From Beginner to Chair of the Club

SEPTEMBER 2014: Throughout the 2013/14 winter, Carol Kennedy regularly turned out for RunBrighton’s long Sunday run, in training for this year’s Brighton Marathon. Not at all deterred by the cold, the strong winds and the driving rain, she battled on over hilly terrain, determined to get fit enough to fulfil her objective of competing the 26.2 mile challenge.

Just two-and-a-half years earlier, Carol’s lifestyle was probably best described as sedentary, her confidence level zero!

How did such a transition come about? And what inspires Carol to continue to try and improve rather than slip back into her old ways?

Carol, firstly perhaps you can tell us a bit about yourself / your family? What do you do when you’re not running?

I’m married with two teenage children. I work full-time as a Health Visitor in Brighton, which can be stressful at times and it involves a lot of sitting down, so running brings balance. Apart from running, I like being with friends, driving, walking and reading.

I know you did your first marathon this year. Congratulations! That’s a great achievement! How would you describe the experience?

I was running the Lindfield 10K in May 2013 and thought it would be a great idea to run in an event every month to celebrate my 50th birthday. I ran five half-marathons and other distances, finishing with the Brighton Marathon in April 2014.

I hadn’t originally planned to run the marathon; I’d often said it was beyond me. However, I put my name into the Brighton Marathon ballot – BHWRC (Brighton & Hove Women’s Running Club) is allocated a couple of places for the volunteering we do at mile 24 – and left the decision to fate! It was a great end to my year of running. The support from everyone before and during the marathon was amazing. I really believe that if I can do it, anyone can – provided they train and prepare.

As soon as I got my place I signed up for RunBrighton. Their training started at the end of October. I knew some of the RunBrighton Ambassadors like Michele Saunders and Brigitte Groves from BHWRC, and met lots of great people there. I stayed for the sessions on nutrition and stretching, etc, which were held at the Hilton Brighton Metropole. They all helped get me to the start line.

Before the marathon, the lovely members of BHWRC asked me what I needed. Marie Newton and Kate Nichols met me at Basin Road and ran the last couple of miles with me. It was fantastic seeing Michele, Brigitte and Ann Hagan marshalling on the route, then seeing other Club members at the Hove Lagoon and King Alfred water stations. Knowing they were there made a big difference – I just had to get to them! It was tough, and I did say “never again”, but I will be on the starting line for 2015!

At what age did you start running, and what was it that got you into it in the first place?

I had been going to a gym for a while, but wanted to be outside. However, I thought the boot camps I saw on the seafront and in the parks looked very scary!

My children ran in the first Brighton Marathon Mini Mile event in 2010. I hadn’t been interested in running before. (I hated sports at school!) But I thought the Mini Mile event and the Marathon itself were amazing to witness.

The following year, I volunteered to help at the Mini Mile and spoke to some runners about the possibility of me running. I was working with Sarah Russell who told me about parkrun and other running events. I signed up for the BHWRC Beginners course just after my 48th birthday in 2011 and haven’t looked back.

I now find I need to run! I love running – even though I’m not very fast! I love the social side too and appreciate the health benefits. I’m very enthusiastic about running and, in 2012, I was surprised and delighted to be awarded ‘Runner of the Year’ for being an Ambassador for running. Then, in 2013, I became the Chair of the Club. I’ve also volunteered at parkrun, the water station at mile 24 in the Brighton Marathon, in the marathon call centre and at the Brighton Marathon Expo. So running is quite a big part of my life now.

So what was your lifestyle like before you took up running?

Before I started running I was on a bit of a treadmill. I was working full-time mostly inside, going home, being a parent followed by often sleepless nights because of stress and horrible persistent thoughts (usually about work), waking up feeling tired, and starting all over again.

I would go to work after having taken the children to school. Although much of my work appears routine, there are some families I really have lost sleep over. Both the Council and NHS are constantly evolving organisations and it can be tough keeping up! I used to start early and finish late, and eat at my desk between phone calls.

Weekends were for catching up with household chores, children’s activities / going out with friends and relaxing. But it would often be Sunday evening by the time I felt rested.

Now I start and finish work on time because I’m much less stressed, so can think and work more effectively. I run three times a week which gives me more energy, so I can get tasks / chores done in less time. I’m less distracted and, if I feel stressed or worried, I go out for a run. It works really well. I also sleep better and wake with a more positive attitude. It helps that my teenagers are more independent now, because I can go out for longer without worrying about how long I’ve been out. Running has definitely changed my life. I wish I’d started sooner!

How did you come to be involved with Brighton & Hove Women’s Running Club?

Lots of people and runners I knew recommended BHWRC and the Beginners course. I’ve subsequently helped with some beginners groups and love seeing the transition in others becoming runners.

To celebrate the end of the summer course, lots of the Club members ran with the beginners and helped at a cake sale, fundraising for a maternity charity!

How often do they meet?

Club night is Thursday, 7pm, at Hove Rugby Club, Hove Recreation Ground, although we are often off-road over the summer. The website usually has the details. There are Sunday runs, usually off-road, and interval-training on a Tuesday. Details are circulated to Club members by email and Facebook. It’s fantastic value for money – membership is £20 a year, which includes England Athletic membership, some social events and, of course, running!

How much do you run now?

At the moment I’m running about 15 miles a week and use time-on-feet rather than mileage as my goal.

What has surprised you most since you took up running – is it more the fact you’ve completed a marathon or more the extent to which you enjoy running?

I’m amazed at my running achievements. I can honestly say that running has changed my life. I hated running at school, but now I really miss it if I can’t do three or four runs a week. My job can be very stressful, but the meditative nature of running can help process issues. I feel much healthier, sleep better and feel more relaxed generally. My blood pressure is lower and I’m fitter. I can also run further than I think – especially if I’m with friends.

What’s your next running goal?

2015 is all about the bling! I’ve asked Club members to share pictures of their medals and I’m planning to run the events of the medals I really want! Of course, I’ll be doing both the Brighton Marathon and Brighton Half Marathon.

And what advice would you give to anyone who was in a similar situation to yourself? Maybe inactive women who would like to take up running to improve their overall wellbeing, but perhaps daunted by the prospect and just can’t seem to take that first step?

There are a lot of people who are in a similar position to where I was back in 2011, wanting to try running but not sure where to start. Joining a group was the best option for me, but there are also ‘Couch to 5K’ courses on-line. Contact local clubs and find out what’s on offer! By volunteering at running events, I came to realise that people of all abilities run. There’s lots of support and enthusiasm to help runners progress. I know that if I hadn’t joined BHWRC I probably wouldn’t have continued by myself, but I feel that I belong to a fantastic community now. I would recommend getting advice about footwear, especially if you have old injuries. Get a friend to join you on the Beginners course or ‘Couch to 5K’, and get your questions answered… but do start running!

Carol, it’s been a pleasure chatting with you. I’m sure your story will be a fantastic inspiration to many women, and I look forward to you joining RunBrighton again over the coming winter.

By Mike Bannister