Running for friendship and survival – with Omer Homer and Bella Mackie

7 May

When it comes to running, it seems most of us fall into two camps; running to escape thoughts and feelings or running towards a goal.

Omer Homer, a training Para Olympian hopeful, firmly falls into both. He runs to win but acknowledges that running has made him a different person. Omer started running in 2017, his target to win the Swindon Half Marathon – an ambitious goal given Omer had never run before, had no former training and has severe injuries from an encounter with an exploding landmine. However, Omer completed the Swindon Half Marathon in just 1hr 22min 49 sec and ranked in the top 1% of runners.

Two years on he credits the sport with taming his drinking, smoking and so-called “naughty behaviour”. Running has helped him raise money for the Swindon Harbour Project, make new friends and work towards his goals with the support of personal trainer and friend, Gary. His next goal: to receive his British passport and compete for his new home country of England.

Bella and Omer

However, a British passport wasn’t necessary to win the hearts of Swindonians who have adopted him into the community, because running was never only a pastime for Omer; it was always a force for living, friendship, and good.

Bella Mackie, on the other hand, had firmly placed herself in the non-sporty clique since school. Repelled by girls PE curriculum, and the fallacy propelled by teachers that sport was a necessity opposed to a tool to improve mental and physical wellbeing, Bella functioned under the assumption that it was too late for her to start exercising until her circumstances took a dramatic turn for the worst.

On the breakdown of her marriage, after only eight months, Bella turned to running in desperation for an escape from both her situation and her thoughts.

In England, women are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders as men. Bella, who once could not leave the house due to fear, used both her CBT training and running as successful tools to run herself out of misery. She believes that anxiety is a human condition, escalated by our fast-paced lifestyles and exposure to social media.

Running has become an addiction for Bella but a manageable one. The difference being she chooses her routine: running for running’s sake, rewarding herself with ice cream on her return, and listening to podcasts to push away feelings and thoughts of distance. She may appear unconventional, but given the appreciative nods from the Festival audience, it would seem her behaviour is more common than we think.

Unlike Omer, she cannot contemplate races, goals or training for fear of obsession and failure which is set to escalate her anxiety as opposed to reducing it.

A self-confessed lone wolf, Bella runs alone to process thoughts and free herself of her anxiety, running a different race against herself, for which she humbly apologises to a full-to-bursting audience of loyal park runners. She loves the concept of a race; it is simply not for her.

Her attitude is refreshing, she runs no more than 10km, alone, and so far, has refused all offers of races. This may change in the future, but for many, she is a poster girl for running women. She sets herself achievable targets, and as per chapter 9k of her book, Jog On listens to her body.

She still eats, smokes and drinks. She doesn’t run to make friends, show off statistics, or justify her vices. Bella runs because it makes her feel good and if it isn’t helping, she stops. And for those caught in the grips of a depressive state (for which there is many) Bella shares her awareness that running is not always a cure. Instead, she suggests, an alternative, walking in nature, scientifically proven to help improve mood.

It is this self-awareness and understanding which makes Bella so relatable to her audience. Her openness and honesty about her mental health encourages others to share, and for us all to listen.

Bella may think she is a lone wolf when running, but the warmth of the audience’s response to her and Omer, on the first day of the Spring Festival, serves as proof that these two runners are now firmly part of our pack.

Bella Mackie and Omer Homer appeared at Swindon Spring Festival, 6 May 2019 at Lydiard Park.

Words by Emma Smith, photo © Fernando Bagué.

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