Edinburgh Marathon Relay

Facebook has had a lot of bad press recently – so here is a happy story to balance it out a bit.  All about four runners who got together – via the connecting power of Facebook to run the Edinburgh Marathon Relay – had a great day out – and who knows about the future…………………..  Readers of this blog are familiar with Gill and I and our running antics – but this particular blog comes with special thanks to Sharon and Cathy who have so generously shared their stories………………………..

It was around this time last year (2017) that Gill began to make noises about wanting to run the Edinburgh Marathon relay.  She had done it before  – with a team of Heathfield ladies – they had had a great time and Gill was keen to do it again.  A year in advance I was not sure about committing to the race – and anyway there was no space as her previous team mates were all up for the challenge and the Heathfield Belles entered their team.  All was quiet for a while and the year wore on – I briefly considered entering the marathon myself when I failed to get a place in the London Marathon Ballot – but that seemed like a lot of running – so I let the idea drift away.  And then the Heathfield Belles began to fall away – with injuries (well if you will pay netball…..) and childcare and life in general getting in the way of the trip to Scotland.  So Gill was down to one other runner by the time I joined the team.  We worked out that this this was possible with one of us running the two shorter legs – and then we lost our final member of the original gang.  Leaving Gill and I.  We weren’t too daunted.  We can both run a half marathon – so we would just do that………. there is a changeover point just short of 14 miles so we could swap there………………… There was nothing in the FAQs about running with fewer team members so Gill emailed the organisers – only to be told that we couldn’t do this.  I’m still not really sure why not – but sure enough – within a few days of Gill’s enquiry – this appeared in the FAQ page.

So what to do?  We had flights booked and paid for, and an Air B&B – booked and paid for – and no race to run.  We were discussing this at one of our Monday evening club runs – there were people who would be keen to join us – but by this point the cost of flights was prohibitive (bank holiday weekend and the start of half term); and then somebody suggested posting on “Run Mummy Run” (a Facebook page for Mummies who run – would you believe).  The page has regional groups – so the next day I posted our dilemma on the Scottish page – hoping that we might find someone (or some-two) to join us.  The response was quick – within the hour we had Sharon and Cathy signed up and Yvonne as first reserve (sorry we never got to meet you Yvonne).  We set up a little messenger group and began to plan.  It all seemed a little hard to believe it would actually happen – but there we were – just a few weeks later meeting up in the centre of Edinburgh – ready to go!

No we didn’t arrive in a police car – but it did make a good way of meeting up!

The weather forecast had been for a heatwave – indeed Cathy assured us that where she lived (only 40 mins away?) they were wearing shorts and she almost hadn’t brought a sweatshirt.  But in Edinburgh it was truly chilly! Two sweatshirt chilly!

Gill was to run the first leg and headed off to the start – she had run this leg before and enjoyed it and was keen to do it again.  It took in the sights of Edinburgh before heading out to the coast (a little over 8 miles) to handover point 1.  Sharon would take over at that point to run the 5.5 miles out to Port Seaton – so Cathy and I saw her onto the bus before heading off to a nearby Starbucks for coffee and a chance to get some blood flowing back into our hands (why hadn’t I brought a pair of gloves?).  After a “reviver” that did work wonders – we took the next round of relay buses out to Port Seaton – the changeover for legs 3 and 4 – a lovely setting on the coast – but still very chilly.  Fortunately there was tea – and a bacon bap for Cathy (who still had a long wait for her leg).  By then it was getting a bit close to my time so I refrained although I was not sure I’d got the fuelling right.  A message came in from Gill – she had finished and was pleased with her run – so we knew there was less than an hour until I would take over.  Time for a toilet stop and to get out of my warm clothes and into my running vest………………….

