Runner's World Heroes 2011

Meet this year's Heroes of Running, as named by the Runner's World UK team.

Posted: 10 May 2011

jane tomlison
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The Jane Tomlinson Inspiration Award: Daphne Hathaway

While I'm still alive, I want to live." That's more than Daphne Hathaway's fundraising motto; it's also a reminder that for her, being alive means staying active, come what may.

Daphne, 75, started running at 60 to help ward off the retirement blues, and not even a decade spent caring for two seriously ill relatives could knock her off her feet. She won several county medals at distances ranging from 5K to 26.2 miles, and consistently placed in the top two or three for her age group at her favourite race, the Dublin Marathon.

But in 2009 Daphne was disconcerted to see that her Dublin time was 40 minutes slower than in 2008: she was exhausted without knowing why. Then on Christmas day that year, when Daphne bent over to pick up a jigsaw piece from the floor she was stunned by a terrible pain in her chest. It turned out to be a hole in her breastbone, eaten away by a rare form of incurable bone marrow cancer called myeloma. Daphne finally had to stop running.

"The doctors told me any pounding will fracture my bones, so I can't jog, jump or climb any ladders - but I can still walk," Daphne says. "Having already earned my Good for Age place at this year's London Marathon, I wanted to honour it - so I committed to walking 26.2 miles instead."

Daphne threw herself into her new training programme with the good humour of a person who refuses to sugar-coat the truth, but also refuses to let herself be overwhelmed by the facts. She even claims to have discovered a new feeling she calls the 'walker's high'.

Based on her new pace of 17:30-minute miles, she fixed on a target time for London of around seven and a half hours, some three hours longer than her PB of 4:46:21.

She walked the race with no protection other than a sign on her back politely asking other runners not to jostle or bump into her. Far more thought went into her eye-catching race-day outfit, and into dyeing the hair that she didn't lose through chemo bright blue and green.

"I thought if the chemo left me totally bald, I might get a tattoo there instead," she explains. "I don't want to fade into the background; it's much better to go out with a bang. So I've changed my focus from trying to get a good time, which is irrelevant, to raising as much cash as I can."

In a typically selfless gesture, Daphne is raising this money not for cancer charities, but for the Alzheimer's Society. After 11 years of caring for her husband and her 100-year-old father,  both of whom suffer from the disease, she knows only too well the terrible frustration of someone who has started to lose grasp of their identity.

"I count myself lucky to still be in control of my life and able to express myself freely," Daphne says. "Walking isn't quite the same as running but at least it's something. Something useful that I am still more than capable of.

"We've all got to go in the end and if my bus comes along a bit earlier than expected, so be it. But my illness doesn't mean I have to sit still and do nothing - that's just not me."  

To sponsor Daphne, visit her charity page at

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