Going Strong

As the Flora London Marathon draws closer, RUNNER’S WORLD’s three marathon protégés – Kerry Neale, Philippa Braidwood and Phil Wilson – have been stepping up their mileage. While all have found the running hard but enjoyable, they’ve also discovered that life has a nasty habit of getting in the way of training.

Their coach Keith Anderson, from training experts Trailplus, has helped them adapt their schedules through what have been tough times for all three. “It’s amazing that you can take three people with such different stresses and problems, and that they can still do so much,” he says.

Kerry Neale, 32, from Hatfield, Hertfordshire — computer software analyst

Four months into her training, Neale shows no signs of flagging. With plenty of advice and support from Anderson, she has made incredible progress – the figures speak for themselves. She has lost four stone (56lb) and is running for up to two and three quarter hours. In January, she joined Anderson at the Trailplus marathon training camp in the Forest of Dean, “It was just fantastic. I’m going on another one, I liked it so much,” she says. “We did an easy 5K, a threshold session and a long run, and there were lots of informative talks.” But one of the best aspects of the camp for Neale was having people to run with. “I usually run alone, so it was nice to have other people to train with. Everyone was so encouraging.”

It also made a welcome change from the tough regime Neale follows during the working week. She gets up at 5am to fit in her run before going to the office. “I like to know it’s out of the way,” she says. “And at that hour, I’m not awake enough to know how stupid it is!” Running four or five times a week, plus some cycling and swimming, fills a lot of Neale’s leisure time, but she is enjoying it.

In fact, she enjoys it so much that a two-week business trip to Singapore left her frustrated at the limits it put on her time to run. “We were working 12-hour days, but I was getting back at 8pm and still hitting the gym,” she says. Anxious that the trip should have minimum impact on her training, Anderson scheduled Neale’s rest days for when she flew, with the days immediately following for recovery runs, to allow for jet lag.

As far as she has come, Neale knows there is a long way to go if she is to reach her marathon goal. But she’s planning ahead. She is holding off from shopping for new clothes, and is going to wait until she has lost even more weight.

Most of all, though, Neale is positive that running is now a permanent part of her life. She ran on almost every weekend in February and has RW pacing events or races mapped out throughout March. Then there’s that second Trailplus weekend camp, and the RW spring training camp in the Algarve. And it’s not going to stop after April 18. “I’ve already told Keith I’m coming with him to New York,” she says.

Philippa Braidwood, 48, from Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey — writer

After two frustrating months when she was unable to run because of injury, Philippa Braidwood has turned a corner in her marathon training. “I ran for an hour non-stop – I can’t believe it,” she says. “Admittedly, it’s a slow jog, but I’ve never in my life been able to do that before.”

A muscle tear in her right calf had consigned Braidwood to eight weeks of bike rides and swimming. Her local Esporta gym has been a haven from the stresses of combining working and family life, and after sticking rigidly to her programme, her calf has healed, and she is not as behind schedule as she feared. “All the time, I kept exercising,” she says. “It never felt like it was making a difference, but it obviously worked.” For Braidwood, the easiest way to deal with the problems she has faced has been to take one week at a time. Anderson sends her the programme every week, and has not allowed her to slack. “He’s tough, but it’s helpful to have someone to push you,” she admits. For example, Anderson made Braidwood e-mail him what she ate every day for a fortnight. “It made me think twice before I put anything in my mouth,” she says. Having over-indulged during the Christmas period, she has got her weight back down again, and is 17 pounds lighter than before she began training.

Anderson admits to a massive amount of respect for the way Braidwood has managed to carry on training through a difficult time. She’s been fostering a newborn premature baby with pneumonia and bronchialitis that at times has needed feeding and medication every two hours, round the clock. “It’s a superb effort,” he says. Braidwood comments that her husband, Steve, is mystified as to why anyone would want to run 26.2 miles, but he still helps out – if relucantly – when Braidwood is training.

Braidwood also has an extra incentive to complete the marathon now. She has picked up sponsorship forms from the Cancer Appeal Office at Kingston Hospital, which is raising money for a new specialist unit. She had wanted to start collecting sponsorship, but was so worried about whether or not she would actually make the 26.2 miles that it is only now she is confident to start collecting names. “I used to feel sick at the thought of it,” she says. “It feels marginally less daunting now.”

Phil Wilson, 36, from Nottingham — sheet metal worker

Any marathon is an enormous challenge, and takes up a huge part of a runner’s life. But there are some things that make it shrink to insignificance. Phil Wilson’s mother lost her battle with leukaemia in January, and his running has simply not been a priority since then. “I’ve had a lot on my plate,” he admits. “But what I’ve decided to do is run the marathon for charity, either Leukaemia Research, or the City Hospital in Nottingham [where his mother was cared for]. It will give me a bit more of an incentive.”

After such a tough month, Wilson hopes that getting back into training will help him regain a semblance of normal life. He had managed more than two months without a cigarette, and although he has – understandably – had a lapse, he is sure he can now quit for good. “I’ve pretty much given up – I went 10 weeks without, so I know I can do it for good,” he says.

A 10K race after Christmas was Wilson’s first competitive outing, where he posted an impressive 44:05. Shortly afterwards, he started getting pains in his knee, but with time off running, it is now better. He is looking to start building up his distances, and rope in a friend or two. “Tom Butcher, the guy who put me up for this, is also doing the marathon, so he’s going to come over from Derby for some long runs at weekends,” he says.

Agreeing to the challenge has also unexpectedly rekindled an old friendship for Wilson. Through his forum thread on the forums, he has been communicating with a friend he had lost contact with. “It was a bit weird, but a nice surprise,” he says. It’s the support from friends that gets you through the toughest times, be they running-related or not.

Click here to read Kerry's forum thread.

Click here to read Philippa's forum thread.

Click here to read Phil's forum thread.