A Lincoln man who battled mental health and multiple suicide attempts is now preparing to follow in his father’s footsteps by running the Pennine Way for charity.
Running helped save Thomas Dunning and has been a massive part of his life since he started suffering with mental health problems after the death of his brother Will Bonner in 2009.
He has been determined to help others and raise awareness of mental health ever since and in September 2018 he was named as The Lincolnite of the Week.
As well as his full-time job of 13 years as a process engineer at British Sugar, Thomas is a motivational speaker, created a local running group and co-wrote a book about his life story with his wife Amber.
Thomas is now preparing for his next challenge – running the 270 miles of the Pennine Way, starting on May 31.
He will take on the journey from Kirk Yetholm in Scotland to Edale in England, finishing on his 30th birthday on June 16.
This comes after his father Lea, who is now a retired RAF survival expert, took on the UK’s oldest national trail at the age of 20 in 1984. Lea even burnt his socks at the end to celebrate finishing his challenge.
The two of them will run together for the first few days of the challenge before Thomas continues on his own, but he will be joined by various friends at points along the way.
He will also find places to camp as he stops off during his trip, as well as seeing his family in Rochdale.
All proceeds from his fundraiser will be donated to RETHINK, a charity which is close to Thomas’ heart. The charity’s Lincoln support group turned his life around in 2014 and helped him become the man he is today.
The Rochdale FC fan told The Lincolnite: “Running really changes and transforms people’s lives, and even saved mine. Whether it is for fitness, weight loss or even just the feeling of freedom, I don’t run for times or distance, I just love the happy feeling I get after a run and physical exercise.
“He (Thomas’ dad) is the main inspiration for why I am doing this. He did it in 1984 and for me it’s now come full circle as he’s doing the first couple of days with me, which means the world. I will also get to see some family in Rochdale along the route as well as popping into the football club.
“I’ll essentially be carrying my life on my back for 16 days, camping and exploring mostly on my own but also with the key message of how mental health will never be a limitation to anything we want to do in life. It may make things a bit tricky at times – but it will never stop us from being who we are and what we want to achieve.”
After a lot of therapy and psychiatric appointments when he was younger, Thomas was diagnosed with severe anxiety disorder, PTSD and borderline personality disorder.
He has given a presentation about his story across the UK, and during lockdown virtually in America. He is an international motivational speaker, including at TED events and for ABF, Mind, Rethink, Siemens and NAMI (USA).
Thomas is also a multi-award winning mental health blogger, including receiving the ‘Trailblazer in positive social impact’ award in 2020, as well as being a member of Brooks Running UK Run Happy Team.
In October 2019, Thomas also launched Run Talk Run Lincoln, which takes place in the city every Tuesday for people who are struggling with mental health as it helps them get active and provides a safe environment to talk- download the ‘My Crew’ app to get involved.
On Valentine’s Day 2020, Thomas and his wife Amber Dunning launched their new book ‘Surviving the war against yourself’. He talks the reader through some of his darkest moments, saying “it’s okay to not be okay and that you are never alone going through mental illness.
They even got a letter back from Prince William and Kate Middleton, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, after sending them a copy of the book.
Thomas and Amber have also since launched the First Steps Forward programme to help give people in low income and/or poor mental health access to running by providing footwear thanks to Brooks Running.
During lockdown, Thomas has also volunteered helping Lincolnshire NHS service users and making sure that if they are promised something that the plan is followed through. He has also helped with medication and food drops for the Royal Voluntary Service.
Thomas tries to run three times a day and he will continue training in the build up to the challenge with a bespoke programme created by his close friend Laura Jones who runs We Are Fearless.
He added: “I never want anyone to go through what I did and what I put my wife through and that is why I founded Mental Health Runner, to show your mental health issues will never be a label or limitation.
“With one in four people suffering with a mental health problem at some point in their life – there are always three others who can help save a life.”