Most of us sleep well at night, safe and warm with a roof over our heads, dry and fed with somewhere to wash. Sadly, hundreds of thousands of people throughout Britain don’t have such comforts.
Graham Berry is one of those people who has decided to try and make a change for the unlucky people in that situation. He is doing this by running the 2019 London Marathon for Shelter.
For those of you who are unaware of what Shelter do, they are a charity who find housing for the homeless and provide help and support for people on low incomes with rent, poor landlords and other situations.
Born and raised in Wigan, Berry is a lifelong Wigan fan having first watched them in 1984. He also played Rugby League irregularly until his mid to late thirties, mainly for amateur clubs in Wigan and St Helens.
Q1: Hi Graham, Can you please just tell us how you first got yourself into running to begin with?
GB: I got in to running this time around through Slimming World. I used to run a bit years ago but never this seriously. I ran between 2000 and 2007 on and off but never entered anything longer than a 10k, that was a big deal back then but in 2007 I had a knee operation for wear and tear, had it scraped out, cartilage trimmed and a chunk of loose-floating bone removed and the surgeon told me not to run any more so I took him at his word. After that, I only did short runs on a treadmill at the gym but even stints at the gym were sporadic and I probably ran anything between one and 5k.
Around Easter 2017 I went to see my GP as I was waking up in the night with a dead arm and had swollen fingers in a morning that didn’t want to work and the doctor diagnosed me with carpel tunnel syndrome and it was due to obesity. I’d ballooned to 21 stone 8 lbs and fell in the bracket eligible for bariatric surgery so I went on the waiting list to see a surgeon about a gastric band or bypass and was willing to go through with it but soon after, a relative decided to start Slimming World and asked if I wanted to go. I was one of these who thought “You don’t need to pay someone to tell you how to lose weight” but clearly I did. I started Slimming World and lost nine and a half pounds in week one and got my half stone certificate straight away. It’s amazing how motivational that little piece of paper can be and a bit of praise goes a long way and it left me wanting more.
Slimming World encourage their members to take exercise through their Body Magic programme which also comes with certificates from bronze through to platinum, depending on how much exercise you take per week and at what frequency so with more certificates available off I went. On with the running shoes and in to the woods in Ironbridge. At first I was going out for ten or fifteen minutes and even that amount of running would contain three or four walks but each time I was pushing myself to go for longer without walking until I could run the full route without stopping, then running it quicker, then going further and so it began and before you know it I was working my way through a new set of certificates. I then discovered parkrun and what a find that was! A free and timed 5k every week. My first one at Telford took me 32 minutes 15 and my PB now in October 2018 is 22:32. “Tourism” is a thing for parkrunners and I’ve been fortunate to do some interesting tourism including the Eden Project in Cornwall (where parkrunner’s families get to stay in for free afterwards), Brisbane South Bank and Townsville North Shore in Queensland. I’ve competed in seven races of half marathon distance or more, two of which were trail or fell races and the Virgin London Marathon 2018 which I ran in 4:53 just ten months after taking up running. I am now 14 stone 10lbs and am just two pounds away from losing seven stone so I am extremely happy.
Q2: How did you become that size that you became, was it through a unhealthy lifestyle or was it something else?
GB: Wow, where do I begin? I’m not ashamed to talk about my mental health and I’m so glad to see that it’s become talked about much more openly. If I go back to 2015, I lost my job. I thought I had a career for life, security, a good pension and then the world fell out of my career. I started drinking as it helped me ignore the problems. Hand on heart I can say I wasn’t addicted to alcohol as if I chose not to drink then I didn’t drink, but I did drink out of choice, quite often between four to six bottles of ale per night, almost every night so my weight was only going to go one way. Having been diagnosed with depression and anxiety it seemed to numb the pain and the anti-depressants helped too and when people used to talk about being depressed, I never understood what it was like until it happened to me. It’s not about feeling a bit fed up or feeling down, it’s deep rooted and it affects your entire being, who you are, the way you behave and it ruins you. I still needed to work so I trained as a HGV driver. I eventually passed my class 2 then my class 1 but even that was a major struggle because my head wasn’t on it, to the point where it was costing a bomb to keep taking tests and failing and I even started booking tests in secret so if I failed I wouldn’t let my family down and there was no expectations on me before hand.
Being a HGV driver can be a pretty sedentary lifestyle, sat in your truck and working anything up to fourteen or fifteen hours a day, eating takeaways or whatever fast food you took to work with you that day and so the weight continued to pile on.
Q3: What made you want to do the London Marathon having only started running such a short time ago?
GB: I’m competitive and can be very competitive with myself. I love targets and incentives like the certificates I was talking about at Slimming World and wanting to run VLM 18 came from not settling for ParkRun or 10k races as I knew the bigger the target the more I would have to work to achieve it. I had to push and challenge myself not to see if I could do it but to make sure I did and how well I could do it and in the interim, I booked Birmingham Half Marathon 2017 as my first half and as a measure of my fitness. I ran that in 2 hrs 10 minutes and didn’t walk a single step, box ticked. This year, only a couple of weeks ago I ran that same race in 1:52 which was not only my personal best but 18 minutes faster than last year.
