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 Craig, who has battled serious illness and ran VLM19 for Hemihelp. Please read on to hear his story.
Tell me about your running journey
I started running 3 years ago. I had been persuaded to join the corporate team for Cardiff 10k 2016 by a colleague was training for his first marathon. Prior to this, I hadn’t run since the age of 16 when I’d had a half hearted attempt at cross country at school.
I started to do my local Parkrun, Tredegar House in Newport, as part of training for Cardiff and that was the catalyst for my running to become such an important part of my life.
I genuinely believe Parkrun changed my life. I completed that first Cardiff 10k in 1:08 and haven’t looked back!
What happened next?
Around the same time that I was persuaded to run Cardiff, I was having scans and tests to find out why I had excruciating pain in my neck and down my left arm.
An MRI scan of my cervical spine showed severe stenosis/bony growths on several of my vertibrae, which was the cause of my pain. A separate MRI of the brain confirmed I had some brain damage that looked like I had had a stroke at some point. But after a neurologist appointment it was confirmed I had hemiplegic cerebral palsy, which means that I can’t really feel or use fully my left side (normal for me, since birth) and that was a result of the brain damage which would have taken place during birth.
Lifestyle changes were needed! I was overweight at roughly 17 stone and along with my desk job as an accountant this had contributed to my spinal problems. I now had answers about my left side something needed to be done. So I carried on running.
During 2017 I completed more 10k races and the Cardiff Half Marathon. Running during this period also helped give me focus and stability through the breakdown of my marriage.
Why did you decide you wanted to run a marathon?
2018 was a quieter year for my running. But I entered the ballot for VLM19 because I like to challenge myself and push my boundaries. I want to be a role model for my young daughter that if you set your mind to achieve something and work for it, you can do anything. I don’t want her to feel like she is constrained by class or gender or circumstance. And with confirmation of my cerebral palsy, I wanted to show that having physical limitations shouldn’t have to mean that you can’t achieve your goals or take part in things that bring you joy.
How much have you raised for your charity?
I wasn’t successful in the VLM19 ballot so applied to several charities related to cerebral palsy or the brain. In December Hemihelp (they support children with Hemiplegia, the condition I have) contacted me to say that someone had pulled out and would i like their place!
My target was £1,800, which I reached just before the marathon. I’ve now raised around £2,500.
Alongside my running I organise/run a car club called Sunnyside Breakfast Meet, all types of cars are welcome to our monthly breakfast meets where people can chat to other car enthusiasts over a bacon roll and a coffee. My biggest fundraiser was to hold a convoy drive day over the Brecon Beacons and South Wales. We had nearly 30 cars take part and raised over £600 including some match funding for the event by my brothers employer.
I’m also selling raffle tickets for a 50/50 raffle where 1st 2nd and 3rd place win cash prizes to 50% of the funds raised, the draw will be held on 26th May and there are plenty of tickets left!
Did you have a goal for the marathon?
With my Hemiplegia my goal was always just get to that finish line. Of course I had a private challenge where I wanted to finish in a certain time, but i didn’t let it become the sole focus. That time was to finish sub 5 hours. I finished in 4:57!
How did training go?
It was a mixed bag. I was late to the party getting a place, and i hadn’t run for nearly 4 months before I started training, so I was far from fit.
I joined a local running club early 2019, Lliswerry Runners, who have been instrumental in my preparation for London. Such a fabulous bunch of people and we set up a spring marathon training group and went on plenty of training runs together.
Training for a spring marathon through the long winter is very tough, it certainly hardens you up! One week you’re out running in the rain, the next in snow and ice and in minus 5, the next in Storm Gareth with 50mph+ winds! And more often than not in the dark.
My mileage really started ramping up during February and March, culminating in doing the Gloucester 20 mile race. That was my lowest point during this whole journey. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever physically attempted, and I was in pain all the way around due to some tendonitis that developed in my left foot. That resulted in me having to take a 10 day break and reduce the length of my remaining runs.
Closer to the big day itself, and with my left foot now improved, I started getting acute pain in my right foot (cruelly from playing with my daughter, not running!), it may well be a stress fracture in my metatarsal. It was too near the day to find out for sure and I didn’t want any doctor telling me i shouldn’t run the marathon, so I just dosed up on paracetamol before the race and cracked on!
What do you love and hate about running and your training?
I really enjoyed and looked forward to my Tuesday night running sessions with Lliswerry runners. Newport can be hilly in parts and there are some formidable routes such as the ‘High Cross Horror’. But i loved those runs.
I also ran during my holiday to Thailand in February, where i managed to run in Pattaya, Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai. Completing a half marathon distance around the old city walls of Chiang Mai, in 25 degree heat and setting off before dawn is a memory that will stay with me forever. That’s the moment I knew I could do this.
Primarily I run for my long term health. In the last 3 years I’ve lost 2 stone, and the nerve pain I experienced has pretty much gone. It’s crucial to my future mobility that i keep moving!
