Tipping the scales at more than 21 stone, Graham Berry knew he had to do something about his increasing waistline. Diagnosed with painful carpal tunnel syndrome and on the waiting list for bariatric surgery, he decided to have one final attempt to shed the pounds.
Twelve months, seven stone and one marathon later, the 46-year-old, from Madeley in Telford, will be lining up at the start of the Simplyhealth Great Birmingham Run on Sunday, October 14, proving a year really can make a massive difference.
As one of the UK's biggest half marathons, the Simplyhealth Great Birmingham Run attracts more than 18,000 participants each year. Starting on Jennens Road, the route weaves around some of Birmingham's most recognisable sights before returning to the city centre for a finish in front of friends and family.
But it wasn't all that long ago that taking part in the popular 13.1-mile run was the furthest thing from Graham's mind. “I played regular touch rugby league but I was struggling to run very far without retching,” he explains. “I had put on three stone in as many years so when my daughter-in-law asked if I would join Slimming World with her I decided I'd give it a try.”
By sticking to the recommended eating plan Graham, an operations manager for a security company, quickly started to lose the excess weight. In just 13 months he dropped to 14st 10lbs and his success has recently been recognised after he was voted his group's Man of the Year.
“I used to run years ago but I had a knee operation in 2007 that put an end to it. Losing the weight made me decide to try again and because I live near the Ironbridge Gorge I had the perfect place right on my doorstep. To start with I went out for 15 minutes and did a mixture of walking and running. Then when I could comfortably run for 15 minutes I gradually started to build up the distance and time.”
Discovering his local Telford Park Run helped him not only increase his stamina but also deal with anxiety and depression. “Park Run has been great for me; to begin with I found 5km tough but it got easier each week. I also found that when I was running I could empty my head. Now when I run I am totally focussed for 50 minutes and able to sort out things that are on my mind. It is my head-space time. I'm now off my medication and have never felt better.”
Last year Graham ran his first Great Birmingham Run in 2hrs 8mins and earlier this year he completed the London Marathon, crossing the finish line in under five hours.
Now with a half marathon PB of 1hr 57mins, he is raising funds for homeless charity Shelter and has launched his own Socks Appeal – which he has jokingly dubbed the Joy of Socks – to highlight foot health amongst the homeless community.
“I realise I am so privileged because I have the support of a great family and a roof over my head. There is so much associated with being homeless and so many suffer from severe physical and emotional issues. I hope I can make even the smallest change to someone's life”.
And his advice for anyone who is just starting out on their fitness journey? “Don't be put off if you're starting from scratch – we all have to start somewhere. Do what you can and don't push it too soon – do what I did and try 15 minutes of running and walking – and sign up to Coach to 5K or find your local Park Run.
“A year ago I couldn't run but now I have lost seven stone in weight and ran a marathon in 4hrs 53mins. Having been diagnosed with anxiety and depression three years ago I have seen the benefits not only on my physical health but my mental health too.”
Entries are now open for Simplyhealth Great Birmingham Run, which starts and finishes in the city centre on Sunday, October 14. This year it reverts to its popular morning start time and features the popular Business Challenge, which invites office teams to compete for fastest-time trophies and helps CSR commitments, raising funds for company charities or foundations, or simply boosting office morale and team spirit in the workplace.
Anyone who entered the Simplyhealth Great Birmingham 10k will receive a £10 discount on their entry fee for the Simplyhealth Great Birmingham Run half marathon. To enter click here
If you're able to donate pairs of socks you can email Graham and his fundraising link for Shelter is virginmoneygiving.com/grahamberry.