The thousands of runners in the start pens of Greenwich Park on April 23rd will have thousands of reasons for running the 26 miles ahead of them. Some will make you smile, some may bring a tear, many may inspire you to find your own reason to pin on a race number. Here, 26 Virgin Money London Marathon runners share their #ReasonToRun
To show what’s still possible
Judy Lewis, 46, London
‘I’m running to raise funds for the Charles Wolfson Centre for Reconstructive Surgery at the Royal Free Hospital in London. The centre’s pioneering work with a novel treatment for scarring has been, quite simply, life-changing for me and I’d love to see as many people as possible benefit. The treatment not only reduces scarring, it also softens and improves the look and feel of scar tissue.
Surgery to remove a rare cancer in my lower jaw in 2009 left me with major scarring to my head and neck. I also had to have my fibulas [bones in the lower leg] removed and grafted to a titanium plate to reconstruct my lower jaw. These two major surgeries followed months of aggressive chemo and meant I had to learn to walk, talk and eat again – twice.
Recovery was hard, but the hardest thing was the drastic change to my appearance. Vanity doesn’t come into it – it’s far greater than that. For a while I felt like I’d lost my identity. The scarring on my body can be measured in feet. It took a long time and a lot of support to accept my new face and overcome those powerful emotions. I’m lucky because I did get there and more importantly, I’ve grown to love and am incredibly proud of my scars.
I started running three years ago. After everything I’d been through, I decided that I only had myself to blame if I didn't take charge of my fitness. There are some challenges. Having no fibulas reduces my propulsive power and the effects of the surgery have left me with some nerve damage, making it tricky to run on uneven terrain. The benefits, though, have been incredible. It’s made me re-evaluate the way I feel about my body. My muscles are changing, and my body is getting stronger. I want to set an example for others who are about to go through, or who have had, similar surgery, showing that despite the scarring and surgery, the emotional and physical cost, we can still do incredible things. I believe I may be the first person to run the London Marathon with no fibulas and no prosthetic limbs or other aids. I know it’s going to be a monumental achievement and I hope I don’t crumble emotionally when I see the finish line!’
To make the most of my second chance
Jane Reedy, 41, Kendal
‘Last year, I was training relentlessly for sub-3:15 at London. This year just finishing will be enough, as I struggle to adjust to my new body, life and self. In March 2016, I was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of oesophageal cancer. It most commonly affects older people, and those who smoke or drink, not a fit 40-year-old fell runner who has a couple of glasses of wine a week and has never smoked.
It started with heartburn, indigestion and difficulty swallowing. And I knew my race results weren’t reflecting my training. I was prescribed an indigestion remedy and continued training, working and doing everything a mum of a young child does, but the symptoms worsened. Within weeks, I could only consume liquid foods and returned to the doctors to be referred for further tests. A barium swallow identified a ‘large obstruction’. Just days away from my daughter’s fourth birthday, it was confirmed I had oesophageal cancer.
I opted for the most aggressive treatment possible: chemotherapy, radiotherapy, then surgery. Throughout chemo and radiotherapy I managed to walk, jog or cycle most days. Moving and being outside gave me calm, perspective, space and physical and mental strength.
I had the oesophagostomy in September. The first few weeks passed in a wave of morphine, debilitating cramps, sleep and uncertainty. When the majority of the 15 tubes I was hooked up to were removed, I started to shuffle around in my pyjamas, compression socks and slippers.
Three months post-surgery, I began jogging for a minute or two with a walk in between and slowly built from there. Pounding the roads again has given me the chance to reflect on 2016 and the journey that I am still on. One thing I’ve learned is that our sport runs so much deeper than race results.
Running the London Marathon is a way of showing I intend to keep living this life to the full and make the very most of my second chance at it. I won’t be looking at my watch constantly or pacing to achieve a time, but I will be thinking about what challenges other runners have gone through, and their reasons for being there. Hopefully, reaching the finish line will give us all a greater sense of meaning and the strength to move on.’
