Don’t Plan It. Just Do It.

Ordinary Women Being Extraordinary

Gill Bickle, 36, a dispensing optician from Brighton, last year qualified as an age group triathlete for the 70.3 distance and has a place at the world championships in 2018. An endurance woman through and through, Gill’s suffered with cancer, and a debilitating iron deficiency – as well as more recently concussion. She’s opted not to plan too much…

‘I didn’t plan on becoming an age group triathlete. I was ‘sort of’ sporty as a kid, then started smoking and partying. When I was around 26 a friend of mine was taking on the marathon, so I stopped smoking and started running. We didn’t have a structured training plan, all of It was hard and we did loads of training.

‘We coped with the long runs and miles by eating lots of sugary sweets and snacks – and we both put on weight, I think I put on about two stone. I had a plan to run to time not mileage and I think my Sunday long run got shorter as I got heavier! We had a goal of completing the marathon in around four and a half hours. By mile 20 I was walking and she’d left me, then when I started running again and caught up with her, she was walking. We crossed the finish line in five and half or maybe five hours 50 minutes – I’ve blocked it out. It was horrendous.

From Jogger to Runner

‘After that I gave up running for a while, but then another friend persuaded me to do the Dublin marathon. Then in 2010, Brighton launched its first marathon and I decided to take on the race being held in my home town. I joined a group, I trained, and ate properly, and I did have a plan. I ran the race in under four hours. By 2014, I’d got my time down to 3.31, which I ran two years in a row.

‘The journey to triathlon was almost accidental. At my fittest I somehow managed to do an unofficial Ironman event in around 13 hours, based mainly on my running fitness. I also did the Stafford 70.3 in 6 hours 45, again off running training. But it was when I was training for the Paris marathon and got injured, and then I ran injured and the injury lingered for four months, that I began to introduce swimming into my training. At around the same time I decided to have a break from the longer distance runs for marathon training. The plan was to try to get faster as I wanted to break 3.30 for the marathon, so I started to do sprint triathlon and shorter runs.

‘It wasn’t long before I had a new plan in place and I lined up for more endurance by entering a half Ironman. But in April 2016, all plans halted as I found a lump – and this lump turned out to be cancer.

A New Challenge

‘At first I hadn’t expected it to be serious. I’d toddled off to the doctor by myself, but when I’d been examined they asked me if there was anyone at home, and organised for me to see a MacMillan nurse as a follow-up, so I quickly worked out what was going on. Then the fear kicked in and I began to play out different scenarios in my head, and weigh up which was the least bad case (all of which were not great!).

‘There was a period of around six weeks when they were trying to work out what type of cancer I had and training was just for enjoyment not performance. Endurance training helped me, for example, when I was getting scanned for 20 minutes, I’d remind myself it was the same time as a park run. And I recovered quickly. Fortunately, it was a rare type of cancer and a simple operation removed it, followed by physiotherapy, radiotherapy and just two weeks of being out of running.

Best laid plans

‘After that I signed up for another half Ironman, this time in Kronborg Denmark, and the Brighton Marathon, and was considering a full Ironman. Training went really well and I was making great progress, but then in the last few weeks of marathon training I started to feel very tired. It had come on very suddenly, from feeling great to feeling awful. A blood test confirmed I had an iron deficiency, and there was a possibility that I’d had a stomach bleed which had accelerated the drop in energy.

‘The iron deficiency had left me feeling very run down. I was catching colds and tired, but until the test had confirmed it, I had believed I was over-trained, as the symptoms were similar. Bike rides were hard and slow, and I was running about two minutes per mile slower than my usual pace and barely able to make it up a hill.

‘It took a while for the iron reserves to build up. Training was patchy and inconsistent, but once the iron levels returned to normal, I felt completely different, so I decided to just go and do the half Ironman I’d signed up to and with around five weeks of proper training under my belt I headed off to the race. I did better than I thought, completing the race in 5’50 and taking 45 minutes off my earlier half Ironman time.

‘With this result under my belt and my confidence and health boosted I signed  up for The Gloria 70.3 Ironman Turkey, being held just 12 weeks later. I wanted to see what good iron, good fitness and good training would result in. I had a terrible swim, and I think lost seven minutes in the swim and transition one. But with triathlon you never know what’s the best balance, because the bad swim might have helped me to work harder on the bike. I felt like I was in a good place to push myself on the run. I did and it was a good race. I did it in 5’31 which meant I qualified as an age group triathlete for the world championships.

Bike Training For Triathlon

‘My coach has worked on the basis that to get times quicker it has to come from cycling. This means that all training goes against what I want to do – which is to run. I have to look at the margins I can make and it’s always on the bike. So going forward from Turkey to South Africa this year, it will still be bike training as a focus. As you become more efficient on the bike, you’ll use less energy for less time, and this can serve you well on the run. And if you’ve been an endurance runner you’ve built up a mental resilience and you can tap into your runner’s mindset – the one that got you to do off-road runs in horrible weather on a Sunday morning.

Support Network

‘I’ve had some tough times, but the people I’ve met through endurance training and racing have helped me and I have a great support network. I’ve been in my town for a long time and I’m an active member of running groups and a couple of clubs, including Brighton Tri Club and Brighton and Hove City Athletic’s Club. Sometimes I’ve leant on this group even more than my old friends, as we spend longer together out on training rides and runs.

