it's incredibly hard to deal with.”
But life went on.
Leaning on being a generally sporty person and running on and off, she battled through. Then, when lockdown happened, a situation that many will find familiar had an extraordinary conclusion.
“I was doing loads of online classes, I wasn't working, and I was sleeping really well, I was eating really well - I was full fitness. So I said to my mum that I was just going to go out and run a marathon.”
So she just went out and ran a marathon. Just around her neighborhood. It took 4h9m (no slouch) and then the challenge came to her. 12 marathons in 12 months. All for charity.
It wasn’t closure so much as a quiet thing to do for herself. Then, as a fellow local business sponsored her to cover the costs of travel and training, it became more serious. It became something to think a little more deeply about.
How has the first half of your challenge gone?
“It's been a bit of a roller coaster. I had a breakup two weeks before my first, so going into it, it was just horrendous, to be quite honest. I very, very nearly pulled out because I was not mentally in a very good place at all, but six months later I can't wait for my next six.”
“London Marathon was my fourth marathon and I did get a tear in one of my hip flexors, which is really painful. I got a personal best in London but I genuinely couldn't even walk the next day, it was so painful. I've been recovering really quick, but I probably didn’t take enough protein.”
“The last two that I did were only a week apart, but I just took them really slow. I was so bored. I was hungry. I was bored. I'm not used to trying to run really slowly.”
Aside from having to run slowly, Beth talks about the early challenges of marathon training in the (often very bleak) British winter. It’s no fun running in the cold and the wet. Your friends don’t join you on those runs. Luckily, a voracious appetite for podcasts (true crime, helps Beth combat the boredom on those solo runs.
Has anything surprised you about the mental aspect of running so much?
“I definitely underestimated the first one. Now I've done six, I know I can cope with it better now.”
“I've got my own business, so everyone comes into the salon and they all ask you the same questions, every hour. ‘Are you excited?’ ‘How's it going?’ Then you just start thinking about it more and more… but then you do the run, and it's hard work, but you feel so great.”
Beth is talking about the Runner’s High, there. It’s a real thing! While endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine are still widely thought to be the main “happiness hormones,” newer research suggests that it might be the increased release of endocannabinoids (only discovered in 1988) during exercise that are the root cause the Runner’s High.
Endocannabinoids are chemically very, very similar to THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana.
Either way, they’re all chemicals; hormones. They’re all released by various glands in your body, but more so during exercise. It’s why you might get a rush of euphoria after finishing a run. It’s why it starts to hurt a little less after 5km.
It’s why Beth talks about experiencing crippling comedowns after each marathon, and the changes she’s had to make to her medication to help regulate her mood during this challenge.
It’s incredibly important to note that depression can stem from situations as well as pure biology. Along with genetic vulnerability and sub-optimal mood regulation by the brain, a change in stressors can cause those chemical imbalances. Likely, it’s a mixture of all three.
Running can help with depression. For some, it may be a gamechanger. For others, it could be one part of the puzzle. However, running can also have also have negative effects. It’s different for everybody.
A big reason Bethan is putting herself through this year-long challenge is to raise awareness of the difficulties of pregnancy.
“When you’re thinking about having a baby or are pregnant, no one ever really says to you, ‘This might not work.’ I know they don’t want to be negative but you should have the reality. This happens massively and it actually probably is not going to go smoothly and if you're prepared for it, then it will be a lot easier.”
“They always say you shouldn't tell anybody for 12 weeks in case you lose it, but actually if you lose it, you need people around you so you’re not alone in that situation.”
As many as 1 in 4 pregnancies result in miscarriage. 80% of those happen in that first trimester. With those stats in hand, doesn’t the support and transparency that Beth is talking about become even more important?
“Since starting this, I've had three older women talk to me about it. One's actually my physio. I've known her for years and I had noticed she'd never had children, but I didn't ask her - it wasn't really my place. When I said that I would need her every month to help, she told me what she'd actually lost. [Her first child] Connie was stillborn and then she had a little boy that she lost at 24 weeks and she'd not told anybody before.”
Beth ran her first marathon in memory of Connie, showing how close to home so many of these stories are. So many of these stories remain hidden until an individual like Beth does something special.
The second half of her challenge remains, and this time Beth is raising money for Ryedale Special Families, a charity in the same town as her salon that provides support for families of disabled children across a wide rural area.
“One client, Charlotte, her daughter is actually the whole reason for this, because she's really disabled. I've known her for years now, so I've watched it happen in front of me. I just said to my mum that I need to do something to help her and we need to raise some money. I didn't know how, I just knew I needed to do something. I thought I can't just do one marathon, because I've done that before.”
And here we are. In this increasingly international world, where wider family units exist less and less, this kind of thoughtfulness and follow-through with real action within, by and for a local community is as invaluable as it is inspiring.
There is no shortage of inspiration as Beth looks forward to the second half dozen marathons.
“Loads of my friends are starting running because of me. I've got three friends who’ve all signed up to run a marathon with me.”
“Running with people makes the runs go so much quicker. My friends are loving it and I've seen them grow as people. They're getting confident, they feel good, they look good.”
“Why would you not do it?”
Acting as a motivational catalyst for her friends? Helping to heal deep, years-old wounds and raising thousands for her community while furthering some incredibly important human conversations? Beth Pritchard is doing it all using the power of running.
Why not, indeed.
You can donate to Bethan’s new charity goal here and please, please carry on the conversation with her.
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