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Gemma's Story - Running to Fight My Illness


​​Well, that was the plan: do London to celebrate my 40th birthday, having previously managed a couple of half’s, and then call it a day, my running being fairly sporadic and more of a challenge than something to enjoy. But something changed in me long before I crossed the finish line in London. I’d joined a running group – the Women’s Running Network, and the camaraderie, friendship and support on those training days was invigorating. I loved being part of such a positive bunch of people, many of them like me, not overly athletic or fast, but spurring each other on simply by being there.

That first 26.2 miles in London was hard work. Well, the first 6 miles or so were fine. But I’d gone off too fast, despite Peg’s advice about pacing, and the last 6 miles were killers. I don’t think I’d ever been so tired. At that stage I never imagined running another marathon, but I so enjoyed being part of the group, that I maintained my weekly runs – something I’d never achieved before.

Eighteen months later, I decided to give the marathon another go, this time setting off at a steadier pace and managing to knock 30 minutes off my near five-hour time at London, almost with ease. I did at least one or two marathons every year until 2011, when I celebrated my 10th with a trip to New York and running around the Big Apple. It was just the BEST experience of my life. Shortly after I got home, my dad was diagnosed with vascular dementia, the WORST thing in my world.

The pain of dad’s illness inspired me to run a further 40 marathons over the next three years for the dementia research charity BRACE. I crossed the line of my 50th at Edinburgh in May 2015, three days after my 50th birthday, in my second best time ever of 4:14. It was a bitter-sweet day as my dad had died eight weeks before. But running that final 100 metres, I was as elated as I have ever been, punching the air with pure joy (as seen in the picture above!)

Running has been a challenge and a saviour, it’s brought me friends, given me confidence, a more positive outlook, taken me to new places, kept me fit, allowed me to eat more cake and never needing to buy a T-shirt. I absolutely can’t imagine not having running in my life now.

And for me 26.2 miles is the best!

(If you’re interested, you can
the blog that I wrote for two years whilst doing my 50 marathon challenge.)

Olivia's Story - A sister's inspiration

Pauline's Story - My dream role, & it's inspired by YOU!

Jo's Story - It started as a 'one off...'


​​​I didn’t really start to discover my love of running until my third time completing the Great West Run in 2008; this also gave me the courage to joining Honiton Running Club. The support of Honiton Runners and my love of collecting medals meant that I could never say no when people asked me if I wanted to take part in a race on a weekend.

Running helps me to de-stress, relax and reset the mind. But most of all I love the way running makes me feel alive and invincible. 
If I had to pick my favourite time of the year to run it would be on spring or autumn mornings when you are running around the beautiful East Devon countryside and the low lying mist is starting to evaporate as the sun starts to rise.

However the last three years have been extremely tough as I have been plagued with injury and haven’t been able to run. I’m going to be honest and say that it has been hard to stay positive and motivated all the time. Which means there has been many periods when I have been down, tears have been shed and rehabilitation has not been done.  But with the support of my boyfriend and my therapists I have begun to run this year. I started with 5 minute runs and I am slowly building up the time.

During my injured years I completed my degree in Sports Therapy. I now run Body Master Plan which helps people to get running again. I love being a Sports Therapist and it gives me such a sense of pride when I am able to help people achieve their goals and be pain free. Having had a long term injury I feel that I am able to sympathise with my clients and show that it is possible to get back running with the correct treatment and rehabilitation plan.

I will be taking part in the Women Can relay marathon with some lovely ladies which will be my first time back in a club vest. It’ll be amazing to be part of a unique run, to celebrate the achievements of every woman taking part and to appreciate the stunning part of the world that we run in. Plus, there’s a cream tea at the end!
Olivia Higginson
Body Master Plan >>>

My first marathon was London 2005 – its 25th anniversary year. I’d been a big armchair fan, often watching it on television with my dad who I used to run with when I was younger.  His fatherly advice, as I moaned and whinged going up the hills, was: “It’s only pain, it won’t kill you!” Those words have rung in my ears many times, through all the long training miles and the marathons I’ve clocked up since that first 'one-off …'

I had been looking for a new challenge for the past 6 months and couldn’t have been more delighted when I came across the Women Can Marathon. I started getting into fitness about six years ago, visiting the gym and doing a once a week run kept me reasonably fit and to be honest occupied my evenings. I enjoyed the feeling that being in control of my body gave me and didn’t imagine I’d ever stop. 

