• Helen Phillips

Meet our VLM19 Marathoners #14: Claire

Not everyone can run a marathon. You have to be a special kind of determined and crazy to train and then complete 26.2 miles on the day.

In my VLM19 Meet Our Marathoners Series we meet ordinary people who have battled through and achieved extraordinary.

Today we meet Claire, who has battled serious illness and ran VLM19 for Crohns & Colitis UK. Please read on to hear her story.

Tell me about your running journey

I originally started running in 2007 as a way of keeping fit. I was looking for a cheap form of exercise that I could fit around work. I was inspired by a friend who ran.

Unfortunately my initial try at running didn’t last long. I had set myself a goal of completing Cardiff half in 2008 after my boyfriend completed it in 2007. Unfortunately health problems stopped me from running and I was unable to run again until 2016, where I was starting completely from scratch again. I couldn’t run a mile, I was run/walking from one lamppost to the next.

What happened next?

After a period of ill health I was finally diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis in February 2010 – a form of inflammatory bowel disease, causing inflammation and ulcers in the large intestine.

Between 2010-2015 I was on a roller coaster of hospital appointments, tests and medications. I had more hospital admissions than I care to remember. I had periods where I was too ill to leave the house (or the bathroom) and was reliant on the care and support of those around me to help me do everyday things like have a bath (I’d be too exhausted to stand in a shower) and get dressed. I had to take medications that have had a major impact on my health, including long term steroids, low dose chemotherapy and infusions at hospital every 8 weeks, which I also had to have pre meds for to avoid allergic reaction.

I kept hoping that the next treatment would give me the remission I wanted, but it would only be short lived. I was scared to have surgery but unfortunately in November 2015 that choice was taken out of my hands and without surgery I wouldn’t be here today.

The surgery involved the removal of the majority of my large intestine and the formation of a stoma and ileostomy, where the end of my small bowel (or ileum) comes through my stomach, and waste matter is collected in a bag fixed to my stomach. I now wear a bag for life and am awaiting further surgery to remove the last of my large intestine.

I had post surgery complications and there was a long period of adjustment to get used to my ileostomy (I call it Bertie) but thankfully the surgery had the biggest impact on my quality of life, and I am now able to do things I haven’t done for years.

Despite this surgery, I continue to experience problems caused by this disease such as fatigue, brain fog, anaemia, painful joints. Due to prolonged steroid use I developed osteopenia (pre osteoarthritis) in my lower spine and I’ve since developed Gallstones.

Due to poor health, medications such as steroids and the inability to exercise my weight fluctuated a lot during my illness. Ironically when seriously ill, I would struggle to eat, or my body couldn’t absorb the nutrients needed and I would often lose weight, but people would often comment how well I had done losing weight and how good I looked! But the reality was I was quite ill.

When I put the weight on, often due to the medication, I was often in better health. In May 2018 when I applied for my London marathon charity place I weighed 13stone 6 lbs. Despite being in the best health I’d had for years, and now running, I used this as an excuse to eat what I liked, because I could. Although I didn’t know if I would get a charity or ballot place, I wanted to make sure I was in the best condition I could be, to undertake the training and I started a weight loss plan.

By September when I found out I had a marathon place, I had lost 2.5 stone. My weight finally reached 10.5 stone but once I started training this went back up and now sits around 10stone 12lbs.

Why did you decide you wanted to run a marathon?

After my surgery I ran Swansea Half marathon as a challenge to stick 2 fingers up to an illness that had taken so much over the previous years and to prove I could. Initially I said never again, but after joining a running club I entered races and got the running bug. After doing several half marathons and an 18.5 coastal race, the next logical (!?) step was a marathon. What better one than the Iconic London marathon.

I was keen to run this year as it was the 39thLondon marathon and I was only 39 when I had my surgery, without which I wouldn’t have lived to see my 40th.

How much have you raised for your charity?

I ran for Crohns & Colitis UK. I was set the target of £2,500 and I’m just about there.

Raising funds was harder than I thought. I did a virtual marathon, I hosted a charity night, raffles and bonus ball competitions and had a couple of collection tins in the area including the local shop. I also relied on the good nature of friends and family for donations.

Did you have a goal for the marathon?

Ultimately my goal was to just get around, enjoy and soak up the atmosphere. When else am I ever going to get to run the London Marathon (unless I get extremely lucky in the ballot)?

Initially I thought I would like sub 6hrs but from training runs I started looking at my time and it looked like a 5.45 or possibly even 5.30 was on the cards. Although I didn’t achieve these times on the day I can still say I’m a marathon runner.

How did training go?

Training went really well. I had a fall at the beginning which knocked my confidence but generally I had no problems until March when my body decided to remind me I still have an autoimmune disease. I developed a throat infection. This affected my planned 18 mile run and I had to reschedule and do a 20 mile run a couple of weeks later.

I then developed a chest infection so missed the last of my long runs (another 20miler) and managed very little running in the 4 weeks leading up to the marathon. I was worried I’d pushed myself too far and that my body couldn’t cope with all the training. I started to doubt if I could do it.

What do you love and hate about running and your training?

I loved doing a variety of training, not just running. I did swimming and body balance each week. Training in general and particularly running gave me ‘time out’, time to clear my head and de-stress. It reminded me how far I have come and that I can achieve anything I put my mind to – health willing.

The only thing I hated about the training was trying to fit it all in and the impact on family life. I booked days off work to try and get long runs in so as not to impact on weekends, especially as the miles increased. Being a slower runner, my runs took longer. I struggled with fatigue and some of my runs really took it out of me and I doubted at times if I could do all the training required. It really was hard work juggling a full time job, being mum and family life in generally. I couldn’t have done it without the support of my husband and family.

Do you have a post run treat?

After parkrun (which was also often the end of my long runs as I’d run to parkrun then do parkrun) I would have a treat of a vanilla latte and toasted tea cake.

In general having a run would be my excuse to indulge in a treat – most probably chocolate – and who put Easter the week before the marathon – Chocolate overload!

If you could choose, who would you like to present your race day bling?

My husband or Jo Pavey (growing up she was local to me, so have followed her carer for some time).

What were you most looking forward to on race day?

Seeing friends and family on the course – there were several people coming up from my running club to support us (our club had 17 runners in total).

I was also looking forward to seeing the sights of London and finally being able to run the course that I’d seen on TV for so many years. Starting with going through the iconic gates at Greenwich for the red start, running around Cutty Sark, Over Tower Bridge, The Palace and the Mall.

Tell me about race day?

Race day was emotional, I couldn’t believe it was finally here. It started off well. I think something happened with my fuelling and I felt sick for the last third of the race meaning a lot of walking.

Seeing the sights was memorable and emotionally but most of all was seeing my charities cheer squad at approx mile 13 where I knew my husband would be, to not only see my husband but my sister who had travelled up from Devon for the day just to see me run in the marathon – I had no idea she was going to be there – my tears started again!

Every time I saw someone I knew who was supporting I stopped for hugs. There was a real party atmosphere around the course. It was amazing.

How did you celebrate your achievement?

Hugs from family and friends – A G&T (I’d put a can in my bag) then off for Pizza and more gin with family.

Claire You're Awesome! You smashed VLM19!

If you're already thinking about your next marathon, maybe you've got a race this autumn or you're entered into one next spring you'll be pleased to hear I'm opening up Marathon Club Hub.

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