“Running is unique because of its simplicity; it’s literally getting from point A to point B. However, through running, you’ll learn a lot about yourself. I discovered my resilience. I found that I am capable of more than I thought was possible. Running taught me if I really want something and I work for it, then I deserve it. Finishing my first marathon, as hard and mentally exhausting as it was, gave me a confidence that no one can ever take away from me.”
These are the words of Claude Umuhire, programmes coach at The Running Charity, the organisation that uses running as a vehicle to make a difference in the lives of those members of society who find themselves homeless, victims of trafficking, dealing with addiction or facing domestic abuse. The simple act of running can be a basis for providing a way forward through hardship and uncertainty.
Claude was a refugee from the Rwandan genocide; as a child, he came to the UK with his mother. Life was not easy: at one point he found himself sleeping rough with no identification papers. Claude started to feel hopeless in the face of all the challenges in front of him and was on the verge of accepting homelessness as his fate. Thankfully Claude was introduced to The Running Charity and, through working with its co-founder and CEO Alex Eagle, he saw how goal-setting in running could translate into goal-setting in life. Taking one small step at a time could lead to huge changes.
As Claude’s self-confidence and mental health improved – thanks in part to regular running – he was able to break the negative cycles that had dominated his life. In 2018 Claude was one of a handful of inspiring people to receive a London Marathon Spirit of London award. “Since I graduated from the first The Running Charity programme, goal-setting has become very important to me,” Claude explains, “through my running and life on general. Having a tool like running that I can use whenever I find myself mentally vulnerable has been a game-changer.”
Working alongside Claude is Carmen, who heads up the programme for coaching and supporting women. Carmen was already a dedicated runner when she joined The Running Charity; she provides a tangible role model for women who often do not see running as “something for them”. Carmen also leads women-only sessions and looks after people who are facing human trafficking, domestic abuse, or any number of other issues.
“Running creates a nonjudgemental, non-clinical, inclusive and open space for the young women to talk about things that worry them,” she explains. “I always say to them there is no need to apologise for needing walking breaks or going slow because everyone takes to running differently. Particularly those for those from a domestic violence or trafficking background, this is a big thing for them to acknowledge: they can take what they want from the sessions and set their own goals. Nobody else can take that sense of empowerment and choice away from them.”
Newer to the team at The Running Charity is Jerry, who – like almost everyone who works in the organisation – started out by volunteering. Jerry was introduced to The Running Charity as a survivor of domestic violence. Since then she has managed to find a new place to live and is working towards her Level 3 personal training qualification.
“Running has helped me in every way so far,” Jerry explains. “Running helped me break free from past traumas, overcome grief, and it continues to help me improve mentally and physically. Plus, in the future I am hoping to achieve a role as a personal trainer and run leader. Running changed my life for the better and I want to be able to help others the same way.”
Alex, Carmen, Claude and Jerry represent both sides of The Running Charity: those who are looking for support and those who provide it. For Alex, this is a crucial part of how The Running Charity will succeed.
“We’re not trying to be saviours,” he explains. “Our job is to create an environment where the people we interact with can flourish. And that is why it is so important that we recognise that there is not one way of working with young people.”
In that sense there is a clear analogy between the work the charity does and running. To be successful you have to adapt. And that is how Alex and his colleagues will continue to be successful in the future.
“The reason The Running Charity exists is that before us, there was nothing similar offering young people support,” says Alex. “And the vision now is that we continue to build a value-driven organisation where young people are not only the beneficiaries of the work we do, but also deliver the work and manage the charity itself.”
Alex’s vision is supported by On Running, who understand that the charity’s work is crucial and can make a real difference. Alex explains that On’s support plays a big part in delivering a first-class experience to the young people with whom The Running Charity works, giving them the tools to live happy and successful lives.
Above all, The Running Charity is able to help to show that many of the stereotypes that exist around vulnerable people are not true – the youngsters that The Running Charity interacts with work hard and achieve, whether that is in running or in life. This is what running can do; these are the dreams that can be achieved.
Photography by Juan Trujillo for On