So this is Sharon – and her run in her own words:

“I have been running since March, 2016. I decided that because I was now in my 40’s fat, unfit and a smoker that I would give the C25K plan a go!! I started in March and completed it in May, 2016. I did my first 10k in July, 2016 raising money for one of my friends who was very poorly. I caught the running bug. I have now completed 4 half marathons and several 10k’s. I’m hoping to do a marathon in the near future! The relay run was amazing. I seriously thought that it was going to be an easy run given that it was with marathon runners who would need to be a bit slower but NO my leg came in quickly meaning that I was up with the fast marathon runners!! Not wanting to be outdone by them I kept going and got my fastest time that I have run for at least a year…..”

So another good time from Sharon – I was literally shaking (with cold and maybe a bit of excitement) by the time she arrived – smiling looking like she had enjoyed herself!  My run was an “out and back” 8 miles – lots of marathon runners flagging by now so a chance to do a bit of overtaking before returning to Port Seaton to hand over to Cathy for the Glory Leg – the last 4.5 miles to the finish line.  Cathy’s story is extraordinary.  We were all moved to tears when we learned about it.  Here it is – in her own words…………

Cathy“I was a self-confessed couch potato who hid in bushes at my school cross country races! I always wanted to run a marathon but given how much I hated exercise and how unfit I was I just assumed it was something I’d never achieve. And I was ok with that. In 2009 we lost our firstborn son in labour, 8 days overdue. But in 2010 we had a bouncing baby boy. Life was an emotional blur for some years. My health was of no importance to me. In 2015 I was at a regular appointment at the health centre when they checked my blood pressure, “seeing as I was there” It was hideous! There and then I knew I was at serious risk of a stroke. I was morbidly obese with a catastrophic blood pressure. As a nurse I knew only too well the risks. I was a mother who had lost a child and now her child could lose their mother. I went into complete panic denial! Then on 1st January 2016 I started my journey! I swore not to let my weight hold me back anymore and to start living for my son, my husband and for Me! After losing 3 stone I decided to try c25k. And I have never looked back!!! I completed it on plan, even if I am slower than a sloth running in treacle! I then started entering virtual races as I was too self conscious to run where people might see Me!! I then entered Race for Life – pretty muddy – with my amazing friend Jo who is always there to support my crazy antics! And I was hooked. I entered a few fun runs, all 5k. Then one day I saw a post on RMR site asking for relay runners and I leapt at it. I volunteered before I could chicken out!! I was very lucky to run the glory leg. As an exclusive fun runner, I was terrified and arrived at this serious event on about 3 hours sleep. The ladies in our team were amazing. So lovely and supportive, I felt no shame in being slower as they were so kind (she was actually very speedy!! Gwyn). As I ran my leg I kept thinking that I was only doing a short bit, these other people are amazing. But then I realised it’s all relative. I have lost over 6 stone and have gone from a couch potato to a marathon relay runner. From being a mother without a baby to a mother who can keep up with her amazing son who supports my running. As I came up to the finishing line there were hundreds, maybe more, lining the path and cheering. My husband and son surprised me by being there. At that point I felt I could achieve anything!!!!! I have signed up for my first half marathon in September and I will do that marathon one day!!!!”

What an amazing story – and what a day we had.  I was right about my fuelling – I arrived at the finish (last 4 miles by bus) to find Gill and Sharon – and I unceremoniously demolished Sharon’s left over pizza which was possibly the best thing I have ever tasted!  It was not long before Cathy arrived – we’d run the whole marathon in 4 hours and 19 mins between us – not bad going!  and good to meet up with Mike and Matthew – however briefly!

I hope we can keep in touch – and maybe run together again one day.  On these experiences friendships are made.



Number 261

I have taken many things for granted in my life.  I have been lucky – I have been able to vote, to run – when and where I want.  I went to University – the first woman in my family to do so.  And I have trained and worked in a job where I received equal pay to others (men or women) doing the same job – although very few women actually reached the most senior jobs if they chose to work part time to accommodate the demands of a family.

