Rachel Ann Cullen’s first book covered the story of how she felt running saved her when she was struggling with mental health issues. It was a compelling read. In this book she ties in her internal insight around those issues with the stories of others who have also found that running was a steadfast companion in some of the most difficult times of their lives.

In the book we meet regular people who went through extraordinary circumstances on the way to discovering running. We meet Carly and James who both survived Cancer, Lisa who lost her mum, Gina who had high levels of anxiety, Lars-Christian who suffered with the death of his new-born daughter, Hannah who was in huge amounts of pain with Endometriosis, Felicity who divorced her wife, Judy whose husband died at only 46, David with Bi-Polar, Helen who had an eating disorder and Maria, who lost a daughter.

What felt really interesting wasn’t the issues they fought but the catalysts. The story which made me sob was Maria’s. I have a daughter the same age as Jordan, her daughter who died. She didn’t run specifically to handle the stress of having a child undertaking chemotherapy, but because a nurse suggested it might be a good way to get some headspace in the midst of so much trauma. Martin ran to become less lonely after a number of failed relationships but in the process realised that he was a better person when he did. He became someone that others might like to be around. Judi didn’t just run, she found communities which gave her a sense of belonging. And I really loved Felicity’s idea that signing up to a race is like making a contract with ourselves over the person we want to be. I plan to think about tat idea much more deeply and take that contract more seriously in my training and racing.

The book highlighted so many benefits of running – and not one mentioned fitness…

  • To bring calm and strength amidst chaos and vulnerability (Carly)
  • To give direction when feeling lost (Martin)
  • Space to have brave and tender conversations (Lisa)
  • Freedom from grief (Lisa)
  • As a channel for anger and frustration (Liz)
  • To build confidence when insecure (Gina)
  • To stay safe (David)
  • To escape mediocrity (Helen)
  • To heal (Anna)
  • To find a community (Rachael)
  • To find something positive instead of escaping the negative (Kathryn)
  • To cope when you have no idea what else to do (Lars-Christian and Maria)
  • To feel more hopeful and energetic (Hannah)
  • To keep going (Judi)
  • To see who we can be – rather than who we are right now (Felicity)

I don’t know if it is intentional, but I loved that very rarely Rachel mentioned the times that her runners run. We scan a story to see if someone was a 3 hour or a 5 hour marathon runner, but here is it of little importance. Rachel’s telling of the stories highlights that there are very different metrics which matter. The true benefits.

My only issue with the book is the slightly apologetic tone that Rachel uses. It can feel a little like she is asking us not to judge her for writing this, almost as if she doesn’t believe she is qualified to do so. She is. She beautifully takes these people’s stories and turns them into insightful lessons we can all learn from. Her apologises are not needed.

Overall this book highlights that, if running is your thing, then using it as a companion when you are going through any kind of struggle can be of benefit.  

You can pre-order the book here