For dad, and all those in need
Haroon Mota, 31, Coventry
‘After running the 2012 London Marathon I told myself I’d never run again – it was such a painful experience! But when my father, Hafiz Kasim Mota, was killed in a car crash in 2013, at just 57, I felt compelled to put my running shoes back on. Running helps me deal with his loss and, through fundraising, gives me a way to carry on his legacy by helping people in need. In honour of him I dedicate every mile, every step, towards goodness.
This year, I have a lot of miles to run. God willing, in the three weeks before I toe the line at London I’ll have run the Manchester, Paris and Boston marathons under the #running4dad banner, raising funds for a solar water and power station in Senegal that will supply needy communities. Through this challenge I also hope to show that Muslims are generous and contribute significantly towards society – so many news pages are dominated by negative stories about Muslims.
When I ran London in 2012 I was so disappointed that I didn't spot any of my family at the 18-mile mark where we'd agreed they would be. Then at mile 26 I saw my dad with a huge smile, and it gave me such a boost for that final stretch. A year later we lost him.
I’ll probably burst into tears when I go past that point this year and think of dad. It’s still very raw. But the memories and tears will spur me to the finish. The sense of achievement will be very special, completing my fourth marathon in three weeks, and knowing I’ve raised £20,000 for this project in my father’s memory. He’d be so proud.’
Rachael Senneck, 42, Bristol
‘In March 2013, we lost our beautiful baby boy, Gabriel. He was just 20 weeks old. The grief took me to the darkest and lowest of places and I suffered with anxiety and traumatic flashbacks. I was advised that exercise might help, but I didn’t have the confidence to do it I public, so I worked out at home. Last May, my friend Jenny encouraged me to go for a run with her. We did four miles and it felt great – like I’d really achieved something – so with Jenny’s support and encouragement, I began to run a bit further.
I’d wanted to do something in Gabriel’s memory for a long time, so we decided to run the marathon for SANDS (the stillbirth and neonatal death charity) as a thank you for all the support they have given me and my family over the last four years and to raise awareness of baby loss. I’ve set myself the target of running the 26.2 miles without stopping or walking. The training is tough and challenging to fit around family life, but nothing is as tough as losing Gabriel. I’ve cried on many runs thinking about how much I miss him and wishing I could hold him just one more time, but running also gives me the time to be with him. I often call in to St Peter's Church in Portishead, where he is buried, on my runs to say hello. It always makes me run that bit further or faster. On the day I’ll be wearing my SANDS T-shirt with pride, with Gabriel’s name on the back. I hope he is proud of his mummy.’
To bring change
Henrietta Creasy, running with mum, Philippa, and brother, Will
‘Suicide was not a word we ever imagined would be associated with our family. But in 2012, my father – a highly respected doctor – took his own life after an acute struggle with depression. He was 54.
It was a massive shock for us all and even as a doctor myself I found it difficult to accept that he’d died as a result of mental health problems, as physical illnesses are easier to understand. That’s what this marathon is all about. I’m running it along with my mum, Philippa, and brother Will to raise funds and awareness for CALM, in association with Heads Together, two mental health charities. Suicide is the biggest cause of death of men under 45 in the UK. We need to promote a change in culture to remove the stigma associated with mental health problems and ensure those considering suicide feel able to seek help through charities like CALM.
None of us were runners before this, but we’ve been getting together at weekends for the long runs and I text mum and Will the sessions they need to fit in during the week. My weekday runs are mostly after work with a head-torch! The headspace running offers has been helpful for all of us. I’ve found myself enjoying it now, and mum has made it so much part of her routine that I think she’ll carry on after the marathon. It’s going to be a hugely emotional day and an immense physical challenge, but we’ll be thinking of dad and there’ll be lots of his friends and family out supporting us. We will cross the finish line together.’
To run with dad
Caroline Pratt, 36, Malmesbury Wiltshire
‘The 23rd April 2017 will be a very special day. It’s my dad’s 72nd birthday and we’ll be running London together. It’s my first, and although dad (George) ran marathons in the 1980s, he hadn’t run for over 30 years until he was inspired back into his running shoes by coming to support me at races.
