MARCH 2022: Louise Serpell only took up running four years ago, having done relatively little exercise since she had her first child, in 2002. She has gradually progressed and has set herself the challenge of running Brighton Marathon next month. To prepare, she signed up for RunBrighton’s winter 2021/22 training. Having well-and-truly caught the running bug, she also just joined our annual training camp in the Algarve.

How did you first get into running, Lou?

About eight years ago, I started trying to get fit by joining the gym and getting a personal trainer to help and motivate me. I’m still seeing Georgie Dutton, once a week, and she recently reminded me that when I started at the gym, I said “I am happy to do anything, but I can’t run!” However, around four years ago, needing to run for a train, I was so shocked at how long I then struggled to catch my breath. I realised something had to be done, and I was inspired by my two friends Wendy and Anne, who were already running up to 10k. I started with FITSO, doing the Couch to 5k, and carried on for a while, supported by Emily, an excellent running partner.

As well as my desire to get fit, I’ve always suffered with lower back pain, and I just wanted to see what I could do for myself to sort it out. Initially, it really hurt with running, but now it’s so much better. I don’t think I realised I had glutes and that they needed to be used!

And why the marathon?

After joining Wendy and Anne, and finding myself running more and more, in 2019 I did the BM10k (part of the Brighton Marathon Weekend), then Brighton Half Marathon in February 2020, just before the pandemic. I then went on to run the BM10k again, with Emily last September. I was so inspired by the excitement of the crowds at the 10k, that I signed up for the full marathon this year. I realised that the training I did on my own, for the Half Marathon, was not going to be good enough for full marathon preparation, so that’s why I joined RunBrighton.

But since deciding to take on the marathon, I’ve been questioning whether it is total madness, as well as being too much for me at the age of 51, relatively new to running. However, I decided to do it to raise funds for SiblingLink, an organisation very important to me. It supports people who are affected by suicide and helps those who are caring for siblings living with mental ill health. I have found their support essential, and I’m so inspired by the strength of those who’ve experienced such a significant loss of a loved one. If anyone would like to sponsor me, that would be much appreciated and can be done via my Just Giving page.

What would you say it is that motivates you, with regards to your running?

As well as raising awareness and funding for Siblinglink, I do now actually really like running.

Whether I will feel the same over 26.2 miles is another matter, but I do thoroughly enjoy my regular Saturday runs through Stanmer Park woods, with Wendy, and I’ve loved our Sunday runs with RunBrighton too. Some of the scenery has been stunning. Whenever I’m away, I love getting to run in new places – which has included Majorca, Melbourne, Sydney, Boston, Seattle, Paris, and in the snow in Sweden. And I would say a recent highlight was running through the orange groves on our training camp in the Algarve.

I love that feeling of experiencing a new place at a (slightly) faster pace than walking!

That was quite a full-on week in the Algarve. Hopefully you’ve given yourself at least a couple of easy days, since returning home. How are you feeling now?

I did more exercise there than I’ve ever done before, and I was incredibly tired following the long run and also after the journey home. But a couple of days later, I was fine, and happy to go for another run. By the third day, I felt great, and am now excited about the prospect of running the marathon.

What prompted you to join the training camp, and did it meet your expectations?

I love visiting different countries and, during lock down, I really missed the travel that I get to do with my job. So that was a big draw – the prospect of Portugal. The vicinity of the camp is beautiful, and it’s a great place to run. It was the perfect time of year to see flowers, and I thought the beach was just stunning. Of course, there was a lot of exercise too, and I also accepted a challenge of swimming in the unheated pool every day, which was brilliant.

As it turned out, the Algarve trip was fantastic, and I met lots of lovely people, many of whom were incredibly inspiring. It was such a busy week, with loads of activities every day. I would definitely recommend it.

I think it’s fair to say you swam more, at the camp, than anyone else. Is this something you enjoy doing back at home?

I took up cold, sea swimming, in lockdown, and I think it really helped me get through what was a very challenging time. It also seems to work wonders for aching muscles! I’ve always been a happy swimmer, not a particularly accomplished one, and it was one of the few sports I liked as a child. In fact, when I was younger, I never showed any sporting ability at all, and I would typically be the kid picked last for all the team sports.

How do you spend your time when not running or swimming?

I work at the University of Sussex as a Research Scientist and Lecturer in Biochemistry and Neuroscience, so that keeps me pretty busy, as I run a research group working on the causes of Alzheimer’s disease. I love my job, but it can be rather stressful. I find that running is an excellent way of taking my mind away from it, and it allows me to destress.

How have you found the training with RunBrighton?

Other than the amazing scenery, I’ve found it incredibly friendly, inspiring and great fun. I was worried I would be intimidated by the ‘proper’ runners, much faster than me. But there are some lovely people who I run with in the slower-paced group, and I have found the faster-paced runners to be very supportive and encouraging.

Do you have any other running goals after the marathon?

Not yet. I think a lot will depend on how the marathon goes. After the Half, I said never again, so who knows?! I will definitely keep running, though.

Lou, it’s been great to chat. I’m delighted we have you training with RunBrighton, and am chuffed to know you had a fantastic time in the Algarve. You can now enjoy your taper, and I look forward to seeing how you get on in Brighton Marathon.

By Mike Bannister