​​I fell pregnant with my first child 4 years ago and kept running right through the pregnancy but things took a different turn when Michael was born.  Shortly after the birth I was diagnosed with Relapsing Remitting Multiple Sclerosis and suddenly my body started to take control of me. Extreme fatigue kicked in along with depression and much numbness to different parts of my body prevented me from living my old lifestyle.

Several months later I started to look at my life and remember the one thing that gave me that lust for life, the thing that made me happy and feel alive. It was time to get my trainers out and get sweating. I got myself a running buggy and off I went, although it was a slow start at just 1.5 miles, it felt good, I was getting the old Gemma back.  Believe it or not but as soon as I got off my bum and starting moving and getting out into the fresh air, suddenly my symptoms where fading away and the energy was kicking in.

Then Stanley was born 20 months ago and I went through the whole episode again but now I had learnt my lesson. Just 8 weeks after the birth and as soon as the doctors gave me the all-clear, I was on the treadmill, it felt like I was running through the illness and coming out stronger with each session. And now, after 18 months of getting my body into the best possible shape, I enjoy challenging myself and my personal strength. I believe that my love for running and the over-whelming feeling that comes with it is what keeps me so healthy and helps me get through my chronic illness.  The furthest I had run prior to my entering the Marathon was 10 miles and that was pre-diagnosis so if this isn’t going to challenge me then I don’t know what is.

For me there is no better feeling than putting on your trainers on and running, challenging yourself and pushing to limits you never thought possible, it’s the one thing that truly makes you feel alive and it is my absolute dream to inspire other women/Mums to experience this fantastic high that I get every time. Feel free to check out my blog or Instagram as I’m off-loading my journey and positivity throughout my training. 

Can’t wait to meet you all on the day ladies – lets smash it!!!!!
Read Gemma’s post about the event on
her own blog >>>

In 2010 I was a mum of 2 boys who was overweight, had zero confidence and just felt extremely low. I couldn’t even run to the next lamp post without stopping for breath! In 2012 I decided to set myself a challenge: To run 66k through the Peak District. At this time, I was having trouble with chest pain, joint pain and extreme fatigue, and was under a cardiology consultant to find out what was going on. I decided that I was still going to run. 



I first started running in 1998 with Pauline & Peg at the Women’s Running Network in Exeter.  I have always been interested in fitness and exercise and had just returned from the Middle East where women’s sport in Saudi Arabia is and remains a controversial topic due to the suppression of female participation in sport by conservative Islamic religious authorities. 

​​​I did the 66k run through some extremely difficult conditions and very big hills, and I was also injured but I held the tears back until I got to the finish. It was the most demanding thing I had ever done, both physically and mentally.

In 2013 I was finally diagnosed with fibromyalgia and costochondritis. I didn’t believe the rheumatologist when he told me. I thought he’d got it wrong! I was determined to carry on as normal and to beat this. In 2014 I decided to do a triathlon to raise awareness for fibromyalgia. I finished in 1hr 37mins – quite an achievement for someone whose body just didn’t feel like their own.

It didn’t finish there. In 2015 I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis.I just thought: “How is this happening to me?”

I have had some incredible opportunities this past year with some incredible people and their words of wisdom have altered my way of thinking. They have totally changed me. I’m not looking back at who I used to be and what I used to be able to do, but looking to the future at what I can become and what I can achieve to be the person that I am today.

So, a few weeks ago a friend of mine, Gemma Langford, challenged me to run the Women Can marathon with her and I decided that I was going to do it. This will be my 2017 challenge. I love running the trails and I love the outdoors, so why not!  I know it’s not going to be easy, and there will be days when my body may not feel like it, but I’m doing it for my children. I’m doing it for my health. I’m doing it to inspire others with chronic health conditions that you can beat this and that you are strong.

It is going to be an incredible day and we are all there to inspire each other. Let’s do this ladies!!

You can follow my journey on Instagram @lauraschallenge


​​​As a 14-year-old I, by accident, fell into middle distance running and was quite useful for my age, winning a National inter counties cross country title. I competed at National schools’ level both on the track and cross country, but of course that was almost 50 years ago and still, as females, we could only run the short distances.

