On June 25, 2022, Mary Knight laced up her running shoes and hit the starting line of the Belleau Wood 8K, a 4.97 mile run through the hills, trails, and trees of the Marine Corps Base Quantico near Triangle, Virginia. It’s a race steeped in history, with its name derived from the Battle of Belleau, a three-week battle between the US Marine Corps and Germany in June of 1918. The battle, which the US eventually won, tested the individual strength and tenacity of the US Marine Corps. Today, that long and arduous fight is commemorated with a challenging 8K race on the trails of Quantico where runners test their mental and physical grit on wooded hills. For Mary, this was just the type of race that she needed to fight through as part of her journey of running for mental health.
The start of Mary’s journey goes back to February 2022, when she first applied for the Starting Line Scholarship from Still I Run. She had found out about the scholarship, which aims to help people overcome any barriers when running for mental health, on Still I Run’s Facebook page.
When our selection committee went through applications in early March, Mary’s story really stuck out to us. She’d been a runner earlier in life as a way to clear her head and stay focused on a positive path, but then life happened. Work, family, and injuries got in the way of getting out the door.
“I applied because I had a deep-seated need to get back to running”, said Mary. “The several months prior to my applying had been filled with the worst mental health crisis I had ever had and while I know running keeps me grounded, I was so low that I knew I needed help to get back to it. I also knew without some help and accountability, I wasn’t going to make it far. I was much too low at that point.”
When we read her application, we recognized an individual that truly understood the importance of caring for their mental health and was doing all the right things. She just needed a little accountability and help to get started on the “movement for mental health” piece. And that’s where we came in.
When she first found out that she received the scholarship, she said she was ecstatic. “It felt like I was getting a desperately needed chance at life. I know that sounds crazy kind of dramatic, but given how low I was, it felt that way for sure.”
As part of the scholarship, Still I Run provided Mary with running shoes, shirts, shorts, and socks. We also sent her some Still I Run swag and paid for her entry to the Belleau Wood 8K. We then connected her to one of our amazing coaches, Tom Coy of Firefly Running. Tom worked with Mary over the course of 10-12 weeks, providing a tailored training plan, and the accountability that she needed.
“I never doubted my ability to do the running. I needed accountability though. Tom was so patient with me as I had good weeks and really lousy weeks. But he was encouraging and beyond helpful and honestly just kept me looking forward. Even if I had a week where I ran once or twice, he would just keep me looking to build on wherever I was. The difficulty for me was the consistency, not the running itself.”
The Mental Health Impacts
Over the course of the 10-12 weeks of the Starting Line Scholarship, and afterward, Mary says she’s had more good days than bad. For her, running is a part of her mental health toolkit now, and it’s something that helps keep those suicidal thoughts at bay, and keeps her functioning.
As a way to commemorate the Starting Line Scholarship and her experience, she got a permanent reminder. It’s a runner girl tattoo with her (the runner girl) and the Still I Run logo underneath.
“The scholarship and access to coaching truly saved me. I’ve never been as low as I was this past winter. And I don’t think I would have crawled out on my own. It reminds me I can always put one foot in front of the other and keep going even when I am so low I can’t get out of bed. But still, I run.”
Mary is just one of many recipients who have been positively impacted by The Starting Line Scholarship. If you'd like to help others overcome any barriers they may have when it comes to running for mental health, please consider giving a tax-deductible donation here.