Runforever on Stride Jogscotland magazine

6 July 2023

Runforever published on Stride, Jogscotland magazine

Press Editor Sue Guyford writes: “There are few things more physically limiting – by design – than being in prison. Jog Leader Paolo Maccagno (p16) decided to use the lessons he learned from running marathons and hitting “the wall”, to help prisoners at HMP & YOI Grampian deal with the walls around them in a constructive way. Many of the runners in his group have now completed their first 5K and Paolo hopes to have given them a fresh perspective in the process”.

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Runforever – and we will all be runners!

By Paolo Maccagno


Last Wednesday before going to the football pitch for our usual run, we watched again the inspiring video by Kipchoge preparing his attempt for a sub-two hours marathon in Wien 2019. It’s been already four months now that I started again to work in prison. Every Wednesday I go to HMP YOI Grampian where I have two groups of around 20 dedicated runners (for the moment males and waiting list) committed to improve their health through the inspiration and benefit that running can provide. In a few weeks on Wednesday 7th June we will have a “Finisher” celebration event, where prisoner-runners will run together in a team for 30 minutes. The running programme that I proposed for these first months follows NHS couch to 5k and allows everyone to be able to run for 30 minutes (approximately 5k). The event is conceived to emphasise being “finisher” (as marathon running does) rather than winning the race and promote running as a collective experience of a team. At the end of the run there will be a celebration with party and cake shared with runners, members of the Runforever running club, prison staff and of organizations helping with the project (Shmu-Aberdeen community radio, Familiesoutside, IFF Intenrational Furìtures Forum).

The running sessions start always with some time spent in the “dressing room” (a classroom in the link centre of the prison) where we watch together inspiring videos from runners. These videos have become a common language for all of us and a useful background for our running practice. A few days ago we were rethinking to what Kipchoge said about the importance of running in a team and the fundamental support that he received from it in his career and for doing the record in Wien.  We are using a similar idea of team running for helping everyone to be able to do a 30 minutes continuous run and finding rhythms allowing to run forever. The idea of running forever is actually at the base of the project and a capacity that anyone needs to have when running marathons. My sense was that the same capacity could be important in a process of rehabilitation so although in prison we are not (yet) running marathons, the mindset I am suggesting is actually for running forever.

When I first entered a prison in Milan was because I went there to attend the theatre performance Maratona di New York[1] by Edoardo Erba, which was held inside the theatre of the prison itself. The performance showed two men running in preparation for the New York marathon and talking to each other on existential topics like absence, void of meaning and trauma. While watching it, I was infused with emotions. The context amplified the performance. The subject of the New York marathon and the preparation to achieve it was a clear metaphor for a process of rehabilitation, although the immobility of the run also suggested something different. Rather than thinking in terms of goals and achievement, it was proposing a perpetual movement without purpose. Running a marathon seems to demand this capacity to abandon the thought of the finish line, which only produces anxiety, and to try to run the race as if you would run forever.

As I was walking out of the prison, I wondered in excitement “What if I run the wall of the marathoner inside the walls of a prison?” I then realised how that question could open a healing path for prisoners by drawing a parallel between the experience of the wall of the marathon runner and that of the wall of the prison. In fact what if a wall rather than being a barrier is a liminal space to be inhabited enabling existential transformation and leading to enhancement of self-worth and liberation of a different kind?

Since the beginning of 2013 I have been proposing projects based on marathon running inside prisons. My first experience was in the prison of Bollate (Milan-Italy, 2013-14) where I worked in collaboration with Italian NGO Bambinisenzasbarre[2] for one and a half years. The project ended with the participation of a team of runners (a mix of inmates and free citizens) in the Milan city marathon, on 6th April 2014 receiving the prize as best project connected to running to the Milano Marathon Awards 2014 (see video here).

After a following similar experience in the prison of Peterhead in Scotland (January-June 2016) in collaboration with Familiesoutside (an NGO from Edinburgh) and with NHS funding, Runforever is a non-profit organisation and running club promoting educational community projects exploring paths for humanising prison care and more generally health care (Humanising Health Care, Margaret Hannah, IFF – 2014) towards an inclusive future society fostering difference and variation. It proposes training people (prisoners and not-prisoners) through marathon running and the Feldenkrais method (educational practice of awareness, attention and posture) as the core idea of a project of pedagogy of resilience contrasting mainstream goal-oriented rehabilitation programs towards a practice of freedom and equality. These are in fact invaluable practices of care of the self  suggesting possibilities of dignity and personhood.

Recently Runforever started a new pilot project in February 2023, supported by initial funding in collaboration with Peterhead prison (HMP & YOI Grampian) and a few charity organizations (IFF-International Futures ¸Shmu- Aberdeen community radio, Familiesoutside,), for a running club that will serve as a bridge between inside and outside the prison. This specific focus addresses the urgent issue of prisoners tending to reoffend when back in the outer world and entering into a vicious loop of social exclusion and separation. Differently from my previous experiences where I worked only inside the prison, this new pilot project works simultaneously inside and outside. The running club in fact welcomes at the same time runners from inside and outside the prison, overcoming risks of stigmatization. It addresses exactly the transition of prisoners in the outer community and issues of health and wellbeing (evidenced as weak in Prison Reports) in the wider society. For strengthening the idea of the bridge, it creates links between outside and inside through a radio show – Runnningstories, created in collaboration with Shmu and the Media Unit of the prison giving voice to stories of runners about their running experience and the impact on their health and wellbeing. It also organizes races for giving the opportunity of bringing families together (in collaboration with Familiesoutiside) and health wellbeing events for promoting a sustainable healthy prison. The project is a small action participating in wider systemic change.

Running enables the formation of a community of support between participants (prisoners, ex prisoners, people with different health issues like mental health, addiction and alcoholism, members of prison and charity staff, educators, researchers) and help build connections with their families. This contributes towards breaking the barriers and walls between them, as running clubs do: “And we will all be Runners…”


[1] Maratona di New York is a theatre performance by Italian director Edoardo Erba, in the interpretation of Cristian Giammarini and Giorgio Lupano (see video here)

[2] See: