Rachel was 38 years old with a son James, who was nine at the time when she made a new years resolution to complete a half marathon.

For Rachel, this was quite a bold resolution, because she had always found running difficult and at the time she was completely physically inactive.

She had become inactive since leaving school and Rachel is convinced that a negative comment made to her by her PE teacher in 1995 had contributed to her attitude towards physical activity.

The PE teacher had told Rachel that she would come last in a race she wanted to take part in and suggested that she shouldn’t bother doing it. This had had a profound impact on Rachel, and she had never forgotten the comment. She said, “That one comment all those years ago had stuck with me and had put this seed in my head that there was no point in me ever trying to run or exercise because I’d be so rubbish at it”.

Rachel doesn’t have many happy memories from school as she was also bullied, and she couldn’t wait to leave.

Then at Easter 2017 she decided to try the Great Run Local at Needham Lakes. Her motivation for wanting to try this was because she was having relationship issues and she felt that she needed to do something for herself, something that her husband and family weren’t a part of.

She felt stuck in the middle of a lot of family politics and was going through a very difficult time domestically.

So she turned up to the GRL at Needham, met Bridget (the coach) who was really encouraging and she ran 2km.

She recalls “I was so pleased with myself for completing it even though I came in last, I just didn’t believe I’d done it…plus I got an Easter Egg!”

“I put a message on Facebook about what I’d achieved and it got so many likes and I felt so good about myself, more so than I had in a long, long time.”

Rachel also started volunteering at the Great Run Local which was good for her self esteem.

Bridget then told Rachel about the programme for the Great East Run (GER) and suggested she should apply for it.

She wasn’t keen initially because she didn’t believe she would ever be able to do it. She had suffered a lot of knockbacks in her life, she was overweight and unhappy about that, she had diabetes and desperately wanted to do something to keep that in control for her son’s sake if nothing else.

So Rachel thought hard about the programme and decided that it would be a good way to meet new friends who wouldn’t know anything about her domestic situation and that was important to her.

From the first session, Rachel knew that she had made the right decision.

She said, “This programme really has been the best thing I’ve ever done. The group accepted me from the beginning for who I was, without judgement. I was able to be myself and not apologise for anything – and I didn’t think I’d ever meet people who would accept me like that.”

The running also helped clear her head and reduce her stress levels which helped reduce her blood sugar levels, which in turn helped control her diabetes, and she doesn’t need as much insulin now as she used to.

She did lose weight during the programme but more importantly her body shape changed, she felt stronger and more toned, her energy levels were improved as well as her sleep pattern.

Rachel said, “I forget everything when I’m running, I clear my head and I feel unstoppable. One week I turned up upset and crying and the group were amazing with me and by the end of the session I was running and buzzing again.”

She also met up with an old friend on the programme, Gareth, they hadn’t seen each other for about 30 years and it was nice for them to be reacquainted.

During the programme, she would run independently at least twice a week as well as the supported sessions.

She also did a 10-mile run at West Mersea whilst she was training for the GER, and although she finished last again, she really didn’t care. She realised that coming last isn’t important. Her philosophy now is “Even though I may be last across the line in a certain run, I’ve actually beaten all the people that are sitting on their sofas or still laying in bed.”

During the programme, she felt her confidence and self-esteem was boosted enormously even though she did find the programme challenging at times. She felt the level was about right though and the coaches were incredible.

On the day of the Great East Run the atmosphere carried her and she loved that everyone was calling out her name…she believes that was such an enormous help.

Rachel explained, “We each had a running buddy and even though I was sick at 12.5 miles, I still kept running after that and I finished it in 3:41 – and not that it’s remotely important but I was thrilled that I wasn’t last and that was another huge boost for me.”

Since the programme, Rachel is still running a lot – she does a weekly run at the GRL, plus she still meets some of the group from the programme for runs which she loves. She’s also signed up for other organised runs and doesn’t think she’ll ever stop running now!

The programme was a fantastic experience for her and the emotional benefits were equally as important as the physical benefits.

She said, “There’s no stopping me now…it’s given me the strength and independence that I needed.
I’m so grateful to everyone that was involved in this programme because it really has saved my life.”

If I was going to give any advice to anyone thinking about doing it I would say “Don’t over think it or worry about anyone else, the support you will receive will get you through and this will be an experience you will never regret.”

Now people say to me ‘You’re so inspirational and I think WOW, I’m now inspiring people to run and I would love to be able to tell that PE teacher what I’ve achieved and how wrong she was.”

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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