Running changed my life

Most of you know the lady behind Virtual Runner to be Susan Wheatcroft AKA Virtual Runner lady, but I thought it was time to share my own personal running journey now I am almost 10 years in from that very first run (back in July 2013), so here goes…

This title may sound dramatic – well I am going to step it up a little more and say that I think running saved my life and certainly has become my life 🙂

I started running as I was gifted a place in my local half marathon (Robin Hood Half – which still remains a favourite in my heart!) as one of my close work colleagues had sadly died of cancer. This run and subsequent fundraising was in his memory so I really wanted to do my best. At the time of starting with running, I was a regular gym goer and enjoyed a bit of spinning, so I initially thought how hard can this be? Well, we all know that it’s certainly not easy!

Fast forward, 3 months of training with many firsts (5k, 10k, 10 miler, running with people etc!) and I completed the Robin Hood Half marathon in around 2 hours and 28 minutes. I was so proud of myself! At the finish line, I was pretty sure I could do better so promptly signed up for another half marathon knocking around 10 minutes off that initial race’s time.

I then read a book (I unfortunately can’t remember what it was called) and it inspired me to run a marathon. I posted on Twitter in search of a London marathon place and within 24 hours had committed to a charity place! So, not one to do things by halves, I was taking my running from 0 to 26.2 miles in a little over 6 months – something I now wouldn’t recommend.

During my training for the marathon, I struggled to find races and smaller milestones to keep me motivated – so out of this frustration Virtual Runner was born! I learned I had a love for shiny rewards and quickly found out I was not alone (the community is now thousands strong).

I am very happy to say that I completed that first marathon in approximately 5 hours and 28 minutes. The experience was one I will never forget and I would recommend it to anyone (marathon running not necessarily just London).

The running bug had bitten me hard and since these early days, I have ran countless 5k, 10ks, over 100 half marathon (events and even more for fun) and multiple marathons plus further. Running has become my passion, my saviour in terms of mental health, my business, my main friendship circles (because aren’t runners just the best people?!) and my improver of health. I also love running with my dogs and kill two birds with one stone through canicrossing. Bailey (in particular) and I have formed a strong bond in our shared love of running.

I have lost weight, I have become stronger, fitter and all round nicer person. I realised I was quite competitive with myself and trained and worked really hard over the years to achieve dreams such as multiple awards for Virtual Runner, raising over £750,000 for charity (and rising), 5k time of close to 20 minutes, marathon almost 2 hours faster than my first one, the list could go on (the marathon PB was actually 24 hours before my surgery!).

18 months ago to the day – as I write this on 5th April, I needed major surgery to remove my thyroid due to a very sizeable (9cm!) lump in my throat which was later diagnosed as cancer. I was in the best shape of my life going into the operation – thanks running! Therefore, I bounced back from the surgery very quickly and even managed a run only one week post this op. I am so grateful for the sport I love as I my surgeon was so happy with my progress and recovery that I didn’t need radiotherapy or chemotherapy to beat the cancer. Instead it is managed through my healthy diet and exercise (plus a small tablet to support my thyroid levels). I am delighted to say that there is still no cancer regrowth and I remain fit and well with regular check ups to ensure this continues.

Below are photos of me a fortnight before my surgery and then two weeks after my surgery. What a fantastic job the NHS team did!

It hasn’t all been rosy of course – by not having a thyroid I am autoimmune and have good days and bad days with some significant side effects. However, running and exercise improves these massively and can even turn one of my not so good days into a good one!

I have mentioned the people that have come into my life through running – one of those was also an NHS staff member who got me the right appointments to get me the help I required so this is where I can safely say that running saved my life. Without that track session with my running club, meeting this guy and then onwards, the cancer could well have developed further. But let’s not think about that!

Since my operation, I have started dabbling in triathlon and have learned to swim front crawl. I am now holding my own and learning to love the crazy world of multi-disciplined sports. My motivation to do my best continues and is probably even stronger since my diagnosis as I have this reminder of what benefits exercise can have.

I try not to come across as preachy when I talk about needing to exercise. I appreciate I am lucky to have found the sport(s) that work for me and that I really enjoy. My biggest advice is to find one that works for you. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking! If in doubt, see if you can find a medal to work towards, it might just change your life.

I’m remain as motivated today by a new medal as I was 10 years ago, but it has all grown into so much more. So to everyone who has supported either my personal or professional side of running – THANK YOU!

When i’m not running, swimming or cycling or working hard on Virtual Runner, I will be found having adventures with my friends and family and on calmer days i’ll be found curled up with Bailey and a book. Something will be pretty important to keep me away from parkrun every Saturday at 9am so if ever you want to say hi in person, i’ll happily share where i’m running 🙂