Running by Faith
"If you want to run, run a mile. If you want to experience a different life, run a marathon. If you want to talk to God, run an ultra."
- Dean Karnazes (Ultramarathon legend)
It was on a freezing cold early January night that God spoke into my heart as I volunteered with the homeless in Westminster. I had earlier sat on the very bench under which I’d cowered and tried to seek shelter and sleep for a mere few minutes some 20 years previously in Victoria Station. Homelessness, far from the stereotypes, is not the sole domain of the downtrodden, of alcoholics and substance abusers, of those waiting for handouts without any compulsion of self-help. Yes, those people do live on our streets, and are no less deserving of our help, but the streets are home to so many others.
Homelessness affects so many people who are well-educated, once had a job, a roof over their head, a prosperous future to look forward to and perhaps even a family. It can happen to anyone at any time, and in today’s economy, with housing prices on the rise and the job market so competitive, it is increasingly common.
In that early January tundra, I had counted at least 15 rough sleepers in a short stretch of less than a half mile as I ran into work, the day still a few hours from breaking. Those people could have been anything from well-educated individuals with a degree, to a former athlete or veteran. Tragically, they are often ignored, based on the fear that their predicament is contagious; they are dehumanised, diagnosed as social lepers.
Many people are aware of the impact that mental illness had on my life; I have spoken less often about the many occasions when only the kindness and floor or sofa of friends kept me off the streets. In fact, after the first occasion on which I attempted to take my own life, I left hospital with nowhere to go but the streets as most I knew kept their distance, many unfailing in showing their contempt.
I suppose, it’s an inescapable fact that when my mental health was at its very worst, then so was a correlated risk of my being without a home, whether it be because of the spending that came with manic behaviour or people walking away. It was a vicious circle and, taking the illness aside, I was a well-educated graduate and had people who loved me, but circumstances left me inevitably in, what I look back now to be, a hugely and dangerously vulnerable position.
That I can firmly put my illness and homelessness in the past is by the grace of God only and that He has given me the purpose and ability to change lives by raising awareness and money around homelessness and mental health is a true gift and blessing.
I recently wrote for Mind about the parallels between running and the journey with mental illness, reflecting on May’s London to Brighton Challenge. That was my first 100km ultra which will be followed on Saturday with the popular Race to the Stones. In the six intervening weeks, I have also managed to cram in a couple of marathons and the 52.6 mile Race to the Tower!
As I wrote in that piece for Mind, "split seconds of achievement will disappear in that moment, but how we make people feel about themselves lasts a lifetime, so while I have life in me, I will always join Mind in their mission to ensure that everyone experiencing a mental health problem gets support and respect." The same is true of the homeless and those I am supporting through the work of the Connection at St Martin-in-the-Fields.
I am hugely blessed to have the life I do, and it is God’s grace which keeps me grounded. I have often been challenged to ensure that everything I do in this area is Christ centered. Sometimes, this has been most evident in reading Matthew 6:2, “So when you give to the poor, don’t announce it with trumpet fanfare.” Yet here I am constantly speaking about what I am doing to raise money in order to generate further donations.
I could write War and Peace on this apparent oxymoron but it is much easier to simply remember God’s own word through Jesus Christ later in Matthew 6, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)
My treasure is life itself. It is the very gift that God bestowed on me when raising me from the very depths of mental illness, suicidal thoughts and homelessness. That I am even alive is to His glory, the gift of testifying to His love an even deeper joy.
I would betray everything I am if I didn’t pass that gift of life on to others. So on Saturday when I am running 100km through the beautiful trails of The Ridgeway in the Race to the Stones, I will run with perseverance the race marked out for me, fixing my eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2). As with all my races, I will try my best, but times and performance are a secondary gift from Him to me; the greatest gift is that I am truly alive and able to pass that gift of life to others in His name.
If you do want to donate, here are the ways in which you can:-
Visit my fundraising page at http://bit.ly/runwild17 - all donations will be split between The Connection and Mind
Text ROMH66 £5 to 70070 to support Mind
Text ROHO66 £5 to 70070 to support The Connection (Homeless London)
Thanks to you all for everything you continue to do in my life; for the friendships, support and encouragement, the inspiration to be everything I can be every day. See you on the other side of 100km!
Below is a short film made for my recent baptism which talks about my run with God.
Copyright 2016. Rohan Kallicharan. All Rights Reserved.
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