Virtual Runner is good for my mental health

Jenny Higgs from Nottingham has battled with her mental health since being a child, running is helping her. Jenny opens up to us here in her own words.

I have struggled with mental illness for all of my adult life, and a lot of my childhood too. I first discovered running three years ago when I wanted to do a Race for Life in honour of my mother-in-law, who was battling breast cancer at the time. I fell in love with running, and found that when I was relatively well, it would keep my mood stable and me mentally healthy. When I am in a relapse of anorexia, I can’t run for physical reasons. My social anxiety makes me a pretty anti-social runner, as I’m always refusing offers of people to run with as I’m convinced I won’t be good enough or will be a much poorer runner than my companion. But the depression? That’s the one that will have me going from running four times a week to barely leaving the house for weeks on end. It is like a suffocating blanket which sucks all life and enthusiasm out of me, and I just cannot run when it is at its worst.

This is where Virtual Runner has been such a help. I was introduced to Virtual Runner when I first met Susan Wheatcroft about two years ago. She told me how she’d come to set it up, and it intrigued me. The idea of a race which you can do whenever and wherever you like seemed genius, so I checked out the website. In its infancy, Virtual Runner offered one race a month with a nice bit of bling in return for submitting your proof of completion. In those days my medals were often hand delivered (I live near Susan), and it was like having the medal fairy pay me a visit first thing! From those early days, Virtual Runner has blossomed exponentially. There is a plethora of races and medals on offer, the medal quality just gets better and better (seriously, I would never have imagined a pokeball with a magnetic Squirtle, Eevee and Pikachu as a medal until I saw it for myself!) Knowing that charities are benefiting from the races makes it feel less of an indulgence and more like you’re using your running to do some good whilst getting a sparkly bit of bling in the process.

I’ve struggled with the idea of racing recently. I’ve missed a few booked races because I’ve just not been well enough to cope with the crowds, and knowing that I’ve not trained as well as I could as my depression has confined me to the sofa when I should’ve been running. With Virtual Runner I always aim to complete every race I enter….if only for the awesome bling at the end!! There have been days where, had I not got a deadline to complete a virtual race in, I wouldn’t have left my house. Days where I’ve forced myself out to complete the distance, and hard as it has been to actually step out of the door, I’ve felt better to have a purpose to run for. When I enter a race I never know if I’ll be well or not when the race becomes live, but I always enter knowing I’ll make myself complete the distance and submit my results in time.

I was thrilled recently when my suggestion of a run for the mental health charity Mind ( was taken up by the Virtual Runner team, and even more thrilled when the race was an immediate sell out. It’s so nice to see mental illness being taken seriously, and the thousands raised for Mind will help many, many people. Keep on running folks!