One of the things that I have always loved about running and the running community is its friendliness and inclusivity.  In how many sports is it possible, for novices and amateurs, to line up and compete in the same race as elite athletes? I can say that I have run with Kelly Holmes – on more than one occasion.  And those taking part in the London Marathon last week (they may have started in a slightly different place) ran with Mo Farrah.  However it is worth reflecting that this has not always been the case.  Last week in London the marathon was started by Katherine Switzer (who also ran the race herself) – the first woman to ever to run the Boston Marathon as a registered entrant 50 years ago.  So – well within my lifetime – women were not allowed to compete in the world’s oldest annual marathon.  There was nothing in the rule book about it being a men only race – but it was certainly a tradition – and the entry form did not ask a person’s gender.  So K. Switzer signed her form and ran.  The rest is history………………..  Four miles into the race she was tackled by an official shouting “get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers”.  Despite this she completed the race – but was then disqualified and expelled from the athletics federation – for a number of reasons – running more than a mile and a half – fraudulently entering the race (although she hadn’t) and – worst of all – running without a chaperone!

But there was no going back!  There ensued a clamour for equality and 5 years later women were admitted to the Boston Marathon.  So when I ran my first ever race – the Pendle Half Marathon in 1984 aged 26 – I had no idea what a relatively new experience this was.  Looking back I have no idea why I did it – I did not belong to a running club, had no advice about training or nutrition and had never run more than 6 miles – but I just wanted to run.  I was the 8th woman to finish in 2 hours and 8 mins – out of a field of about 20 women and a few hundred men.


When Katherine was interviewed about running London she reflected on being delighted to be here to mark the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote.  This one is not in my lifetime although the anniversary of universal suffrage for women in 1928 – was within my mother’s.  And this week saw the unveiling of the first female statue in Parliament square – Millicent Fawcett – the suffragist.  Her movement sought to obtain votes for women by logical argument, challenge and debate whilst Emmeline Pankhurt’s suffragettes used a more strident approach.  We have a great deal to thank these women for and I for one, however disillusioned with politics I might feel at times, will always be there – casting my vote with gratitude to the women who have gone before and fought for my rights.

And so back to running to finish.  The London Marathon was one of the hottest on record and the running community has been moved by the sudden death of one of its own – Matt Campbell aged 29 – running in memory of his father.  He collapsed and died at 22.5 miles and since this tragedy the whole of the running community has been running his final 3.7 miles and donating £5 to his charity page to #finishformatt.  Runners form a real community – when I last looked at the page it was showing a total of over £300,000.  Both men and women want to run – and to run together.  In Heathfield our couch to 5k programme attracts men and women – but for some reason the women out number the men about 7 to 1.  Anecdotally I hear of friendships formed and cemented through these groups and the support people find from running together.  There is some competition – but usually to do better than their last run rather than better than other people.

Last year – a half century on from Katherine’s historic race – Boston retired bib number 261 as a mark of respect to her.  She wore the number again this year in London.  “It’s about equality, it’s about inclusion and it’s also about peace” she says.

In Praise of Independent Book Shops

I have mentioned this place before when I had a visit to St Andrews in May last year – but I cannot come to this town without several visits to Topping & Company Booksellers – to revel in the atmosphere.  And to reflect – with some sadness on the fact that there are so few of these places left –  with the dominance of Waterstones, cheap books and of course global giants such as Amazon.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m as guilty of buying cheap books as the next person – and I do like my kindle so I can travel with my whole bookcase in my pocket – but it doesn’t stop my worrying about what we might be losing…………………………

I want to say it’s like stepping back in time to come here – but actually it’s a comfortable mixture of old and modern.  There is usually music playing – Bach Cello Suites today – and the bookshelves are stacked – floor to ceiling – with little notes to pull out the books and look behind if you can’t find what you want.  The books are loved.  Many are wrapped to keep them pristine – but there is always a copy to browse or flick thorough – and this is welcomed.  So much so that there are little corners – with shabby chairs where you can curl up with a good book.  And if you do – someone will bring you a tray of tea or coffee – so stay – linger – enjoy!