I suppose if you’re asking why London specifically and not any other marathon then it’s simple. Why not? London must be the world’s most iconic marathon. The streets are lined from start to finish, from Greenwich Park to The Mall with spectators and people cheering you on. In any race you run faster than the same distance in a training run as you get dragged along by the competition and atmosphere so why not run it with 40,000 other people all thinking the same? I couldn’t imagine running a local marathon now. 26.2 miles would be a very lonely place with a few hundred runners and no support. The “Maranoia” went away on the day and the enjoyment and other emotions took over. I actually cried as I ran past Cutty Sark because I have a photo at home of me and my dad there when I was very young, probably about four years old and my dad died when I was 14 so all I could think about was him. People lining the streets would have been greeted by a 45 year old man taking his sunglasses off and bawling his eyes out! I ran 2018 for Kidney Research UK as my dad had been a dialysis patient for nine years so I was giving back to those who helped him.
Q4: Do you still play rugby league in any capacity now or are you fully focused on running?
GB: Yes, I still play. Wigan born, Wigan bred, strong in’t arm and daft in’t ‘ed! Rugby League is in your blood if you come from Wigan. Im sure my blood runs cherry and white but I just love the game as a whole and always have. As well as following Wigan I can’t wait for May to come around every year to support the Queensland Maroons in State of Origin. There’s no competition like it.
I first got in to Rugby League when I was ten years old. One of my class-mates was a lad called Andy Ireland who’s dad John was a coach at Widnes Tigers so he talked me in to going down there. I grew up in a small town in Wigan Borough but sandwiched between Wigan itself and St. Helens so I was right in the heart of Rugby League land. One of my team mates in that Widnes Tigers team was Bobbie Goulding as well as Andy. I played for various amateur teams in the Wigan and St. Helens areas including Blackbrook, Haydock and Golborne in to my early twenties then tried again when I was about 30 but the fitness had gone and I was your typical 20-minute front rower! When we moved to Telford a couple of years ago I wondered if there was any RL in the area and Googled it incase there were any Masters teams or anything I could get involved with and I found Telford Raiders who play Touch RL under the RFL Touch RL scheme and I love it. Due to my weight issues I struggled to run five metres without vomiting and did actually vomit with exertion sometimes when I first started playing but now I’m running between 5.5 and 6.5k every session on a Monday night. I’m even scoring tries! The first time I made a break I didn’t know what to do. That never happened all those years ago! We get to play in tournaments in the summer too which is a great measure of our abilities against other RL and RU tams as the RU version of touch is almost the same and we do well as we have a number of former England Lionhearts at Telford and even a former German full international.
Q5: Why choose Shelter and not a Rugby League based charity, is their a personal link to the charity?
GB: I’ve chosen Shelter as my charity for London Marathon 2019 as one of my good mates at Telford Raiders, Craig Williams used to be homeless. Craig served with the Royal Marines and left about five years ago and found himself homeless despite his service. It’s a sad story an not uncommon unfortunately. Despite his training, Craig is one of the nicest and most laid-back guys I’ve ever met and again he’s a real rugby league lad, coming from Yorkshire.
Craig now runs a full-time bootcamp where people go for weeks on end to lose weight and get fit but he and his team offer counselling and coaching along with all types of complimentary treatments and he was the first person I ever opened up to about my history after moving to Telford. He just listened, hardly spoke and I’ll never forget his parting word, “Thanks for sharing that with me.” He actually thanked me for talking about my problems and I knew from then on he was one of the good guys. I can relate a lot to what he does with his clients and having been homeless, it’s time for to put something back again and say thank you.
Q6: So Graham, how can people donate to your cause?
GB: I have a heck of a pledge to meet for my place in the 2019 Marathon, £2000 to be precise and it’s so difficult constantly trying to find new fundraising ideas, especially in the financial climate and when other people in your social circles are trying to do the same. Not only that but I went cap in hand to them last year too.
Of course I will gladly accept sponsorship should people wish to donate. Every single £1 donated helps and people can go to virginmoneygiving.com/grahamberry
if they would like to donate. I also run a Facebook group Called Rugby League Buy Sell Swap for shirt and stash collectors and I have been kindly sponsored by a gentleman called Mark at MPH clothing in Telford who provide custom sportswear and workwear. Mark has produced the Great Britain Rugby League 2019 Australasia Tour t-shirts that can be seen on there, available for £12 delivered and all the profits go to Shelter. As far as I know these are the first GB 2019 shirts available too so they’re going down well!
I’m also running a campaign called Socks Appeal (The Joy of Socks.) Along with mental health amongst the homeless, foot health is one of the biggest issues as most homeless people never or rarely get the opportunity to was and change their socks. Clean socks can not only help their physical health but imagine the morale boost too so if anyone can donate any socks, new or used, even if they don’t match or have holes in them, please get in touch and donate them. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
If anyone has any fundraising ideas I’d love to hear from them too and if anyone owns or runs a company and would like to make a corporate donation in return for publicity and advertising then I would really welcome it.
Can I just say thanks in advance too please to anyone who supports me in my venture and helps our homeless, thank you.