Leah Mcdaniel

Leah Mcdaniel

Leah’s motivation for running a marathon is deeply personal: in 2014, when she was four months pregnant with their first child, her husband Brett was killed in a car accident. During the months that followed, she moved back from Texas to north Wales and gave birth to her daughter, Bowen – but, she says, she didn’t know where her life was going. Leah hopes that running the London Marathon she’ll be able to rediscover herself and raise vital money for Save the Children.

Why did you enter Big Marathon Challenge?
I thought this might be the little push I need that I can’t back out of it.

How did you start running?
I played tennis to quite a good level as a junior and I would run all the time, but I hated it; I much preferred to be on the tennis court. In 2012, I ran a half-marathon with my sister and then swore off running. In 2014, I lost my husband, had my baby and was just muddling through life. I came back to the UK and just thought, “I’ve got to change my eating habits, I’ve got to lose weight and I’ve got to get healthy.” I’d been with my sister to a few races and thought, “I’d like to be one of those people.” So I took myself to parkrun and I just got absorbed into the community. I loved the buzz. Running became like therapy for me, and the feeling of accomplishment as I did a bit more each week – I couldn’t replicate that anywhere else in my life.

How did running help you move forward after Brett died?
I come from a Christian background and have a very strong sense of faith so that’s how I coped with losing him, but I hadn’t coped with my own life. I couldn’t see six months in front of me and had no desire to. Apart from raising my daughter to be an adult, I didn’t know what anything else looked like. I didn’t look forward to running every day but at the end of the week, seeing I’d done 30 miles, it was a small goal. It’s given me back this sense of who I am. And now I’m my daughter’s only parent, it’s incredibly important to me to stay healthy.

You’re running for Save the Children – why is that important to you? Just witnessing the plight of the refugees. You watch the news and you see bad things all the time, but this has just tugged at me constantly. So when I vowed never to do a marathon, I think my sister [who works in the charity sector] knew if she threw that in, it would be a little bit of bait for me! She went to an event with Save the Children and they talked about how they’re helping and I thought, “This is something we’ve got to do.”

Has your tennis background helped with your running so far? It’s helped with the discipline: I’m not afraid of hard work, especially strength and conditioning work and early mornings, but it’s different in tennis. The adrenaline rush you get through tennis – every minute’s a peak, you win a point and you’re on a high, you lose a point and you’ve got to regain focus. In running, you’ve got to fill your mind for an hour or 30 minutes. But I think once you’ve been a sportsperson, you’re a certain type of person, and that’s helped me.

How do you fit in training around Bowen?
My mum’s been great. She comes home from work in the evening and she’ll put my daughter to bed if I need to go running. On a weekend, sometimes I take her to parkrun with me and run with her in the pram. We live in quite a rural area so we get to see a pig and a sheep and a duck and a horse – we do lots of ‘Old Macdonald’!

What are you hoping to get out of this?
Other than doing my bit for charity, I can’t wait to cross the finish line. I think it’ll be a real turning point. And I’m really looking forward to keeping up with the ladies and having a little sense of team.

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