Evan Birch never planned for ultra running to become his lifeline. A demanding career in emergency dispatch communications, 25 years of competitive soccer and a year of off-road triathlons, Evan initially ran longer distances with the intent of challenging himself on an individual level outside of team sport, or so he thought. Instead, running quickly became both his place of solace and the catalyst (that he didn’t know he needed) to face the personal storms of his life – head on.
This is Evan Birch’s journey of healing through endurance.
Constant Survival Mode
Birch vividly recalls multiple moments of crippling anxiety. Describing waves of tension that rippled through him as he sat, parked in his company parking lot overcome with dread before even entering the building, “I was frozen in my mind, the uncertainty and overwhelming feelings that came over me were debilitating. I didn’t know how to cope; I was afraid to tell anyone.” Nearly 20-years into a career in emergency services, Evan’s mind and body had become trapped in perpetual fight or flight. While his responsibilities as a Dispatcher included but were not limited to: Air Ambulance (Helicopter/Fixed Wing), EMS, Fire, dispatcher, call taker and so much more – he was entirely unaware of the concept of a baseline mental state, and pushed through the endless difficult calls like the professional he was trained to be.
Path of Intensive Therapy
A new role in March 2020 brought a temporary reprieve from the Dispatch Centre. In this new position, Evan began working from home for the first time in his career. Suddenly, his body was allowed to find a healthy baseline operating level, and it was then that he began to recognize a difference in his day-to-day experiences both at work and in his daily life. However, in October 2021 he returned to the Dispatch Centre and was thrust back into an environment that his body no longer simply accepted. This triggered a downward mental spiral and ultimately, the decision to take medical leave. It became very clear that he could not travel this new path alone – and with a formal diagnosis of PTSD, depression and anxiety, began his path of intensive therapy.
Meaning Alongside the Sport
It was through therapy where Evan learned that his ultra running had initially been predicated on escapism, avoidance and distraction. If he wanted to continue running, he needed to form a new relationship and meaning alongside the sport. “I used it as a tool to distract myself … I had to come up with a way of flipping it on its head and figuring out, was I always running to run away? Am I doing this for me? Do I actually find joy in this?”.
This new relationship had to come from a place of worth, not wounding, and his eyes and heart had to be wide open to truly tap into his personal mental health journey.
A Greater Message of Hope
Evan’s vision is set beyond finish lines; he openly shares his experiences with PTSD, depression and anxiety. Connecting his passion for ultra running to a greater message of hope. “I am running towards something now, not running away and using it as a means to help heal,” he says.
Courageously vocal on social media, his authenticity resonates with individuals struggling and moving in silence, “Not everybody is brave enough to tell their story, but the number of people that have approached me within the community afterwards to thank me and say, ‘me too’ … this is my why.”
You Do Not Have to Do It Alone
Birch became an ambassador for Bigger Than the Trail in 2023. He raised $1,300 through his annual Calgary is On event while bringing awareness to mental health within the endurance community. Birch also finished his first 200-mile foot race at the inaugural Divide 200 in Canada alongside many other events throughout 2023. With his renewed mindset, Birch has bold intentions and aspirations for racing in 2024 and continues to be a proud advocate for mental health.
Birch applied and was selected to be part of an exclusive group of global runners for The Speed Project 2024 ~300miles – as a Solo runner. This particular event carries deep meaning for Birch. He sees it as an opportunity to show others that anything is possible with self-compassion as your fuel.
“For a broader audience to see and hear my story is magic. … The opportunity to amplify it and have others see a little bit of themselves in my story is incredible. It really is okay to not be okay; you are not by yourself in this.”
His Next Mission
Through sharing his story within the endurance community, Birch has found space to further heal and give back along the way. His next mission is to create greater access, resources, support and safe spaces for others to do the same on their own terms.
“Not everybody needs outward praise or appreciation when giving back, and for me, if my story still existed, if it still helped people and nobody ever knew who I was, I wouldn’t care. This is bigger than me.”
Evan Birch has not only healed through endurance, but he is also now helping others do the same.