In 2011 I was a homeless alcoholic living underneath Brighton Pier. Six years on and I’ve completed my 100th parkrun surrounded by friends and well-wishers. Not only is my life now significantly different to what it was back then, but I feel that I actually owe my life, in part, to parkrun.
Following a happy, healthy childhood, I had my own home, a family and a reasonable salary working in the building trade in Surrey. However, as a result of the recession and downturn in building projects, I lost my job, my savings and eventually my house and relationship. I moved to Brighton in 2011 to try to make a fresh start but things didn’t work out and I quickly discovered the vicious circle of homelessness. Eventually my mental strength ebbed away, I started drinking from dawn to dusk, and took to sleeping under the pier where at least the pebbles gave me a certain level of security as they stopped most people coming over to hassle me and gave me advance warning of anyone approaching.
One day I was approached by some people who were “companions” at the wonderful Emmaus charity, that operates as a social enterprise by generating income that pays for homeless people to be homed and receive food and upkeep in return for them coming off benefits and working five days a week at their centre. I was fortunate enough to be accepted there, and it gave me a stable structure of a meaningful role, a safe living environment, as well as a framework that didn’t involve alcohol.
I got to know Val Poole (parkrunner A49391) – one of the Emmaus volunteers – who first told me about parkrun. I hadn’t run in more than 15 years but I had played a lot of football in the past. Val encouraged me to go along with her to Brighton and Hove parkrun to give it a go. I found it really difficult to start with but I just kept going back every week and eventually realised that I was enjoying it. Val introduced me to lots of people and I started making friends. My self confidence grew and I started going jogging during the week. In 2015, I ran the Brighton Half Marathon after one of the Emmaus trustees arranged a place for me.
I am always going to struggle with alcohol issues but parkrun and running in general have given me a structure to make a different choice and not fall back into a rut. If I get up and go for a run, I come back feeling upbeat; I shower, have a healthy breakfast and I’m set up for a positive day ahead. Before, I would be bored and purposeless so I would inevitably turn to drink.
parkrun is so fantastic – I love the variety of people that come along. One of my most cherished runs was next to a baby being pushed in a buggy who giggled the whole way round. I also enjoy marshalling, barcode scanning and token sorting. I could never give this up. I look forward to proudly sporting my new milestone t-shirt and I know that it will remind me of the journey I have come on as well as the future that I have got to look forward to.
I believe the majority of people who start going to parkrun start off slowly and then go chasing PBs and get faster. Well I am the opposite. Let me take you back to the start of my parkrunning journey. I first started running back in 2009 when I entered the 2010 London Marathon to…
This week we want to celebrate the incredible effort of Hazlehead parkrunner John Elrick who finished top of the Running Down Dementia distance leaderboard. John clocked up 2,660km between May and the end of October – that’s further than the distance from his home in Aberdeen to Moscow! The 61-year-old was also part…