JANUARY 2021: Martina Pickin only took up running at the age of 63. She signed up for RunBrighton’s winter 2019/20 training, and went on to join us for summer 2020 and winter 2020/21. Following a minor, injury setback, she is now back to running, building up the mileage again.

How are you now, Martina? Are you fully over your injury?

I am fine now, but I had to have a few weeks off running altogether with a partial hamstring tear, and when I started back it was very gradual. I sustained the injury on the last 100 metres of a 5K speed session (pyramids). I had felt a bit of discomfort during the session and I ignored it as it was not too painful. I wish I had stopped running then, or at least cut out the sprint, and it might not have happened.

I had physio over several weeks from Sussex Injury Clinics (10% discount for RunBrighton members). I did no running for almost 4 weeks and then had to come back very gradually. I did my first proper hour run, just before Christmas, and managed my first RunBrighton run soon after. I am now back on schedule, as regards the long runs, although I have only been running a maximum of 3 times a week since the injury.

It can be easy to lose interest when injured. And lockdown can’t have helped. How did you stay motivated whilst unable to run?

I think I enjoy running so much that I could not consider giving it up. I like walking and cycling, so did this to keep up my fitness and I diarised my recovery progress. Each day, I documented my walks or cycle rides: where to, who with and how far. I also made sure I kept in touch with the people I usually run with, turning up at the café in Preston Park for the after-(not)parkrun cup of tea. And I saw the physio quite regularly for ultrasound, massage and the next piece of advice as to what I could safely do. I can’t say it wasn’t frustrating, but now I am back running, it doesn’t seem like I was off for that long. And it could have been worse!

I understand you started running quite late in life. How did that come about?

Yes, I started running at the age of 63 and was introduced to it by my son Billy. He had problems with anxiety over several years and discovered that running really helped him. He generally went on his own when it was dark, to avoid seeing people. I knew of parkrun and suggested he try it as a more sociable alternative.  One Saturday, he came back saying why didn’t I do it! I had never run before and, whilst I had had periods of sportiness at school, and did various exercise classes in my 30s and 40s, I had not done anything much for about 15 years, other than the occasional walk with friends or a run up the road, when late for work, to catch the train. I’d also been a smoker into my 40s. In addition, I worked hard all week and I enjoyed my lie-ins every Saturday and Sunday.

Anyway, in June 2018, to be supportive, I agreed to give parkrun a go. I went at the back, with the run/walk marker, who encouraged me to alternately run a minute and walk a minute. It took me over 40 minutes to complete my first 5K. The next time, the person at the back didn’t have a watch, so she encouraged me to alternate running and walking as I felt able; this time I did it in 36:17. The next time, a few weeks later, there was no back marker, so I decided to run for as long as I could and managed the whole 5K in 35:39. Now I had the bug! As the PBs kept coming, I became more and more motivated, and a regular. In October, I added an additional short run and began a running course to get me up to 10K. But, after the first session, I limped home and a subsequent visit to the sports physio confirmed I had a peroneal tendon injury in my ankle, acquired from doing too much too soon. The injury coincided with my son becoming unwell, so I didn’t get back to running again until the following April (2019).

This time, I joined Fitso Fitness, run by Marianne Clarke. My ambition was to get back to parkrun. However, in the company of others who had run 10Ks and half marathons, I upped my ambitions. I got back to parkrun and the PBs kept coming again. And I also registered for Barns Green 10K and Brighton 10K.

How did you come to sign up for our winter 19/20 training and what did you hope to gain from it?

After doing the 10Ks, I decided to register for the Brighton Half Marathon. I planned to get friends and relatives to sponsor me, to raise money for The Alzheimer’s Society in the process, as my dad lived with Alzheimer’s for many years and my mother was diagnosed with it in 2018, although died of other causes that same year. I joined RunBrighton as I’d heard about the training provided. At this point, I gave up on parkrun, unsure whether I should run two days in a row, and also I didn’t want to get up early on both Saturdays and Sundays, so my last parkrun was in November 2019.

