Group aims to build self-esteem in homeless with half-marathon training

This is the second story in an occasional series looking at training for a half- or full marathon, leading up to the Long Beach race on Oct. 13. Members of the Post staff will share their personal training experiences, as well as stories of other local runners, race info and advice from experts. If you have a personal story you’d like to share, a suggestion for a story or other feedback, email Managing Editor Melissa Evans at [email protected]

Runners like to talk about about the “high” that this form of exercise brings. But to get the high, you have to go through a lot of physical and mental lows.

And this, in my experience, never gets easier. I ran 7 miles the other day, and felt pretty good; a few days later I could barely get through 3.

It’s like golf was to my dad: Every few weeks he’d come home and order us to get ready: “We’re going to the Sizzler,” he’d declare, slamming his keys on the table: “I’m giving up golf.” A few days later he’d swagger in, bragging about shooting his best round ever.

Runners endure these ups and downs for all kinds of reasons: To support or raise money for a cause, to improve health or lose weight, or in my case, to crush and humiliate fellow employees.

The latter is only partly true: This past year has been a tornado of change. Almost a year to the day of the JetBlue Long Beach Marathon (Oct. 13), my husband and I split up and my beloved cat was killed. The pain of running—specifically training for a race—is an odd relief. I know that crossing the finish line this fall will mean something.

Giving meaning to the pain is the thrust behind a very small nonprofit in Long Beach called Up and Running Again. Founded a decade ago, the organization invites homeless individuals to participate in a 13-week training program leading up to the local race. Those who participate are already housed and fed at the Long Beach Rescue Mission; the running program—optional, of course—is meant to build back self-esteem and self-worth that comes from training and achieving a difficult goal. Similar programs are in place at rescue missions in Orange County, San Diego, Las Vegas and elsewhere.

This year roughly a dozen residents at the shelter gather three times a week at 5:30 a.m. for weekly runs, and a Saturday long run.

“To watch and be part of this growth—the physical well-being, the mental well-being, the week by week, day by day achievement—is pretty awesome,” said Vernon Rudd, organizer of the local group.

The long runs are completed in different locations in Long Beach and near the city: the top of Signal Hill, the Los Cerritos area and the Dominguez Gap. “We try to go to a place where most of them have never seen,” Rudd said.

Several local running groups support the homeless participants with used or new shoes, attire and accessories.

The goal is to help transition the homeless back into the community through running, which builds routine, discipline, healthy habits—and self-esteem.

“Every single one of our runners that has completed the 13-week program has crossed the finish line,” said Rudd, who guesses he’s completed about 40 marathons. “They received that medal. They earned it. It’s a great moment.”

To support the organization by donating supplies, apparel or money, click here.

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Melissa has been a journalist for over two decades, starting her career as a reporter covering health and religion and moving into local news. She has worked as an editor for eight years, including seven years at the Press Telegram before joining the Long Beach Post in June 2018. She also serves as a part-time lecturer at Cal State Long Beach where she teaches multimedia journalism and writing.