Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
Claire Kenny
Features Writer
2:00 AM 16th July 2022

Running And Friendship: A Powerful Recipe For Recovery

40 plus blogger Claire Kenny visits Recovery Runners, the Leeds-based running club offering vital support to people recovering from addiction or mental health challenges.

Dean is second from left
Dean is second from left
My friend Janet and I headed to Leeds Dock last Sunday for a training session with Recovery Runners. The group was set up by Jamie Heselden and Dean Smith, two Leeds lads who've used running as part of their recovery from addiction. It’s gone from strength to strength and now welcomes anyone who wants to build physical activity into their recovery, or use its benefits to improve their mental health.

After a relaxed chat at the group’s clubhouse at Leeds Dock, we set off on our 5k in soaring temperatures. Running in such humidity was punishing but while run leader Dean was encouraging, there was no pressure, and there were pauses to chat and rehydrate. The group is inclusive of all abilities; some members focused on their marathon training and some chose a steady walk. There were qualified run leaders for all options.

As a Leeds lass, I loved the route. The group’s location means it’s well-placed to take advantage of local waterways, and heading out towards Hunslet, I noticed that the urban landscape had changed significantly but the beautiful canal backdrop remained exactly the same.

(L-R) Colleen and Claire
(L-R) Colleen and Claire
Member Colleen Jackson is a recovering alcoholic coming up to three years of sobriety. She joined the group last year and was happy to share her story.

“Recovery Runners has helped me achieve what I thought was impossible for someone like me. I remember putting their postcode into my sat nav and telling myself that if it was more than 15 minutes’ drive I wouldn’t bother going. It was four minutes, so cursing the sat nav, I decided to give it a go. I’d forgotten that I hadn’t run since school and couldn’t believe how hard it was to run for 90 seconds! We all downloaded the BBC Couch to 5k app and our ‘homework’ was to complete two more runs before we went back the following week. A WhatsApp group offered more opportunities for us to encourage each other between meet ups.

My head was telling me to give up because I couldn’t do it, but Recovery Runners believed in me when I no longer believed in myself.

The support from Recovery Runners is amazing because they understand how your head works when you’re in recovery. I didn’t get sober and sort my life out until I was 48 and the best thing I did was take that first step and admit I needed help. I’m now 51, and since I started running last September and stopped smoking, I’ve lost nearly three stone.

My mental health has improved massively too. I’ve made loads of new friends and now have a body that after four kids I thought was long gone! I used to drink to change the way I felt – I never thought that exercise and running would do that without the drama and hangovers.”

Colleen is now a regular Parkrunner and recently completed the Leeds 10k. She has also signed up for four more 10k races this year.

Co-founder Dean Smith is also a recovering alcoholic. He’s keen to provide a safe psychological space for those who want to try running but may need more tailored support and encouragement: “We're a friendly, welcoming bunch who always have a brew and a handshake. We have built a safe and non-judgemental space for everyone to come and feel like they belong to something.

All Jamie and I want is to help that one person. If you're struggling, always, ALWAYS ask for help. No matter what it is or who it's from, just ask. It will always be there.”

If you’re looking to build some physical exercise into your recovery or you just want to see what Recovery Runners is about, find out more on facebook or Instagram at @recoveryrunnerscommunity or head down to The Lock Keepers House, Armouries Drive before 10am on Sundays.

I promise you’ll get a warm welcome. But I can’t promise you won’t become completely obsessed with running.

Claire can be found on facebook and Instagram as