My running story

20 August 2013, 16:21

Like a lot of people, my first introduction to running as an adult was on a gym treadmill. I started when I joined a gym in 2003, running for five minutes before jumping onto other machines and a few weights before my self imposed half hour was up. Around 2006, I started to get serious (and scientific) about weight loss, and I asked a personal trainer at the gym about the best way to use my half hour. His reply? “A half hour running on the treadmill.”

I gradually built up the amount of time I could run on the treadmill over the next nine months, eventually losing over 20kg and becoming much, more more fit as I dropped dress sizes. Those nine months of weight loss and fitness really helped shape my outlook on nutrition, portion size, and exercise ever since, and it was during this time that I had the realisation that running could actually be enjoyable at times!

Shortly after, my husband (then boyfriend) and I bought a large Dutch barge, and we were incredibly fortunate to find a beautiful, welcome mooring on the Thames near Tower Bridge. Over time, I found myself using the gym treadmill less and less, and running along the river ever more, until I eventually let my gym membership lapse altogether.

The wonderful thing about running along the Thames in central London is that you’ve got any number of circular routes with very little traffic and wonderful views. My usual formula is to run along the south bank of the river, cross over a bridge, and return back along the north side to Tower Bridge and home. This means that my running routes end up being named for the bridge I cross over midway through, and these are inextricably linked with their loop distance in my mind – Millenium Bridge is approximately 5km, Westminster 10km, Battersea 20km, and (in the throes of marathon training), Putney is just over 30km!

But for years, I’d only ever run the Westminster Bridge 10km loop, and I’d run this faithfully, three times a week, at the same pace. It was during this phase that I noticed in October 2008 that I was feeling more sluggish than I should, and I had bleeding in the whites of my eyes, which I got checked out by my optician, and then my GP. The short version of this is that my bone marrow was failing, I had incredibly low blood counts, and within the space of a few months, I needed four transfusions every week just to stay alive. The Anthony Nolan Trust sent out a worldwide call and found my anonymous bone marrow donor who saved my life with an emergency transplant in July 2009.

A bone marrow transplant involves an entire week of high dose chemotherapy, but unlike most people, I wasn’t overly concerned about losing my hair – that would grow back in time without any input on my part. But the body I’d worked so hard for over the past several years, and which had deteriorated along with the rest of my health, well, losing that hurt more. I had been the fittest I’d ever been in my life, and I couldn’t see how I could ever get to that place again.

My transplant had been a fairly easy one – no complications, everything went as planned, I successfully fought off boredom in my bubble room, and I didn’t even feel sick from the chemo. I was released early, but the first six months post transplant were just about the worst anyone could have – I was readmitted for blood pressure headaches, then meningitis, a severe liver infection which may have spread to my lungs, and culminated finally in my having to travel to hospital every day for four months to have an IV antifungal.

Eventually, though, at the six month mark things started to brighten – I finally had enough hair to get a pixie cut and ditch the wigs, I started back to work, and I even started running again. Once you’re a runner, it’s painful to watch others out there enjoying what you’re not able to do, and my first run after my transplant was a big, big step for me. I surprised even myself that I was able to run 5km without much trouble, even after 18 months off running and a completely new immune system!

I knew I wanted to mark my first anniversary with something big, so I signed up to run a 10km race within days of my first “rebirthday”. I didn’t come close to my pre-illness PB, but I wasn’t far off, and the memory of my transplant friends who died helped push me to run the whole race. For the next few years, this anniversary 10km run was the only racing I’d do, even though I returned back to running several times a week.

If my transplant was the first major milestone in my running journey, then discovering Run dem Crew was definitely my second. When I started running with the crew in July 2011, the transplant was still very much a defining part of Who I Was, but gradually, as I became a stronger, faster, and more confident runner, I began to see how resilient my body was and that I could move on from it both physically and mentally. Soon I was running comfortably at a pace I couldn’t have sprinted even before I was ill, and I got to know other runners who overcame equally enormous obstacles in life to end up where they were. We were all there to find friendship, comfort, camaraderie, and just have a good time and positive space on Tuesday nights, and I found myself signing up to more races, and eventually, even a marathon.

I can now say, ten years into my running journey, that I’ve experienced highs and lows, been fat and slim, been healthy and sick, and my love of running has endured it all. I am without a doubt, the strongest and fastest I have ever been in my life, and yet still I continue to push myself, and to find new challenges, just to see what I’m capable of achieving. It’s not always easy, but I know I’ve been through worse.

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  1. You are my hero and role model. I couldn’t be more proud of what you have accomplished. You go, Girl!

    — Mom    29 August 2013, 14:34    #
  2. Thanks so much for linking through to your running blog. I have been enthralled, and you are sooooo inspirational. I am def subscribing to experience more of your running stories and wisdom

    Scruffy badger    30 August 2013, 20:59    #

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