Dad’s vision began deteriorating four years ago due to glaucoma and he now has just 50 per cent vision in his right eye and five per cent in his left. Not knowing how long his sight will endure, we decided it would be great to run a marathon together. He got a place through the ballot I’m running for the RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind and Partially Sighted). We train together at weekends – I am able to alert him to potholes, kerbs and changes in level or camber though he is also still able to train by himself on familiar routes, and sometimes uses a treadmill. I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to be there with him every step of the way on the 23rd April and can’t wait for us to cross the finish line together.’
To inspire others to strive
Lauren Whale, 39, Snodland
‘To mark turning 40 in 2017, I drew up a list of 40 things I wanted to do, and running the London Marathon was on it. As a child, I used to help out at water stations at the marathon and I’ve always dreamed of running it, though deep down, I never believed I could. I’m running with my great friend Sue Pritchard, who first ran it in 2011 to raise funds for the Brain Research Trust, after the sudden death of her much-loved dad.
After that, life got in the way and she gradually lost her running fitness as a result of injuries, lack of motivation and weight gain. Meanwhile, four years of studying for an MA left me four stone heavier than I used to be. Committing to help BRT again is motivating both of us to keep up the training. As ‘normal’ women, who were never picked first for school sports teams and are not superfit, we also hope to inspire others to strive to achieve things they thought were out of reach.’
For Ravi and 100 million more
James Bain, 41, Llansantffraid, nr Oswestry
‘Legend has it that London’s streets are paved with gold. I’ll be running those streets on the April 23 to help some of the 100 million children worldwide who are living on the streets, homeless, unloved and frightened. I met some of these kids in Kenya last year and it had a profound effect on me. I have three sons of my own, so it was heartbreaking to see young children sleeping rough, in threadbare clothes, some sniffing glue to numb the pain of their situation.
The Railway Children is a UK-based charity that fights to improve the lives of street children in Africa, India and the UK. They support an orphanage I visited in Kenya, where I met a little boy, Ravi. He’d been found tied to a tree and had a broken arm, as well as burns and bruises. Now he will be nurtured and supported to grow into an adult. I’m running with two colleagues, Rob and Kev, in honour of Ravi and to raise money for The Railway Children. My goal is to show my boys that you can make a difference to others less fortunate in the world.’
For the record
Kevin Howarth, 45, Bromley
‘In June 2015, I stumbled across an article about an American who had run that year’s London Marathon dribbling two basketballs. He set a new world record of 4:10:44. As someone who’s played a lot of basketball and is now into running I found myself thinking: ‘That ain't so fast…’ And I couldn’t stand by and let an American hold a record I believed I could beat in my own back yard! So I applied to Guinness and my 18-month training programme began.
It’s been a mix of normal runs to build stamina and practice runs to improve my ball control. I’ve practised in gusting wind, hot sun, driving rain and even made my hands bleed (I have softer balls now). I get a few hecklers. My favourite so far was from some cheeky footballers who called out "Oi, mate! Have you got the time!” I’ve now run five half marathons with the balls, with a PB of 1:56:39. Everything is falling into place: 26.2 miles, two basketballs, one goal: 04:10:43.’
To bounce back stronger
Jo Stephenson, 51, Bury St Edmunds
‘I was bowled over when I managed to get a Good for Age entry for London with my 2015 Manchester marathon time. Training was going well until, six weeks before race day, I turned my ankle on a curb. A trip to A&E confirmed I’d broken my fibula and would be in a splint for six weeks. Having worked so hard, it was tough to see my goal disappear. But a year on I’m back in marathon training and excited about experiencing the Green start for the first time.’
Jez Allinson, The Running Stormtrooper, 42 Oxford
‘I’m going for the “Fastest Marathon dressed as a Star Wars Character” world record. Guinness have set me a time limit of five hours, which is a big ask in this costume. The suit is horrible to run in! It gets very hot and chafes, plus you can’t hear well and lose peripheral vision. I’ve been training in it once or twice a week – it always brings beeps, waves and smiles. Why a Stormtrooper? I’m a big Star Wars fan, but it’s also because you need to do something special to raise high amounts of money for charity.’
