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A Marathon Journey from Homelessness to Independent Living

02 April 2019

A man running his second marathon for charity after three years experiencing homelessness has vowed to raise awareness of the mental health and wellbeing benefits of running in the hope it will help other individuals living in temporary accommodation.

Rodney, aged 32 from County Down, was residing at Simon Community NI’s Downpatrick hostel in February 2018 when his support worker suggested running as a way to help occupy his mind during treatment for drug and alcohol dependency - an initiative fully supported by the project's Team Leader, John Millar. What started off as short walks in the local park and trips to the gym soon resulted in Rodney deciding to take up the Belfast Marathon challenge, finishing in a respectable time of 4 hours and 26 seconds.  

Speaking of his journey, Rodney who has recently been supported on to independent living by the charity said:

I was a first-time runner and found it a great distraction from using drugs and alcohol. My support worker at the hostel got me out on small runs in the gym and Downpatrick racecourse and when I saw the flyer for the Belfast Marathon I thought it might be a nice challenge.

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The marathon itself was brilliant and I was glad to run for the charity that had supported me so much during my time with them. This year, I am happy to run again for Simon Community as even though I now live on my own, I’m still popping in to visit the team who provide help when I need it.

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Julie Fulton, a support worker at Simon Community’s Downpatrick project who was recently recognised at the staff conference for her client impact through running initiatives, said:

Rodney was motivated and committed from the start and in just 13 weeks transitioned from someone who had not run since P.E. classes at school to completing the marathon. He searched and found a marathon training plan that he liked and, as we ran, it became clear how much of a positive impact it was having on his general wellbeing.

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Fulton commented on plans for this year’s Marathon:

I have always found running helps with my mental health and anxiety and I am humbled that I have been able to pass these tips on to Rodney, and other clients, as they journey in and out of homelessness. I am delighted to see that Rodney has kept up running since moving into his own home and wish him all the best as he runs as part of Team Simon at this year’s marathon. I believe he’ll easily beat the 4-hour mark this time around.

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Julie’s Top training Tips:  

  • Set Targets - if you’re new to running, set yourself a 5k goal and search online for a training plan to support you. You will soon feel a sense of achievement as time progresses, your fitness improves, and your goals are reached.
  • Embrace Pain - building stamina and muscles can take time and during this period you can expect to feel a bit of discomfort. Learn to listen to your body and not your mind, if your legs are too sore to run take a break but if your mind is trying to trick you into lying on the sofa then get up and out – I find my most enjoyable runs are on those days when my head’s telling me not to.
  • Eat Well – diet will become your friend and foe as you train. Building meals around a running routine can be a challenge to traditional eating habits and don’t be afraid to say ‘bye’ to the conventional breakfast, lunch and dinner times. I find eating pasta 2 or 3 hours before a run is beneficial as it gives me the energy to push a little further or faster. Remember to drink water and stay hydrated.
  • Cinderella Yourself - the right shoes are important and a good investment. I would recommend going to a running shop for measurements as good shoes will prevent injury.

For more information on running for Team Simon in this year’s Belfast City Marathon, click here or email fundraise@simoncommunity.org