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Lessons in life from a worn out pair of running shoes! Written by RunWithIan member Reverend Rach...

Updated: Apr 16, 2021

Reverend Rachel Hextall is a #RunWithIan member and has been an Ordained Methodist Minister for over 20 years and a Reflexologist for 12. Rachel needed something to motivate herself whilst asking herself “why” she was running. Rachel raised over £1000 for The Amos Trust when she took part in the "Run The Wall' event, virtually running a section of the Separation Wall on The West Bank. She managed to get ready in just three weeks for her 10k run. I am very proud of her and her efforts.


Feet have been featuring large in my life this past week or so. Sadly the feet are not yet those of my reflexology clients, as in England we are still 'closed for business'. The feet in question have been my own and those of Jesus! The week before Easter is known as Holy Week and within the life of the Church I have been retelling the events of the final week of Jesus' life by creating a chalk trail on the paving around our closed Church building.

There are two events that include feet - Jesus having his own feet anointed with costly perfume and Jesus washing the feet of his disciples as part of their last meal together. By engaging with these events in a new and creative way, I have found a different significance to these stories.

A woman showed care for Jesus in the anointing of his feet, before he went on to serve others by ritually washing the feet of his disciples. As I reflect on the fact that Jesus was cared for before caring for others, I wonder how are we caring for ourselves, in our preparation to once more be caring for others, if in England after the 12th April we can begin to see our lovely reflexology clients again?

My diary is already filling up with opportunities to meet up with friends now that in England we can meet up to 6 people for outdoor activities. But do I need to dance, run, walk, play croquet and join my tai chi groups outdoors all in the first week? In the past three months, all my face to face social interactions have been one to one, so how will I feel about meeting so many different people from my varied interest groups in such a short time. OVERWHELMED is the short answer! I can't do it. So I have chosen just a couple of group activities in this first week as we move along the lockdown roadmap and will gradually ease myself into being with more people.

What strategies are you going to use to care for yourself as you begin to venture out into the post lockdown world. Are you ready emotionally to deal with a widening of your social and working circle? When we meet up with people again, I wonder what it will be like? How will they be feeling and how will they have changed since we last met with them? Many people have spoken to me about their loss of confidence in doing what was once so natural, which is contributing to a general state of anxiety over things like going shopping and driving.

Sadly I have seen a deterioration in many of my elderly friends, who once kept themselves active within the life of our Church. My own feet (and shoes) have come into my musings about how things will be once we begin to socialise again. In January 2020 I signed up to the Couch to 5k running programme with my local running club. I have absolutely no idea where the idea came from as I had never been a runner, not even at school and always thought I had dodgy knees!

In preparation I went off to the local sports shop to be fitted out with a pair of fancy running shoes, reckoning that if I invested in the right shoes then my dodgy knees would be well supported and having invested so much in a pair of shoes I wouldn't be tempted to give up. After ten weeks of training I ran two Parkruns before they were closed down due to the pandemic. I discovered my knees were not dodgy and I could actually run, but without the weekly Parkrun I lost motivation and a badly sprained ankle (I fell down my garden steps) meant I was soon back on the couch. Would a dodgy ankle now be my excuse not to run?

Whilst I was laid up with my sprained ankle as if my magic Jane Sheehan first Guru's Guide to Reflexology arrived on the door mat. Jane is a Reflexologist and international Foot Reader. There in the back pages was a chapter by Phil Nuttridge (a manual therapist and corrective exercise instructor) entitled The Journey of my Feet, in which he described how a foot injury had unwittingly changed his walking gait and caused issues with not just his feet but his shoulders too when he bought new walking boots. This was perfect timing! And so, I set about strengthening my dodgy ankle using the exercises Phil recommended, before restarting the Couch to 5k programme with a friend whose running had also lapsed during lockdown. Sadly my running buddy had to stop running in December due to illness.

Having lost my running buddy and with group runs banned, I could so easily have journeyed back to the couch again, as I really couldn't run by myself. I enjoyed the distraction of a good chat as we ran our twice weekly 5km, motivated to get out of bed early in the morning so as not to let her down.

Without a running buddy I couldn't pace myself and began to feel despondent and convinced I couldn't run. It was at this point I decided to invest in some 1:1 coaching with Ian, who has taken me from enduring running to being on the cusp of enjoying it! In the process I have discovered that even in my late 50's I have a natural aptitude for running, although whether I will ever become the Ultra (50km+) Marathon runner Ian believes me to be, we will have to see.

I have come to see that it isn't just about running the distance, but about monitoring the heart rate, building stamina and strength by running up hills (and walking down them) repeatedly or interval training with short fast running interspersed with slower recovery run/brisk walking.

On March 26th 2021 I ran my first 10km with Ian - it was a virtual run as part of the Bethlehem Marathon, the route around my home town in the shape of a donkey! For a copy of the "wonkey donkey" route see here:

All this running has meant that I have worn out that first pair of running shoes. Clearly I can now class myself a 'proper runner' - I have an official event tee shirt as well as a worn out pair of running shoes. But the strange thing about my worn out running shoes is they look absolutely pristine on the outside. The soles show a little bit of wear but otherwise you would think they were brand new.

So how do I know they are worn out? It is on the inside, in the very fabric of the soles where they have worn out. The bounce has gone out of them and I can feel the pavement hard beneath my feet. My running coach banned me from wearing them again due to the risk of injury, not just to my feet, but to my whole body. And so now I could use my dodgy shoes as my new excuse for not running! Not a bit of it, having attained this level of fitness, I am not about to climb back onto the couch anytime soon - I owe it to that first pair of running shoes to honour the journey we have made together this past year or so!

Just like my running shoes, we are going to be encountering people in the coming weeks and months who look perfectly ok on the outside, but who are worn down on the inside as a result of the events of the past year.

Maybe you are feeling that way yourself? As we begin to connect again with friends, colleagues and clients, we are going to hear the stories of what they have been enduring. Already I have heard of cancer diagnoses, Covid related deaths, redundancies and relationship breakdowns. Are you emotionally ready for these conversations?

Some people have been walking around wearing the hidden disability sunflower lanyards so we know they are exempt from wearing face masks. These people are telling us that whilst they might look OK on the outside, they are not OK on the inside. It is a brave thing to do. Prior to the pandemic, how many of us went around declaring to people we were not OK on the inside, particularly with regard to our mental health?

Thankfully we are now more able to talk about these things openly without fear. I discovered recently a colleague with whom I work closely on a project once a year was celebrating 28 years of sobriety. I did not know of his story to sobriety even though it isn't something he has hidden, indeed, choosing very deliberately in his role as a Methodist Minister to tell his story in the hope it will help others. It reminded me again about how our own past woundedness can help others and the book I have on my bookshelf called the Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen.

As we begin to expand our horizons again with the easing of lockdown let us remember our need to continue to care for ourselves before we can care effectively for others. This might mean a delay in seeing some people as we ourselves adjust to post lockdown life. May we also be attentive to all that lies beneath the outer appearance people are presenting in this post lockdown world. And let us consider how our own honestly about our woundedness can help others not only express their own woundedness but find inspiration and hope.

Happy Easter and may we all find light, life and hope in the coming months.

Written by Reverend Rachel Hextall adapted from the original article which appeared in the April 2021 edition of The Pampering Times.

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