This is a local marathon
Like thousands of other runners, the plan was that I’d be running the London Marathon for charity this Sunday (in my case, for The Running Charity). If you’re short on time/CBA to read my ramblings, this is the ‘10 second read’ version of this blog: I’ll still be doing it, but standing in for the capital city will be a small village in West Yorkshire.
Here’s the ‘10 minute read’ version:
Running is a massive part of my life. So many of my friends, achievements, life-lessons, highlights and memories are from running. The London Marathon, in particular, carries with it a special excitement all of its own (as I might have mentioned in my previous blog post…). In fact, it seems to be the only occasion that inspires me to write blog posts.
It was at a previous London Marathon, in 2018, that I first heard of The Running Charity.
We’d got tickets to see the UK premier of running documentary ‘Skid Row Marathon’, the day before the race. In it, Judge Craig Mitchell, a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge, sets up a running club for people who are homeless, addicted or coming out of the prison system. Add it to your must-see lockdown viewing list.
Before the main event, we were shown a 12-minute gem of a film, called ‘I Run On’. I absolutely loved it and kept thinking back to it afterwards. In the following weeks, I found it on You Tube and watched it again. I think the people in it manage to perfectly and completely sum up why I love running so much.
Some of them, I recognised (Martin Yelling, Sophie Raworth, Tony Audenshaw, Jo Pavey). Some of them, I didn’t (including those from The Running Charity: Alex Eagle, George Bate, Zamzam Farah, Claude Umuhire). The words spoken by all of them resonated with me. They all completely got it.
The words and phrases that came up again and again in this short film:
Mental health, meditative, moments of clarity
Connection, community, friends
Resilience, self-esteem, confidence, a way of redefining yourself
Routine, an area of your life you can control.
Something as simple as putting one foot in front of the other can do all this? Magic, indeed.
I have been fortunate to have experienced all of this in my life. Many other runners will have, too. I wanted to share this magic thing with others, perhaps with people that needed it more than most.
This is what The Running Charity does. It uses running to support some of the most vulnerable young people, aged 16-25, who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. It allows them to experience all the life-changing benefits listed above, to achieve things they perhaps didn’t believe they could. In what is often a chaotic world, they can clear their heads, get outside, have a laugh, have a break from it all. They build fitness and find there is a ready-made community there to support them, where their identity is that of a runner. They set goals, enter a race, finish that race and when the medal is hung around their neck, that may be the first time they’ve felt celebrated. All the positive benefits start to spill over into the rest of their lives. As Claude (member of the TRC pilot programme and their first programmes officer) puts it in the film: ‘Everyone has this potential to do great things, but they need that catalyst. For a lot of the young people that I’ve worked with, that has been running’.
Here’s the website: https://www.therunningcharity.org/
Fast forward to 2019, and I quite fancy getting involved with TRC in Leeds. A little investigation revealed that there were existing and thriving TRC hubs in London and Manchester, but not in Leeds as yet. An initial phone chat with George (who had set up the Manchester hub), a couple of trips over to Manchester to meet some of the volunteers and young people and I was starting to get excited about the possibilities this side of the Pennines (I was a bit apprehensive about it, too). Things started to fall into place. With massive support from George and Pete in Manchester and with Tom from my running club (possibly the most enthusiastic person in the world) on board, my confidence was boosted. When marvellous support worker Ella got involved, it was starting to look like it might happen.
Our first session in Leeds was 8th January. Two young people came out with me, Tom and Ella to Potternewton Park. The three of us were absolutely buzzing after that.
We’ve let it build up quietly and gradually. From that first session up until early March, we’ve had young people out with us every week, with about eight regular faces and new people joining us all the time. Pete even came over from Manchester in the TRC Fun Bus and we had a trip out to Temple Newsam. We’ve been joined by another fantastic volunteer, Chris. Our usual routine: some running, quite a bit of walking, chatting if they want it or peace and quiet out in nature if that’s what they need. Then back to base for a cuppa, biscuits, pancakes or birthday cake, depending on the occasion. And some quite competitive table tennis, if the ball hasn’t gone missing.
Since then, like the rest of the world, our contact with them has been online. We’ve been having a cup of tea and a virtual catch-up at our usual time of the week. TRC do a virtual parkrun every Saturday (organised by Carmen in London), and all of the hubs have their own chats, games, challenges and quizzes (ours will probably be biscuit-themed – the Leeds hub’s specialist subject). The contact, community and support has not gone away.
The young people I’ve met through the Running Charity are great to be around. They are funny, engaging, interesting, sweet-natured. They also have all manner of stuff to deal with in their daily lives, lots of barriers to overcome. I am full of admiration for them. Coming out for a run and staying as upbeat as they do is massively impressive to me.
Tom, Chris and I all happened to have places in London this year. Plans were even afoot for the amazing Ella to bring some of our young people down for a day of supporting. Let’s hope we can do that in future years – they might well be running it with us, too.
So, here we are. Instead of the VLM, Sunday 26th April 2020 will see the inaugural LVM (Local Village Marathon). I’ll get up early, and contemplate possibly the most stress-free travel to a marathon start line ever in the history of marathon running. I’ll then pootle around the village until I’ve covered the distance. This may include 26 laps of the village recreation ground (the ‘rec’) and a bit of Strava Art (for anyone who follows me on Strava: don’t worry – this will be a bit more appropriate than my usual offerings…). There’s no time goal for once; just enjoyment and completion (I hope).
I’m not expecting to raise a massive amount of money; many people are really not in a position to be able to donate at the moment. The aim is to let more people know about TRC and what it does. Any funds raised will be a bonus (the link to donate is below). If you’d like to offer your support in other ways, any shares/spreading the word about the charity would be fantastic. Who knows, you could even join us sometime in the future.
I’m off to customise my Valley Striders vest and gather a variety of drinks and snacks ready to stock up the front garden aid station (situated at mile 3, 5, 7…well, whenever I want to loop back to it, really).
Thank you if you’ve read this far (more like a 20-minute read…?)
Link to Just Giving fundraising page: