Running for Mental Health: Subi’s Inspirational Ultramarathon

Jun 05 2023. views 211

Running for a cause is a powerful way to make a difference, and mother of two Subhashi Aubert, took on an extraordinary challenge to support mental health initiatives in Kilinochchi, Sri Lanka. With a personal connection to the cause and a passion for running, Subi embarked on a gruelling 70-kilometre ultramarathon from Nuwara Eliya to Kandy. Her determination, resilience, and commitment to improving the lives of children in need have set her apart. In this interview, Subi shares her motivations, experiences, and the impact she hopes to create through her remarkable journey.

Q Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what motivated you to take on such a challenging run for a cause?
I grew up in Switzerland and the UK where challenge events are very popular. I moved here 16 months ago with my two kids and husband. Having never lived in my motherland before, I really wanted to do something different. As the Partnership Lead for World Vision, I wanted to bring in new fundraising strategies, and this was a great way to bring ‘challenge events’ to the limelight. 

This initiative was close to my heart as I strongly believed in achieving mental well-being through sports. It has helped me a lot. When this project was in the pipeline, I saw that it was something close to home and understood that it could really benefit these communities, because I saw how it had benefited me.

I was diagnosed with stage 1 lymphoma in my 20s, which is a type of blood cancer. I started researching and found out that running decreases people from getting certain types of cancer, and then I started to run long distances. After my last blood transfusion, I took part in the Paris Half Marathon and since then I have developed a passion for it.

Q What is the cause you supported as the focus of your run?  
I did the ultramarathon to raise funds towards supporting 400 children in Kilinochchi, Sri Lanka. Kilinochchi is an area identified by World Vision as a place where there are a devastatingly large number of children who have had their mental health seriously impacted following years of systematic neglect, and who suffer psychological wounds such as aggressive behavioural issues following the after-effects of the war. Running for this campaign was truly a labour of love and this is definitely a milestone and one that I’ll remember forever.

This campaign is looking at improving the sporting infrastructure in Kilinochchi. They are looking to improve the sports centres and to pay for coaches to come and coach children in cricket, volleyball, and football as the initial sports they had identified. Those are the three main sports we are going to focus on and assist in terms of proper coaching and help build into their routine. I think it will be a practice in sports centres and after-school activities. Different age groups will have different systems implemented.

They are also considering a fully-inclusive development of infrastructure when it came to sports in the area. They will also be providing food and transport for the children to travel to and from training, in addition to giving them training equipment, goalposts, and even sportswear necessary to engage in sporting activities. 

Q Could you share some details about the route you took from N Eliya to Kandy? What were some of the challenges you faced along the way?
“You want to run 70 Km? From Nuwara Eliya one of the hilliest places in Sri Lanka, to Kandy?  Alone? Are you absolutely bonkers!!!” That’s the reaction I got.

For me, this was more an exercise of mental resilience and grit than actual physicality. The ‘want’ to give up was at times, very real during the last 20km. Pushing myself physically and mentally is an important part of growth. Being able to cover a vast distance on my own strength is simply one of the most empowering feelings there is.
This accomplishment has opened more doors towards me mentally, proving the limitless capacity of perseverance and determination. After all, once you’ve run that far - is there anything you can’t do?

My first 22km was a breeze with not a single drop of water. I never felt more alive as I descended from the Nuwara Eliya Golf Club vs the last 10 km were painful with my body experiencing severe cramps, but the cheer from our staff, volunteers, the red cross and many lovely locals kept me going. 

We humans learn the most about ourselves when we push through the pain. Fulfilling experiences require suffering and pushing through pain is where progress happens. Us runners are no strangers to pain. Studies find that the pain level was a 6 out of 7 when runners finished a marathon. Ultramarathon guidelines also warn runners of risks such as dehydration, renal shutdown and hyperthermia.  During my run, I kept things positive and tried to find humour in the absurdity of running very long distances, but I also pulled a lot of inspiration from the beauty of the place I was fortunate enough to run in.

Q How did you prepare yourself physically and mentally for such a long-distance run? Were there any specific training methods or techniques you used?
The 13th of May 2023 is a day I could relive over and over. I am proud that I am the only person in Sri Lanka to have done this. Let alone being a mum with limited sleep while training. For many people, running 70Km in hills/mountains without stopping or sleeping is either impossible or self-torture that only a select few people would dare partake in, let alone doing it by themselves.

When I told the team at work about my new fundraising initiative, they did not know what to make of my idea to run a long-distance course.

Q How did you raise awareness and gather support for your cause before and during the run? Were there any notable individuals or organizations that helped you along the way?
Honestly, the journey has been hard, and the support minimal. I used my personal platforms mainly until the week before the race to communicate about my run and the campaign in general. The NRD team was thankfully very supportive along with our Lindula and Gampola offices. Their support on the day and to get everything done last minute was astonishing. I have no words to thank them. 

Q Have you personally experienced or witnessed the impact of mental health challenges on those you’re supporting? If so, could you share some insights into their struggles and the importance of addressing mental health in such situations?
After speaking with medical professionals it’s proven that sports plays a huge part in improving mental health, even for simple reasons like keeping your mind and body active, giving you a sense of purpose and teaching you bonding and a sense of purpose. 

Q What do you hope to achieve by combining your passion for running with advocacy for mental health? 
I have used this challenge as an opportunity, and to open people’s eyes to mental health in a country where it is not widely spoken about. Beyond anything, this is a testimony to my children that anything is possible if you put your mind to it whatever age or gender you are. I am hoping that this event is something they can talk proudly about one day!


Rihaab Mowlana

Rihaab Mowlana is a journalist specializing in feature writing. With a commitment to authenticity and a genuine love for her craft, she brings stories to life by delving deep into captivating subjects and offering unique perspectives. Beyond journalism, Rihaab is a content creator, entrepreneur, and educator. Stay connected with Rihaab on Twitter & Instagram: @rihaabmowlana


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