When I was nine years old my mum ran the London Marathon. I remember how hard she trained, and when she completed it I was completely in awe. From that moment on I was determined to follow in her footsteps.
My family is very active and as a kid I was always outside playing and running around. One of my earliest memories is running laps around a cricket pitch with my Dad and his friends laughing at me because I just wouldn’t stop!
I ran cross-country all the way through school and joined Reading Athletics Club for a brief spell, but unfortunately I had quite a nasty hip injury for a year and a half where I spent months on crutches. Luckily I got back into running at university and re-joined the running club in 2011 where I have been a member ever since.
It was through the club that I first became involved with parkrun, which has proved an enormous inspiration to me over the past four years in several different ways. Christmas Day parkruns are a family tradition – I haven’t missed one in four years – and it was at one of those festive parkruns that I had a major breakthrough. On Christmas Day 2014 I shocked myself by breaking 20 minutes for the first time, which gave me an incredible amount of self-belief, and from that moment on I have gone from strength to strength.
Woodley parkrun has been many things to me – a fast run without the nerves of a race, a chance to pace friends and clubmates to new PBs, and part of a long Saturday morning training run made easier in the company of likeminded people. Not only that, but it also gave me a much-needed boost during a particularly difficult time in last Sunday’s London Marathon.
During the race I had a terrible cramp at half way but strangely I felt great at mile 14 and pushed on. Soon after that I realised that I was the first non-professional woman in the field, and that really motivated me to keep going. When I hit mile 23 I was really suffering, but then I saw one of the Woodley parkrun tribe marshalling and this gave me a tremendous boost – just a parkrun to go!
My time was 2 hours 37 minutes and I couldn’t believe I was the first non-professional female to finish and the fifth British woman overall, which meant I won the England Marathon Championships. I’m really hoping this opens some doors for me in the future because it shows I have potential. I turned 26 on Thursday and female marathon runners are like wine – we improve with age! The two women who represented Team GB at the Rio Olympics, Aly Dixion and Sonia Sammuels, were both 37, so my ultimate goal of earning an international vest for the marathon is certainly within my sights.
Since last Sunday’s race a number of people have asked me what it’s like to be a female role model. Well, it’s an absolute dream! My two passions in life are running and promoting physical activity. If my running can help inspire other girls to chase their running aspirations or motivate someone into physical activity through parkrun, that’s just as meaningful to me as it is running a personal best or winning a race. At the end of this article I’ve listed five of my ‘top tips’ for women and girls who want to take up some form of physical activity, and I’m sure they apply to everyone really.*
If anyone is trying to become more active I will always recommend parkrun. As an NHS respiratory physiotherapist I work with patients with lung conditions that make it difficult to empty air out of the lungs. I run an exercise programme called Pulmonary Rehabilitation and I really want to see if I can get some of them involved with parkrun as I think it would be a great way to keep them active once they’ve finished the programme – particularly having the supportive network that parkrun brings.
Today I was back at Woodley parkrun, this time as a volunteer, and it was such an amazing morning. As someone who loves running as much as I do it’s important for me to give back to the community by supporting others.
parkrun is a great community and even when you go to one having never been before, everyone is so welcoming. It attracts grassroots runners trying to get active all the way through to elite and Olympic athletes.
If you look at all the faster parkrunners across the country there are some really impressive names there. What other activity is accessible to people from such a breadth of ages, abilities, backgrounds and experience? Whether we are running for the sense of freedom, for the social aspect, to push ourselves hard, to think, or perhaps not to think, we really are so lucky to be part of it.
*Anna’s Top 5 Tips
1. Choose a form of exercise that you enjoy. If it doesn’t make you smile at the end, find something that does. Exercise and sport is fun!
2. Finding something you can do with others provides a great incentive, it’s a lot more enjoyable when you have company and there’s a sense of camaraderie at completing something together.
3. Make sure the activity you choose fits into your routine and that you can commit to it, as you’ll be more likely to stick to it.
4. Nothing gets me out the door quicker for a run than a fresh pair of trainers! It’s good to have the right clothing and footwear that’s comfortable for the activity and it can make you feel more confident too, so treat yourself to some new kit.
5. Set yourself a goal. You need something to keep you motivated. Tell everyone about it, stick it to the fridge, and commit to achieving it. It might be completing a parkrun, or running a marathon, but make it meaningful to you.
An enormous thanks to Chris Drew for the photo.
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