The next race…

‘I’m really looking forward to my next race, but the last few years have given me some perspective. All the plans that I’ve made have changed. Most recently training was going well and then I  came off my bike, got concussion and was out off training for three weeks (Fiona Bugler: Check out my story, Gill is in the ambulance with me).

‘Before, if I got injured or ill and couldn’t run, I’d get really upset, but now (particularly as I’m a triathlete) I let it go, and think if I can’t run, I can swim, or go on my bike.  But one plan I do have, and that is to give the race in South Africa my best shot.’

#endurancewomenstories #realwomen #justdoit #ordinarywomenextraordinary

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Junior Doctor Takes on Spartathlon

Ordinary Women Being Extraordinary

Last week I chatted with fellow Brighton Triathlon Club Member, Kat Ganly, 33, about her real passion, ultra running. In May 2017 she ran the legendary Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™ which follows the mountainous spine of Wales from north to south. “This incredible five-day journey is 315KM  long with 15,500 metres of ascent across wild, trackless, remote and mountainous terrain” states the website. Kat says: ‘it’s tough’. Continuing her epic year, in October 2017, she took on the 250K (153-mile) Spartathlon, an iconic race and a bucket-list event for any ultra runner  (for those who can qualify. Last year, well known sports presenter and ultra runner  Vassos Alexander from BBC Radio 2 also took part).

Kat is a junior doctor and trainee anaesthetist, and yes, that means long hours, study and shifts at ungodly hours. She kind of makes a mockery of the ‘I haven’t got time excuse’! She’s under-stated and a fine example of someone living a life of just doing it. She counts time on her feet, not miles and pushes her boundaries every year.

Kat started running a decade ago when she gave up smoking. She started with a half marathon, then she moved onto ultra running.  In her 10-year running career she’s fitted in a 40 and 50 miler ultra, then four 100 mile races, The Grand Union Canal 145-mile run and the Marathon des Sables as well as the two big races in 2017.

She loves running on the trails. She loves the solitude and the space she gets from running. Running has changed her life. It’s given her confidence and with each boundary she’s broken, she grows in strength – and it’s taught her that she can do more than she ever thought she could.

Kat’s takeaway:

Set small goals that you can  reach – and then you keep going forward.

Listen to what she’s got to say as we chat in a noisy Brighton pub!

Guest Blog: Seven Years to go from Zero To 100-mile Ultra Runner

Ordinary Women Being Extraordinary

Victoria Fraser, a 42 year-old pharmacy technician and ultra runner from Oxfordshire  sent me her blog. She’s single and has one daughter, Heidi, age 15.  She started running with a five-mile race in 2010. Seven years later she’d completed a 100-mile off-road race. And her appetite for distance hasn’t waned…

“Did I find ultra running or did running find me?  It was like a calling, one of those things that fitted into my life, without me really trying to fit it in. Only twice before in my life has that happened. The first time, when I was a dancer, and the second, when I started my pharmacy career.

’And my introduction to running was accidental. I never planned to do it  Some people have a  bucket list in life often including running a marathon, I never had this and I really had no wish to run big distances, or even a Parkrun. It just happened!

‘It began at work when a colleague’s daughter was running a five-mile charity fun run at Blenheim Palace, I said I’d sponsor her. Then without thinking, I said I’d do it too. ‘What? Why did I say that?’ I hadn’t run since school. I certainly wasn’t unfit – I’d been a dancer up to the age of 20 and then did a lot of cycling to keep fit – but since becoming a mum I lived in a whirl of crazy activity and hadn’t followed a structured fitness regime.

‘So, the five-mile fun run day arrived April 2010 Because it was only five miles I didn’t train – no need right? Only five miles? Ouch!  No proper training and not wearing the right running shoes taught me the hard way. My lungs were screaming after the first mile, but I still finished in just over an hour and was buzzing that I’d done it. When I got home, still aching, I was looking for more…

‘The next step was to enter an off-road 10K, the Candleford Canter, organised by Alchester Running Club in Bicester. Every weekend I increased the mileage by just half to one mile usually running twice at weekends . I completed the 10k in just over an hour.  Without a great master plan I just started to run more. Gradually, as I ran further, and continued to refine my training, I felt confident to set bigger goals, and very soon , six months later  I ran  an off-road half marathon.

’I was becoming a runner, and it was now more part of my life. And soon I made running friends by joining Runners World online  community, and as runners do, chat about going further, and different races started. And it was in one of these chats the idea was planted to run a marathon. But I was quickly drawn to the ‘dark side’ of ultra running – it was like a magnet for me. My friend, Nick had talked about a 35-mile he had done and it captured my imagination. I knew I had to do it. I entered a marathon in January 2012, but only to use as a stepping stone to the world of ultras. I completed the marathon in January 2012, and was already looking ahead to the Northants Shires and Spires  35-mile race. With this done, the next goal, the Centurion North Downs Way 50 soon followed, it was taking place in August 2012.

‘I was gripped by distance, trails and hills. There was so much to take in, navigation, technical off-road running and nutrition but I was keen to learn and met the right people, asked the right questions and soon I’d become a fully fledged ultra runner.

‘As a mum,  fitting in training could be difficult. And the longer the races and the longer the training runs the more I needed to be organised. My daughter Heidi, who was just seven when I started running, and saw me going out for a short run and her being able to come and watch to mum going to an event and having to leave the night before and not re-appearing until Saturday night! Fitting in more miles has got easier as she’s got older  and early morning runs done before the day’s duties at weekends. Now she’s a teenager and having a mum that runs 100 miles is quite cool! I believe I’m teaching my daughter that there are no limits and if she really wants to do something then she can. Hard work, training, persistence and confidence in yourself will result in achievements.

