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FOCUS: Every marathon runner has a story...

FOCUS: Every marathon runner has a story...

Friday 30 September 2022

FOCUS: Every marathon runner has a story...

Friday 30 September 2022

It’s rare you’ll meet someone putting themselves through the challenge of a marathon without a story to tell.

Express heard from a range of people taking part in the Jersey and London Marathons this weekend to hear their tales of both tragedy and triumph…

Helping the charity that helped me

Bex Harris, running the Standard Chartered Jersey Marathon for the Jersey Brain Tumour Charity


"Following my brain tumour diagnosis and subsequent surgery in September 2019 just a month after getting married, it was a long road to recovery. I had run my first half marathon 2 weeks before and being told that the only exercise I could do for at least another month was walking was a huge shock to me as I was incredibly active and would usually go to the gym or for a run most days

I ran the virtual half marathon on 11 April 2021 and crossed a "finish line" to cheering family. When the Royal Parks Half Marathon was rescheduled for Sunday 10 October 2021, I was selected as an Inspire Runner and was able to share my story to help raise more funds and more awareness. My family travelled up to London to watch and it was an incredible day with huge crowds of people cheering every runner.

I decided to start training for the Jersey Marathon to raise awareness and support for the Jersey Brain Tumour Charity and to also hopefully inspire people and show them that they can also do amazing things regardless of any setbacks they may have.

When I was first diagnosed with my brain tumour I couldn't imagine that I'd be able to return to my normal everyday life let alone be able to run a marathon. Training for it has been the toughest thing I've ever done but I know that the support of my friends, family and the people cheering on the day will see me over the finish line and if I can help even one person through fundraising or awareness then it will all be worth it."

Support her here.


A jiu-jitsu star's first marathon

Stuart Penn is running for the Jersey Employment Trust


Born with only one fully-formed limb, Stuart Penn will be aiming to complete his first marathon in aid of the Jersey Employment Trust.

Stuart has since gone on to achieve 4th Dan Black Belt in Taekwondo and a Brown Belt in Jiu-Jitsu, compete in disabled athletics, perform stunt work in movies and TV productions, and help build an industry in casualty simulation for those with limb loss. He is also currently Acting Head of Skills Jersey.

Stuart said: "Challenges will include rubbing of the prosthetic limbs and my knee turning as it is unstable. It’s never going to be a walk in the park!

"I will also have to change my prosthetic legs a few times."


Pictured: Stuart was born with only one fully-formed limb.

added: "What will help keep me going is the thought that I’m raising money for such an amazing organisation. JET support so many of my fellow disabled Islanders to be able to access work and the life benefits this brings that no matter how hard this marathon is going to be, it will be worth it to have a positive impact on so many lives."

JET assist people with a disability or long-term health condition to find and sustain employment.

You can sponsor Stuart online here.


An ultra-challenge in memory of my brother

Graham Bell, running the London Marathon for Macmillan


Graham Bell, Oakbridge Director, has embarked on an ultra-challenge series seeing him complete marathons, triathlons and ultra swims - his motivation for the challenge of challenges was losing his brother Craig to cancer last year.  

Hospital staff and nurses from Macmillan supported Graham’s brother in Jersey, Southampton and Edinburgh and enabled him to manage his illness with his “just get on with it” attitude.  They were an invaluable support to both Craig and his family during his illness and have remained so.    

Graham’s September challenge saw him take on the annual Swimrun Challenge in Jersey before continuing to complete a total distance of 865km through swimming, cycling and running marking the distance between Macmillan Cancer Support Edinburgh and Jersey.

He said: “My brother took on the biggest challenge of his life and did so with amazing courage and bravery.  I wanted to do something in his memory and raise funds to create a lasting legacy to help others in the same situation.  My calendar of challenges whilst grueling is nothing compared to what Craig went through, he is always on my mind especially when the going gets tough.”

Graham’s challenge series culminates in the London marathon which takes place a year to the day that Craig lost his fight next month.    

Support him here


Jonesy for Variety

Andrew Jones is running the Jersey Marathon to raise £2,500 for Variety


This is Andrew's first marathon although he has also previously completed a half-marathon in Cardiff (again raising funds for Variety).

Andrew says: "As a father of three young boys, I know the pressure of looking after them and I want to help anyone with children who is not able to provide the things that are a necessity or indeed even a treat. Variety is amazing at being there to help those less fortunate.

"I'm running to raise as much as I can for the children and their families."

Donate to the effort for Variety here.


The Mencap volunteer

Liam McCormack running the London Marathon for Mencap


Pictured: Jersey Mencap's art group have been busy making a sign to support Liam (know as 'Jinky').

Jersey Mencap is another local charity which have successfully bid for a London Marathon spot.

It is the first time they have been successful and sports enthusiast, Liam McCormack (known as 'Jinky'), will be their runner. 

Liam, who now works for Boxinbusiness, said: “Running a marathon has always been on the bucket list, so when a friend said Jersey Mencap were looking for someone to run and fundraise for them it was perfect opportunity.”

You can support Liam and Jersey Mencap by sponsoring his marathon via JustGiving.


