When I heard back in September 2015 that Ben Smith was aiming to run 401 marathons in 401 days (The 401 Challenge) to support the charities Stonewall and Kidscape and simultaneously raise awareness of bullying, I will hold my hands up and admit I was slightly sceptical of his chances. For someone to even contemplate taking on this huge feat I knew he must possess the mental determination, drive and passion to run that many miles; but could the human body actually withstand that kind of prolonged stress? But Ben defied my doubts, and although he did have to take a ten day break due to injury, he made up the lost miles, and in October this year completed his remarkable challenge. What is so inspiring about Ben is not just the sheer magnitude of the challenge he took on, or the huge amount of money and support he has generated for charity, but how his challenge inspired, united and encouraged so many people around the UK. Ben ran his daily marathon in different locations, and as awareness of his campaign increased, so did those joining him on various runs. I joined Ben on one of his visits to Lincoln, and in the company of other friendly and encouraging runners, I ended up running my first ultra (more here). What struck me about my experience running with Ben was the effort he made to engage with everyone and how this supportive environment pushed many people to new limits, uniting and creating a new community. A staggering 9873 people ran with Ben during his challenge, a figure which says it all. To top Ben's amazing year, he was rightly recognised at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards, winning the Helen Rollason Award. Well done Ben, and I am sorry I ever doubted you!
Before even entering 2016 Jo Pavey was an athlete I admired. I had stood and watched nervously on TV screens at my gym as with gritted teeth she determinedly secured a much deserved gold medal at the European Championships in 2014; her first ever gold medal at the age of 40. Jo was defying age based assumptions even then. Her popularity was shown when she went on to finish in third place at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards in 2014, a result which was probably not predicted by many. This year however at the age of 42, Jo has continued to defy the odds by competing at her fifth Olympic Games, a record for any British track athlete, and an achievement that needs to explanation. Jo manages to stay a competitive runner as well as juggle the needs of two young children, and having read her autobiography this year, it is her balanced approach to family life and being an elite athlete which is truly remarkable. It’s clear that Jo’s possibly slightly unorthodox approach to elite training suits her, and the happiness it brings to her and her family is what helps keep her motivated to run and importantly still enjoy running. I found her attitude refreshing and although I don’t have children, I know it must be even more comforting to running parents. Jo’s balanced approach to running and life is probably something that a few of us amateur runners should look to adopt more comfortably – including myself!
My Running Buddy
Everyone loves their running buddy, and I guess you would not run with them or train with them unless they helped inspire you and push you to be your best. Since meeting my running buddy at the gym in 2014 we have completed many miles together, raced together, encouraged each other, offered much needed advice and support, seen each other looking horrendously sweaty messes, and importantly become very good friends. 2016 has included all of this and more; the one person I knew I needed to call during my Manchester Marathon meltdown at mile 24 was my friend, and she was the first person I was so grateful to see when I eventually made it to the finish line. But why my my friend deserves to be included in this list more than any other year is not just for the friendship and support she has given me (both in and out of running), but for the pure determination and mental strength she has shown during 2016, not once but twice. At the start of the year when training for the London Marathon, my friend suffered a horrible injury that would have put many out of running for a very long time; most would certainly have ruled out running the marathon. As her friend and fellow runner, it was a setback very hard to witness; but I never doubted she would be on that start line. However, for all the belief myself and others had, my friend had to find the want to get back out running, to pick up an intense marathon training plan after so many weeks away, and to try and squeeze as much running as she could into the few weeks left before London. Did she do it? Of course she did, and watching her run that day was easily one of the standout moments of my year (more here). This itself is worthy of being included in my list, but then in August this year I got a text which made my heart sink. We were both in training for the Berlin Marathon at the time, when during a run my friend suffered severe pain in her foot. This was eventually diagnosed as a stress fracture and with a heavy heart it meant she was ruled out of Berlin. My friend still made the journey to Germany though and cheered me on as I completed the marathon; something which I am so grateful of and imagine must have been incredibly hard at times knowing she should have been out there running too. But what has been even more admirable has been her patient rehabilitation process from the fracture, something I know I would struggle to complete, and which now means my friend can look ahead to running the 2017 Boston Marathon after running a qualifying time during 2015. My friend will probably feel she is not deserving of being included in here – but trust me, she is. You are a machine Colette!