A WOMAN who took up running to help her cope with the death with her father has written a book about how her hobby nearly cost her her life.

Gemma Bell, who lives in Martin's Heron, lost her father to multiple myeloma cancer in 2006 when she was just 17.

In an attempt to deal with, and escape, her grief the teenager took up running, inspired by her father's lifelong love of the sport, but before long her case of the 'runner's bug' developed into something more sinister.

Gemma said: "I preferred to run in the woods rather than on the pavements or the treadmill because being amongst nature is far more interesting. I adored spotting all the wildlife whilst on my runs like deer and squirrels but especially robins because they are my favourite bird and never fail to cheer me up with their cheekiness and delightful tweets. They would remind me of dad because he used to chat to them whilst doing the gardening.

"I continued running at university and into my early twenties, entering many 10km and half-marathon races to give myself goals to work towards. I wanted to do something significant in memory of dad so I decided to train for the London marathon because he had run it the year I was born and we used to watch it every year on TV together.

"The training was arduous during the winter months but worth it when I crossed the finish line in 2012 crying with happiness. After the event I thought I’d stop running having achieved accomplished this. But I didn’t stop. I couldn’t."

Gemma's running started to become an obsession, and in December 2015 she collapsed and was hospitalised for nearly a month.

Gemma said: "The paramedics who saved me said I’m lucky to be alive. Whilst recovering mentally and physically I began writing about my feelings, I wanted to turn my experiences into something positive and produce a book for others read.

"Writing this book has been incredibly difficult at times because I needed explore more deeply how I felt when dad was ill with cancer. It was the first time poured my heart out and exposed myself. Sometimes I felt vulnerable and embarrassed as I wrote down my feelings but more than anything I found it liberating. It made me reflect and appreciate how fortunate I am to be here and able to embrace life."

Gemma is now hoping that her experiences of dealing with grief and mental health will help others to come to terms with their own feelings, and to not feel as isolated as she did.

She said: "Now that I’m well again, I think it’s immensely important that we encourage young people to talk about their emotions, especially grief because when I lost my dad there wasn’t the support to help me cope.

"I bottled up my feelings and cocooned myself because I didn’t know how to handle the overwhelming sadness in my life. I now know that opening up and sharing with others how I feel is essential to getting through grief. Running alone is not the answer.

"I want my book to give others an insight to what life is like for a young person losing a parent to cancer and show how a passion like running can become an addiction.

"My life has been completely transformed since my recovery and writing this book. It’s provided me with a new direction and opportunities to flourish. I hope my story with inspire others to do the same and reassure them that losing someone you love isn’t the end. You can still enjoy life and find new ways to feel happy and fulfilled."

Gemma's book, Running with Robins, is out now through Trigger Press. For more details visit www.triggerpublishing.com