Claire had applied to be on our Big Marathon Challenge team last year, for help running her first marathon in Manchester, but wasn’t successful. Undeterred, she applied again this year in the hope of getting some help breaking out of her pace rut. She ran an impressive 4hrs 15mins last year but now she hopes to break four hours at the ASICS Greater Manchester Marathon, followed three weeks later by London.
How do you feel differently about the marathon this year, having done your first last year?
I’m a lot more positive – about everything – having done one marathon. It just gives you so much confidence in general. I’m a lot more positive that I can raise money for charity and I’m not going to be injured.
Tell us about your charity…
Wheel Power is a local charity to me in Buckinghamshire, [working nationally] to promote wheelchair sport. I live near Stoke Mandeville, which is the birthplace of the Paralympics, and my husband is involved in sports marketing and has done a lot with the Paralympics both in London and in Rio so I’ve always had an interest in it.
You started running five years ago – what got you going?
My daughter got me running for Race for Life. I couldn’t run more than 10 yards without a stitch before that. I just built up and felt so much better so I continued it.
How did you find the ASICS Greater Manchester Marathon last year?
It went surprisingly well! I was aiming for four hours and decided, at the start, that it was stupid to bust a gut to do the four hours when I had no idea what I was going to be up against. I was absolutely petrified about hitting the wall. In the end I was fine, I didn’t walk any of it. The last quarter of the race took an hour and a quarter, whereas the first three took me an hour each, so I need some help approaching the training to get that last quarter the same as the first three.
How do you hope Richard will help you get off your pace plateau?
Richard has explained about threshold training and effort level. I run within my comfort zone so I need to speed up.
What are you hoping to get from the Big Marathon Challenge?
To raise the profile of Wheel Power. And I want people who are my age to think, “I can do this as well.” It’s to encourage other people to take up running who had previously thought they couldn’t do it.
What are you most nervous about right now?
The three weeks between the two marathons. I think we’re going to focus on Manchester being my PB – it’s flatter and there’ll be less people, so you’ll be less held up and you’re not zigzagging round people
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.
Although she’s been running since 2011, Alice’s speed really took off when she accidentally joined “the fastest club in the West”. She loves to set herself a challenge and, in 2015, she ran at least 5K every day – including her first marathon, which she completed in 3:40:21, gaining a Good For Age entry into the London Marathon.
Why did you decide to enter the Big Marathon Challenge?
I applied because I think that a lot of running magazines under-represent the faster end of the recreational runner, so I wanted to see if there was scope for somebody setting quite a challenging – for me – marathon target.
You’re pretty fast – how did that happen?
I don’t know! I started running in 2011 just because I had the time. I started with couch to 5K. I was always training independently. I think what made the big difference was that I joined a club at the beginning of 2015. Suddenly doing track work is, I think, what’s led to my speed increase.
Tell us about your club, Bristol & West AC.
Accidentally, I joined the fastest club in the West, just because they were really close to me. The club is really supportive – there’s no competitiveness between people in the club, which I don’t think people get from the outside, because we’ve got a lot of very fast individuals. People have said at races, “Ooh, you run for Bristol and West, you must be really fast!” And I say, “No, I just bought the vest. We let anybody in!”
What made you do 5K every day in 2015?
There’s a man who lives near Bristol called Jim Plunkett-Cole who for, the last few years, has been trying to get people more active with something he calls 365, where you try to do some kind of physical activity every day for 365 days. And there is a parkrunner called big Kev who, in 2013, was doing it for Macmillan, so I went to see him every week going up and down in his charity vest and thought, “That’s interesting, why would you do that?” Then a friend of mine did it the following year and started beating me [at parkrun], which wasn’t acceptable. So I thought, “Why don’t I give it a go?”
Richard said he thought your challenge would be resting (see below) – is that fair?
I do agree. I think resting is the hardest thing because then your mind goes off on its little journeys, the brain weasels come out and you start doubting yourself.
What are you hoping to get from this?
I’m looking forward to the personalised element of it, because so many people buy a book, they look at the plan, they copy the plan. I wanted something that’s more personalised to my weaknesses particularly. I can see it being very interesting to follow the other challenge competitors and find out how they’re going as well – sometimes marathon training is a very solitary process.
Katie began running in spring 2016 as part of a drive to improve her physical and mental wellbeing, having suffered from depression and anxiety. Now, she’s lost two stone and discovered a love of running. Her marathon motivation is strengthened by running for a good cause: she aims to raise £2,000 for the Stroke Association because her aunt suffered a stroke aged just 57.
Tell us about your health kick this year…
When I was younger, I used to be quite fit and then, in my mid 20s, I became lazy. I got to the beginning of this year and tried on a pair of jeans that weren’t going up my legs. I was getting out of breath quickly and feeling I’d let myself go and I was only 28. My mental health wasn’t great either; I was going through a difficult time and rather than go on medication – which I’d been on in years past – I wanted to see if I could do it by getting my physical shape better to improve my mental state.
Had you thought about using exercise to help with your mental health in the past?
I have tried, but I’ve been very quick to go on medication in the past. The worst thing about medication is that it makes you feel numb and getting off of it is really hard. I read a book by a man called Matt Haig and running really helped him and I remember experiencing my first runner’s high and feeling amazing and I was like, “Yes, there’s something to this.”
You’re also raising money for the Stroke Association – why is that?
When I first came to London I was living with my aunt and uncle. My aunt, who was 57 at the time, and was the healthiest of all of us, just collapsed at work one day and had a massive stroke. She was in rehab for about three months. Then she moved back home and I saw first hand how devastating it was, not just to the person who’s had the stroke, but also to the family. It was just such a big adjustment. I really wanted to do something to raise awareness and to raise some money.
What are you hoping to gain from it?
I know from speaking to people who’ve done marathons that it’s going to be an amazing experience and being able to share that with other people who’ve all gone on a journey together makes it even more special. It’s going to be amazing having the blogs and the magazines to look back on, to show people what I did, and to inspire other people – someone might look and think, “She was two stone heavier and had never run before and now look at her” – that’s really cool.