For around 50,000 runners, this weekend’s London Marathon will be the end of a long road – months of training and 100s of miles in preparation for the most famous road race in the world. But for one young runner from Newcastle, it is part of an even bigger journey.
Rhyss Mackay became homeless at the age of 18 after he was forced to leave the family home. Over the next six years he attempted to take his own life 14 times, suffered from severe depression and anxiety, and became hooked on street drug Spice. He also endured more than 12 months of sleeping rough and served a short spell in prison.
In January 2015, an outreach team found him in a doorway in Newcastle city centre suffering from hypothermia and put him into emergency accommodation.
It was the first physical exercise I had done in five years. The feeling was amazing
At the beginning of November 2017, The Running Charity launched a pilot programme in Newcastle and visited the hostel Rhyss was staying in. Since 2012, the charity has used the power of running and exercise to help transform the lives of young people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness in London, Manchester, Nottingham, Newcastle and now Brighton.
A programme of running and mentoring builds resilience, but also confidence, self-esteem and a goal-setting mentality that can help the young people build happier, healthier futures.
In Rhyss’s case, it was to prove a life-changing intervention.
“I remember like it was yesterday,” says Rhyss, who at 24 is running his first marathon on Sunday. “I had been off spice for only five days and was struggling to keep it up when [The Running Charity Programme Manager] George came to where I was living and asked if anyone would like to go for a run in the park.
“It was dark and wet but for some reason I agreed to go out with him – and that was the start of my running journey. We ran for half an hour with head torches in Heaton Park and it was the first physical exercise I had done in around five years. The feeling was amazing.
“However, the feeling doesn’t last forever and the next day I was feeling low again and waiting to get some Spice dropped off at Simonside. I couldn’t sleep. But then I saw the headtorch George had left and decided to go out and run around the block to try and kill time and ended up running for 45 minutes. I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face that night.”
The Running Charity – which was named one of The Big Issue’s Top 100 Changemakers this year – offers consistency and commitment, guiding young people on their journey to a new, healthier lifestyle.
The following week, programme manager George returned and he and Rhyss ran their local ParkRun.
“This was this point I realised I was actually better than I thought at running,” says Rhyss. “My running and my mental health were getting a lot better and I started feeling better in myself. One of the support workers signed me up to volunteer at a ParkRun – this also gave me a great feeling.”
Now Rhyss has a flat of his own, was the recipient of NHS Service User Council ‘Inspiration Award’ and is a Mental Health Support Volunteer at a local charity.
On Sunday, Rhyss will be running alongside – well, probably a little behind – Sir Mo Farah on the iconic London Marathon course.
Rhyss is an inspiration to us all at The Running Charity
Alex Eagle, co-founder of The Running Charity, said: “Rhyss is an inspiration to us all. His determination to work through his issues and come out the other side is testiment to his character as well as the incredible workers at so many different homelessness services that have supported Rhyss, including the committed coaches at The Running Charity.
“Like all our previous London Marathon runners Rhyss has committed so many hours to be ready for this moment. We will all be cheering for him and hoping he has a wonderful experience running the world’s most famous marathon.”
The London Marathon is part of a big year for The Running Charity, which won Gold in the Best Small Charity category at The 2019 Running Awards. In March, one of their graduates, teenager Seyfu Jamaal, won the London Landmarks Half Marathon.
— The Running Charity (@Running_Charity) March 24, 2019
The charity also launched their first session in Brighton this week and have teamed up with popular running app Strava, who have pledged £10 to the charity for every runner that completes a marathon or half marathon – if their final mile is their fastest.
And on June 29, this year’s London Relay kicks off a month of fundraising for the charity. The event runs, literally, 24 hours a day for 30 days, with individuals or groups of runners able to sign up for 5km or 10km legs of the relay – ensuring the baton does not touch the ground for 30 days and nights.
Take your marks, get set, go and help change the lives of young people across the UK through running…