Two years ago, Rachel was well on her way to becoming a running widow. She had stood for hours on marathon courses in London, New York, Paris and Dublin, waiting to glimpse her boyfriend Lee Healy (RW member Tea & Toast Man) as he ran past. She'd resigned herself to being abandoned every Sunday morning as he set off for his weekly long run.
Seeing Lee complete eight marathons was not enough to persuade Rachel to take up running, but she did decide that she wanted to get fit.
"About 18 months ago, Rachel decided to make some massive changes in her life," Lee says. "She kicked cigarettes. No patches, just cold turkey. She lost three stone, and came off the pills she'd been taking for years for migraines."
It was only after Rachel had made these vast lifestyle changes that the subject of exercise came up. She tried swimming, but found the chaos of the local pool too much. Tentatively, Lee suggested she tried running.
"I bought Rachel her first running shoes and we started a one-minute run/one-minute walk programme," he says. Soon one minute became two minutes and then a mile. Bit by bit, they increased their time running, until they hit five miles non-stop. There was no tape to break, no medal to collect, but it was an unforgettable moment in both their running careers.
"It was lashing down with rain that evening, and we could hardly see where we were going. And then just as we came to the end of the five miles, a double-decker bus roared past us, though a deep pool of dirty water, soaking us from head to foot. I remember Rachel saying, ‘Remind me why I'm doing this again!?' For me, it was probably as good a feeling as crossing the finish line in my first marathon."
Rachel hasn't entered any races, and is happy to run to keep fit and banish work-induced stress at the moment, but she has a better appreciation of Lee's marathon efforts.
"She still thinks it's a crazy thing to do, but she understands the satisfaction of achieving a goal, and the camaraderie at races," he says.
Rachel and Lee have a three-mile loop that they do three times a week now. The stopwatch stays at home, and the emphasis is on enjoyment, rather than competition. Rachel says that it's like having a personal trainer with her every time she runs.
Running together is about more than keeping fit – Lee and Rachel have found that it's good for their relationship, too. "We actually chat when running, and wind down from the stress of the day," she explains. "My job is incredibly stressful, so anything to alleviate this is good for both of us. It's always good to share something that's enjoyable."
"We can chat about our day and moan about work. And they're really good recovery runs for me," agrees Lee. And when he's on his own on a longer run, and feels himself start to flag, he thinks about all those things he says to Rachel to keep her morale up: keep going, just to the next tree, try to stay relaxed.
"I think of her – it's the same kind of struggle," he says. He enjoys running with Rachel, and reckons that anyone who takes a novice runner under their wing will too.
"You have to put your expectations on the back burner; it teaches you to be unselfish, to do it for someone else, not yourself," he says. But he warns against badgering a non-runner into going on a training run if they don't want to.
"You can only do it when they're ready; you can't force it," he says. "And you have to take it at their speed."
Rachel advises that new runners who are starting out on a programme shouldn't put pressure on themselves when they run with a more experienced friend or partner. "Don't try to compete - you will only feel inferior by comparison. Don't feel you have to rush to accomplish anything like what they have," she says.
|Expert View: learn to enjoy running at someone else's pace|
Sports psychologist Dr Victor Thompson echoes Lee's thoughts. He says that beginners could easily be intimidated if they think they are going to have to keep up with you at your pace.
"You have to encourage them to go at their pace," he says. "Your goal should be to have a nice time that involves running, and you should stop when you are still having fun, not go until you're exhausted."
He suggests that you start with a run/walk programme, and stay either on their shoulder or a slightly behind them, so that they don't feel that they are in danger of being left behind. And by taking such an active interest in someone else's running, you will get some vicarious pleasure from their achievement, so running will put a smile on your face even if you suffer from a setback.
Rachel and Lee's tale is one of an occasional series of real-life success stories that we are publishing on the website. If you have a story to share that could inspire others, why not read our guidelines for submission, and get in touch?