‘I continued to race in 2013 and 2014 and my body grew stronger and confidently covered the distance. In 2015 I wanted to push it further and so I entered the 100K Race to the Stones. There was no time pressure and I just wanted to cover the distance,  and it felt good knowing I could still run further without injury or issue.

‘By this time I was getting good at knowing which kit worked for me, and how to get fuel,  hydration and pacing right. I’m not fast but I’m a consistent runner. I pace steadily and strongly. I was also learning to trust my mind,  and to respect the fine line between being blasé and thinking nothing will go wrong, and knowing how to push hard.

‘In 2016 I set myself my biggest goal to date, a grand slam of 50-mile races, adding up to 400 miles and 27,000 ft elevation in total. I had a step-by-step approach, and broke each race down into manageable chunks, not daring to think about the next race. It was an amazing year of running! And as I suspected once completed, my appetite to run further was still there.

‘So in 2017 I decide to reach for 100 miles in one go. This was another step up and now I had to consider crew, a pacer, and drop bags – I had to have a plan. I chose the South Downs Way 100 in June. Two months before I’d run the South Downs Way 50 and had knocked a lot of time off the previous race time, so I knew I was in good shape. The night run was fantastic. I knew the second half of the course which would be at night so this helped, and my trusted friend, James acted as my pacer and confidence builder, reminding me I could do it.

‘When it came to the night, it all went to plan. The weather was prefect, there was a full moon all night and I couldn’t have asked for more help than I had. There were tough moments – steep climbs and hallucinations – and there were beautiful moments – looking back over the hills at Southease to see tiny bobbing head torches in he distance!  I arrived in Eastbourne and crossed the line at 8am on Sunday morning, severely sleep-deprived but elated. Later, as I sat with my cup of tea in the sports hall, I smiled to myself as I looked at my 100-mile running buckle resting on my knee, and remembered it had all started with a five-mile run, and once again asked myself, did I find running, or did it find me?

‘As for what’s next. I want to keep seeing what I can do. I hope to complete the Centurion slam of four 100-mile races in 2018, and then I hope to progress into mountain ultras such as Tenerife Blue Trail or Transvulcania Ultra, both of which are on volcanic mountain terrain. The journey continues.’


Doing Buggy Miles and Making a Difference

Ordinary Women Being Extraordinary

Becci Holdaway, 34, from Eastbourne, works as a sister at Eastbourne’s District General Hospital’s (DGH) A&E. She’s also a mum of two boys, and runner racking up ‘Buggy Miles‘ and has ambitions to run a sub-three hour marathon.

‘Running is a time when I’m not a mum, a partner, nurse – it’s time for not thinking, it’s my relaxation. Now that I have a one-year old I’m really enjoying clocking up Buggy Miles.

‘I haven’t always been a runner, my passion was dance, and as a child I danced with the Royal Ballet and then went on to the Sylvia Young theatre school. But my dad was a runner, and I had happy memories of going to watch him at the London Marathon, then the Mars London Marathon.

‘By the age of 18 dance was coming to an end and I started to run on the treadmill, building up to running 30 minutes non-stop. I then joined Crowborough Running Club and took part in the Brighton 10K, running 48 minutes without too much difficulty.

The marathon journey starts

‘I had my first child, Joshua in 2008 and  in 2009. Now settled in a new job at DGH, I was running regularly and in 2009, aged, 26, I took on my first marathon on the lapped (and slightly dull) course at Luton. I had a goal to run sub 3.30  so I felt gutted when I ran 3.31. But disappointment didn’t last long and just five months later in 2010, I ran 3.21 at London. The next goal, was sub 3.15 and by 2013 I’d run 3.16.

‘After this attempt life got busy with  a master’s degree, and then I went through divorce in 2013. There was one night when I put on my wedding dress and got smashed, but I didn’t let it drag me down for too long and running helped to get me back on track, and I focussed my energy on my next marathon in Poland. Finally, in September 2014, I achieved my sub 3.15 goal, running 3.08.

New Beginnings

‘I had just met my partner Lee, and it was great to have someone to share my training life with. He took me up on to the South Downs to train on the hills, I’m a road runner and moaned a lot at first, but training off-road got me stronger.

‘Lee is a great runner, and swimmer and has kept fit all his life, but in December 2015, his life underwent a dramatic change when he had a heart attack at The Mince Pie 10 Mile race. He’d started to feel unwell in the race, but carried on running and still managed to gain fifth place and ran 10 miles off-road in 1.03. I came in seven minutes later and placed third woman. I knew he wasn’t right when I saw him. He’d spoken to first aiders who thought he’d over exerted himself, but I knew he needed emergency help. The paramedics took an ECG but didn’t know how to read it. Luckily, I had done a cardio course and was able to see that his result showed ST elevation. In layman’s terms, the main artery to Lee’s heart was totally blocked. When we got to the hospital I had hoped the cardiologist was going to tell me I’d misread the ECG – but I’d got it right. However, it was my quick actions and knowledge that saved Lee.

Life change

‘It was a life-changing event and just three months later when I found out I was pregnant with Ted, we both felt it was right. I  felt determined to not let pregnancy stop me training and had set my goal of running Beachy Head Marathon once Ted, my baby, was born.

