GARETH BAXTER-AGED 37

Gareth is married to his wife Naomi and they have three girls; Grace, Ruby and Lilly Rose.

Gareth had always liked sport and used to be very active when he was younger, but in 2013 he shattered his coccyx twice in two days. Following this injury, his lower back pain was excruciating – and he was constantly using heat pads and taking strong pain killers.

He was constantly at his GP clinic and eventually was referred to the pain clinic where he was given a ‘tens’ machine which was slightly helpful. He tried yoga and various other holistic remedies but nothing worked – every bit of physical activity caused him pain and the strong pain killers actually made him feel awful all the time.

Gareth became depressed, he started to drink a lot and he was constantly irritable which made work and home life incredibly difficult. During this time he also lost three jobs due to redundancy yet he was convinced his poor performance, caused by constant pain, contributed to this. Gareth saw an advert for the programme and immediately thought ‘I’ll try it, but I can always back out if I don’t like it’.

He turned up late to the first session and he remembers being very negative to the first person who spoke to him by moaning about all the motivational messages. He said, “I must have seemed so grumpy and I remember sitting there thinking I don’t like this at all”. Gareth admits that he didn’t really enjoy the first two sessions, and told his wife that there was no way he was going to complete the programme.

He remembers “There was nothing wrong with the first couple of sessions, the coaches were magnificent from the beginning but it was just my anxiety and I didn’t want to let my guard down. But once I did and once I started talking to some of the other guys as we were running, I began to build up great relationships”.

On the third session he met up with Rachel, an old family friend, who he hadn’t seen in years and he’s so pleased that their friendship has been renewed.

Once he let himself enjoy the sessions, he went from strength to strength and started to feel really good physically and mentally. He lost 3.5 stone during the programme without even trying – it was literally just the environment he was in, obviously the running, but also the support of the group, being able to ask questions and not feel intimated.

Gareth recalls “The pain clinic couldn’t believe the difference in me after just three months…they were shocked, and now I’m completely discharged from the hospital. “I think losing the weight definitely helped with my back pain and psychologically I thought I could do it, once I started running.”

Just before the Great East Run, Gareth took part in the Twilight 10K and even though this didn’t go particularly well for him, he put some comments on the Facebook group and he spoke to the coaches and as usual the support was amazing.

He feels that reaching that low point in the Twilight run actually really helped him. He went on to complete the GER in 2.38 hours, smashing his target, and he felt very proud of himself. “I had 20 or 30 people supporting me and it was brilliant celebrating with them but also celebrating with the rest of the group was the absolute best”.

Gareth is still running independently – doing Local Parkrun’s each week and he did the Adnams 10k in 2018 and he’s still running with the group which he loves. “The group camaraderie is so brilliant even now and that’s everything for me”.

He sometimes runs or walks in his lunch hour at work as well. “Before this course I couldn’t run 5k in 40 minutes but now I can walk 5k in 40 minutes in my lunch break”. “I run and enjoy myself and my work colleagues have seen such a difference – they thought I was ill to start with because of the weight loss but when they found out what I was doing they were very supportive”.

Gareth has also completed a course to become a run leader which he thoroughly enjoyed and he’s looking forward to being able to help people with next year’s programme. “Mentally I feel so much more positive and I deal with everything much better. I go for these runs and my head space is just compartmentalised and I feel right”. “I do feel proud of myself although I don’t like to boast about it”.

Being out of pain and off the pain medication has made him feel so much better as he was taking about ten strong pain killers a day before the programme.

“I dread to think how much money I cost the NHS, and this course, this simple 16 week course to learn how to run has solved my problems, got me off pain killers and made me so much happier and healthier”. “It’s sorted me out mentally, physically and emotionally, by doing something as simple as running with my mates…I think it has literally saved my life”.

Gareth after completing the Twilight 10k

Great East Run outreach programme

Delivered by Suffolk County Council and supported by, Active Suffolk, Allied Health Professionals, COES, and the University of Suffolk the programme supports inactive residents, who want to make a positive change to their physical activity levels, using a mass participation challenge as their motivation.

The programme, provides 16 weeks of supported coaching, encouragement, fast-track physiotherapy support, gait analysis, exclusive discounts on running equipment, nutrition advice and entry to the Great East Run ½ marathon.

The programme is open to people over the age of 18 who are classified as inactive, doing less than 1 x 30 mins of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week.

More information on the programme and how to apply for a place can be found on the Active Suffolk website.

Many of the programme’s previous participants are continuing to exercise on a regular basis and have made a positive change to their health and physical activity levels.

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