‘I Run To Help Me Off­load Stress’

Lisa Thomp­son runs for her­self and her clients

Runner's World (UK) - - In This Issue -

IT WAS AN ob­ser­va­tion from Dean Kar­nazes in his book Ul­tra­ma­rathon Man that turned Lisa Thomp­son from a ca­sual run­ner into an ul­tra run­ner. ‘He wrote that peo­ple are ca­pa­ble of achiev­ing more than they think they are,’ says Lisa, 48, from Birm­ing­ham.

She’s been prov­ing Kar­nazes right ever since – run­ning a 12-hour solo race in 2013, her first 100-miler in 2014 and the gru­elling six-day Fire and Ice ul­tra in Ice­land in 2016. This year, Lisa

has com­pleted all three races in the Thresh­old ul­tra se­ries – Race to the Stones (62 miles), Race to the Tower and Race to the King (both 53 miles), which she de­scribes as ‘train­ing runs’ for the GB Ul­tra, a 200-mile race, which she ran in un­der 88 hours, in Au­gust.

Lisa is chief ex­ec­u­tive of Birm­ing­ham and Solihull Rape & Sex­ual Vi­o­lence Project (RSVP), which sup­ports chil­dren and adults who have been sub­jected to rape, sex­ual vi­o­lence, sex­ual abuse and sex­ual ex­ploita­tion. The work can be emo­tion­ally drain­ing and so Lisa uses runnning as part of what she calls her ‘self-care’. ‘With a re­lent­less and some­times over­whelm­ing work­load, it’s im­por­tant that we have ways of tak­ing care of our­selves and main­tain­ing our emo­tional well-be­ing,’ she ex­plains. ‘For some, that may be through gar­den­ing or walk­ing or cook­ing. For me, run­ning is the best way to re­lease sec­ondary trauma, [the ef­fects of hear­ing about other peo­ple’s trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ences], of­fload­ing both phys­i­cal and mental stress. I don’t lis­ten to mu­sic, I let run­ning nur­ture me as I tune into na­ture or use it as an op­por­tu­nity to con­nect with oth­ers.'

Lisa’s been run­ning since her school­days. ‘I used to come last at cross-coun­try but I al­ways en­joyed it,’ she says. She did a half marathon at 19 with her dad and has car­ried on run­ning and racing ever since.

Lisa be­lieves that her run­ning sends an im­por­tant mes­sage to sur­vivors of rape and sex­ual abuse about over­com­ing chal­lenges and dif­fi­cul­ties. ‘Ul­tra run­ning, in par­tic­u­lar, has taught me that seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble things can be achieved, which is a great les­son,’ she says. ‘When I lined up on the start line of the Fire and Ice ul­tra I did not know if I could fin­ish it. I could hear the doubt­ing voices in my head but I ig­nored them and car­ried on any­way. Each step I took fu­elled me to take an­other. You don't have to be the strong­est to achieve – some of the most re­silient peo­ple and sur­vivors I know are the qui­etest and gen­tlest, with the most self-doubt; but they keep go­ing any­way and achieve their goals.’

Hav­ing ex­pe­ri­enced how em­pow­er­ing run­ning can be first-hand, Lisa found her­self won­der­ing whether her clients could ben­e­fit from it, too. In 2014, she launched a free run­ning group for sur­vivors, which has been meet­ing once a week (with cof­fee and chat af­ter­wards) – and tak­ing part in races – ever since. ‘We started sim­ply by walk­ing the lo­cal Parkrun, then added a few run­ning steps and built from there,’ she says. ‘One wo­man did her first 10k and half marathon last year; an­other is cur­rently train­ing for her first full marathon.’

If peo­ple want to talk about their ex­pe­ri­ences dur­ing or af­ter the run, they can, but there is no pres­sure to do so. ‘The fact that oth­ers have been through sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ences brings a sense of con­nect­ed­ness,’ says Lisa. The group is open not just to sur­vivors but also to staff and sup­port­ers of the char­ity: ‘We don’t want peo­ple to be de­fined by the abuse they’ve ex­pe­ri­enced; they are so much more.’

The group has so far helped 15 women on their run­ning jour­neys, but Lisa stresses that the ben­e­fits go far be­yond im­proved fit­ness. ‘Rape or abuse doesn’t just af­fect you emo­tion­ally, it also af­fects your phys­i­cal body and can lead you to feel self-loathing, or that your body has let you down,’ she ex­plains. ‘That can re­sult in you feel­ing de­tached from your body and per­haps not look­ing af­ter your­self very well.’

As well as be­ing a form of ex­er­cise that gets peo­ple back out into the world, run­ning can also help sur­vivors ex­pe­ri­ence their bod­ies in a more pos­i­tive way. ‘One wo­man told me: “I never thought I’d be do­ing this!” Oth­ers have said it’s helped them “re­claim” their bod­ies, feel more grounded and build con­fi­dence and self-be­lief.’

Lisa be­gan her ca­reer in so­cial work in the 1990s. ‘I got in­ter­ested in work­ing with sur­vivors of abuse,’ she says. ‘We get mes­sages that in these sit­u­a­tions, your life is over – you’re a vic­tim – and I felt strongly that there needed to be more pos­i­tive mes­sages.’

She has been work­ing with RSVP since 1999. Re­cently, she dis­cov­ered that her late grand­mother had been raped as a teenager and had not told any­one about it for 70 years. ‘I al­ways won­dered why I’d felt destined to be in­volved in this line of work, but when I heard about my nana, I knew,’ she says.


Top: Lisa with one of her run­ning group mem­bers Above: Lisa com­pet­ing in the 24-hour Thun­der Run

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