His Bloody ProjectLast year I was inspired to read around my visit to Scotland and so was tempted by some Scottish Poetry as well as by as by a little literary trickery – a novel – a psychological thriller masquerading as a piece of true crime.  His Bloody Project – by Graeme Macrae Burnet is set in a remote Highland crofting community in the 19th Century – and we are left in no doubt from the start about who has committed the murders.  We begin by reading Roderick’s (a 17-year-old crofter) memoir, written while awaiting trial in Inverness in 1869.  The story is constructed around “found” documents relating to a brutal triple murder – Roddy’s memoir, witness statements, medical reports and a journalistic account of the trial – as well as the psychological report on Roddy by the prison doctor.  The book conjures up the brutality of the crofter’s life – at the mercy of poor soil, the weather, the laird and the church.  The account of labouriously gathering seaweed from the shoreline – to fertilise the land – only to be forced to replace it as permission had not been grated by the Laird – remains printed in my memory.  And the brutality of Roddy’s family life – the death of his mother and life with a mourning, withdrawn and angry father.  It is hard not to invoke modern day psychological theories about mental health and criminal behaviour.  A great read and I would highly recommend it.  front-cover-ten-poems-of-kindness

My December visit – and I am thinking about Christmas cards.  Toppings carries a wide selection of little booklets of poetry – with envelopes – to be used “Instead of a Card”.  Ten poems about Christmas, or brothers, or Scotalnd, or cricket – even 10 poems about knitting.  But 10 poems about kindness is seasonal – and contains a collection of varied poetry – held together by a dedication to Felix Alexander – another 17 year old boy.  This time one who took his own life after years of online bullying.  The anthology contains an open letter written by his mother appealing for kindness……………………….

This year I have come away without my bird book – and I can’t keep texting Gill and Colin everytime I want a bird identified.  I am still very much a novice in this area and although Gill tries to educate me on our runs together – I’m honestly not getting much better.  So I invest in a bird book (the RSPB Everyday Guide to British Birds).  And a book to straddle ornithology, psychology, poetry and literature – Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter.   A beautiful little book (signed by the author) about loss an bereavement.  I still have to read and think about it – but is is a lovely book just to hold and look through.


So we leave St Andrews and there are many more books I want to buy so I will just have to plan a return visit to see Sam later this year.

On my list as “still want to read” are the new novel by Graeme Macrae Burnet –  The Accident on the A35 – and a book about Mindful Running – which promises to improve my life and my running………………………

If you are ever up there – then do pay them a visit………………………..

Eastbourne Parkrun Report 24th and 31st March 2018

What a wonderful thing Parkrun is!  Literally a 5K run – or walk in the park – free to everyone who wants to take part – bring your buggy or you dog (although you may need to start at the back to avoid tripping others up!).  So it seemed a fitting way for our couch to 5K runners to mark their success on completing their 9 week programme that started back on those cold, dark nights in January.  We actually took 10 weeks in the end – due to a snow and ice break in the middle – but who’s counting?

Couch to 5K has been a true running club enterprise.  We ran a relatively small and successful course last summer and some great new runners have joined the club.  So when I posted on the Heathfield Community Facebook page that we were running another course starting in January – all welcome – it was with the expectation that another 10 – 15 people would turn up and – with a few falling by the wayside – we would get a few more people up and running.  I was not prepared for the 30+ people who braved the cold and turned up at the co-op ready to get going……………….  Fortunately the club is supportive and welcoming and experienced runners and leaders turned up in numbers to support me and help all the new people.  And last summer’s newbies were there too – remembering their own experience and running alongside.  I’m not going to name names here – as so many people helped and I would be fearful of missing someone out – but THANK YOU to everyone that helped – even if you were only there for one session!  This would literally not have been possible without you……………

And what a great programme the NHS Couch to 5k is…………….  It starts slow – just 60 seconds of running and builds so that after a few weeks running continuously for 30 mins is possible.  It builds strength and confidence.  I can still see the look on some people’s faces when I told them we would be running for 10 mins – walking for 5 and then running for another 10.  Yes – some people have fallen away – for some people this was not the right group, the right programme or they got sick or injured and coudn’t finish – but many people did.