To remember my brother
Judy Burston, 80, Basildon
‘I understand why people are surprised to hear I’m running London at 80, but I don’t feel I’m doing anything special. I first watched the race when I was 44, and vowed to do it the following year. I finished in 3:34. Since then I’ve done lots of races and the feeling you get when you cross the finish line is terrific. I ran London again when I was 70 and this year I’m running my daughter Nicky, and for the Stroke Association in memory of my brother. I’m hoping to finish in 5:15.’
To fight depression
Pete Riddleston, 44, Worcestershire
‘My #reasontorun is a desire to start conversations about mental health to help reduce the stigma around what remains a very difficult subject. I’ve suffered with depression and anxiety for most of my adult life, and became very ill after losing my job in 2011. Running has been vital in helping me recover and rebuild my confidence and running London means so much. It’s a huge challenge, but it has given me the chance to talk and write openly about my own mental health and support the mental health charity, Mind.’
To remember Sammy
Ceejay Spencer, 23, Cardiff
‘My sister Sammy and I had always planned to run London together, but she suffered a fatal heart attack at just 26 years of age. It seems only right that I do it in her memory. Sammy was seven years older than me, and the person I went to for support and advice. Knowing I’m running in her memory makes it easier to train through the cold and rain, and knowing I’m raising money for the British Heart Foundation to help other families avoid going through this has helped me come to terms with her loss.’
To stay on the right path
‘I started running a year ago as a way to focus while starting recovery from alcohol dependence. At the time I was three stone overweight and had very high blood pressure. It’s been a huge part of my personal therapy. I’ve now been sober for over a year, am maintaining a healthy weight and have recovered healthy liver function and blood pressure. Training is on target for sub-4!’
To make mum proud
Kevin Price, 36, Maidstone
‘I was just 16 when I lost my amazing mum to cancer and in my eulogy I said something I think about every day: “I hope one day to make you proud of me.” Marking the 20th anniversary of her passing, I’ll be pushing myself further than ever to do just that.
For the World Champs
Jo Pavey, 43, Devon
‘London is such an iconic event. Everyone wants to run it. Even though I’m getting older I’m enjoying exploring what I can do and I’d love it if I could get a PB – and a place in the World Championships.’
To fulfill a family dream
‘Our whole family will be on the start line. My husband, Dave, and I have Good for Age entries, my daughter, Lucy, whose turns 20 on the day, will run her second marathon while my son, Ben, 18, is doing his first. All running in the same year is something we dreamed of but never thought would come together, so it'll be a special day.’
To improve with age
Pradipta Ganguly, 40, Leeds
‘I want to prove I’m fitter at 40 than I was at 20. Back then, I was at the gym five times a week, then work, marriage and kids came along. Since taking up running 18 months ago I’ve lost two stone and clocked over 1200 miles.’
To come back faster
‘I’m running London this year as I have something to prove after being out for three years with plantar fasciitis. I got 4:42 four years ago, and I want that sub-4:30!’
To make it 700
'If all goes to plan, London will be my 700th sub-3:30 marathon – and 777th overall. It’s my 22nd running of the event, with an average finish time of 3:07.’
To give something back
‘I had a stroke, aged 35, and wanted to give something back to the charity that supports stroke victims.’
Because I really got the running bug…
‘Ten years ago I weighed 18 stone. I gave up smoking and started running to lose weight and get fit. This year I’ll be making my first Championship start, aiming to go sub-2.40.’
For those last 32 seconds
Jurre van Rooden
‘Aiming for sub-3. Last year I ran 3:00:32, having shaved 24 minutes off my PB. Still, the 32 seconds left me feeling unsatisfied!’
For four month’s meditation
‘No better way to celebrate four months of total dedication and focus. London just gives me the excuse to do the training. One hundred per cent selfish running meditation!’
Because it’s London
Vassos Alexander, XX, London
‘It’s the best race in the world. You couldn’t keep me away.’