MARCH 2020: I first met Christianne Whitfield on a Friday evening, back in the summer of 2017, in Brighton Bierhaus.

We got chatting and, despite not having done any running at all at that point, a few months later she signed up to RunBrighton’s winter training.

And she’s joined us regularly since then.

As a nurse, Christianne’s workload means there’s not much time to get any training in right now.

What was it specifically that made you decide to join RunBrighton, Christianne?

My lovely friend Sheila O’Toole, whom I trained with, spoke very highly of RunBrighton and the community spirit it had. She’d been a member for a while, so she got me thinking. I wanted to do something special for my sister, as a fund-raiser. I felt I had to do something that I’d never have considered. Brighton Marathon seemed like a great idea and RunBrighton was the obvious choice for training for it.

You’ve done several seasons with us since. What is it that makes you keep coming back?

I would describe myself as a reluctant runner and I’m asthmatic so, before I joined, I was decidedly tentative.  I was really anxious about joining a running group. I’d never dreamed of being able to run, or to enjoy running, let alone actually being capable of getting through a marathon.  Even now, my body fights it. Initially I struggle to get going but I’ve found that, once I’ve reached mile three, I relax into it and feel I could run forever. I love the weekly emails telling me where to rock up and, hey presto, Sunday long runs with friendly faces and oodles of support! The fact that I can run at my own (slow) pace, without any hint of judgement, is fantastic. All the groups are so supportive. What’s not to like?!

What else would you typically do in your spare time, to keep fit?

I would still classify myself as a swimmer first, and not a runner. Having grown up on the Isle of Wight, I love swimming and all water sports, I used to sail, but now have a kayak and take every opportunity to get out in it. I love walking up on the beautiful South Downs, and I enjoy sea swimming, lake swimming (in the Lake District) and now (much to my astonishment) going out for a run on the Downs too.

And this winter, you got your husband, Will, to sign up to RunBrighton too. How has he found it?

He absolutely loves it, but wipes the floor with me! He’s great to run with, as he’s a happy soul and has found a natural talent. Luckily, he’s willing to slow down for me. Our natural pace is very different, so I urged him to join RunBrighton and run with a group suited to his pace. He’s loved the support and camaraderie and has been really impressed with the ambassadors and the organisation of the Sunday runs… not to mention the breakfasts afterwards!

Training has been really tough, this winter, what with some horrendous storms to contend with… and now the coronavirus outbreak. What were yours and Will’s race targets before all the spring events were cancelled?

We had loads of things planned – Dubrovnik Half Marathon, BM10K, Dark Star 7, and a Maverick race in July – most of which have been postponed now. We’re hoping the Dingle Half, in September, will go ahead, but I was particularly gutted not to do the BM10k, as I was planning to do it for lovely Annie Broe. She was incredibly supportive and instrumental in getting me through the Brighton Marathon… something I really didn’t think was possible. She would encourage me, even when I wasn’t able to run, by advising us at the back to walk with purpose. I shall always take that with me.

Will you be aiming for specific finish times, or running simply to enjoy the experience?

Will runs with purpose – hoping to get under 2 hours for the Dingle Half – and I run/walk (jeffing at the back) with equal but different purpose. My goal is to enjoy every minute of an activity which, even now, I can hardly believe possible. I love the feeling of achievement that I get, and occasionally strive to improve my times too. I feel like I’ve been given an unexpected gift and will use it well.

And is it solely your sister’s charity that you run for?

I ran the Brighton Marathon for her charity, building schools in Sierra Leone and supporting Ebola Orphans. As she’s doing something so amazing, my effort had to match that. Later this year, hopefully, I’ll do the postponed BM10k for Sussex Cancer Fund, because lovely Annie had become an ambassador for them last year and it was a charity close to her heart. As I work in Cancer Services, what better cause is there for me to run for?!

I know you’re a nurse, Christianne. What’s your normal role?

I work in Clinical Research in Oncology, which means looking after patients on clinical trials. I work with cancer patients, with services including chemotherapy, at the Royal Sussex County Hospital. I love my job and have an amazingly supportive team. (I’m not saying that just because my colleagues Kirsty and Vic have also joined RunBrighton!)

I imagine you must now be working in quite a surreal environment, with the NHS under huge pressure. What has your experience been, of late?

The truth is, Mike, that I’m scared about going to work right now, but wouldn’t be able to stay at home knowing I have skills that are needed. We have had to reduce services and are preparing to ramp up and be redeployed wherever we’re needed in the hospital. It’s heartbreaking to see our consultants making difficult choices about treatment options. And the worst is yet to come!

Do you have any particular message for anyone reading this, that might make a difference in terms of combatting the current crisis?

People need to take social distancing seriously. If everyone acted as if they had the virus already, they might be more vigilant about their behaviour and more willing to take it seriously. It’s difficult, I appreciate, but you just can’t know who is infected and who isn’t. I’m not a fan of mantras, but the Government advice is simple… STAY AT HOME, PROTECT THE NHS and SAVE LIVES. Says it all really!

Christianne, huge thanks from us all, to you and all your colleagues, for doing such an awesome job on the front line of this current crisis. Hopefully we’ll be able to get out running as a group again before long. Stay well!

Thanks Mike, it’s been a real pleasure.


By Mike Bannister