Run to overcome

The body benefits of running go well beyond helping you lose weight. Lisa Jackson meets three women who laced up their trainers to turn their health around

run to overcome

“When I was 18 and training as an elite junior triathlete at university, I developed an eating disorder as a result of the pressure to lose weight in order to run faster,” says Natalie Lawrence, 28, from Shefford in Bedfordshire. “Having taken part in a study on triathletes’ bone health, I was diagnosed with low bone density (osteopenia) in my lumbar spine due to my low body fat and my intensive exercise regime, which involved training two to three times a day for up to six hours. I was also told that my hormone levels were lower than that of a pre-pubescent girl, which was why I wasn’t menstruating. I was prescribed the combined oral contraceptive pill and was also given hormone replacement therapy, which is usually meant for menopausal women! Ironically my doctor suggested I keep running and also do weights despite the osteopenia as, combined with a diet sufficiently rich in calcium and vitamin D, it would actually strengthen my bones. My bone density is now almost normal due to my healthier weight.

“After uni I became a self-coached triathlete and in my second year I was able to obtain a racing licence to race for GB as a professional. In 2015, when I was 15 weeks pregnant, I ran a marathon in a personal best time of 3hrs 21mins. Then, at 35 weeks, I came second overall in a super sprint triathlon (400m swim, 10K cycle, 2.5K run).

“I wanted to give back to the sport, so I set up an online triathlon club, Transition Tri Team ( I’ve also become an ambassador for the National Osteoporosis Society’s Lace up for Bones campaign (, which asks people to buy its orange laces, wear them in their shoes and get active.

“My advice to women who’ve been diagnosed with osteopenia or osteoporosis is firstly to listen to your caregivers – and then listen to your own body. Gradually increasing your running volume is key, and it’s best to combine it with weight training. Most importantly, don’t let osteoporosis be debilitating – allow it to be something liberating to get you active and improve your overall wellbeing.”

■ Osteoporosis affects more than three million people in the UK. It’s a fragile bone condition that can lead to fractures, particularly of the wrist, hip and spine. Osteopenia is the term applied to those whose bone density is slightly below average.
■ You can build strong bones through weight-bearing exercise such as running, eating a well- balanced, calcium-rich diet and through getting plenty of vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium.
■ For more information, visit

“In 2007, my beloved husband Eddie was diagnosed with stomach cancer and I cared for him for three years before his death,” says Vicky Sloane, 69, from Blackpool. “We’d been married for 48 years and after he died, I drifted into a deep depression. I felt devastated, lost and lonely in spite of great family support. I knew I needed to get active as my weight had shot up by four stone and I struggled to walk without getting out of breath.

“Then one day I spotted an ad for a walking group and decided to join up. Walking was hard and limited to 10 minutes in the beginning, but after two months I was able to complete a two-mile Santa Dash for the local hospice that had cared for Eddie. The feeling was terrific and spurred me on to try to do more, so I began walk/jogging using lampposts to pace myself. Eventually I was fit enough to enter the Manchester 10K, which was a fantastic experience even though it took me 90 minutes.

“I entered my first marathon in Edinburgh in 2012 and found it really hard as it was held during a heat wave. My second marathon was in London in 2015; I walk/ran and loved every minute. Since taking up running I’ve lost four stone and have made many new friends. I’ve also trained
with England Athletics to be a run leader, and volunteer for Lancashire Mind as a Get Set To Go peer buddy to befriend others who have little self-confidence. Just a few hours a week can make such a difference. I still have ‘down days’ but when I do, I put on my trainers and out I go. Walk/running is an essential part of my wellbeing.”

■ Between 8% and 12% of the UK population experiences depression in any year.
■ In its mildest form, depression can mean just being in low spirits: it doesn’t stop you leading your normal life, but makes everything harder to do and seem less worthwhile. At its most severe, major depression (clinical depression) can be life-threatening, because it can make you feel suicidal or simply give up the will to live. According to Mind, running is a very effective way to combat depression because, when you run, your brain releases endorphins (‘feel-good’ hormones) that can calm anxiety and lift your mood. Running also boosts self-esteem: the sense of satisfaction you get from achieving your goals can also help you feel better about yourself and lift your mood.
■ One study has found that by increasing your activity levels from doing nothing to exercising at least three times a week, you can reduce your risk of depression by almost 20%.
■ For more information, visit

“When I found out seven years ago, aged 41, that I had type 2 diabetes, I was absolutely devastated,” says Ramona Joy Mulligan, 48, from Preston. “I weighed over 17st and had a BMI of 41.5. I’d lost one of my best friends to the condition and my mother had nearly died after slipping into a diabetic coma, so my diagnosis gave me the kick-start I needed. I immediately changed my eating habits and joined Activity for Life, a 12-week NHS programme at my local gym. I worked out every weekend for five years without fail to my favourite Springsteen tracks, and loved it!

“In June 2009 I met Sebastian Coe at a local networking event and I asked him what we could do to make a difference in London 2012. He said: ‘Volunteer for your local community, help the youth, and promote sport. And if you get a chance, volunteer for the Games.’ Those words changed my life. I volunteered for Bolton Lads & Girls Club (the UK’s largest youth organisation) and I helped the youth with employability skills (I’m a recruitment consultant). In May 2012, I did my first 10K, the Great Manchester Run. I walked the first 9K, but ran the last one and crossed the line with a giant teddy bear! I then volunteered for both the Olympic and Paralympic Games, which inspired me to keep running.

“These days I enjoy daily walks with my husband Kirk and our dog, I do a weekly parkrun (I’ve now done 75) and have run several 10Ks, seven half-marathons and my first marathon (where I ran as Supergirl!). My diabetes diagnosis is for life, but I work very closely with my doctor and Diabetes Specialist Team to manage it through a healthy diet, injecting insulin and staying active through running. I’ve lost 7.5st, have a healthy BMI of 24 and have never felt happier and more alive.”

■ In the UK there are 3.9 million people with diabetes. Ten per cent of those with diabetes have type 1, where they can’t produce insulin. Its cause is unknown, it’s not currently preventable and it’s treated by daily insulin doses.
■ Type 2 diabetes develops when the body is not able to produce enough insulin or the insulin doesn’t work properly. Like type 1 diabetes, if it’s not properly managed it can lead to blindness, amputation, stroke and ultimately early death. It’s possible to delay or prevent the onset of the condition by maintaining a healthy weight. Regular exercise, such as running, along with a healthy, balanced diet, and taking prescribed medication is also a great way to help manage type 2 diabetes.
■ For more information, visit

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