Most of the new runners could make Saturday 24th March for their 5K debut – so Heathfield Road Runners turned up in numbers to support, run with, run alongside and cheer our new runners home.


That first week 12 new runners completed their first timed run – well done to Rebecca, Bella, Louise, Trish, Emily, Claire, Lucy, Laura, Catherine, Emma, Karina and Sophia the results and here!  The second run – Saturday 31st March – was Easter Saturday – the Easter Bunny was officiating and many runners sported ears and even the odd bunny tail.  It had rained heavily all of Good Friday and we were warned of puddles on the course….. “they’re only water – just run through them” – we did although I was not convinced by the smell……………….  And another successful run with some repeat runners getting PBs – Gill, Trish, Sharon, Donna – and me! And a further 3 new runners – well done to Jane, Eden and Kat – your results are here!


That is not everyone – there are still runners wanting to complete a Parkrun – but a further 3 people have already done a 5K run – well done to Samantha, Mark and Debbie.  I make that 18 new runners all together – a great result!





Race Report – 18th March 2018

The Hastings half marathon has always been a bit of a favourite for Heathfield Road runners.  It’s a well-supported, local race, a challenging route and a Sussex Grand Prix race – early in the year – so many runners are putting away the cross country trainers and dusting off the road shoes.  This year was no exception with no fewer than 14 club members heading down to the coast.  We had all been monitoring the weather for the preceding 2-3 days with a (mini) Beast from the East due to hit us – and – as predicted snow fell on Saturday 17th March and there was a bit of a nip in the air.  By Sunday morning the snow had (mostly) gone and the race was on.  But it was cold!  Most people agreed about -2 degrees –  with a brisk easterly wind giving a wind chill that made it feel more like  -7.

But we’re a hardy lot in Heathfield and we headed down to the 10.30am start on the seafront in St. Leonards.  The temperature rather limited the pre-race fun and chats with most people just trying to keep warm enough to start – but once we are off – running straight into the headwind – it all settles down.  There are a couple of short sharp climbs in the first couple of miles which warm everyone up and gloves and hats start to come off.  Then the long two and a half mile climb up Queensway – good to see Tony’s familiar face at the top cheering on the red vests and taking photos.  The route then “undulates” for another three miles or so – reaching a low point (for me at least) with a run uphill into the eye-watering wind and cold before the U-turn at the Sports Centre.  As soon as we turn the wind drops (or is at least behind and assisting us) and so begins the long descent to Hastings Old Town and the final 2 mile flat run in to the finish along the front and past the award winning pier.  Good to save a bit of energy for the end as the terrain gets easier.

As always there are some good results at the end.  Special mention to David in his marathon preparation coming home in under 1 hour 30 mins – with another 6 runners (Rowan, Roy, Graham, Ivan, Will and our newly elected chair Niki) breaking the 2 hour barrier.  Brilliant runs by Eddie and Alex – just seconds over the two hours – that must hurt – but great runs anyway!  Gill and I made it home after a two month break from the distance.  And fantastic to see three runners who completed our couch to 5K programme last summer – finishing their first half marathon in fine style.  Well done to Ely, Sharon and Caroline who ran together!


Bad luck to Fleur (injury) and Matt (work) – who had planned to be there but did not start – we missed you!  Maybe next year………………………

1:28:09 David Woollard

1:35:11 Rowan Baker

1:39:24 Roy Cooper

1:42:09 Graham Chapman

1:42:35 Will Blanford

1:42:36 Ivan Horsefall-Turner

1:52:05 Niki Marr

2:00:09 Alex Huddard

2:00:48 Eddie Diplock

2:08:45 Gwyn Carter

2:22:59 Gill Boorman

2:33:08 Sharon Nicoll

2:33:08 Eleanor Nivan

2:33:08 Caroline Short

13.1 x 12 Postscript

If you followed the trials and tribulations of our 2017 challenge to run 12 half marathons in 12 months – here is a little update………………  We have had a bit of a rest from the half marathons – January and February off – and I have to confess to rather missing them.  So tomorrow (weather permitting – it promises to be freezing) we return to the starting pen – this time for the Hastings Half Marathon (hard and hilly).