‘I ran all the way through my pregnancy and I’m sure it helped not just keep me in shape, but keep me in good spirits too. Just three weeks after the birth I started to run Buggy Miles with Ted. Often I’d go out after just two or three hours sleep, but a good strong coffee and getting my foot out the door was all it took and soon I was making progress.

‘When maternity leave finished, I went back to work three to four days a week after. Then I started to do some intervals by myself and kept the Buggy Miles easy, establishing a good aerobic base of fitness. In October 2017, just 11 months  postpartum, I ran 3.43 at Beachy Head Marathon (a tough off-road marathon that includes the Seven Sisters’ cliffs), taking sixth female place, and having a really brilliant day from start to finish.

Taking Positive Action

‘I love running and I love Parkrun. Joshua, my (just) 10-year old son, has also go the bug and has just started doing Junior Parkrun. Running is also a great way to bring people together and raise money for charity and with this in mind, I decided to do something positive.

‘In 2017 three of my colleagues were diagnosed with terminal cancer and another young person I knew died at the end of 2017 in the care of the hospice. In A&E we’re like a family and we all wanted to feel we were doing something. As a regular parkrunner I decided it was time to take positive action and came up with the idea of an A&E parkrun takeover. We had #TeamA&E t-shirts made up and got everyone involved. Staff who’d never run before gave up smoking, got fit and got into running (and kept at it after). On the day (November 11 2017), we had: local radio; an ice cream van ; a mascot, ‘Wifie Bear’; sports massage; and hundreds of runners in #TeamA&E t-shirts. We managed to raise £6,000 for St Wilfrid’s Hospice in Eastbourne and McMillan Cancer.

‘I have lots of running ambitions and want to get as fast as I can over the next two years, whilst still spending time with my boys. I’m very disciplined about my training, Lee might say I’m a bit OCD! I do three sessions of Buggy Miles every week, to build by baseline of fitness, and the rest of the time by myself I run faster threshold or interval sessions. I do shifts so have to take my running times and stick with them and I’m often out of bed at 530am, and after a caffeine shot I’m out the door. Lee is really supportive and he plans my training for me – and once he’s planned it, I do it. The goal is to run a sub 1.25 half marathon, and keep doing the Buggy Miles, and then when Ted starts school, I’ll revisit the marathon – I’d love to try for a sub-three hour marathon. I’m motivated by the push of a new goal, and I absolutely love running, so why not?’


Story of an Age Group Triathlete

Ordinary Women Being Extraordinary

When Michaela Stringer, 44, from Eastbourne divorced in 2010, she decided it was time to try out Triathlon. Three years later she’d qualified as an age group triathlete.

‘Becoming an age group triathlete has been a life long journey. I’ve swum since I was four-years-old, and running competitively since I was nine. My dad was a runner and one of the pioneer triathletes in the 1980s.  Both my parents were team managers for the Brighton and Hove Athletics Club and as a child, we spent our weekends travelling to races around Sussex competing in cross-country and track and field events.  I was also an active member of the Brighton Dolphin Swimming Club.  When I was 14 years old I took my first step into the world of triathlon.  I took part in the Epsom and Ewell triathlon – it was early days for the sport and I remember going into a cubicle to get dry and completely changed after the swim, before carrying on to the rest of the race!

‘I continued with sport whilst at University, doing Martial Arts, but the usual combination of beer and boys kept me away from my athletic roots. By the 1990s, I’d got into aerobics and step classes and continued to keep fit but no more than a couple of times a week. I went on to marry and have my daughter, Kitty, now 14. Then in 2006 my marriage broke down.

Love Running

‘I felt a little directionless, and my self-confidence had taken a battering. I was in a dark place – depressed, isolated and overweight but I knew that running would help. When I tied up my running shoes and stepped outside for a run, I felt back in control of my body and myself. Running is my first love, so my first step to where I am today, was joining my local running club, Run Wednesdays, run by Eastbourne’s well-known personal trainer and running coach Danny Garbett. I credit Danny with re-igniting my love for running and re-introducing me to the running family.  I felt I belonged somewhere again.

‘Swimming soon followed and as I got fitter, the idea of competing again started to take hold. I started with an Aquathlon – a swim followed by a run – the two things I loved to do. By 2011, triathlon followed, but I had no idea what to do when it came to cycling. I hadn’t been on a bike since my sixth form college days.

The Journey To Age Group Qualification

‘A cyclist friend came with me to help me get the right bike and I started training. I had my sights set on entering my first triathlon.  Shortly after however, I injured my Achilles.  Rather than give up, I focused on improving my swim and bike and although my running was still slow, I entered and completed the Bexhill Triathlon. Although I wasn’t particularly quick, I absolutely loved the occasion and I was hooked.  Soon after I met David, who’s now my husband. He was really encouraging and found that the 2012 British Aquathlon Age Group Championships were being held in Birmingham. He was really knowledgeable about the sport, the training and what I needed to qualify. I entered the race and to my delight, I finished in third place and took home a bronze medal.  This sparked the dream of working towards qualifying for the European Sprint Triathlon Championships taking place in Alanya, Turkey in 2013.  I entered the qualifying race and won my age group. The dream had become a reality.

‘I was lucky to have support from some great local athletes at the Bodyworks Triathlon Club and now that I had earned my GB strip, I started to secure some great local sponsors and was lucky enough to be selected as an ambassador for the wetsuit company Huub. I raced for my life at the championships and came home with a bronze medal. Also later in 2013, by placing third at the British Sprint Championships in Nottingham, I was also lucky enough to earn a place at the ITU World Championships held in Hyde Park, London the following summer.  I finished in 12th place, racing the best of the best. What an amazing experience that was.