Gorilla on the go

Will Highfield, running the London Marathon for Durrell


A zoo worker who has raised more than £60,000 for Durrell by undertaking gruelling challenges dressed as a gorilla is going wild again with the London Marathon – and a new suit to match.

Will Highfield's fundraising started with the Jersey Marathon back in 2019, with an aim of raising £10,000 to go towards a new gorilla enclosure.

To date, his efforts have raised £63,000 to support Durrell's work – a feat which saw him recognised as Regional Fundraiser of the Year in the Pride of Britain Awards.

On his latest challenge, Will said: "As if running my first London Marathon isn't epic enough, to make the challenge one to remember I've had a custom built gorilla suit made by the team at JAGProps Limited which has been generously sponsored by my friend Conservationclubusa.

"I'll be pushing myself mentally and physically to my limits so please keep sharing, donating and believing in our campaign, as together we 'Do it for Durrell'!"

You can sponsor Will HERE.

Moving on from mental health stigma

Nancy Thomas, running in the Jersey Marathon for the Jersey Recovery College


"In 2019 I was diagnosed with a rare type of colitis, which had a big impact on my both my physical and mental health. I now live with the condition and over the last few years have found running has really helped me to find a balance and manage my symptoms, both physically and mentally. This is why I have set myself the challenge of running the Jersey Marathon in 2022 as well as using it as a way of raising valuable funds for Jersey Recovery College, the local mental health charity.

"I grew up in a household where we lived with mental illness at a time when it wasn't understood or acceptable to talk about it. This has impacted my own mental health in that I have had times when I have also struggled with very low mood and anxiety. The world is moving on from the stigma that used to surround attitudes to mental health and by working with Jersey Recovery College, I am proud to be a part of moving that conversation on.

"Jersey Recovery College is a community-based independent mental health charity that offers education and training opportunities to people experiencing mental health difficulties and the family, friends and professionals who support them. The courses are free and aim to help provide hope, opportunity and empowerment to students.

"I would like to raise as much as I can to help Jersey Recovery College continue the amazing work they do to help those who are struggling with their mental health. Please do sponsor me if you are able to.

"There will also be a Jersey Recovery College relay team doing the Ravenscroft Relay this year, to help raise awareness and funds. Good luck to them and everyone else participating!"


Donate to support Nancy here and the relay team here.


It's my (65th) birthday and I'll marathon if I want to!

Tom Stewart from Jersey, running the Standard Chartered Jersey Marathon


"I last completed the Jersey Marathon in 2012, which was my first attempt at a marathon, and wanted to celebrate my 65th birthday by completing the same race 10 years later. My son Wayne is also participating in the event. It will be his first marathon, although he completed the South Downs 50km Trail Race in March this year, after starting running in January 2020. However, we will not run together. Whist we go for the occasional social run, we both maintain separate training schedules. I will need to exercise some self-control and rein in my competitive instincts.

"What draws me to the event is that it promotes wellbeing and Standard Chartered sponsors it, my employer. I have participated in the Team Relay Race in the event many times over the last 20 years or so.

"Whilst I did some good foundation work at the beginning of the year, I suffered a setback at the start of my training program with a hamstring injury. I have undergone physio and strength training and managed to restart training with 12 weeks to go. Since then, I am pleased with my progress, albeit a little nervous about further injury. Also, the exceptional summer has proved challenging when trying to avoid doing hard workouts in the searing hot sun. Hydration has been more critical in my training this year than I have ever experienced in over 50 years of racing. I'm a little nervous for marathon day but determined. I am putting my faith in the training program and my running experience.

"Racing has been part of my life since I was 12 years old. It's just that I am older and a lot slower than I used to be. I used to be a middle-distance track athlete and still prefer the shorter races.

"On the day, hope everyone enjoys the event, the scenery, comradery and the challenge."


My 100th marathon

Sophia Girichidis (38), from Surrey, running the Jersey Marathon


"This year I am returning to the island for a special milestone run, my 100th marathon! When a friend, already a member of the 100 Marathon Club, asked me over a year ago where I'd like to run my 100th marathon – an event that still seemed so very far away – my answer came without hesitation: Jersey.

"I have run the Jersey Marathon before, in person in 2016, 2017 and 2018, and the Run from Home version in 2020*.

"What draws me to the Jersey Marathon and Jersey itself, is that I love the island, the course and how friendly everyone is. It's a wonderful event. I also really like the Corbière Lighthouse and spotting it along the way is a highlight for me.

"Whilst running marathons over the last two years, I've met some wonderful people, now close friends. We have encouraged and celebrated each other's running achievements ever since. I am thrilled they decided to join me for this special run.

"I have run for a number of charities over the years and have found it to be greatly motivating. Running for those who can't is a privilege. It has and continues to teach me that I am capable of much more than the limits I once considered to be mine. But, there is more to running than going faster or further than before – the running community is like family where inspiration and encouragement, support and celebration are only ever one step away.

"With weeks left to go now, I'm feeling excited about the Jersey Marathon. As for advice to fellow runners, I'd say enjoy! The training is done and no matter how it went, don't let it spoil your race day experience. Slow down if needed, connect with supporters and fellow runners and simply enjoy the course, and atmosphere."