But last night was Heathfield Road Runners AGM and awards night.  And Gill and I are now living proof that running awards are not all about youth (well not in my case anyway) or speed.  I think it is fair to say that we were both absolutely delighted to share the club’s award for Female Performance of the year.

We didn’t run the half marathons for an award – we ran them for fun (yes Gill we did!!)  – but the award was the icing on the cake.  And the reason?  Because it confirmed for me what I have always believed about running and runners.  That anyone can do it.  And the running community is just the best – you are welcomed and your achievements celebrated whoever you are and however you run…………….

So if there is anyone out there still on the couch…………………


Hastings half marathon – bring it on!!


Couch to 5K (Mark 2)

And so our second Heathfield Road Runners Couch to 5k programme is up and running.  Around 30 new runners turned up to the first session on 15th January 2018 – so many I couldn’t count them all – but I certainly hadn’t purchased enough reflective bibs as the 20 I had with me were quickly snapped up!  Fortunately, I had excellent help and support from some of the other run leaders in the club as well as other runners there to help and run with the group to make sure they were all okay.

It was June 2017 when we organised our first Couch to 5K programme that was a great success and we are now hoping to run this course twice a year to encourage people to get started and to build their confidence to the point where they can join the club if they wish.

The course is run and supported by UK Athletics Run Leaders and aims to guide people through the NHS 9 week programme to help new runners get up and moving and running 5K by the end of the course.  In our first course we had 16 new runners  – 14 of whom managed to get to 5k by the end of the course.  Those who did not manage 5k had a range of health and life problems that made progress more challenging but we hope they may join us again in the future.

The course is very gentle to start with and really just gets people moving and used to jogging for a minute or two.  Almost all people expressed disbelief that they could move from this slow start to running 5K – but we think it is the slow start that really helps.  It builds confidence (more than 50% of the difficulty for most people) and helps to “injury proof” new runners by giving their muscles the time to get used to a new activity.  Many of the graduates of the course have gone on to join the HRR Club and some have run 10K and even a half marathon!!  Others have struggled with illness and/or injury and kept running at a lower level – although they tell us they are still glad they did it!  So much so that some are repeating the course this time – and helping some of the newcomers along the way!

Caroline, Sharon and Donna after their first 10k race

So what do people who completed the course last time really think?  Caroline, Sharon, Donna and Ely – all completed a questionnaire for me and I have had the chance to chat to other “graduates”.  These are some of the comments we have had:

“I enjoyed meeting new people and the support network – and doing something I never thought I would be able to do!”

“go for it – don’t be scared – if you can afford it invest in some new trainers”

“I’ve inspired my 11 year old daughter who is very proud of me!”

“I had been suffering from Post Natal Depression – running has really helped me keep a clear head and focus on something good”

“running on your own can be daunting at first – so running with others really helps keep the momentum going”

Ely looking very pleased with herself at the Tonbridge 10k

“running has really made me feel better about myself mentally and physically”.

“Once you get running and talking the time will fly by and you won’t even feel like running is a chore”

“I enjoyed doing something for me, escapism, making friends, improving my fitness, the challenge – I feel the course was perfect for everyone”

“I can run 10K now!”

“go for it!  Don’t be scared – and if you want to progress invest in decent trainers”

“always try and get to the group once a week and try and do the other sessions in between – run with someone different each time to get to know them (and the chat keeps your mind off the running)”

“I absolutely loved having a goal each week and for us as a group achieving it together”

“Running for 20 mins without stopping – we just could not believe we did it”

“I did not expect all the help and support from all the HRRs that came along every week – There was always someone making sure we were okay and offering advice and encouragement”

“Running has been life changing for me – something that is just for me.  I sleep really well and legs are toning up nicely!”

I think these comments say it all!  I hope that our new runners enjoy it as much – so watch this space to see how everybody gets on!