But I also run to help me make sense of the things that go on in everyday life, everything this past 3 years has changed more than I could ever have imagined, and in addition to the focus and stability that the habit of running regularly brings you, when you are pounding the streets there’s nothing in your head but you, and there’s nowhere to go but to process your feelings.
The only thing I hated about training was the experience of Gloucester 20. It wasn’t the event itself, it was organised well and the marshals were friendly. It was just a hard course mentally being 3 laps and some big hills, and with the pain of my foot. If any marathon trainee wants an event to toughen them up mentally, go run the Gloucester 20!
I was always conscious that I wasn’t doing enough training, as I guess most marathoners do. But on average I was only getting out twice a week due to my work and with childcare. I covered no more than 250 miles in the 4 months of training.
Do you have a post run treat?
Chocolate milkshake has become my go to post run indulgence. It made such a difference to post run recovery since I started drinking it I never get achy legs! Chocolate milkshake is magic. It's a fact!
If you could choose, who would you like to present your race day bling?
My grandmother who recently passed away, she wasn’t too aware of my running with her mental capacity diminishing over the last few years of her life, but if she was stood there at the finish line holding out that medal and looking proud with that smile she had that would have been the most amazing feeling.
Do you have any race day superstitions?
I always wear the same pair of shorts in every race and most training runs. They’re 3 years old now and still looking good!
What were you most looking forward to on race day?
Experiencing the crowds, finding my daughter along the route to give her a high 5 and a hug, getting to the finish line!
Tell me about race day?
Quite simply one of the best days of my life. Nothing can prepare you for the crowds which are pretty much constant all the way around, it really is such an assault on the senses and still gives me shivers. It's so addictive i’ve entered the ballot for next years race!
I started the day with some apprehension over my foot which was in pain just walking (the expo on the Saturday didn’t help that) and the nerves built up with the 2.5 hour wait in Greenwich Park, though again that’s an experience to savour as all the runners were so friendly and its part of the London experience.
I actually met another runner with the same surname as me, which is a very uncommon name, and myth in my immediate family has it is the only Musker family in the world, so it was cool to meet her and have a photo taken together. Hannah herself was running for a charity close to her heart and was nursing an injured knee, her injury got worse as she went around but she dug in and still finished. It amazes me the sheer determination and willpower so many people give to complete London all for causes personal to them. There can't be another event like it.
I found the start to be much less crowded than I was expecting, and managed to keep the pace I wanted constantly right from the beginning. I was running comfortably at 4:40 finish time pace and by mile 20 was actually 3 minutes ahead of that, having felt good enough at mile 18 to pick up the pace. It was at this point I had the cheeky notion I may actually finish in 4:40!
At mile 20 I came across my daughter, after a high five and quick hug I looked around to find her running alongside me on the pavement, and she kept pace with me for around half a km. I’ve never felt so proud and its a memory that i will treasure forever. Though I’m still kicking myself I didn’t pull her onto the road to run with me (it was a quiet section in Canary Wharf with no barriers) or to get my phone out and video us running together. I was just so happy and proud I didn’t think.
By mile 21 I had a stitch (I never suffer with them) and at the mile 22 water station I was handed a bottle and my body just started walking. There was no conscious decision to do so, i had no choice in the matter. One of the things I’m most proud of from the whole day is that i ran for 22 miles without doing any walking. Before the race the furthest I had run was the 20 mile race in Gloucester, and I hobbled around the second half of that.
From mile 22 it was just a case of taking short walks, though by mile 23/24 I felt quite sick and I think it was due to the gels - by that point I had taken 7 since the beginning and I couldn’t stomach taking my last one. I had also lost my ability to count by this time, and having gone past the 25 mile marker was absolutely convinced I still had 2 miles to go, not helped by the fact my Garmin watch was telling me I had already run more than marathon distance, and so this contributed to me walking more at this point than I think I would have had I realised how close to the end I really was. But then I came across the 1km to go sign, and from that point on I picked up the pace and ran all the way.
What I wasn’t expecting was, when I got to Buckingham Palace being so overcome with emotion and not believing I had just completed the marathon bar a few meters, that I started crying! Which then continued in uncontrollable bursts when I crossed the finish line and especially so when I finally found my daughter and for about half an hour afterwards!. We had the worlds biggest hug, she looked so proud and afterwards was so attentive in wanting to look after me. All my emotions from the past few years just came flooding out once I got to Buckingham Palace and crossing that finish line, I really wasn’t expecting it at all!
How did you celebrate your achievement?
Immediately after the race I found my family in the crowds around horseguard parade and just sat there quietly together letting it soak in.
It was a serene moment in the madness of the crowds. I was very privileged to have my little one there and my brother and his family who drove down on the day to be there at the finish line. I have also spent the week since eating and drinking whatever I like!
Craig 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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