FEBRUARY 2021: Ruth Farnell has joined RunBrighton for most of our summer and winter seasons since 2015. She also runs for Vegan Runners, and has recently launched her own event, the Hugletts Half Marathon, which takes place this April.
Ruth, I understand you got into running quite late in life. How did it come about?
Yes, I was an unhealthy couch potato until my early 50s. I got some gym vouchers as a Christmas present and found that the treadmill was about the only thing I could tolerate.
I think my story is the same as many people’s, in that I had friends suffering from cancer and that got me motivated to get sponsorship and enter a 5k event. I didn’t really view myself as a runner.
After my first race, I had the bug. I only regret not starting earlier. There are plenty of people who seem to be able to just start running and manage their first marathon within a year, but I’m one of those who took three hard years to get fit enough.
You first joined RunBrighton for our winter 2015/16 training. What prompted that and what have you enjoyed most about RunBrighton?
I had done all my running very much on my own, for about 18 months by that point, and I didn’t really know what I was doing. A friend had mentioned to me about RunBrighton and I wanted to try and run a half marathon.
That winter season really got me going. I liked the fact that you could either be anonymous or chat to people, but you were never alone, and I learnt all the new routes and local places that I didn’t previously know existed, even though I have lived here for over 30 years. And the idea that you could run on snow-covered hills in 30mph wind had simply never occurred to me before.
Running with lovely ambassadors, full of tips, was just great that first season. The guest speakers have been interesting too, with food for thought. I met my coach, Jan Lavis, through that. She has kept me on the straight and narrow during the week, and particularly when I used to work away from home a lot.
I have also made some really good running friends through RunBrighton, and we have had numerous jollies to races in Europe.
These days, I would still sign up for the running company, so fingers crossed for next season.
What motivates you in races? Do you tend to go for a time, or more to enjoy the experience of the event?
For me, it’s a bit the other way around. I run very much for my mental health and for enjoyment. This has become really important during lockdown, don’t you think? The training – the journey to a race event – is just as important, for me now, as the event itself.
I’ve generally had two key events a year that I’ve trained hard for, when I go for a time; the others have been fitted around visiting places we want to see. Once you have taken the pressure off, it feels great running 26.2 miles, absorbing the atmosphere and the sites, as well as being able to reflect on how you’re managing the run along the way.
And what kind of running event appeals to you most?
This is a hard question, because I only enter events that catch my eye. I am now drawn to small, esoteric events, rather than the big, popular marathons. I have run races that have been small loops, such as Thames Phoenix events and Leeds & Liverpool Canal Canter, where the fast and slow runners continually pass and acknowledge each other; it feels as though we’re all in it together, which is a really lovely, levelling experience.
In 2019, I ran marathons in Venice and on the Solway Coast, which were both spectacular, dramatically beautiful and totally exhilarating.
Richmond Park Marathon, steeped in history, with its multicultural demographic and the mayor shaking the hand of every finisher, was fab!
And the Three Forts Marathon and Beachy Head Marathon are unmissable for the scenery and support – we’re very lucky to have these events so close to home.
What would you say is your best running experience, to date?
Where to start?! It’s specific moments of individual events that tend to stick, isn’t it?
In the Barcelona Half, running down the Rambla de Prim in a huge sea of green shirts, with full-blast Salsa bands blaring, is an experience not to be missed.
Accidently winning 2nd prize in the veteran age category in the Torremolinos Half Marathon, after a great run just before lockdown last year, was a real lift!
Due to lockdown rule changes in September 2020, I found myself stuck in Rethymno, Crete, just as I was about to return to the UK and run my Virtual Boston Marathon. It meant I had to do it out there at short notice, in old trainers and in 30+ degree heat. I was cheered on by the street cleaners and other locals, as I plodded up and down and cooled myself under beach showers. So that was a bit of an adventure… and character building!
So many moments, though. I’m a running bore, with hundreds of anecdotes.
I understand you’ve recently retired, Ruth. What was your work and how are you enjoying retirement, so far?
Well, I was a busy IT project manager and away from home a lot. I took early retirement and timed it a bit badly, because I stopped just as the first lockdown came into force, last March. I was intending to go to Boston for the marathon, and then on to Australia to see my youngest and have my ‘gap year’ of travelling.
So, as is the case for everyone else, my life is on hold. I am lucky to have running, and I’m sure RunBrightoners will agree with this. You can call someone or go alone, and just run on the seafront or the South Downs, and we are blessed to have this ‘skill’.
Apart from that, I have a long, bucket list of fairly ordinary things I‘ve put off, which I’m working through until we get past the pandemic. Being able to reflect, read, garden, cook and write feels luxurious. And I’m learning Greek, which I have wanted to focus on for years. I am dreaming of Greek trail races, if anyone has recommendations.
I know you run for Vegan Runners, as do many of your running pals. When did you first become vegan and what triggered that?
That’s easy. I have always been vegetarian, and becoming vegan 6 years ago was an ethical step that I should have taken years earlier. I haven’t looked back, and I feel great on it.
Tell us about Hugletts Half. What prompted you to organise this?
Hugletts Wood Animal Sanctuary is an amazing place near Heathfield. It’s a little oasis of calm, created 26 years ago, mainly for cows but for other farm animals too. Many Sussex people, including a number of Vegan Runners, already support the animals there, but it has been hard hit during the pandemic, and money is tight.
We need motivation to meet our running goals, so three of us have set up this virtual event – the Hugletts Virtual Half Marathon – for this April, to raise some money for the sanctuary. In fact, this is the first time I’ve turned my hand to ‘events management’, so if anyone has any tips, please let me know.
Hopefully, winning an attractive medal with a running cow on it and knowing you’re supporting a local sanctuary will motivate people to enter:-) We’ve had massive interest so far, so fingers crossed.
Simply run a half marathon during April, wherever you like, including your back garden or treadmill, if appropriate. We will be offering spot prizes along the way – not for speed this year, because of shared spaces during lockdown, but maybe next year.
If people want to find out more, or to enter, what’s the best way of getting in touch?
Please like our Facebook site. It has all the details there, and we will keep it up to date as the event gets closer.
And there’s a great article about the Sanctuary in Vegan Life.
You can sign up here.
What race goals do you have, yourself, going forward?
Well, I’m planning my first ultra this year, so fingers crossed, but I’m a bit coy talking about it because I don’t want to tempt fate. Either way, it means a lot of time on the Downs, as the weather improves, so all good!
I’m hopefully running 100 miles around the Berlin Wall in August, in a Vegan Runner relay team with 3 others, if we get back to normal by then.
I’m sure there will be more, but let’s wait and see how this pandemic plays out.
Ruth, it’s been great to chat. I hope all goes well with Hugletts Half. And good luck with your Ultra training… and learning Greek!
By Mike Bannister