David Bidler prepares for Saturday’s 24-hour run. Adam Robinson/ Times Record

David Bidler was up early on Saturday morning with the goal of running for 24 hours on the horizon. 

Bidler’s nonprofit organization, Physiology First, put on a 24-hour ultramarathon at Snowfields Farm in Pownal to raise awareness about youth mental health, but also to help build a curriculum around the problem. 

“We have a  bunch of food, snacks, fun stuff, get out on those trails and have a good conversation about mental health education,” Bidler said. “We want to make this not only about running but really about ideation. How can we pick each other’s brains about how we can reinvent how we teach mental health education.

Ian Ramsey (left) and David Bidler run by the water stand on Saturday morning. Adam Robinson/ Times Record

“It’s a fundraiser and a run raiser but we think it could be a great opportunity to annually talk and say, ‘Wait, we have a youth mental health crisis and we don’t currently have a youth mental health education program.’  That gap is something we can fill, especially knowing as much as we do now connecting the mind, body and the brain.”

There were six people that showed up to the farm at 8 a.m. Saturday morning to run and walk for 24 hours, while many were doing the 1,000 mile team challenge elsewhere around the globe. 

Bidler runs “The Distance Project Gym: Strength and Conditioning” in Freeport where Elyshia Dyer trains. Dyer decided to join Bidler in the run. 

“Two things,” Dyer said that coerced her to join the run. “A bunch of us from the gym and the Distance Project were going to run in a race in Georgia in March before it got canceled so when this opportunity came up we thought it would be perfect to move all our training to this and just being behind Physiology First, it’s something we care deeply about. I think in this present time, one of the things we’ve been talking about is training people going from not wearing a mask to wearing one every day, I had to do it so I know how tough it can be so teaching people how to do that can be such a great help.”

David Bidler and runners pose for a photo Saturday morning before the 24-hour run. Adam Robinson/ Times Record

At 8 a.m., the six runners planning to run the full 24 hours took off into the trails of the farm alongside a few runners who were doing just a few loops of the 5-kilometer trail. 

Ian Ramsey, a board member, was one of the 24-hour runners. 

“He’s just done miraculous work with these kids,” Bidler said. “He brings them over to the gym I own in Freeport for a brain science course. It’s an eight-week program where they do mental health education.”

Growing up, Bidler wasn’t into athletics, but at the age of 20, things changed for him. 

“I remember being really young and not having any idea that sleep quality, not living on Coca Cola, not having any idea that it would play a role in my mental well-being,” Bidler said. “I just didn’t know that and I wasn’t on any team sports. If you go back to that beginner’s mind around all this stuff and realize as a youth growing up, this is a long time ago, there wasn’t an educational curriculum that taught the basis for physiological well being. I think about what a health program would look like in 1990 — we are 30 years beyond that in science, medicine — what would a mental health curriculum look like in 2020?”

Now, Physiology First is working hand in hand with North Yarmouth Academy and is branching out to places in New York, New Jersey and in Boston. Bidler’s goal is to spread to many more schools in Maine, especially amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I think it’s a really great time to get creative with what blend of online learning and social interaction and community engagement,” Bidler said. “Some kids are going to be going to school online for the first time while others are going to school with a new set of complex challenges. It will be different and I think we have watched such a big change in the educational situation in such a short time, six months, how it’s created so much of a shift in how we look at learning. We have all these different online technologies and we are asking, ‘How can we leverage all the best opportunities in the face of challenge to really come up with something that feels like a future-focused curriculum that really arms kids with the tools to succeed in the 21st century.”

From mental health education, breathing education and beyond, Bidler hopes to group his organization to help as many teachers, students and everyone in between as possible.

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