Dr Clare Pettinger on mental health and running

My name is Dr Clare Pettinger, my main job is lecturer at the University of Plymouth; I am a nutritionist and have a huge passion for good.  I am doing the North Devon Marathon on 27 June this year in aid of Trevi.  It’s the first time I have ever done a marathon and I am excited and petrified about this new challenge.  It’s the biggest challenge I have ever done physically.

I have always been quite physical.  As a child I used to swim competitively.  I swam every day from age 10 to 14.  When I gave up swimming at 14, I put on a lot of weight, was bullied and it affected my mental health at the time.  When I got through that I felt I needed something physical, running was the easiest and cheapest thing to do.  At the time, I was overweight, and it was difficult, but I kept on.  I have been running ever since.

Running is my therapy, mediation; it gets my anger out, it has been a bit of a saviour.  Recently it’s been sanity for me – to run and escape, it helps get things sorted in my head.

I live in the country, most of my running is in the lanes.  At the weekends I go up to the moors with a friend.  Predominantly I am doing a lot of road running although the North Devon Marathon is a lot of off-road.  Where I live it’s really hilly which is good practice.

I have been involved with Trevi over the years with my food research; I was involved in the Sunflower Project and worked on some of the evaluation activities.  I am in awe of the work that Trevi do, they are such an inspiring charity working with women to support women to rebuild their lives; empower them.  It kind of feels like a sisterhood.  I have met the women and have been inspired by them and how they have rebuilt their lives.  I feel I am running these miles for the women of Trevi.

I think that running has become my form of therapy.  I have found that running for me, helps me to process information; I think about things and I come up with new ideas.  Quite often if I am at the planning stage of something, I find running helps.  I also find it helps with writing songs as I like to do that in my spare time.  And I get fit at the same time!  It has been my complete sanity throughout lockdown.

Sometimes it is a slog – like last week.  I had done a long run and it drained me more than I was expecting, plus I was really busy at work.  There are times when you have to just say, ‘I am not going to’ and have a rest.  I am quite bloody-minded though; I get up quite early as I know if I do it first thing, I always feel better at the end – that is what drives me – those endorphins and feeling better afterwards.

My top 3 training tips are:

  1. Try not to take it too seriously. It has to be enjoyable.
  2. You need some sort of planning or programme to follow based on your initial fitness.
  3. Rest in between the sessions.

Nutrition for running has been really interesting because although I am a nutritionist, I am not a sports nutritionist.  When I did my half marathon, I didn’t really think about it much. What I have realised though, is that nutrition is so important especially for these longer runs.  Previously I used to go out on an empty stomach in the morning.  However, finding the time and fitting breakfast in early enough is so important to fuel the machine.  I have learnt to get up early and do that.

The official advice is for every hour of those long runs, you need 60 grams of carbohydrate.  That is a lot.  4 grams is a teaspoon of sugar.  That’s why jelly babies are so good.  There is an element that you can eat what you want when you are running but it’s important to find a balance.  It is important to make sure you are replenishing what has been used.  It’s good to eat things like protein, starchy carbs, lots of nuts and pulses.

Fluid is so important – I carry it with me, I take regular sips.

I am doing yoga as well.  Stretching is good at my age – I am feeling stiff occasionally.  In fact, sitting down at the screen all day, I find really hard.  I find doing yoga on my rest days is good; it’s relaxing and good for the mental wellbeing and being present.

I think that for anyone looking to get into running, the couch to 5km is a fantastic way to get started.  I think anyone can do it.  I know so many people who have done it and it’s invigorated their passion for running.  When I did my first half marathon, I never dreamt I could do a marathon.  Turning 50 was a big catalyst for me.  My running buddy encouraged me.  Now is the time and it is.  Anyone can run at their own pace and their own level.

Mental health wise, for me, running has been a massive help and it will continue to be.

You can watch/ listen to Dr Clare’s podcast here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMey3MBvv-Q

And sponsor her here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/clare-pettinger2

t: 01752 255 758
e: office@trevi.org.uk

t: 01752 255 758
: office@trevi.org.uk