‘Through sheer grit and determination and a refusal to give up when times get hard, it had taken just three years to qualify as an age grouper and as a competitive athlete for Team GB. I’ve travelled to great places such as Turkey, Austria and Italy. I’m proud to have represented Great Britain on a National and International Level in Aquathlon and Sprint Triathlon. As I am always looking for the next challenge, in 2014 I switched distance to 70.3 and qualified to represent GBR in the 2015 ETU Middle Distance European Championships in Italy. I completed the qualifying rounds to do so again in Denmark 2017, but unfortunately injury meant I had to pull out a couple of weeks before the event.  This was a massive disappointment as I had worked so hard and was quite possibly in the best shape I had ever been in.  However, injury brings with it other opportunities.  I could still swim and ride and get to the gym. So by focussing on what I could do, I began to see vast improvements in my bike strength, which was my weakest discipline.  I also deferred entry to the Denmark 70.3, so although I won’t be representing my country, I will be settling some unfinished business there in June 2018. If I do well enough, then it could qualify me for the ETU 70.3 champs in 2019, if that is what I choose to do. Injury is your body’s way of telling you to stop, recover and re-assess. It’s so important to listen to that message and re-evaluate your goals. Focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t.

Love Triathlon

‘Triathlon has added so much to my life. With three sports to master, it’s a true leveler for athletes. I’m really passionate about promoting sport for all and have recently qualified as a Level 3 Nutritional Advisor and Personal Trainer.  I do understand how difficult it is to manage training with family life, as when I started I was a single mum with a seven-year old. For me it’s really important to have a routine and to attend regular sessions with like-minded people. I’m also the co-founder of local triathlon club Tri Tempo with local run shop entrepreneur Wes Mechen. I really value the support I get from training with friends at those sessions. I have met some truly amazing and inspiring people at all levels of the sport on my journey.

Age Grouper Training

‘At peak training I’ll do between 10 and 14 hours a week, but off-peak, during the winter, I’ll probably do between eight and 10 hours per week. My weekly schedule at peak is usually made up of three swims (two coached and one with a team-mate),  two to three cycles – a combination of long group rides and shorter interval based turbo sessions and three runs which are a long, a speed and a tempo or brick session (i.e. a bike followed by a run).  I also go to the gym twice a week. It’s a lot so I also make sure I include rest, usually one clear day a week, and then every three weeks I’ll ease off training.

‘To make sure I’m on track with the gym, I also try to see a personal trainer periodically to help me measure my progress and plan strength and conditioning work. This has made a big difference to my performance on the bike and I hope will help to keep further injury at bay.

‘I keep motivated by continually re-setting goals.  It’s so important to know what you want to achieve and why you want to achieve it. And although I have a long-term goal, I also take small steps. And of course, it’s great to keep trying new things. Next year I’m making my debut in the world of OTILLO swim/run on the Gower peninsula. It’s tough, but exciting and a whole new event for me. I always love a challenge.’


Violist Cycling Round the World

Ordinary Women Being Extraordinary

Violist and fiddle player, Iona Hassan, 39, from Pewsey is planning to cycle across the globe over the next two years to raise £10,000 for Inspire Malawi, who are building classrooms for kids; and to help raise awareness and funds for Networks of Wellbeing (NoW), a mental health charity supporting young people.

‘The idea to do something worthwhile, and to get fit had been brewing for quite some time. Then in October 2016, I spent a month in Malawi. I was invited over by a friend who had set up a small charity there and was helping local communities to improve the education facilities for the children. We stayed in a little village in the middle of nowhere, where the people had very little, and there was no running water or electricity. But what they lacked materially they more than made up for in warmth and kindness.  The school in Mlanda, rebuilt by Inspire Malawi, was incredible and I wanted to help other communities rebuild their schools too, so when I saw the roof of a school in a neighbouring village which was leaking and the children, who were all enthusiastic about their education, were sitting on the floor on small rocks I decided to do something about it.

‘Children walk long distances to get to school but there are some charities, including Buffalo Bikes (World Bicycle Relief), who are supplying bikes so they can cycle instead of walk. Currently the boys are much more likely to cycle than the girls, so I thought me cycling might inspire some more of the girls to also cycle to school.

‘I’d been cycling for about a year when I had the idea to cycle the whole of Malawi, then that idea developed into cycling across the world. When I got home I went to my local cycling shop, Pewsey Velo, who had supported me to get started on cycling in the first place. I asked them if they could get my bike road-worthy and promised that if they did I’d find a way to buy a road bike. By January 2017 I had bought my road bike.

‘I did need some help to get started.  Although I’d always been active and outdoorsy, my passion for music meant I’d focused on that and so work often got in the way, or I just was tired and became unmotivated. I’ve been teaching at a local schools for years and that lifestyle can become quite sedentary, so I often struggled keeping my weight in check.

‘I started small, cycling just 5K to 10K. I’m very lucky to have found the the guys and girls at the shop who also run cycling groups – they are all experienced cyclists and have a wealth of useful advice and great tips. From going out on my bike once or twice a week, once I’d committed to the challenge, I started cycling everywhere I went, getting up to 50K to 60K four to five times a week. I’d had a taste of what I needed to do in May 2017 as I’d gone on a nine day cycling tour, covering the North Coast of Scotland 500 miles  (pretty hilly), stopping over to camp for the night – but what I’d planned was a way bigger challenge!

