AUGUST 2020: Maddy Robbins only got into running seriously over the last couple of years. She’s been training regularly with RunBrighton, and is about to take on her first marathon, this October.

What sport and exercise did you do when you were younger, Maddy?

I was never particularly sporty as a child, always quite keen to bow out of sports day and avoid being picked for any team.  I attended a large sports college on Dartmoor, so I did well to avoid it all really.  I have some dismal memories of cross-county running across the moor, in rain and mud.  I was so excited when I joined the sixth form and found out that PE was no longer compulsory – couldn’t wait to quit!

When I was very young, my dad died suddenly and unexpectedly, whilst he was out running, from a genetic cardiovascular disease called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM).  It is sometimes referred to as the runner’s silent killer, due to there being no symptoms.  As a result of this, I was certainly never encouraged to pursue running and, during my childhood, I was quite confused about the danger it presented.

I kept fit through dance, particularly ballet classes, which I loved, but by the time I was leaving home I did no exercise at all.  I started smoking regularly when I went to university, and my lifestyle, spent mostly in the university bar, was not in any way compatible with any kind of healthy living, for a good, few years.

That must have been quite traumatic for you, losing your dad like that, Maddy. What prompted you to eventually take up running yourself?

I originally got into running when I moved to Brighton, in 2000 – a millennium resolution! I had quit smoking, bought some trainers and, living close to the seafront, would regularly run up and down the promenade from Hove Lagoon to the Marina and back.  I signed up for Race for Life in Stanmer Park and put in a pretty decent time of 25 minutes. I loved it!  However, without parkruns or RunBrighton, back then, my commitment to running eventually petered out.

Over the years since then, I have made a number of attempts to get back into running. There have been further ‘Race for Life’ runs and, in 2014, the year after I had my son, Joseph, I decided to kick start my return to running by doing the BM10K with my brother.  He did an impressive 43 minutes, and me, well, I finished it!

I heard about parkrun in summer 2017, whilst sitting in a field at WOMAD festival for my 40th birthday celebrations. I thought “What is that?” Again, I had reached a point where I felt I had to make a change – I was turning forty and getting overweight.  I decided that I would look it up as soon as I got home and go to the very next parkrun… which I did at Hove Park, putting in a time just under 40 minutes.  I was over the moon that I could still ‘run’!

After discovering my local parkrun at Preston Park, I found a few of my friends already there.  Nigel and Claire were parkrun regulars and would give me encouragement around the final lap, having finished long before me! However, it was slow progress and I lapsed again.  The next time, I re-started by taking Joseph along to junior parkrun on a Sunday morning, where I could just about manage the 2km loop with the other mums.

Finally, I attempted parkrun again in the autumn of 2018 and, from that point, I haven’t looked back – almost two years of constant, regular running.  In this time, I have completed over 60 parkruns, a further BM10K and two half marathons.

And you’ve become a regular with RunBrighton. What is it that appeals to you about it?

Nigel suggested that I join RunBrighton, recognising that it would offer me the structure I needed to step up to the intimidating distance of a half marathon.

I joined in June 2019 and it has been such a positive experience for me.  The ethos is so strength-based, inclusive and motivating. There are clearly some very talented runners in the group, but I have never found there to be any elitism – it feels to me that everyone’s achievements are celebrated equally, which is a lovely thing.  I have found my confidence has really grown and I have learnt a lot about how to train, as well as developing my knowledge of lots of local running routes – and making lots of lovely new friends.

You’ve well and truly got the running bug now. I know you’d booked up for our training camp in the Algarve, back in March, too, which unfortunately was cancelled due to the current pandemic. Maybe next year?

Yes, definitely.  I was so excited to have the opportunity to attend the training camp in the run up to my first marathon – it was an opportunity to focus entirely on running, and I was hoping it was going to set me up for an impressive performance on the big day! But, unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be – for this year, at least!

You’ve recently attended the sessions that we’ve been organising regularly, on running posture & technique, muscle activation, etc. How do you think that has helped your running, Maddy?

I had naively assumed that I would automatically engage all the muscles I needed when I ran, but I’m learning that that isn’t necessarily true.   I think what I’ve found interesting is how, by finding the correct posture and stretches, it has revealed to me where things are unbalanced – the muscles that are tight and overused, and others which are not being used enough!

The exercises are so straightforward to perform (assuming I’m doing them correctly) and I’m hopeful that keeping with it will help me to optimise my running technique and, most importantly, prevent injury. It’s hard work, but early signs look good, as I feel quite strong and I have recently completed a 5k PB, almost a minute faster than my previous best time.

What’s your favourite race distance?

I don’t have one.  I think I have improvements to make at all distances, and I want to spend time on all of them.  Currently, my focus is the marathon distance, although I can’t say it’s my favourite, as I’ve never done it!

How are you feeling now, with Brighton Marathon (your first marathon) just a few weeks away? It must have been tricky adjusting your training, with the event date having moved a couple of times.

I’m feeling excited! It’s been a very long run up to it, and a bit of a rollercoaster ride since we were initially told that Brighton Marathon would be postponed, and then the lockdown.  I was fearful that not only all the events I wanted to do were being taken away but that running itself might be taken away.  I made a decision that I would make the most of every opportunity to get out and run, and through lockdown my time spent running has increased naturally.

When I started marathon training again, and knowing that the event may be postponed or cancelled, I decided that I would complete the distance, regardless, even if that meant doing it on my own.  I now plan to complete a virtual marathon on 4th October, as part of the Brighton Marathon Edit.  Doing a marathon has been my goal for almost a year, so I am more than ready – in fact, I would say I’m desperate to do it!

What will be your main objective for the marathon? Will you try and go for a particular finish time?

Of course, I would love to do a ‘good’ time, but I have decided not to put pressure on myself.  I have so little idea of what to expect and I know that completing it alone, without the support of a crowd or the buzz of an event, will make the mental challenge even greater.  I have never run that distance before, or anywhere close to it, so I think for now I will make my target ‘just completing it’.  There’s always next year’s marathon for time targets!

How do you spend your time when not running?

I’m a Social Worker and I currently work part time as a Team Manager for Surrey Children’s Services.  It’s stressful and sometimes all-consuming, but also, thankfully, rewarding.  I’m also mum to a 7-year-old and Star Wars fanatic!  I live with my partner, Marc, and Joseph, in Hanover. Lockdown stopped so many of the ‘normal’ activities we used to enjoy, and much of what we do now is very close to home – a bit of gardening, socially-distant socialising in local parks, etc.  And I’m still able to attend my book club each month, via Zoom.

Maddy, thanks very much for taking the time to chat. Well done on your recent 5k PB. Keep going with all your new exercises. And good luck with your marathon in October.

By Mike Bannister