Stephanie Steward describes what inspired her to complete her first half marathon in Northampton last weekend…
The 21st February was when my half marathon journey began. I work as an Events Fundraiser for the Motor Neurone Disease (MND) Association and our staff conference that day is one I will never forget.
I am lucky to be alive; to breathe, to talk, to eat, to walk, to run. Yet an incredible man living with MND, who was losing the ability to do all of this, asked us to sing with him that day.
I sang Dave Solomon’s song, ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’, with tears in my eyes but a determination in my heart. That night I put on my trainers and MND Association t-shirt and pounded the streets of my village for an inspired three miles. The first jigsaw piece was in place.
So many moments led me to run for a full 13.1 miles in the Northampton Half Marathon on Sunday 3rd September.
The first step was not a running one, but instead I vowed to tell anyone who would listen that I was taking part in the event, not only to spread MND awareness but also to make sure there was no turning back for me. I told Dave and his wife Paula what I was doing and I didn’t want to let them down.
I was so fortunate to have the support of my mum, partner, family, friends, in-laws and colleagues right from the very start. It was a massive boost to fundraise and train jointly with my colleague Lucy and run long distances with my friends Karla, Lee and Emma and my partner Steve. Having a catch up on a long training run really does make the miles fly by faster. Wednesday and Thursday nights, Sundays and bank holidays became our staples, as the miles crept up from three to 12 over a six month span.
We ran around the town – Kettering Road is hillier than it looks, Abington Park provided some greenery for our routes, Pitsford Reservoir is very pretty and although I only discovered the leafy paths of Bradlaugh Fields late into my training, it has now become my favourite place to run.
I wore my MND Association vest for every single training run, of which there were 70. We even got a team together for the Northampton Park Run on a Saturday morning at the Racecourse. Fluorescent orange ra-ra skirts could be seen for miles that day.
After months of mulling it over, I also finally joined the Northampton Road Runners; a really supportive bunch who made me realise that running as a team is massively motivational and really enjoyable too!
My training was given an extra boost when the MND Association signups for the Northampton Half Marathon began to soar and I found out I was going to be joined by two other members of staff and over 15 MND Association supporters, including Jo Cole, who is 28 and living with MND. She was planning to be pushed in her wheelchair along the course.
I was determined not to walk a step on any of my runs and when I got tired I thought about Jo and Dave, who have completed many half marathons themselves, and how they would they would love to be able to run even a step now. That kept me going.
Around half way through my training I was gutted to pick up a minor injury in my heel. By this point the running bug had bitten me and after two weeks of rest I was so relieved to put my trainers back on for a quick jog while on holiday in the Lake District. My trainers also flew all the way to Greece with me as I clocked up some miles in the sticky 40 degree heat of Kos.
I was lucky to train during the summer but I am always grumpy in the mornings whatever the weather so it was a push to get out of bed to run before work or even at the weekend, but when I lost motivation I looked on Facebook to catch up with what the wonderful MND Association supporters had been up to and that was all the drive I needed. Lucy and I managed to raise an incredible £1424.46 which spurred us on even more.
By the time race day arrived I felt ready but was still so nervous as all of the months of training were geared around the success of that one day.
When I arrived at the start line I was greeted by a sea of blue and orange on the Guildhall steps where the #TeamMND runners and a massive support crowd had gathered. Jo and Dave were amongst them.
In a last minute decision Dave decided to take part in the race and be pushed in his wheelchair alongside Jo. I ran the first three miles with Dave, Jo and the others. In that moment I have never been prouder to work for the MND Association. It was a true honour to run alongside some of the very same people who had inspired me to achieve my own dream of running a half marathon. The team even found time for a rendition of Dave’s song along the route.
As we reached the mile 3 marker near All Saints Church, there was a wall of support from the MND Association crowd. As I slapped the hands of my mum and partner, I felt like I was living the dream I had been chasing for months.
I ran the next three miles with Lucy; my colleague and friend, without whose support I don’t think I would have ever signed up in the first place. I am so glad we got to share some of the experience together.
Then came the first hill. My colleague Juliet was by my side on her bike to cheer me on as I began the climb. Miles 7 to 10 were a mix of adrenaline, energy gels and chatter with fellow runners. By the time I saw Juliet again at mile 10 I was so emotional with the thought of what I was going to achieve. There were both tears and smiles as I thought about my training journey and my reasons for running.
The last mile was my hardest and even when the finish line was in sight I doubted I was going to make it across without stopping, but when I saw the MND Association cheer squad I got a new found adrenaline and broke into a sprint to cross the finish line with a jump in the air.
I was elated to have achieved my goal but the best moment of the day was seeing Jo and Dave cross the finish line, hand in hand, with matching smiles on their faces.
Our supporters have a slogan they live by – no finish line until there is a cure. And with a marathon in my sights now for next April, I will follow their inspirational lead.
To join the MND Association team for Northampton Half Marathon 2018 or to find out about future events email email@example.com
The MND Association is a national charity based in Northampton focused on MND care, research and campaigning. MND is a fatal, rapidly progressing disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. It leaves people locked in a failing body, unable to move, talk and eventually breathe. It kills six people per day in the UK. It has no cure. For more information about the MND Association visit https://www.mndassociation.org/