‘I started the tour in July 2017, cycling from Roscoff, in the north west of France, through Switzerland (Swiss Cycle route three) to Venice. I cycled across the mountainous Gotthard Pass, which was tough, but just amazing. I’ve got no sense of direction but somehow managed with Google Maps and cycle path maps to find my way to Venice in 25 days.

‘The next part of the route is to cycle from Kenya to Cape Town then, in September, then from Kathmandu, Nepal to Mandalay, Myanmar (making up the India/China miles by cycling as many miles across Britain and other famous UK routes as possible in Summer 2018).  After that it’s a quick hop across Australia from Perth to Sydney in 2019, and then it’s the final stint across the USA the same year. Sometimes on the road alone and sometimes with friends, old and new.

‘This year my twin sister, Sharon, has been raising money for an organisation called Networks of Wellbeing in the North East of Scotland.  It’s a mental health charity based in Huntly, near to where we grew up. Lots of young people suffer from a mental illness and it’s very difficult, currently, for them to get the support that they need.’

Follow Iona’s journey here

Iona’s Justgiving page: 

Thanks to my sponsors, Pewsey Velo, for their continued support in my crazy quest!

Talking Age & Running With Ju from Soles Journey

In 2018 I plan to add vlogs and podcasts to the endurance women community as I build channels and conversation about endurance, being a woman, love, life, and hopefully some laughter!

Here’s my first conversation, with my very good friend Julia Chi Taylor. Julia’s an expert at Vlogging. I’m not! So excuse the lighting and lack of editing…

Find Julia at

Follow her Vlog at Soles Journey

Blood Cancer Diagnosis didn’t stop Joanne entering an Ironman

Ordinary Women Being Extraordinary

Joanne Smith, 48, from Eastbourne East Sussex, is married, to Mark. She’s a mum of three children, Darien aged 21, Isabella, 11, and Oliver, eight. This year she was diagnosed with blood cancer, since then she’s completed Ride London, taken on a half Ironman and ran a marathon (the super-tough Beachy Head Marathon, with 4000ft of hills). In 2018 she’ll take on the Ironman. She only started cycling when she was 45.

‘I was born with a congenitally small and sensitive bladder, which meant exercise was impossible as I was always needing the loo. Then, three years ago, I was offered botox in the area which I now have twice a year, this was life-changing. I joined the David Lloyd and enjoyed spinning classes. It was here I heard someone talking about triathlon, it captured my imagination, and at 45 I bought the children and myself our first bikes – cross bikes so we could go off-road and on.

‘I also signed the kids up to the local triathlon club and the more the kids got involved in swimming, running and cycling, the more I wanted to. They are now better swimmers and runners than me but I can still out-cycle them. Mark has always run and training became a family thing.

‘I have tried to run in the past but always failed due to my knees hurting and injury. But this time with a new found enthusiasm I went out and did a mile, and thought again – maybe I can? As for swimming, I hadn’t done that either, especially not open water – the extent of my swimming was dangling my feet in the water or a splash with the kids. But, I still entered the Seaford triathlon. To my astonishment I won my age group, age 46. But best of all I loved it!

‘When I was 13 I had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and so it was no surprise when my knees started to cause me problems as I’d already had two rounds of knee surgery to repair tears.

‘In 2016 I struggled to run more than two miles due to my IT band so spent 2016 mainly cycling (my happy place) and after three months of focusing on strength and stretching in the gym decided to try running again, but within a month my knees started hurting so I requested an MRI scan. Out the blue one Friday I got a call to say I needed to see the consultant on Monday. The MRI not only confirmed that I had another tear and a cyst but more worryingly that I had a shadow on my right knee (possibly bone cancer). This was referred to the Stanmore Hospital who are still monitoring this via our local hospital with regular MRI’s but they feel it is clumping of my red cells. My very thorough consultant was still concerned and also sent me for blood tests and a referral to the blood department. One night I read my medical notes and saw that the reason was a query in my elevated platelets, I googled this and found out that meant a high risk of cancer.

‘I was then diagnosed with something called Essential Thrombocythemia a form of incurable blood cancer caused by the mutation of the ‘jak 2’ chromosone which means my platelets are elevated and need to be controlled. At the moment I’m fit and healthy and have my bloods taken every couple of months and a meeting with my blood consultant. Hopefully, with regular monitoring and being picked up early I can be treated as needed and live a long life. It could have been a lot worse.

‘But hearing the ‘C’ word does change your perspective and make you face your life head on. Life changes, and life is short. I’ve always worked hard and have been successful in business, but my children are young and I was reminded how important it was to spend time with them.

‘I’m lucky to be in a position to shape my working life and I’ve got a plan to work a little less by the time I reach 50. But I’m also embracing challenges and enjoying sport with my younger two.

‘After the diagnosis in May 17 I completed Ride London raising money for Blood Cancer, Bewl olympic triathlon, Virtruvian Half Ironman and then Beachy Head Marathon. My knees were still very bad, but I did all of these events with minimal run training, and just sheer bloody-mindedness and endurance on my side.

‘The Virturvian half ironman, (held in September 2017) which I only entered six weeks before race date took me out of my comfort zone. I barely did any running due to knee pain and was having regular treatments including acupuncture. I was told to rest in the two weeks before the race but resting made the pain worse and started to affect my cycling. Added to that, a family holiday in August and run training just didn’t get off the ground.

