Running for Recovery
No matter what the weather, John* now looks forward to his 5.45am morning starts.
John rises early twice each week to meet and train alongside other members of Odyssey House Trust Christchurch's residential running group “Speed Freaks”.
Odyssey House has been providing drug and alcohol treatment services in Christchurch for over 30 years and supports individuals, family and community affected by addiction. They offer assessment and residential programmes, and their myriad of services include working with youth through to clients who are over 65.
The Speed Freaks running group is one of several new projects connecting our residential service with our community. Under the guidance of a professional running coach, the residents are schooled in running techniques, strength training and put through their paces in a bid to live up to their team mantra of “Running for Recovery”.
And as a newcomer to running, John recently completed his first 10km event after only a few weeks of training with the group.
“I was very nervous, very anxious, but when I finished it, I felt amazing,” he said. “My legs were sore, but I had a medal around my neck – the first one ever – it was great”.
New resident Ben* said that nothing could compare to the feeling of crossing the line after his first 10km trail race. He hadn't actively exercised in over 5-years and experienced a huge sense of achievement after battling his way to the top of a steep, off-road trail.
“It was about not giving up. It was more about being part of the running group and pushing each other to try our best, do our best and to put the effort in. It didn't matter if you came first or last, it was about doing it together”.
Senior resident Shane* said that prior to joining Speed Freaks he hadn't run since high-school. He described the group as giving him something positive to focus on and had seen great gains in both his mental and physical well-being since he started training.
“Like the t-shirts say, we are running for recovery,” he said. “We train more, we have better diets and are a lot healthier. When I've finished a couple of races, the self-gratification and appreciation that I feel is amazing, and that's what it's all about.”
Senior team member Barry* is turning 50 this year and recently started training to compete in his first official race. He said that the best thing about the group was the way it challenged his personal growth and he looked forward to participating in his first 10km charity event. "It's a way to challenge myself, it's going to be difficult, but so is a lot of things," he said. “It's about getting my fitness back and making a positive change: healthy body, healthy mind.”
Being part of the Speed Freaks running group is optional for Odyssey House residents but has been met with enthusiasm and support from both residents and the local community.
The members currently receive two free coaching sessions each week from Port Hills Athletics coach Jamie Hawker. Volunteering for a 6am start, Hawker offers a mixed approach to training, combining boot-camp style fitness with longer endurance sessions. His aim is to educate the team about running techniques and create strategies to assist with training and preparation for a race.
“I could see the motivation in the residents when I first met them,” he said. “Their outcome is based on what they want to do, and that's a process that they have to go through. Some find it easier than others, it's just about finding that balance and motivation.”
Hawker has also tailored programmes for certain members, depending on what stage they are at with their fitness, goals and pending events.
“We can show them a formula to start with, and they can join our running club once they leave [Odyssey House]. It's another great way to integrate back into the community – a holistic approach. The running is partly a by-product to help get them to where they need to get to.”
Speed Freaks has also received much support from the wider running community, including sponsorship and donations of gear. One such organisation is Sport Canterbury, which recently donated a number of pairs of running shoes to Odyssey House residents. Sport Canterbury Physical Activity Manager Dave Jeffery said he was extremely pleased to be involved with this initiative and looked forward to ongoing collaboration with the group.
“Our vision at Sport Canterbury is to get 'more people, more active, more often' and so we think it is great that Odyssey House is giving their residents the opportunity to be active - we wholeheartedly support that,” he said.
As Odyssey House prescribes a therapeutic community model for addiction recovery, several Odyssey House staff members have joined the residents in both their training sessions and race events.
Odyssey House Operations Manager Anna Christophorou has regularly trained with the group since its inception in early 2017 when the residents committed to running the 2017 City to Surf event.
The initial idea was to train for health and fitness, but once the race was completed, the Odyssey House community recognised the wider impact that running had on the residents and their recovery.
“We were attending events in the community, something that we’ve never done before,” said Christophorou. “Seeing the residents running, talking and engaging with the community, and being supported by the running community, was absolutely fantastic,” she said.
Christophorou explained the running group is one of the approaches now in place to support residents recovery and which focused on helping residents connect with and reintegrate into the community.
“It has shown that events we can do outside of the House have therapeutic value,” she said. “These projects involve reaching out to our community as part of recovery.”
The group continues to train twice each week in a bid to remain fit for future running campaigns. A Give-A-Little fundraising page has been established on their behalf to subside the costs involved with participating in such events.
For more information, please contact Anna Christophorou on 021 216 3675 or email to