SEPTEMBER 2021: Melanie King joined RunBrighton for our recent summer training, ahead of running Brighton Marathon – her first marathon – earlier this month. And, in doing so, fundraised for Macmillan Cancer Support, a charity close to her heart.
Mel, congratulations on completing your first marathon. What specifically inspired you to do it?
This year has been tough for so many people, for so many different reasons, but when my dad collapsed after a short walk in Thetford Forest, last November, I had a feeling that my world would never be the same again.
My sister and I put our St John’s Cadets training into practice, by calling an ambulance and placing him in the recovery position – but it was clear he was going to need more than just first aid. After numerous blood transfusions and tests, he was diagnosed with advanced myeloma, a type of bone marrow cancer. He began an arduous journey of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, which meant he was medically shielding throughout the winter and spring.
At first, I hoped to be able to be a bone marrow donor for him, but he was not well enough for the procedure. At only 65, and with an otherwise clean bill of health, he was put forward as a candidate for stem cell treatment by specialists at the Macmillan Unit in The West Suffolk Hospital.
I was shocked when he told me that his care from that point going forward would be completely funded by Macmillan Cancer Support. Following that phone call, in late June, I signed up to run Brighton Marathon to raise money for this well deserving charity. As the weeks passed, my dad’s condition worsened, to the point where he was unable to walk, but his positive outlook inspired every step I took in training.
I guess you weren’t overly concerned about having a target finish time. Was it more a case of focusing on the fundraising and enjoying the marathon experience?
I quickly learnt that signing up to run a marathon with less than three months to train was less than ideal, but I focused on the fact that I knew I could walk the distance, so simply aimed to reach my fundraising target and make it to the finish.
I’d been sea swimming throughout lockdown, and going for a few, short runs each week, for exercise and general wellbeing. After joining RunBrighton, I gradually increased to running 30-60 minutes, four mornings a week, and building up time on my feet with longer Sunday runs. Following a cautious start with the 5hrs marathon pace group, I subsequently moved up to the 4hrs30 group and faced my most difficult long run, just before beginning to taper my training.
Tragically, my dad had lost his battle with cancer that week, but I was determined to continue running in his memory.
I was pleased with my marathon finish time of 4hrs45, on the hot and extra-long course, and could not have done it without my friends and family cheering me on. Having lived in Brighton for the past 16 years, I had enjoyed watching many previous marathons, but never imagined I would be taking part in the event myself. It was such a positive experience, at such a traumatic time of my life, and the spirit of the day was truly uplifting. There were so many enjoyable moments, from the buzzing air of anticipation at the start, in Preston Park, to singing along with the live music in Hove, and getting a cheeky ‘high five’ from Norman Cook on the home straight. I was so happy to be injury free, by the end, that I even managed a sprint across the finish line!
And how has the fundraising gone?
I’ve been overwhelmed with the generosity of family, friends and colleagues who helped me reach my fundraising target. Their accompanying heart-felt messages often brought a tear to my eye, but also motivated my 5:30am training runs before work, as well as assuring me of their love and support.
Sadly, cancer is a common enemy, and many people have had to fight their own battle or cope with the loss of a loved one. Macmillan are an amazing charity who help everyone with cancer live life as fully as they can, providing physical, financial and emotional support.
Is it still possible to donate?
Yes, any donations would be much appreciated, and can be made via the link to my Virgin Money Giving page.
What exactly was the extent of your running, prior to joining RunBrighton, and have you been involved in other sports in the past?
Prior to joining RunBrighton, the longest distance I had run was a 12km race, as part of the Bungay Black Dog running club… when I was 12 years old!
I’ve always enjoyed dancing, and have recently taken up paddle boarding, but even the thought of completing a parkrun had seemed daunting. The resilience and strength of character my dad showed, in his battle against myeloma, helped me shift my mindset about distance running, and I learnt that all I had to do was put one foot in front of the other, lift my head and never give up.
How did you hear about RunBrighton and what appealed to you about it?
A friend who had previously trained with RunBrighton, for Brighton Marathon, saw my fundraising post and recommended that I join up for the summer season.
Before signing up, I was a complete novice to marathon running. I was afraid that I might injure myself on the course or, even worse, hit the dreaded ‘wall’ and not be able to complete the full distance. RunBrighton appealed to me, not only because of the oraganised Sunday runs, but also because of the weekly training plans. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that we were strongly encouraged to run at a comfortable pace, to chat, and after my first outing had met a great bunch of interesting people who were full of funny stories and words of running wisdom.
The group ambassadors shared many nuggets of invaluable advice about hydration, nutrition, sleep and pace. And after purchasing some suitable running gear and trainers, using my club discount at RUN in Hove, I felt much better prepared to face the challenge.
Mike, you helped quiet my pre-marathon anxiety, and reading your book Running for the B-Team brought a smile to my face in what have been tough times.
I see you’ve signed up for our forthcoming winter membership. Do you have a race in the spring to prepare for, or do you simply want to continue enjoying the regular Sunday training?
Hitting the big 40 in January, feeling quite unfit and wanting to prioritise my health in the future, have all played a pivotal part in signing up for winter membership. I must also admit that completing the marathon means I have well and truly caught the running bug and can’t wait to get back to regular training with like-minded people.
Working full-time as a teacher, and having two young children, means it’s difficult to make time for myself. However, the regular Sunday runs give me some much-needed head space whilst most people are still asleep or lounging around the house in their pyjamas.
I’ve not yet signed up for a spring race, but would like to have another go at the Brighton Marathon and try to beat my previous time.
Have your children shown any interest in running?
On the day of the marathon, I actually think my partner had a more difficult job than running the race – tasked as he was, in keeping track of my location and ferrying our two children between various points to cheer me on. At four and eight years old, they’ve watched their fair share of Brighton Marathon Events, and were fully prepared with a large banner and winning smiles. They’re both full of energy, and currently enjoy gymnastics, dancing and football. They’re keen to earn their own running medals, and next year hope to compete in the Mini Mile races during the Brighton Marathon Weekend.
Mel, it’s been great to chat. Well done for completing Brighton Marathon and raising funds for Macmillan Cancer Support. Your dad would be incredibly proud of you. We look forward to having you training with us again, this winter.
By Mike Bannister