‘On the day the swim was crowded with lots of kicking and I got cold towards the end but was fine; the bike, my strength, was slower and harder than I had anticipated, with hills and wind. On the run (the part that could have broken me), I had my knees strapped, the wind had picked up even more and was howling across the open dam and the rain pelted down. I decided I would adopt a walk-run strategy that started three minutes running, one minute walking, and then would go down to 2:1, 1:1 then walk. But I kept it going at 3:1 and was delighted to run the half marathon in 2.20. And amazingly experienced no pain during the race, except for my IT band at mile 11.

‘I absolutely loved the day, I had the endurance and felt good all the way through. Rather than my hope that doing this would get long distance tri out of my system it did the opposite and triggered a thought, if I can cope with half ironman, then I can also cope with the full distance, and so a few weeks later, I signed up.

‘With the ironman booked and knowing I may have to walk the run leg, one day whilst out walking the dogs on the glorious South Downs, I started to think about the Beachy Head Marathon (an off road marathon with 4000 ft of elevation that takes in the seven sisters (cliffs) at the end) and a thought came into my head: ‘I could do this at the worst I can walk 26 miles’. So I went home and entered, just three weeks before the race date, when most people start to taper. One week later I did my longest walk, a half marathon in just over three hours in my new trail shoes and ended up with dreadful blisters – bringing my one day training to an abrupt halt.

‘I completed the race in 5 hours  37 on a combination of jogging and fast walking and loved every minute of the day although my IT band reared it’s ugly head at mile 11. I loved running the last three miles with my daughter, she kept me going when all I wanted to do was stop.

‘My dad always told me I could do anything and he is right anything is possible. He taught me to be independent, and never fear trying – and failing. I’m really excited about doing the IronMan next year, although worried about my knees which are giving me grief again, and it’s on my tick-list to do before 50 and I want the tattoo (even though I am afraid of needles).

‘I plan to base most of my training on the bike and will do four to five 100 mile plus bike rides, Long fast paced walks but minimal running. I’ve already started doing the iron distance swim of 3.8K. I plan to do that every two months and see if I’m improving. I’m philosophical about it all I have no idea what the future holds for me with my illness and knees but whilst I can I will do everything I want to do and by an inspiration to my children and live life to the full.’


Mum of three, a three hour marathoner & an ultra runner

Ordinary Women Being Extraordinary

Hannah Turner, 39, from Harpenden, is married to Benjamin. She has three children aged 13, 11 and nine. Finding a group of like-minded women in her ante-natal group and starting running changed her life…

‘I was a sporty child, but when it came to running I was more of a sprinter than a long distance runner. I was forced to cross country by my teacher and though I hated it but I still made myself do it. And that’s true now! But like a lot of people, when I got to my teens I fell off the fitness wagon and found other more important things to do, like going to nightclubs. By my 20s I started a return to sport and joined a women-only gym. Then I met my husband,  Benjamin, a hockey fanatic, and we both joined the hockey club when we moved to Harpenden.

‘But after my first child was born (13 years ago), both of us playing hockey on a Saturday was a no no. At the same time my friend Katie, suggested that our ante-natal group take it in turns to look after the babies and go for short runs. My initial response was no, I fancied going for coffee instead, but eventually I joined them.

‘The first run was one mile, I got stitch and was out of breath, but I stuck with it. Amazingly there were five or six of us in the one ante-natal group and we were all keen to run – and we’ve remained running friends ever since.

‘Running has changed my life. It’s the focus of everything I do now, and I’ve trained to be a personal trainer and an England athletics Coach in Running Fitness, so I can help others get as much out of running as I do. I plan all my running in the day around school hours (my husband works in London full time).

‘From that one-mile run, we got into a routine and after my second child was born, two years later, I decided to give the 10K a go. I ran the race in 48 minutes, and was comfortable, talking all the way round. Like many other runners, at each stage I said I’ll never do the next thing: ‘I’ll never do a race’, then I did; ‘I’ll never do a half’ and I did; and ‘I’ll never do a marathon’ and I did.

‘Training for my first marathon was time-pressured. I now had three young children. I stuck with three runs and one spin class a week.  If you want to run a marathon well, three times a week is not really enough, so I was delighted when I ran 3.21, and that included a walk at  finish. Encouraged by this I decided it was time to take my training a bit more seriously.

‘I committed to a proper training routine and ran five times a week, including speed work. I also took on a running coach, Robbie Britton. I wanted someone else to tell me what to do.

‘What followed were a lot of good races. I’d already started doing ultra running and  had come fourth in the 50K Royal Parks Ultra. I then had six months training for London. I got PBs across the board including  3.01 (although Strava did say 2.59) for the marathon. After the marathon I did the solo Thunder Run and I won it.

‘I’m pretty sure the reason it worked was because I had total faith in my training prescribed by Robbie. Was it different to what I would have planned? Maybe not. But the important thing is I believed in it.  I also make running a priority. I’m very organised. And I say to my personal training clients the same thing. In fact, I often plan my personal training client sessions around my running.

‘In practical terms, what helped me was pulling back a bit and doing less. I’m amazed at the amount of easy runs I do. And ultra training is not hugely different to marathon. I also did regular parkruns which helped me stay faster (especially as I was  trying to keep ahead of my 13 year old son). I didn’t do massive mileage, and peaked at 40 to 50 miles. I often ran with friends at their pace at 8 to 9 min mile pace, but then I go and do blocks at 6.50 pace near the end of the run when my legs are tired.

