Danny Firth
Strava

Danny’s Story

I remember my first encounter with Danny. My sister and I were approaching the turn around marker at Hastings Park Run. Then along came this strapping young powerhouse of a lad, seamlessly gliding past us with ease at a frenetic pace.

Whilst we were both dying on our arses and struggling to catch our breath, he politely acknowledged my sister (they are friends) and briefly explained how he turned up to the start line late……continues below

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5 Kilometers
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Half Marathon
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Marathon

By the time we’d rounded the cone, heard our mediocre halfway time readout and turned to head back towards the promised land, Danny was a mere speck in the distance. All I could think of at the moment was “Git”.

But one thing I’ve come to learn is that appearances can be deceptive and we certainly shouldn’t judge a person by what’s on the outside. Now that I’ve had the opportunity to get to know Danny my opinion has certainly changed.

Danny suffers from anxiety. In the past, it’s been really bad, to the point his knees would shake uncontrollably. He often asked himself the question “Am I good enough?” and “Do people like me?”. This anxiety was no fault of his own and had built up from his childhood. He never knew his real dad, who his mum was forced to run away from. When she remarried, Danny was treated differently to his half brother by his mum’s new husband and he remembers being told off more often and not getting the praise he deserved.

This was up until the age of 11 before his mum remarried again. For a child to go through that experience it’s obviously going to have an effect and Danny had a stutter for around a year at Primary school. Secondary school was tough too. He had braces which gave him a lisp. The other pupils would tease him and bullying became a frequent problem for Danny. He remembers being asked by his teacher to read in class, but he simply refused. Even when the ultimatum was either read or get detention, he chose the detention.

By the time he reached 6th form, he had started to make new friends but he put on a front and kept his anxieties quiet. His confidence was growing but the self-doubt was still there. It wasn’t until he was 24 and now in full-time employment that it all came to a head.

“I simply had a breakdown at work” Danny recalls. It got to a point where the thoughts in his head were so bad that he asked the question “How am I going to end things?”. Luckily his manager found him and Danny simply burst into tears. He was able to speak to his parents, who were shocked by his revelations, they simply had no idea. Danny was given 1 month off and prescribed antidepressants by his doctor. These helped stabilize his mood but he explained whilst he didn’t feel as low, there were no real highs either.

But it was a starting point and talking to family and friends has made Danny realise the importance of communication when it comes to Mental Health. For the next 3 years, Danny starting asking himself “when are these negative thoughts and anxiety issues going to end” and “how can I cure them?” But one day he came to the realisation that there wasn’t a cure and that this was part of who he was. Once he had accepted this Danny decided to make a difference. He wanted to educate others and became a mental health ambassador in his place of work.

Running has played a big part in Danny’s progress in recent years. Football was always his main hobby but he’d often run the Hastings Half Marathon without actually preparing properly. In fact, he turned up for his first half in a pair of astroturf football trainers. By the time he reached the seafront and the last few miles, he had no other option but to take them off and walk barefoot for the final stretch.

It was in 2016 that he started running again. This was off the back of a relationship break up. He’d put on weight, wasn’t feeling great about himself and decided he didn’t want to become “old and fat”, his words not mine.

He entered lots of races and managed to shed 2 stone. In 2017 he smashed his half marathon PB, running Hastings in a superb time of 1 hour 37 minutes (have I called him a git already?). He entered 2 marathons but at the time was still playing football. Rather than give it up he decided to play in goal to reduce the risk of getting injured. His first game in goal? You guessed it. He got injured. It was a serious knee injury, one which forced Danny to wear a knee brace for 3 months. He missed both his marathons that year and it wasn’t until 2018 he was back racing again.

That came at Hastings where he ran alongside a friend helping him to a 4 minute PB in a time of 2 hours 11 minutes. He has fond memories from that race and it gave him great satisfaction to help a mate achieve a goal. Slowly but surely Danny started to rebuild his fitness. He entered the London Marathon Ballot and was convinced he was going to get in. “It’s meant to be, I’m getting in” he kept telling himself. Well, the power of positive thinking paid off as finally Danny’s luck was in and he won a place in the 2019 London Marathon.

Life was suddenly good again. His running was strong, his mental health was improving and he was helping others at work. But then in October 2018, a friend and work colleague who sat in the office behind Danny committed suicide. An event he describes as “absolutely horrific” and having only talked to him a few days earlier there were the obvious questions such as “could I have done anything different to help him?”.

This was a trigger for Danny. He decided to set a bigger challenge of running 12 events in 12 months in 2019.  He started to raise money for the charity Mind. He was training for the spring marathons in Brighton and London and the hard work began to pay off. He had a half marathon PB at Worthing in 1 hour 33 minutes (I can’t call him a git again can I? What the hell. Git). He also had PBs at 5K, 5 miles and 10K. In his words, he was “riding a wave”.

Shortly before the marathons though he pulled his back. Having worked so hard and raised so much for charity he refused to withdraw and completed Brighton & London, 2 weeks apart, both in just over 4 hours. Danny raised over two and a half thousand pounds and his efforts didn’t go unrecognised. His employer Saga named him Fundraiser of the Year. He was invited to attend the awards night in Canterbury and they even played a short video of his work colleagues who had nominated him. He said it was “Crazy” and felt “Amazing”.

Danny describes the last 12 months as the “Best Year of My Life”. His mental health is the best it’s ever been. He recently joined Hastings Runners and having already achieved his goal of 12 races in just 6 months he hopes to reach 20 by the end of the year. He’s given up alcohol, is now vegetarian and has lost another stone in weight.

Danny continues to research about mindfulness and mental health, sharing his knowledge with his work colleagues and no doubt making a big difference to the lives of many people around him. Running has played a big part. He feels proud of himself after every run. His medals take pride of place in his flat, hanging below a blackboard with his PB’s written on.  He hopes to complete more marathons and is even considering an ultra in the future, although finds the prospect a tad scary.

From a tough start in life to accepting who he is and his problems, Danny has blossomed into a fine young man, the strapping young powerhouse of a lad that I saw at park run that day. Of course I don’t think he’s a git and hopefully, as the year’s progress, we can become good friends and share many races together, representing our club Hastings Runners.

So for those of you out there that do struggle with mental health issues, think of Danny and how far he’s come. There’s nothing stopping you following in his footsteps.

Be Like Danny

#BeARunnuR

Written by Simon Linklater

Posted Saturday 27th July 2019

Danny’s Tips
  • Talk to friends & family if you are experiencing mental health issues

  • Accept who you are, the good and bad qualities

  • Help others by sharing your own experiences

  • Practice mindfulness

  • Run & be proud of your achievements

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