However, it didn’t last long as being the oldest and the only girl in my family with three younger brothers I had to leave school at 16 and get a job…no training to be a PE teacher for me. Running slowly stopped as I discovered life and that was it really, got married, had three wonderful children but never content, drifting from job to job, overweight and incredibly unfit.

Then a major health scare and a big op at 35 made me think and decide to change my life. I applied to college, starting at 36, as a mature student, completed a 2-year qualification in sport and leisure, was old enough to be most of the other students’ mother and still unfit. For some strange reason, I entered the 1992 London Marathon and the rest is history so to speak. A couple of lecturers helped me huff and puff and get fit to run and yes, I was then hooked.

I ran competitively with my local running club and then, whilst working at a local leisure centre, and with their support, I set up a Running Sisters running group for beginner women. It was a national organisation at the time and we managed to get groups going in the East Devon area, too. I trained as a Leader and Coach but realised at the time that there was a big gap in women starting to run, their confidence and many other issues.

Running Sisters folded but we still felt that there was the need for women’s only beginner running groups and so Women’s Running Network was founded, helping to get thousands of women nationally running. Along the way, I’ve met the Queen for running 2,000 miles in the year 2000 for Cancer Research, we’ve won numerous awards and of course met and got to know the inspiring Jo Pavey, a local East Devon resident. I’ve also run many marathons including, London, Paris, New York and Florida.

I have two new knees now and am not supposed to run, so I Nordic walk, cycle and, yes, run a bit by taking a beginners’ run group. I am also a Nordic walking instructor and cycle leader for British Cycling, so my passion for helping others is still there.

For me, this is the dream role and it’s fitting that this should all be happening in East Devon. And you are all my inspiration, because without you there wouldn’t be an event and whatever your age or stage, each and every one of you are stars in my eyes. Whilst you’re running though, just spare a thought for women everywhere who are maybe not quite so free and able to do what we do!

Copyright: Women Can 2017


I first discovered running back in 2003 when I took part in the Race for Life on Exeter’s Quay. It took me around 40 minutes to complete the 5km. I still remember how hard the training was but the feeling of completing your first 5km race is amazing and the feeling stays with you. I, like many others, was inspired by watching someone else (in my case, my sister) run the Great West Run for a few years previously and I wanted a medal.


I subsequently reached my 5K target for Race for Life and I was hooked.  I then entered the London & Paris Marathons in subsequent years, again on tour with the Women’s Running Network.  It was a blast.  I qualified as a Coach and led the Women’s Running Network Group in Exeter on Monday Evenings.  I have completed numerous half-marathons in the UK and plan to do Cardiff & Exeter Half-Marathons in October 2016. 
I still, every year when I watch the London Marathon, have goosebumps at the very thought of being at the start line,  especially when the Ron Goodwin runners' anthem starts, I turn into a blubbering wreck!  ‘Chariots of Fire’ and Heather Small’s ‘Proud’ ring out, and I’m surprised when I can put one foot in front of the other.  There's no other feeling quite like it.
In 2013 Saudi Arabia’s first dedicated sports centre for girls was opened in Al Khobar on the East Coast of Saudi Arabia, offering training programmes that included physical fitness, karate, yoga and weight loss as well as special activities for children.  That year it was also announced that Saudi Arabian girls were officially allowed to practice sports in private schools, which they had not officially been allowed to do previously, though some had done so unofficially.  Sports activities are prohibited in public schools for girls.
It is wonderful to be in Devon, to have the freedom to be able to run, my freedom is something which I would never ever relinquish again.  I run because others can’t.
I feel very proud to be part of Women Can and am fortunate to have known Pauline and Peg for many years.  I am always humbled by their energy and their unfaltering enthusiasm to encourage everyone to enjoy sport.  They are both inspirational leaders who have made a difference to so many women’s lives through sport and running.  I am one of them.
What are you waiting for …….?  Get involved, sign up, because ‘Women Can’.

Laura's Story - Becoming me again!

Nicky's Story - Goosebumps

​​29 March 2017: Race Director Pauline Beare tells us her running story... Two months to go (less one day!) to one of the biggest days of my life, being Race Director for the Women Can marathon and relay, and probably the biggest day for some of you, marathon runners, too. I wake up at night quite often thinking how did I get here? Well quite simply my love of running and passion for helping others achieve.