I missed half of the RunBrighton winter training as I went to Australia for 5 weeks over Christmas and New Year, but I read the weekly emails and kept up with things via friends on WhatsApp. I rejoined the long Sunday runs on my return and, to my surprise, I found I really enjoyed getting up early and running with a group, and having coffee together afterwards. I arrived home earlier than my normal weekend getting-up time! I think RunBrighton engenders a great feeling of support and togetherness, and it really helped get me ready for the challenge of the Half Marathon.

You seemed to quickly get the running bug. I know you booked up for our training camp in the Algarve, back in March, which unfortunately was cancelled due to the pandemic. Maybe you’d be up for a similar trip, just as soon as the current restrictions are lifted?

After completing the Brighton Half Marathon (and raising over £1,300 for The Alzheimer’s Society), I was full of enthusiasm for running and was really looking forward to the running holiday in the Algarve. I booked rather late, hoping I could squeeze it in before lockdown occurred – a bit of a foolish move really. It was disappointing that it was cancelled, but I was relieved at the same time. I would definitely like to go, should another opportunity arise. In fact, I still have my BA voucher from the flight refund, which is valid for two years. Surely, it must be possible within that time!

What are your running goals, Martina, assuming events can start taking place again in the next few months?

I have registered for both the Brighton Half Marathon and the Brighton Marathon, this year. So, my ambitions have grown a little, since I started parkrun. Running a marathon feels a rather lofty ambition at the moment, but with the right training I think I can do it. That’s why I joined RunBrighton again, this winter. It’s probably good that both events have been postponed, as it’s given me time to recover from my injury. I now know I need to concentrate on strength and conditioning work, as well as the running miles, in order to stay injury free.

What drives you, with regards to your running?

I just really, really enjoy it: the feeling of wellbeing it gives you; the social aspect (I’ve made several new friends through running and love running with others); the fact that I can eat more without gaining weight (I love chocolate and wine); having a hobby I can share with my 21-year-old son (who, whilst speedier than me, says he feels like he’s had a run when running with me); and I have really enjoyed finding something new, that I seem to be quite good at, at this stage in my life. Oh, and I’m quite competitive and like to push myself, so I put the drive I had for my work into running!

I understand you were working in public health, until recently. What did that involve?

I worked in a local authority public health team. I’ve always worked in the health sector, as a nurse, midwife, health visitor and more recently as a public health specialist. My last post was as a consultant in public health, in East Sussex County Council, and my main areas of work were mental health, suicide prevention, substance misuse and homelessness. Unlike other health professions, public health is about addressing health at a population, rather than individual, level and the main focus is on prevention of ill health. The Covid pandemic has introduced many more people to public health, specifically to Public Health England’s role in tackling infectious diseases.

And how else do you spend your time now, when not running?

I retired in May 2019, but did bits of work that year and moved gradually into my new lady-of-leisure role. I was already in a choir, Brighton Goes Gospel, and a book group, but after retirement I joined another choir and a second book group. I enjoy walking with a group of friends and we have (had!) a regular monthly walk. I like the cinema and went regularly to the Duke of York and Dukes at Komedia. I am quite a sociable person, so I also really enjoy going to the pub and parties.

Now, of course, like everyone else’s, my social life has been almost eradicated! I do too much TV watching (and am very grateful for my Smart TV, for Netflix, Prime, etc), I participate in social Zoom meetings, I go for walks and I have also taken up a new hobby, sea swimming. I’m only in the water for about 10 minutes, but on a sunny day, when the sea is calm, it’s lovely. I now have all the gear as I’m not brave enough to go in with just a swimming costume. I am also doing a bit of public health work, albeit desk-bound. But what has sustained me through all the restrictions brought on by the pandemic is running. And I really hope I can continue running for many more years to come.

Martina, it’s been great to chat. And I’m delighted we have you training with RunBrighton. Hopefully, with the inclusion of strength & conditioning, you’ll remain injury free. And I look forward to watching your progression, as you prepare for Brighton Half Marathon and Brighton Marathon, over the summer.

By Mike Bannister