Flicking through the pages of Runners World magazine last year, something, or rather someone, caught my eye. A young man stood tall and bold across a full page. Dressed head to toe in black running gear with tattoo’s on his arms, his hair in a man bun, and a smile on his face – one he was hiding shyly behind his hand – he stood next to the headline ‘I don’t know where I’d be without running’.
At the time I was going through my break-up, had moved out my flat and into my sisters and had no idea where I was headed with my life. I was lost. Completely. The only consistent thing in my life at that time was running. And lots of it. So naturally I felt intrigued to read the article.
The man pictured was Steve Oltay, a 23 year old from London who was sharing his story of recovery. Just three years earlier Steve was ‘homeless, emaciated and addicted to drugs.’ In the article he talked about how he had nothing, no job, no home and least of all ambition. He went from streets, to tents to shelters, but eventually he was introduced to The Running Charity (TRC).
Helping young homeless people in both London and Manchester, TRC aim to help these young vulnerable people improve their lives through running. They use running to build resilience, confidence and self-esteem. They understand that running builds the fitness and goal-setting mentality that are key tools to helping someone build a healthy and sustainable future.
“Homelessness can happen at any time and to anyone. And when it happens to a young person it can affect them for the rest of their life.” – TRC
Steve is just one of the many people who TRC have helped to run their way to recovery, literally. Opening up in the article Steve talked about those first steps he took to becoming a runner; he weighed just seven stone and smoked 30 cigarettes a day. He talked about how much he struggled trying to run his first kilometre, he could barely manage a quarter of it.
And yet one of the tattoos that is now emblazed on Steve’s arm is 3:51 – that’s his marathon time. The article explained that alongside completing his first marathon, Steve now had a job, a home and most important, his health! (and was looking for his next big challenge, as runners do)
I was really moved by his story and by the work TRC were doing. Rather than chuck the magazine out I piled the it away with some paperwork and notebooks and made a mental note to revisit that article one day.
Fast forward five months and I was not in a good place. I felt even more lost than before. I’d been waiting for my light bulb moment, for the penny to drop and for me to figure out where I was going in life, but I hadn’t. I was very lost. I was incredibly lonely. My anxiety was worse than ever. I was back living with my rents. I was unfocused and well, if I’m being honest, I was really sad. In fact, at that time I wasn’t even really leaving the house much.
Now, I can in no way relate to what Steve had gone through and I would never even dare compare my situation (first and foremost I had a roof over my head!) but I can most certainly understand how running can positively impact your life. I knew I had signed up for the Paris Marathon back in October, so I knew I had to get training. With nothing else on going on in my life, I threw myself into running. I built up a training plan and began doubling up my usual runs. But most importantly I set myself goals, something TRC consider a core part of their work with young homeless people. And it worked. The more I ran, the more focused I became on not only my running goals, but my life goals. My moods began to change, in fact my outlook on everything began to change.
My own marathon is creeping up and people have been asking me what charity I’m planning to run for. Previously I ran a Half Marathon for the NSPCC, and I’ve also ran three races for Cancer Research in memory of my Aunty Cathy who passed away in 2011. I love both of these charities and I was certainly edging close to the idea of running in memory of my Aunty again. But every time someone asked me, all I could think about was TRC.
I have experienced the positive impact running can have on your life, an impact that goes beyond physical health but benefits mental health too, so to know there is a charity out there dedicated to helping people become runners to better their lives – that to me is amazing! And whilst I was torn between TRC or running in memory of my Aunty, I thought about the work my Aunty did when she was alive. She dedicated her whole life to helping others, especially young people in vulnerable situations. Of course I still plan to raise money for Cancer Research in the future, but right now I want to help people my Aunty would have helped, and I think young, helpless, homeless people are just some of the people whose lives she would have wanted to help transform.
I dug out my rolled up copy of Runners World from last year and re-read Steve’s article. Reading about his transformation inspired me so much, it made me wonder how many more people it could inspire and how many more people TRC could help. And that’s why I am dedicating my first Marathon to them!
As many of you know, especially if you’ve been following this running journey of mine, I’ll be running the Paris Marathon in April, on my Birthday! I would love it if you would sponsor me for this challenge (ahem, consider it a birthday present to me). In doing so, even by just popping a pound in the jar, you are helping young people change their lives and their futures. You are also supporting me in the biggest fitness challenge of my life so far.