#WhyWeRun – Fighting Off the Black Dog and PTSD with Running

In this #WhyWeRun post Pat Davies shares with us how running and keeping fit not only provide physical health benefits but also support mental wellbeing for himself and others. There is some heavy stuff in this post, but we feel it’s a very important story to tell. Pat has co-created a running group, The Hibiscus Coast Running Club, which provides a platform for many to enjoy safe running, no matter what your age or ability.

How did you first hear about the Coastal Challenge, and is this your first year participating?

One of my work friends, who is a keen triathlete told me about the Coastal Challenge a couple of years ago, he had to pull out of the race because he turned his ankle during the run. At that time, I never even thought I’d ever reach the fitness standard to consider applying to take part. More recently some friends from the Hibiscus Coast Running Club mentioned they’d signed up for the Full Monty, they peer pressured me a little to sign up. I thought “why not?” They’re now trying to get me to sign up for an ultra but I’ve resisted them so far…

You told us running helps you with PTSD and your mental health, as well as your physical fitness. Would you like to share some of your story?

(Trigger warning. This section describes what happens in combat, and may be upsetting. If you have PTSD, please read with caution.)

I have been in the forces since 1982. I’ve never really had to do enforced PT unless in training or on promotion courses, so the onus on maintaining fitness for the annual fitness test is down to the individual. This is fine as they provide me with time during the working day to go and do PT. I’d sooner be getting paid to run around or go to the gym than sitting at my desk.

The downside of 35 years in uniform is that I have found myself in some very bad places, both physically and mentally. I was in the Royal Air Force until 2007 and served in Iraq during the first Gulf War, Kuwait at the close of the second Gulf War and have done a tour in Afghanistan, amongst other operational tours. I’ve been in the Royal New Zealand Air Force since 2007.

In 1991 I was witness to some pretty nasty things. I was a tactical helicopter refueler and went into Iraq behind enemy lines to set up a Forward Aircraft Refuelling Point (FARP). For the first time I was in combat and had to deal with all that goes with it, bodies, prisoner handling, incoming missile attacks and the lack of food and water. My team and I came back south through the road to Basra, just north of Kuwait City – Hell’s Highway! This was a couple of days after the ground war had finished, it was absolute carnage. There were wrecked vehicles, ammunition, grenades and war detritus everywhere. I have friends and colleagues now suffering with Gulf War Syndrome and PTSD, in fact one of my Sergeants committed suicide soon after the conflict.

PTSD. You don’t know when it’s going to hit you, it might be a smell or just a feeling that triggers it. Last year I was out running past a fellow building a fence when he suddenly and unexpectedly fired off his nail gun. The crack sounded like incoming and I was momentarily somewhere else. I wanted to leap into the gutter and crawl for better cover. The heart rate spike on my Strava was startling when I analysed the run after I got home and had changed my shorts.  It’s always there in the shadows… waiting.

So I use running as a way to fight off the black dog of depression and PTSD and to maintain my fitness, it definitely adds to general wellbeing. I don’t see age as a number, why should I have to sit in a chair because I’m over 50? Who made that rule?

Can you tell us a bit more about your running club? Why and how it got started and anything else you’d like to share?

The Hibiscus Coast Running Club came about pretty much by accident. A couple of years back I was on the Hibiscus Coast Facebook Page and a lady put a post up that she had been followed (stalked) by a man in a car while she was out running. I posted casually that it was a shame that there wasn’t a pool of like-minded people who could run together. Another facebooker, Chris, said why don’t we start a page? Chris and I met for a beer, laid out the bones of what we wanted to achieve and Chris who is a tech wizard made our Facebook Page. Within days we had 60 names, now we have just over 200 with about a dozen or so regular runners.

The initial idea was so someone could write “Hey, who wants to go for a quick jog around Gulf Harbour?” and then people could run together, safely. The last six months has seen us set up regular easy runs for beginners and some longer Sunday runs around Shakespear Regional Park.

We’ve met new people and see newcomers develop and grow. I see fellowship in running and just talking to the other runners is inspiring. We have people from all sorts of places, a smattering of English, Scottish, South African and even some New Zealanders (haha). There are professional types, housewives, mothers, a gent even older than me and even a teenager.

We operate on a pretty relaxed system, we see who turns up and tailor the run to best meet the fitness and experience present. What we try to do is make sure no-one is left behind and are encouraged to grow and develop. It seems to be working so far and brings me a lot of pleasure, we have some wonderful people in the club.

If you live in the Hibiscus Coast and are looking for running/walking buddies head on over to the Hibiscus Coast Running Club and make some new friends!

Thank you! Your subscription has been confirmed. You'll hear from us soon.
Never miss an adventure!
Sign up for the Total Sport newsletter.