Running is often about more than a representation of great physical health, writes Terry Brennan. It can become an activity that is used to express determination and a willingness to battle right to the end.
runABC contributor Jenny Chambers had a background in athletics and had continued to run into her 50s and beyond.Jenny was a keen racer; in one edition she bubbled away infectiously about the Percy Pud, a pre-Christmas 10K near her home in Sheffield. It was clear from her account that here was a lady that loved running and had a huge appetite for life. Jenny was running 22 minute 5ks until recently but also relished regular parkruns and meeting up with her buddies from Smiley Paces for training. Jenny was a thoughtful person, she penned a nice piece for us titled ‘Getting The Chimp Off Your Back’ which was about defeating the doubts and worries that plague all of us with a positive mental attitude.
‘The Chimp’ article concluded: “Remember, we never regret the runs we do, only the one we don’t. Over time you can develop a box of psychological tools to maintain your motivation and reach the goals you set. Overcoming doubt and adversity makes us mentally stronger similar to how building mileage makes us physically stronger.”
Little did Jenny realise when she wrote those words that she would be tested in a way she wasn’t expecting. In December 2014 she was diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer. Despite this bewildering news and the subsequent failure of ‘chemo’, Jenny continued to run regularly at Sheffield Hallam parkrun and in June 2015 she reached the landmark tally of 100 runs.
That was a special occasion. Jenny ran round with a large group from Smiley Paces and had a big party with family and friends afterwards. There’s a lovely short video on YouTube. Just before her landmark run Jenny told me: “It’s not just about reaching 100 but conquering illness and all sorts of stuff. Fresh air, a smile and parkrun is the best medicine!”
Another hugely inspirational woman is a Yorkshire neighbour of Jenny – Kate Granger. Kate came to our attention in July 2015 when she ran the Asda Foundation Leeds 10K. This despite being diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer in 2011. Kate’s cancer is inoperable.
While battling her illness the 33-year-old doctor with Mid-Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust launched a massively successful campaign to improve patient care. When receiving treatment in hospital she was struck by the number of staff looking after her who did not introduce themselves before delivering care.
Convinced that such a simple introduction built trust and was ‘the first rung on the ladder to providing compassionate care,’ Dr Granger launched #hellomynameis, a social media campaign that struck a chord with healthcare workers and patients across the country and saw her inundated with messages of support. Kate has said: “I would so love to be remembered not as that poor young doctor who died of cancer before her time but as someone who inspired change towards truly person-centred healthcare for everyone.”
She also set herself the target of raising £50,000 for the Yorkshire Cancer Centre at St James’s Hospital in Leeds. Within two years £100,000 had been raised and now the target is £250,000. The appeal total currently stands at close on £170,000.
Other fundraisers undertaken since Kate’s diagnosis have included overcoming her fear of heights to take part in a 10,000ft tandem skydive, fulfilling a long-held ambition to play a concerto with an orchestra and, with husband Chris, completing a Jane Tomlinson Walk For All 13 mile event in the Lake District in 2012.
Jenny Chambers acknowledged the capabilities and ‘skills’ that running helped her develop - things like determination, patience, a willingness to work through discomfort (and pain) – were an important part of her response to her illness. Also the positive outlook and personal autonomy, that are an important part of the running experience, and that Jenny had honed over many years.
Meanwhile Kate Granger will continue to be an inspirational figure more interested in reaching that £250,000 target for the Yorkshire Cancer Centre and improving patient care in the NHS than feelings of dejection.
Pondering Jenny and Kate’s stories made me think of another remarkable woman – Jane Tomlinson and her amazing courage. Is it too fanciful to suggest that running has played an important part in the admirable and determined way these women, and many others, have confronted adversity?