Running for recovery

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We all know that being active is good for our physical health but it can have such a positive impact on our mental well-being too. Following a particularly hard time, two local men have started a running group that’s aimed at anyone who is  recovering from a life changing event or addiction.

Dean Smith and Jamie Heselden who are both recovering alcoholics set-up Recovery Runners Running Club as running had such a positive impact on their mental health.

Dean battled with alcoholism for many years which stemmed from having a hard time when he was young. He recalls feeling like a social dinosaur, ‘I’d been bullied to death at school, things weren’t good at home, and so when I drank everything felt better.’

Things only got worse for Dean over the years and he ended up homeless, in emergency accommodation, and despite help from doctors and crisis teams, he was only able to finally make progress when he accepted and realised he wanted to change. This day came on the 13th November 2006, shortly after his third suicide attempt and since then he’s not had another drink.

To keep himself fit, Dean took-up running 3 ½ years ago and noticed at an event held at Temple Newsam park someone wearing a South Leeds Lakers t-shirt. Curious about joining a running club he decided to look them up only to discover they were based just around the corner from where he lived, things went from strength to strength and Dean is now the club’s Chairman.

Dean was also inspired by the true story of the Skid Row marathon club in Los Angeles, where a judge helped the homeless population on Skid Row start to rebuild their lives through running, helping them to stay sober and re-join society. Dean decided he wanted to do something similar for addicts here, ‘I want to teach people how to live again. There is a bigger picture to recovering it’s not just about stopping drinking or taking drugs, I want people to come and share what they’re battling with us, they will feel better after talking. Jamie and I have been there and we aren’t now so there is hope.”

The other half of the running duo is Jamie who is also a recovering alcoholic and has now been sober for 5 ½ years. Jamie’s alcoholism started from just drinking socially, then it became a daily recurrence just to cope with his everyday working life. He slowly realised that he could no longer function without a drink and made the brave decision to start attending a support group in October 2015. After having had support with his addiction from the charity Spacious Places (a rehabilitation day centre for alcohol and drug users) he was asked to set up a Couch to 5k running group as running had helped him with his recovery;

‘The endorphins released from running always made me feel better, especially when you cross the finish line, so I knew this would help other people like me. I then got chatting with Dean who was already running a C25K programme for people at Growing Rooms (a residential hostel where men can address their addiction) and so we thought let’s bring the two groups together, and that’s how Recovery Runners started.’

Recovery Runners is now active on Facebook and Instagram and brings together a welcoming community who support each other through their running activities, and encourage each other to feel better about themselves spiritually, mentally, and physically.

The group is not just for runners either says Dean, ‘There are walkers and runners of all abilities and not all recovering from alcohol or drug abuse, it’s open for anyone who is recovering from something that has shattered their lives.’

The pair would one day like to see the Leeds marathon back in the city not only with recovery runners taking part but actually being the ones to run and organise the event.

If you would like to find out more about the Recovery Runners Running Club follow them on Instagram (recoveryrunnersrunningclub) or Facebook (Recovery Runners).

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