On a dreary January day in 2017 I grew tired of the negativity in American news, so I went to the BBC News - UK website to see what else was happening in the world. One of the top stories that day was about a woman named Dawn, a runner from the Greater Manchester area who finished last in a Parkrun, but was completely filled with joy at the finish line.
As I read the article I felt like I was suddenly reading my own story, only a much better-written version. Once I got to the end of the article, I had to find Dawn on Facebook and reach out to her. I wanted to tell her how inspiring her story was and that I wanted to follow her running journey as it progressed.
Within a few days, I received a response back from her just as her story started to spread more and more in the UK. Dawn was being interviewed by bloggers and even BBC One North West. Her amazing story was everywhere, yet she still took the time to answer a few of my questions. Since I wasn't blogging as frequently when I first contacted Dawn, I recently re-sent her the same questions to see how her running journey has changed since I first started following her. Her original answers are in black and her updated answers are in purple.
Why did you decide to start running?
My stepmum was diagnosed with cancer in march of 2016. At that point I did no exercise of any kind restricted by my weight and size. I signed up for the Race for Life which is a 5k event to raise money for Cancer Research. I felt this was my way of showing my support and helping in some small way. I started training, mostly walking and under the cover of dark. Somewhere along the way I started to enjoy running and thought if I did the race and then stopped my life would return to being sedentary and feeling a failure. So the weekend after the race I did my first Parkrun. A 5 km race on a Saturday morning in park across the country. I have now completed 15 Parkruns and can truly say I love it. I still can't run the whole thing and I'm never quick but I love it, something I never thought I'd say about exercise.
Now I’ve been running for a while, the reasons why I run have changed. It’s a part of my life now and a lot of the friends I have made are through running, so it feels more like time with friends than a run sometimes. Also I love how it makes me feel about myself – I now see the strong and determined I can be if I set my mind to it.
Did you join other friends or co-workers who were running, did you join a group, start a training program, or did you just start your journey on your own?
My journey was very much my own as I was so ashamed of how unfit I was and how hard it was. My cousins started training with me but I was always the slowest and the sweatiest.
Now running and Parkrun feel like family – the support you get no matter how fast or slow is amazing – and I in turn now look out for those that are struggling or look like they might appreciate some company.
What set-backs, if any, did you experience and how did you overcome them?
Each time I see a picture of me running I come crashing down. I love how well I am doing and how empowered i feel running. The reality of the pictures shows a person I don't want to be anymore. I shows a body I am running to improve. Every so often it all feels a little hard, when I'm tired and all my body aches but I remind myself I can do it, I already have done it and the reason my body aches is because I am working it so hard to improve my now and my future.
Right now I am injured and that has taken some getting used to – I can’t do what I love so after a bit of a sulk and realizing I needed to be a bit kinder to myself I now volunteer most weeks at Parkrun and cheer others along. My friend did her first half-marathon at the weekend in training for London marathon in 2019, so I went along and stood in the cold and rain to be there and cheer her along the way and tell her how proud I am. I would still much rather be out there running myself but this is a close second.
What does your typical training week look like as far as running and training?
I get up at 6 a.m. to walk my 2 dogs before my kids wake up and before I got to work. 2 nights a week I run between 3.5 and 4 km once the kids are in bed. 2 nights a week I go to the gym. One work day lunchtime I run along the canal with a personal trainer. Saturday morning I get up for the 5 km Parkrun. Sunday morning I go horse riding. All of this is what I couldn't have done last year. This year I want to cover 500 km between running and horse riding. I see the 500 km as my gift as it is 500 km I could not have done before. My photo and story went viral and I want to show from many small things something great can happen. I asked anyone who saw my story and was inspired do donate £2. Cancer was the starting blocks of my story and it makes sense cancer research is the benefactor. I set up a just giving page for donating.
When I’m not injured, Parkrun is now the only way to start my weekend. And then I try and get out a couple of nights in the week. Or sometimes I go to the gym and then have a swim. I use a PT sometimes to make me do a core workout as I hate doing those but know it is important but I need a nudge to do it. Plus on a Sunday I go horseriding which I absolutely love. So all in all most of my muscle groups are getting used in some form or another each week.
How many races and what distances have you now run?
I did my first (and last) half marathon last year – I can say I’ve done one but it wasn’t my most favourite run – think 10k is where I am happiest. I got to my 50 Parkruns milestone which was amazing.
Any goals you want to accomplish in 2019?
I would like to run the Great Manchester Run (10k) with my brother. We don’t see each other very often and this year he did his first Great South Run (10 miles) and said the Manchester one sounded fun.
Where do you turn for running/fitness advice?
Mainly friends – I have so many different running friends of different experiences and abilities – there is always someone for friendly non-judgy advice and support.
What I love about Dawn's story is that she cares less about pace and more about the friendships, being outdoors, and the physical activity. I used to be obsessed with pace and finish times, but years of injuries have helped me realize that I shouldn't take the ability to run (at whatever pace) for granted. I should just be happy to be healthy enough to use my feet to propel me forward! So the next time you feel down, search for a story or a new person that inspires you. Also, don't be afraid to reach out and let someone know that they have inspired you. A simple email or Facebook message can spread kindness and make you both smile.