Our youngest runner

Pat Lalka (21), from Jersey


"My mum has been a huge inspiration for me, as I remember her taking up running wherever she could, even when we went on holiday, we would plan it around a race for her to attend and we would support her along the way. Due to her recent injury, she hasn't been able to run anymore due to the pain and, therefore, during lockdown I decided to give this running thing a go.

"Eliud Kipchoge was a real inspiration to me, not because of his running and beating records, but because he always reminds us to run with a smile. I started reading books from the Brownlee brothers and got inspired by their journey to becoming Olympic medallists. Similarly, following Lucy Charles-Barclay has been a great motivator. The endurance these people have is astonishing to me. Especially from the Canadian Lionel Sanders, with a clip of him training and crying from the pain but he just keeps going and shows what a fighter he is, and I remember thinking to myself, I want to be like that.

"Running this sort of distance is not about physical exertion as much, but the mental capability to be able to keep going. If you can put your mind to something there are no limits.

"I came to Jersey when I was around seven years old and it's where I've grown up. It offered me so many opportunities and a safe place to live. This is where my running started and it only seems right to come back and do my first ever race back, the Standard Chartered Marathon, in the place I am proud to call home.

"The start of training was easier when I was able to have a plan and execute it whilst at university. The summer period has been difficult due to travelling and having to get used to new terrain, routes and unexpected events. When you break out of the rhythm it's always difficult to get back into the groove of things however, now being in Jersey with about a month to go, I'm getting used to the route of the race and I'm going to give it my all to finish the race.

"For my first race I don't worry too much about the time I finish it in, I've set myself a realistic target but you never know what can happen on the day and I comfortable I can adjust to whatever happens. I feel excited and positive I can do this together with all the other people.

"I run because I get to run. I'm grateful that I'm healthy and love to exercise no matter what form it comes in. Running gives me that special feeling when I'm in the zone, that I don't get anywhere else.

"For all the runners on the day, no matter what target you set yourself, listen to your body in the moment and adjust. If you're feeling like you're struggling take a couple of minutes focusing on your breathing and stay calm. At the end of the day, you're racing with people, not against them, with everyone helping each other to achieve their best."


This is my 'J'!

Joachim (Joe) Bedford, from Suffolk, running the Jersey Marathon


"Whilst training for my second marathon in 2015, I had the idea that it may be fun to try and complete a marathon for each letter of the alphabet, before I reached 50. Once the seed was sewn, I started to tick them off gradually. Once I got to my tenth in Athens (2018), I decided that I'd like to try and complete the challenge by the time I was 40 instead (Aug 2025) and started to plot out the remaining letters. Jersey was always likely to be 'my J', as it allows me to tick off another letter, and visit somewhere new at the same time. After I hopefully manage to complete Jersey, I will have just three left. I have one booked in December in Elsecar (Yorkshire), and my penultimate one that I have recently booked up is in Uganda in June 2023. Running on the equator in June!! Which will leave just one left to complete the alphabet.

"It is the first time running the Jersey Marathon. This particular alphabet marathon challenge allows me to combine two of my favourite things, exercise/running and travel. Throughout the challenge, I have managed to visit new places across the UK and further afield. I'm really looking forward to visiting Jersey not only to run the marathon, but to see what the Island has to offer.

"Marathon training has gone fairly well. I don't tend to cope in the heat very well, so marathon training through the summer isn't ideal. So, plenty of early morning runs around 5am before the day got too warm. I have my 22nd marathon (Norfolk coast) only eight days prior to Jersey, so much of the training has been focused around endurance, and back-to-back long runs, to feel as comfortable as possible running on 'heavy' legs.

"I first started to run in 2013 when I stopped playing football (constantly getting injured!). It allowed me to exercise around changing work commitments and coincided with the time I got married and started our family. Running allows me to get out an 'keep fit', whenever a 30 minute or hour window of time presents itself, without much pre-planning and keeping precious time free for quality family time. From there, the benefits have been as much about my mental health (my own time to unwind and switch off), as well as the physical benefits that come with running also.

"I'm really looking forward to the Jersey Marathon. My advice to others is go into the run with the aim to enjoy it – there will have been months of training and hard work that got you to this point, so the least you can do is try and soak up the atmosphere and acknowledge all the hard work you have put in. Embrace the hard times that will undoubtedly come throughout the 26.2 miles and keep going through them. I've found with each of my marathons to date, that every single one is different, regardless of the preparation you put into it. Don't be afraid to reassess your goal during the un, if things aren't going to plan and you're not likely to hit your time or 'A' goal, be prepared to move to your 'B' goal. Throughout my previous 22, there have been some where I've had to move from goal A, to B, and to C."

Joachim, Pat, Sophia, and Tom's stories were kindly shared by Standard Chartered, sponsors of the Jersey Marathon.


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This article first appeared on Bailiwick Wellbeing, an exclusive weekly guide to all things health and wellbeing delivered straight to your inbox for free each week. Sign up now here.

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