Runner attempts 24-hour run to raise mental health awareness

Sportswriter Bill Wells of Wilbraham trying for 100 miles

BILL WELLS has run marathons, ultramarathons, and even a 100-kilometer race. On Saturday, April 23, he will try to achieve a new milestone: he plans to run for 24 hours straight. 

Wells, 53, of Wilbraham, is running to raise awareness of mental health.  

“This is a community event,” Wells said. “It’s an event that will include being outdoors, socializing, and being physically active, and those are all great ways to combat mental health problems.”  

Professionally, Wells worked for 25 years as a sportswriter at the Springfield Republican. He now works in the marketing department at Wilbraham and Monson Academy. Years ago, Wells struggled with his own mental health issues, in the form of mild depression. He got help, and now he wants to use his experience to help others. 

Wells will begin his run at 9 a.m. on Saturday, April 23. Any donations he receives (here) will go to the Bestlife Emotional Health and Wellness Center, an outpatient clinic run by the Springfield-based Mental Health Association. He hopes to raise around $10,000. 

What follows is an edited version of our conversation.   

COMMONWEALTH: What is a 24-hour run? 

BILL WELLS: In short, I’m going to attempt to run for 24 consecutive hours to raise awareness for suicide prevention and mental health.  

CW: What is your route? 

WELLS: It’s at the Wilbraham United Church, located at 500 Main Street in Wilbraham, right on a sidewalk – a half mile out and a half mile back. I’ll just keep going back and forth. It’s flat, and it’s also visible. And it also allows me to have one home base. Every mile I can get anything I need, whether it’s something to eat or something to drink, or if I need to change a shirt or if I need a band aid, I just have to get through a mile and I get what I need.  

CW: Like bathroom breaks?  

WELLS: Most likely. 

CW: How do you train to run for 24 hours straight?  

WELLS: A lot of Aleve. It’s like anything else. You build up, build up, and build up. So in the last year, I have run four marathons, I’ve run two 50ks, I’ve run a 40-miler, 43 miles, 54 miles and a 100k, which is 62 miles and took me 11.5 hours. 

CW: What distance do you anticipate covering with this run? 

WELLS: About 100 miles, maybe a little more. 

CW: Have you ever done anything like this before? 

WELLS: Yes. Two years ago, I attempted a 100-mile run as a fundraiser for Rick’s Place, which is a nonprofit in Wilbraham that offers services to children who have a parent pass away. That was March of 2020, right when the pandemic took off. I made it to 83 miles, ran for 20.5 hours. 

CW: Why do you think this time will be different?  

WELLS: I’m in much better shape. For that run, I was coming off an injury, and I had done three marathons, a 50k and a 40-miler, and that’s it. I just think I’m in better shape, and I’m two years wiser.  

CW: Where did this idea of a 24-hour run for mental health come from? 

WELLS: I’m an ultra-marathon runner, that is distances longer than a marathon. That’s my hobby. I knew I was going be doing a 24-hour run at some point. I try to use my hobbies as a way to raise money for certain causes.  

CW: Why run to support mental health awareness? 

WELLS: If COVID did anything it showed us the importance of everyone’s mental health. What COVID did for a lot of people was it isolated them. And mental health illnesses do the same thing. They isolate people. They make people feel like they’re on an island all by themselves with little to no hope. And I know from personal experience that there is help out there, especially in the form of counseling, that can make a person’s life so much better.  

CW: What’s your personal background with mental health issues? 

WELLS: Four generations of people who suffer from mental health illnesses, including myself. I had mild depression. 

When I was in my 30s, married, kids, job, active in my community, I felt like I was carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders 24/7. It got to the point with me that whether or not to open my shade was a huge deal. Where I should sit to put on my shoes was a huge deal. And my go-to phrase of ‘I’m fine’ was proving to be inaccurate. So I went to a counselor.  

And I remember being in that office and the gentleman said how can I help you and I couldn’t talk. Just my brain was going 100 miles an hour, but I couldn’t get a word out of my mouth. But after some time, I did, and when I left that first counseling session, the weight of the world was no longer on my shoulders, and I started to live a much healthier life.  

CW: How do you hope this will raise awareness? 

WELLS: The topic of mental health for many people is still an uncomfortable subject matter. It’s also a topic that some people are afraid to address. And that needs to change. Because that does not help the situation. Talking about mental health needs to become as common as talking about one’s physical health.  

I’m a believer that a good fundraiser has two components: a great cause and something that really grabs people’s attention. Not too many people try to run 24 hours in a row without stopping, but I’ll give it a go.  

CW: How did you first get into running? 

WELLS: I went out for the cross-country team when I was a junior in high school. I was going to go out for soccer but when I mentioned it to the soccer coach, he wasn’t interested. Then I told the cross-country coach, and he welcomed me with open arms. I was a hockey player, not a good one, and I wanted to get into better shape for hockey. That’s the only reason I went out.  

I always played baseball growing up. Senior year spring, I went to the first day of practice with a baseball glove and running shoes in my backpack. I didn’t know which sport I was going to do. I was coming off a hockey season when I didn’t play much. I didn’t want to sit the bench in baseball. I knew if I ran track, I wasn’t going to sit on the bench because everyone participates. I ended up having a very good season. Ever since then, I’ve considered myself a runner. 

CW: How do you prepare for a 24-hour run? 

WELLS: About every five weeks I do a really long run. It just slowly builds me closer to that distance. The key to those long runs and the key to the 24-hour run will be two things. Going as slow as possible early and then staying on top of my fuel – my food and my drink. 

CW: Is anyone running with you? 

WELLS:  People will hop in and out, log some miles with me, that helps tons. Once a conversation starts, it takes my mind off running. Now it’s not just a keep going, keep going, which just wears you down after awhile. You start talking about whatever. It’s very healthy and such a relief.  

CW: Are you running in honor of anyone? 

WELLS:  I’m more than happy to run a mile in someone’s honor if anyone would like me to. There will be a sign-up sheet at the event where people can write a person’s name down. They can even bring a light item, a baseball hat, t-shirt, anything, and I will run with that item in honor of that person for a mile.  

CW: Do you have any advice for anyone struggling with mental health issues right now? 

WELLS:  Yes, get therapy. And if a person has already gone to therapy and they feel it didn’t work, that’s fine. Go to a different counselor. Just like if someone’s kitchen sink isn’t working properly, do you just keep letting it leak or do you call a plumber? You call a plumber. Mental health is the same thing. If you’re just not feeling right, that’s fine, but get help. And the situation will get better. That’s the good news. Counseling will help the situation.  

Meet the Author

Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

CW: Do you have a rain plan for your run?  

WELLS: Keep going.