‘Eighteen months ago I started to get a pain in my foot. It felt like I had a stone in my shoe, and I wanted to spread my toes to relieve the discomfort. My friend Dawn, said, it sounds like Morton’s Neuroma (she knew because she’d had them!). So I took myself off to the doctor who referred me to a consultant. And lo and behold, I had a Morton’s neuroma. It’s a lump on the nerve in between the third and fourth toe (between other toes it’s just a neuroma).  I had steroid injections, then the other foot started to hurt. More injections followed and the pain got worse.

‘I was lined up to do run the Hampshire Hobbit Marathon and the 100K Race To the Stones, so I went to an osteopath who taped up my feet around the soles of my foot and on the sides. I won both races. It was brilliant!

‘But then I had lots of injuries, which I think was because I was running differently, so I took up biking. I did find doing cycling sessions harder, but I still managed a few duathlons and a 100-mile race. The pain was awful and I had to pull out of the Milton Keynes marathon after 16 miles. I then did the Birmingham marathon and I knew going into it that I’d get to 15 to 20 miles and be in a lot of pain – it was mind over matter, but when I got the end of the race, I was determined to do something about this. I took myself back to the consultant and the only option is surgery, where the nerve will be removed on both feet. I’ve got no specific goals, because I have to take a month off.

‘I’m a better mum and wife because of my running – it makes me happy. When I’m injured I’m grumpier, and just feel moodier. And as for my kids, it’s completely normal to see me in my training gear. I never remember seeing my parents like that. I hope I’m being a good role model. My children all go full in to whatever it is they’ve decided their path is going to be, so I think the dedication and discipline has rubbed off on them.

‘Next for me is to recover from my op, then in-mid January I’ll start again. I’ve still got my eye on that sub three hour marathon.’






Turning injury into a positive

Ordinary Women Being Extraordinary

Shelly Hynes, 47, is mum to Bladen 17 and Liliana 14, and married to Dom, 47. They live in Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire. Shelly took up running and got the bug in a big way, running marathon after marathon. Then injury stopped her in her tracks. But being an endurance woman, Shelly, tenaciously worked out how to get herself back to running and found a new direction in the process.

IMG_0542‘When I fell pregnant with Bladen I stopped smoking and started the journey to a healthier path. Once he was born I wanted to get out and about and shed the baby weight, and headed down to the David Lloyd to get fit. It was here I met Debbie, who looked amazing, and I asked her how she’d got a body like that. She told me she’d lost five stone just by getting out and running – and that was it, I joined her running group.

‘At the start I was right at the back, but I didn’t let that bother me, I just set myself the goal of getting to the front. I’m not sure I’m competitive, but I do like to have a goal, and I think it works to be with people who are faster than me if I want to improve.

‘Soon I was at the front in the running group, and decided I was ready to enter Race For Life. I had stitch and had to walk a bit, but I loved it. It wasn’t long before I’d entered a 10K, then a half marathon and by 2006 (five years after starting running), I’d entered my first marathon. But I had made the classic first-time marathoner mistake of doing too much too soon and ended up with shin splints – earning myself the name, Shelly Shins. In training I only ever got to run 14 miles as my long run. I limped and walk/ran around the marathon and finished up with egg-size blisters and a time of 4.45.

‘I swore I’d never do another marathon, but a week later as we sat having coffee at the David Lloyd, and showing off our medals, talk turned to the next one. Like childbirth you quickly forget the pain of running a marathon.

‘Over the next few years, I ran marathon after marathon, running 4.20, then 4.09, then 4.06 and finally 3.59.58 – which was followed by 3.49. I was on a roll, then when training for the Valencia marathon, injury got a grip.

‘It was a groin injury, and at the start I couldn’t even walk properly. As things improved I started aqua jogging, which made me a feel a bit stupid. I had to go the local pool in the morning when the elderly crowd went in and ‘run’ up and down in the deep end with my aqua belt on. I tried all sorts of treatments and experts, but it seemed that nothing was working. And if I’d listened to some of the people I saw I would have given up. But I was determined to get to the bottom of it.

Running had been something I’d learnt to rely on to deal with stress, so without it, I needed an alternative to running. It was over this period that I discovered Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), which involves tapping your temple, under your eyes, around your nose, on your chin, and on your wrist, whilst saying positive mantras. (Ed: EFT is sometimes referred to as Psychological acupressure, find out more in this article from the Energy Therapy Centre.). I’d never have found it if I hadn’t been injured and it’s something I use to this day. Injury also meant I wanted to find something useful to do that felt positive so I started volunteering at a the Herts Inclusive Theatre (HIT), helping people with learning disabilities to get involved with the performing arts.

IMG_1050Eventually, after 15 months of no running, I found a treatment that worked. It involved taking my blood, ‘spinning’ it, then injecting it back into the injured area. It worked! And soon I was back to running.

Last year I raised over £2,000 for HIT. Taking time out and having to dig deep to get back to what I love helped me to be more holistic in my approach to running. I also got very into yoga, particularly Ivengar yoga which focuses on stretching the faschia and on alignment, which is the perfect balance for running. Now, I’m looking at creating a new business, creating yoga clothes which I’ll sell online. Without running or my injury I’d never have found this new path.


#endurancewomenstories #realwomen #justdoit #ordinarywomenextraordinary

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