For more information about the Simplyhealth Great East Run and to enter, visit: Greatrun.org/East

A former soldier who turned to alcohol and piled on the pounds managed to shed over 12 stone and has turned his life around to inspire others to take up running.

Gary Edwards, from Ipswich, was a soldier in the Royal Corps of Signals when he was injured in a truck collision and medically discharged from the army.

He suffered from post traumatic stress disorder and his life began to spiral out of control when he lost his son Christopher shortly afterwards.

Gary turned to alcohol and food for comfort. His weight then increased to 25 stone and he described his life as ‘non existent'.

But over four years ago, at an alcoholics anonymous meeting, he decided that his life had to change and he started out on his first run. Now Gary has lost over 12 stone and has gone from 5XL to a size medium in clothes thanks to his training and altering his diet.

After inspiring so many with his story, Gary has now decided to give something back and has helped to set up and lead the new Great Run Local Alton Water in Suffolk as a lead volunteer.

He was a proud member of the Great Run Local at Needham Lake before being inspired to volunteer at the new event, which takes place every Sunday.

Gary, 52, said: “Quitting the booze also meant that I started losing weight. I was now wanting to get fitter and healthier and to become the man, the dad and the husband I wanted to be.

“I turned to running which was probably the best thing I could have done. When I first started I used to run at night in the dark as I was so embarrassed at my size and my jiggly bits and pieces and what people might think of me but I soon started losing lots of weight and I decided to enter an actual event.

“I was suffering both physically and emotionally and I turned to drink and food for solace. The weight piled on and before I knew it, I was 25 stone. “The turning point for me was that I basically woke up one day and decided things must change. II thought to myself “I've had enough”. I attended an alcoholics anonymous meeting .

“From there I set on a mission to change my life. I eat a lot more healthy now but I don't obsess over my diet as I do like chocolate on a weekend!

“I have now lost over 170lbs and ran thousands of miles which I thought would never be possible!

“I love seeing people of all ages, shapes and sizes running at The Great Run Local Alton Water, listening to their stories and their 'why's' for being there and you can really see the changes it makes to their lives, their self esteem and their health."

Gary runs Great Run Local at Alton Water alongside the help of run co-ordinator Matt Thompson and Marshal co-ordinator Claire Lewis.

The free, weekly events feature both 2k and 5k distances.

Gary also hopes to join 4,000 other runners for this year's Simplyhealth Great East Run on Sunday 22 September, having taken part in the inaugural event in 2017.

The event starts and finishes in Ipswich town centre and takes participants out into the picturesque countryside, passing under the iconic Orwell Bridge.

Gary added: “I took up running not long after I decided to quit drinking. “I knew I had to do something to help shift the weight. I was not the fastest runner but I was determined.

“Some days the hardest thing is to get out of the door yet once I am out there running, I find that I am fine.

“I enjoy long distance running, gave me time to reflect, to think and to try and make sense of all that had happened to me.

“While on the road plodding away I only had me and my thoughts and it was just amazing how things seemed to heal in my head.. I've found a new love of myself and of my family who have been with me through the highs and lows and have given me the support and inspiration to carry on.”

For more information about Great Run Local and its locations, visit: http://greatrunlocal.org

For more information about the Simplyhealth Great East Run and to enter, visit: Greatrun.org/East