Both my husband and I are taking on big fundraising challenges this year. Part of Steve’s challenge goes beyond his own running and into encouraging others to run, perhaps for the first time, in order to increase their fitness and help others at the same time. To help keep everyone informed as the challenge progresses and share others people’s motivation for taking on a running challenge, a new blog has been launched this week. The idea behind it is that people joining the team will have a chance to share their story with others via a post of their own. To get things started, I was asked to write a post with my story – something that would trace my journey from non-runner to marathon runner which (hopefully) would inspire others to don their trainers and have a go. No pressure there then!
To help, I turned to my own blog. When I first started blogging, two of my earliest posts Why I Run and Stepping It Up a Gear did in fact give a lot of the details of my journey to becoming a runner. With them to guide me, I wrote my post which went live earlier this week.
Here’s what I had to say:
Ask any runner why they run and you’ll get a range of different answers. Some have been runners since school, others took it up later in life to keep themselves fit and healthy, and increasing numbers take up running every year in order to raise money for a charity close to their hearts. We all start to run for various reasons and we all look for something different as we continue: fitness, new challenges or just the simple joy that comes from lacing up a pair of trainers and heading off into the great outdoors.
My journey began in 2005 when my gran, to whom I had always been very close, was diagnosed with cancer. As I watched the effects of this terrible disease on her, helpless to do anything to change the outcome, I knew that I wanted to do something to help make a difference for others. My sister had previously taken part in a charity 5K and I had been amazed at all these ordinary people who were able to breeze round the course in less than half an hour. I felt inspired. Despite the fact that I had never so much as run for a bus, my decision was made: I was going to run a 5K. Not walk, not crawl, not hop, but RUN! If I was going to raise money, then it would have to be a challenge.
And a challenge it was. The mechanics of running are easy enough – after all, we all ran around as kids – but being fit enough to sustain that running for more than a minute? That was going to need work. I was already going to the gym once a week or so, but I didn’t have a programme to follow so just did what I felt like and then went home. I had no idea what my fitness was really like and my first run was a real eye-opener. Having no real concept of pace, I did exactly what every new runner does and set off too fast. After less than 2 minutes I was gasping for breath, feeling a bit sick and wondering what on earth I was letting myself in for! But with the help of a PE teacher friend, I slowed down my pace and started to build up the amount of time I could run for until I was able to run a complete lap of the local park (about 1.4 miles) without stopping. It was my first big achievement in running and I can still remember the joy I experienced as I completed my lap and felt like an Olympian (albeit a rather slow and red-faced one!).
I completed that first charity 5K in a less-than-blistering 32 or 33 minutes, but I ran the whole way, finishing red-faced and exhausted but with the warm glow of knowing that I had completed my challenge, raising valuable funds in the process.
After that, the best way to describe my running would be “dabbling”. For the next 2 or 3 years I would head out for the occasional 5K plod if the weather was nice, but that was really it. I liked knowing that I had a little more fitness than before, I liked how a run would help me to clear my head or mull over problems, and I liked feeling that I was “connecting” with my gran (after all, I had started running for her) but 5K was more than enough for me. My legs couldn’t carry me any further and I was in awe of those who ran in 10K events; as for marathons – surely only superhuman people ran those? I would probably still be thinking the same way, but meeting Steven Bonthrone in 2008 changed all that.
I met Steve following a very difficult time in my life and I was keen to grab life by the horns and try new things. During our first conversation I learned not only that Steve was a personal trainer, but also that he had run MORE THAN ONE marathon! Did this make him superhuman? My running and fitness in general had faltered in the preceding months and as the conversation inevitably turned to my exercise habits, I felt almost embarrassed to admit my “running” history, but typically of Steve, he responded with positivity and encouragement. And it worked – I started using the gym at work again and even dug out my trainers to return to those plodding 5K runs on nice evenings.
That, too, might have been the end of the story, had I not met Steve again towards the end of that year. As we spent more and more time together, I felt that I wanted to take my running further so he set me a challenge: build up my mileage (with his support) and run a 10K in the autumn of 2009. Despite my reservations about being able to run that sort of distance, my competitive spirit couldn’t resist the challenge and I agreed.
And so it was that on a cold, dark January evening 5 years ago I set out for my first run in a few months (remember I was very much a fair weather runner and this was the middle of winter!). It turned out that I still had enough fitness to manage 5K without collapsing in a heap, so over the next few weeks I gradually increased my mileage and went to the gym once or twice a week to follow a programme Steve wrote for me. I progressed so well that I actually ran my first 10K race in the spring of 2009 and talk began of stepping up to a half marathon (yes, a half marathon!) in the autumn.
By this point I definitely had the running bug. Just a few months after becoming a “proper” runner, I joined a running club and met lots of new people. People who were just like me, but regularly ran half and even full marathons – they weren’t superhuman after all! I listened to their stories of how and why they started running, I listened to their experiences of training for marathons and I began to wonder if I could do it too (but just the once, to have that experience – it would be REALLY hard, right?)
And so I did it. Following my first half marathon in October 2009, Steve wrote me a programme and in April 2010, little more than a year after I had been simply a fair weather 5K plodder, I completed my first full marathon in Paris. Was it hard work? Definitely, yet I loved it. Even as I shuffled through the last aching miles in the Bois de Boulogne, desperate to see the Arc de Triomphe and the finish line ahead of me, I already knew that I wanted to run more marathons. I was hooked!
Since then, I have run 3 further marathons (London, Edinburgh and Lochaber) and will be running 3 more this year (Paris, Edinburgh and Loch Ness), this time to raise funds for Macmillan Cancer Support. Each marathon has taught me a little more about myself and I have enjoyed each one for different reasons. Throughout all of these, Steve has been there to help and support me, just as he supports new runners now through his running groups. My experiences have taught me that everyone can run and that we should never write something off as impossible. The human body is an amazing thing and human beings achieve incredible feats all the time. These days I run because I love it. Not running makes me miserable. I may not be able to break records or win races, but I can continue to push myself and achieve a new personal best or make a difference by raising funds for charity, as I will be throughout 2014. Thanks to Steve, I can now say something that only a small percentage of the population can say: I can say I’m a marathon runner. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.