Friends Take On AJ Bell Great Bristol Run for Men’s Mental Health Charity

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A Gym for the Mind

A group of five friends will be taking on the Half-Marathon at the AJ Bell Great Bristol Run on 14 May 2023, to raise funds for the men’s mental health charity that brought them together and that continues to make a difference to their lives.

Talk Club is a talking and listening community for men that offers talking groups, sports groups, online support and, in some cases, sessions with a professional therapist. The charity describes itself as a “mental fitness movement” that’s essentially like going to the gym but for the mind.

The groups take place around the country, within private spaces at venues such as above pubs or gyms.

Talk Club Southville is among the charity’s Bristol groups and five of its members will be running together to raise funds and awareness for the cause.

A personal connection

Among the runners is Talk Club Southville member and captain, Patrick Sullivan, who has been part of the movement for four years.

“Talk Club has massively improved my life,” he says. “Firstly, it gave me a space and format where I felt comfortable admitting I was stressed and struggling with my mental health. And beyond that, I’ve found my closest connections and friends have come via the Talk Club groups I’ve been involved with.”

Patrick finds the culture of openness at Talk Club makes a change from “typical male spaces and relationships” and he’s seen first-hand the impact it has on its members.

“The group has saved the lives of men who have been in dark places, by giving them an accessible and comfortable space to share their thoughts and feelings without worrying about the consequences. Community is what Talk Club has given to me and is the reason it still means so much to me now that I feel mentally fit.”

He explains how the weekly group sessions work.

“Each man shares how he feels on a scale of 1-10 and why. We then talk about what we’ve been grateful for over the past week and what we’re going to do to support our mental fitness this week – whether that’s through diet, exercise or rest, for example.

“So while we often talk about serious issues, you see a lot of positivity coming out of the discussions as people recognise the good things that have happened in their week, not just the stresses and struggles they’ve faced.”

Hugo Figueiredo has been a member of Talk Club since his university days.

“Talk Club feels like home,” he explains. “It brings out the very best in me and allows me to engage with a community so strongly bonded together by individual vulnerability. This was always something that was missing within my friendship groups and so having an outlet to speak my truth is invigorating.”

Also running the Half Marathon with Patrick and Hugo is Duncan Silvey, who has been a Talk Club Southville attendee and captain since early 2019.

“Talk Club has been a place that I can dip in and out of when I need to be heard and don’t want someone to ‘fix things’ for me,” he says. “In turn, I can also be a listener for others. It gives me perspective within my life and empowers me to move forward.”

Joining the team is Ethan Higgins, who credits Talk Club with helping him to “learn how to look inwards and translate my feelings so I can share them with people in the group and my family and friends.”

He adds: “I find the shared vulnerability and listening to other men’s experiences helps me to stay in touch with myself and be more connected with people in my life.”

The benefits of running

Much of the group’s training for the race is focused on their weekly Wednesday morning runs, which start at 7am regardless of the time of year.

“Without the people I’m running the race with, I very much doubt that I would be doing 7am training sessions in the rain. They are the reason that I get out of bed before the sun has risen,” says Hugo.

“We even ran in the snow once, which was really fun!”

While some members of the Talk Club Southville team have been running for years, others are new to it, but they all get something positive out of the activity.

“It makes me appreciate that I am strong, determined and worthy,” adds Hugo. “It’s also great to clear the mind and put any stress on hold.”

Patrick appreciates the opportunity to catch up with his friends in their training sessions and the sense of achievement he gets from an early run at the start of his day.

“The impact on my cardio fitness has been huge as well. I play rugby and I have found the extra air in my lungs has helped my performance on the pitch and in general life activities too.”

As well as finding running an opportunity to “process and reflect”, Duncan is particularly spurred by a motivation to raise awareness of the charity among older generations.

“My dad started using Talk Club post-pandemic and after suffering a stroke. It’s become a staple activity and lifeline for him to express his feelings in a safe and non-judgmental environment. By running this half-marathon, I hope that we can bring further awareness of the charity, so other men of his generation who need it can find an outlet to talk and listen with others.”

A day to remember

As a spectator supporting his partner at last year’s Great Bristol Run, Patrick is looking forward to taking part at this year’s event.

“I’m looking forward to the extra lift in spirits from the crowd. The atmosphere is electric and I am excited to be on the receiving end of the buzz. There was some awesome drumming and dancing as well last year, so more of that please!”

While Ethan has been a runner for 10 years, he’s never taken part in a race before.

“There are a number of things I’m looking forward to,” he says about the event. “Running a race for the first time, running in Bristol and running as a group of friends representing the cause that brought us together.”

For Hugo, it’s all about that final stretch.

“Rallying against it when the chips are down is something that has served me well in the past few years,” he explains. “I find that it makes the finish line so much sweeter. So, I’m most looking forward to the final mile, where tiredness begins to turn to euphoria and I’m able to reflect on all the training I’ve done.”

You can donate to the team of runners here.