#MindYourself: ‘Walking helped with the grief of losing both my parents’
When Ed McGrane lost both his parents within six months, he tipped the scales at 149kg. He tells how the solitide of walking helped him cope and put him on the first steps to running
We hear so often about the benefits of exercise for mental health problems, particularly depression and its many forms, and anxiety. But for 50-year-old Ed McGrane, it was grief that spurred him on to complete 107 Parkruns over the last couple of years.
“I think it’s a genetic thing, not being able to cope with grieving; Dad never dealt very well with it either. He died, after living with Alzheimer’s, in 2011 and then six months later, my beautiful mum, Eileen, passed away suddenly, and I just couldn’t deal with the grief at all; it was momentous.
“She’d had an operation on her back, and the day before she died she told us she was feeling better than she had in ages.”
Sadly, Eileen succumbed to the effects of an MRSA infection. “It was brutal, sudden, and I just couldn’t deal with it.”
Ed says he needed to get out of the house, so walking seemed to be the logical
thing - he started doing it the very day of his mother’s death, not much more than four years ago.
“Had I stayed at home, I would have been taking my grief out on people around me; I found the solitude of walking helped tremendously. A completely unexpected by-product was that over time I became really quite fit.”
Ed was guilty of neglecting his health. “By that year, I tipped the scales at just over 149kg (23st 6lbs). I had diabetes, sleep apnoea and I smoked 20 cigarettes a day, so walking was about as strenuous an activity as I could manage. But it helped me deal with the grief of losing my parents.”
He described himself wryly as “the Forrest Gump of walking”.
A self-confessed techie, he started tracking his walks with his smartphone.
“I added it all up, and between September 2011 and June 2013, I walked over 3,500km, or put another way, the straight-line distance from Dublin to St John’s in Canada.
“I had stopped smoking, my weight dropped to 79kg, my mental health had improved and I had started to feel that I could actually run.”
Ed took baby steps towards running. “At first it was just running from one lamppost to the next, then it was running the distance between the bridges on the Adamstown Road in Lucan, and then gradually, slowly, longer distances.
“I began to enjoy being active, but there was a nagging doubt in me. When talking to others, I would never describe myself as a runner.”
With impostor syndrome rearing its head, Ed felt like a bit of a fraud because his running was solitary and unorganised.
“I remember sometime around February 2013, I first heard about something called Parkrun that had started up in Malahide. I thought it sounded cool, but thought no more of it really.
“Then in March, I noticed that one had started in Marlay Park. But organised races scared me as that was what ‘real’ runners did and I didn’t consider myself one of those.”
It took Parkrun coming to his locality to get Ed to sign up; in June he registered for the Griffeen Valley Park 5K as soon as he got the news.
“Standing there at the start line in Griffeen that morning was only the second time I had ever run with anybody else. For me, running was a solitary pursuit. I was incredibly nervous and I remember distinctly thinking that everybody there must be able to see that I’m not a runner, that some person would tap me on the shoulder and ask me to step aside.
“But that didn’t happen and as I looked around at everybody there, I began
to realise that this was a place that didn’t just celebrate the fast, it celebrated the not so fast and all shades in between.
It celebrated participation, and from my first run, I was totally hooked.”
It’s now been more than two years since that fateful day, and Ed has barely missed a Parkrun since. He hit his goal of running 100 Parkruns at the end of August, and is now at 107 — he was raging to have missed one a couple of weeks back due to sickness, his first absence in a long time.
“As I look back, I can honestly say that I have enjoyed each and every Parkrun I have ever run or volunteered at, and have made some wonderful friends and shared some incredible moments.
“I have so many stand-out memories; the summer mornings shared in Griffeen Park with others, the time I had such a bad cramp I crossed the line with tears streaming down my face, having refused in my mind to stop!
“It took a friend grabbing me, pushing me on the ground and massaging the cramp in my leg to get the cramp to subside.”
For the former solitary runner though, it’s the sense of being part of a group that’s really rewarding.
“There’s a wonderful feeling of community that volunteering at Parkrun gives you. I love cheering on others as they cross the finish line, and having a coffee and a chat afterwards.
“It’s great to listen to some of the other runners’ stories, because I follow their exploits with admiration. When I completed my 100th Parkrun, my family were there to see it and everybody was so wonderfully nice. That’s a memory that will stay with me forever.”
A lone runner no more, Ed says that getting in shape really helped him deal with his parents’ deaths, but joining Parkrun has made everything even better.
“Without the Parkrun gang I’d still be running on my own on the Adamstown Road, not having achieved this milestone.”
He also credits his wife, Caroline, for her support and encouragement. “She has given up the concept of a Saturday lie-in and never complained about it!”
* For more information, see parkrun.ie
Health & Living