In for the long run - Bressie's A Lust for Life wellbeing movement
Bressie's A Lust for Life wellbeing movement has become greater than the sum of its parts. Katie Byrne chats to key members of the online community and discovers the secret of its success
No matter how fastidiously you plan a project, things have a habit of taking their own direction.
Niall Breslin - aka Bressie - knows this only too well. When he set up My 1000 Hours, a popular online community dedicated to exploring ways to improve emotional and physical fitness, he never anticipated that it would evolve into a nationwide movement.
My 1000 Hours has since been preceded by A Lust for Life. The key messages of the earlier incarnation have remained intact, only now the social enterprise has a passionate team on board who are determined to take it to the next level.
A Lust for Life takes a holistic approach to health by incorporating information on mental, physical and emotional wellbeing, and interspersing it with real-life stories by both celebrities and civilians.
According to its official manifesto, its founders "believe in the power of creating and sharing information that can help us all navigate this sometimes difficult but often wonderful world".
It's an empowering community that ties together the many strands of wellbeing and offers readers various tools to look after their mental health. It often surprises too. One day there's an article called '7 Questions to Ask When You Don't Know What To Do With Your Life'; the next there's a candid account of gambling addiction.
Physical health and mental health are one and the same thing to the team at Lust for Life. The founders passionately believe that exercise is one of the best antidotes for mental health issues and they often organise running events that are aimed at newcomers.
This is where Karl Fitzgerald (37) comes in. The Dublin-born competitive runner, who has a background in online runner support, was approached by one of the A Lust for Life co-founders to set up a Facebook page specifically designed for first-time race-goers.
"When I turned up for my first race, I didn't have any friends there," explains Karl. "I didn't know what to be doing or where to be going. It's so easy to feel out of place to the point that you just wouldn't turn up again. So we wanted to offer support to people in that position."
Little did Karl know that he'd soon be offering much more than that. The A Lust for Life Facebook page, like the movement itself, quickly snowballed. "The plan was that I'd set up the page and then walk away," says Karl. "I'm still here nearly six months later."
Karl and the team didn't anticipate the level of social media engagement from the A Lust for Life running community. While the page was ostensibly designed to share information around running and racing, it has since evolved into a support network where people can swap stories about much deeper issues that are affecting them.
These days, the A Lust for Life Facebook page is as much a place for discussing kilometres clocked as it is for opening up about mental health issues. "When one person starts opening up, everyone else starts opening up," observes Karl. "The real-life stories are the ones that really resonate with people."
In retrospect, Karl's involvement with A Lust for Life couldn't have come at a better time. "The reason I thought it was such a good idea is because, inside, I was suffering a bit as well," he explains.
The retail manager and father-of-two had just taken on a new role at work and had a newborn baby at home. Meanwhile, he was training for the New York marathon and contending with the cruelty of Twitter trolls.
"It was online bullying and it was all getting on top of me," he says. "Since I came on board at A Lust for Life, I can look back and say that I suffered from a mental health point of view as well. It's only when you start reading these stories that you start to relate."
A Lust for Life member Mel Darcy agrees. The 45-year-old legal secretary from Dublin, who has been running for two years, says her involvement in the community has taught her that she is "no different to anyone else who has or will face difficulties".
"To me it's much more than a page for runners, or about running," she adds. "It's a large support network of like-minded people, motivating and inspiring one another to attain and maintain a healthy balance of physical wellbeing and stable mental health. There's a great sense of belonging and understanding."
"The support is so uplifting and empowering," adds Vicky Earls, a 32-year-old from Wicklow, who now lives in Gloucester. "Everyone is so helpful and you really feel relieved just having someone to chat to."
Vicky suffers from anxiety and often has panic attacks. "I can't travel alone without having a meltdown in my head, but I never really let it show on my face," she explains. The Lust for Life community has become a support system for Vicky and the simple act of opening up about her experiences has helped her enormously.
"I've definitely discovered that I'm not alone with some demons and it's normal to be scared. There's always lots of help and advice and love on the page.
"As little as there is out there from the Government, there's a lot within a small page online."
Glowing testimonies like these prove that the A Lust for Life movement has become greater than the sum of its parts - but the founders are not resting on their laurels.
Indeed, this is only phase one. They recently launched their own running gear (as worn by Karl, above); they're now offering an online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) course and they've just announced a calendar of new running events.
"I remember saying 'Look, I'll set it up for you and then I'll walk away'," continues Karl. "The reason I haven't walked away is because I've become a changed person."
* See alustforlife.com and facebook.com/ALustForLife
Dates for your diary
The Vhi A Lust For Life Run Series, brought to you by the Irish Independent, is delighted to launch two great new events for your calendar.
For more information, or to sign up, visit fitmagazine.ie.
Health & Living