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Going the extra 3455 miles for SAMH & mental health

The Coronavirus lockdown may have increased public awareness of the link between physical activity and mental wellbeing to some degree, but Dundee’s Louise Johnstone will soon be pushing herself hard to further promote that awareness.

The personal trainer and mental health advocate is planning to run the 3455.5 miles of the North Sea Cycle Route to raise funds for SAMH, the Scottish Association for Mental Health. Johnstone got the idea for her challenge from ‘a map on a telephone pole’ she spotted one day.

She told runABC Scotland online: “I saw it and thought ‘I want to do that!’ I also decided that if I was going to do it, I’d do it for a big reason.” In the end it was three reasons, all of which have at their heart Louise’s own experience of mental illness, which led her to take on the challenge.

As she explained: “Mental health is an important topic, and we’re not there yet with it being ok for everyone to talk about it. So, with my challenge, I first want to increase the conversation about mental illness. Second, I want to put a spotlight on the positive effect activity and sport can have on mental wellbeing. Third, I want to raise funds for SAMH.”

From her start in Dundee, Louise will run down the east coast of the UK along the North Sea Cycle Route, also known as Euro Velo 12, the longest cycle route in the world. From Harwich in Essex, she will take a ferry to the Hook of Holland, and continue round the North Sea coasts of the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway. Once she reaches Bergen, Louise will take a ferry to Aberdeen, then catch a lift up back home to Dundee.

In all, Louise will be running the equivalent of 131 marathons, in 100 days.

Current travel restrictions may make it difficult for Louise to stick to her original plan of leaving Dundee on 2 May to reach the ferry 24 days later, but she has scope to push back a bit if needed.

To minimise what she has to carry, Louise has planned her route carefully to include overnight stops in towns to pick up supplies and have meals. She will also be sending some gear ahead to set points along her route.

Louise is keen for others to join her along the way. “I’d love for people to walk, jog, run or cycle alongside me, at any point along my journey. I’d love for them to talk, and share their own experiences. If they wanted to support me by offering a meal or accommodation, that would be very welcome too!”

Louise is well aware of the scale of the challenge she has set herself, but the bigger picture is more important. She said: “I know there will be mental and physical challenges along the route. Ultrarunning is like life, with ups and downs. Things will happen that are beyond your control, all like normal life.”

Louise has set up a justgiving page and welcomes enquiries from schools or businesses about her challenge. “I will have a tracker with me and I hope people will follow and support me. Why? Because I am just a normal Joe Bloggs taking on a massive challenge in spite of living with mental health issues myself. I’m trying to see what is possible. No matter where you start, it is possible. Sometimes it’s just a mindset change – jumping on a bike, or floating round the pool with your kids. It doesn’t matter where you start, just start.”

Louise’s message couldn't come at a better time. “The Coronavirus outbreak has made us focus on health, but we need to look after our mental health all the time, and not just in times of crisis. Physical activity makes such a massive difference, and I want to share that.

“It’s not just about individual mental health, either. It's about the nation’s mental health, too, and we all need to step up to support those, like SAMH, who are supporting others.”

Image: Louise Johnstone (Instagram@silverfoxm3h; Facebook@Louise Johnstone Running and event adventures)

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