Charlotte Aspley, 29, has a learning disability, a visual impairment and a serious injury, but she never shies away from a challenge.
Charlotte has Mosaic Down’s syndrome and was a member of the British Gymnastics trampoline squad, hoping to become a Paralympian, when she suffered a broken neck during training. Not one to give up without a fight, Charlotte turned to running to satisfy that same drive and determination and has since run 3 marathons, with 2 more in the pipeline. We spoke to her to find out how she caught the running bug and what motivates her to train.
So, had she done much running before?
“I never ran when I was younger, no! I just wanted a new challenge, really. I saw the London Marathon on TV in 2016 and I thought ‘I really want to do this next year’, but I didn’t get my ballot place. So, I went for a charity and the first one I went for was Mencap as they’d helped me get some work. They helped me get my current job in Tesco and I’ve been there for ten years now.”
Mencap are a charity aiming to redefine the way society sees people with learning disabilities. They work to improve the quality of life of the 1.5 million people living with a learning disability in the UK, who can often face discrimination due to the ignorance of others.
“I wanted to give something back to Mencap for the support they’d been giving to me,” says Charlotte. “I dropped myself in the deep end really because when I got a place with them I only had 26 weeks to prepare for it.”
Charlotte had set herself a huge challenge, but she wanted to make herself, and Mencap, proud.
“When I first started it was really tough. I couldn’t even run a mile. I knew the challenges that were ahead of me and I’m quite a determined person – once I’ve set myself a task I have to complete it one way or another.”
Just a few years later, Charlotte now has three marathons under her belt: “I’ve done the London marathon twice now and I did the Berlin marathon earlier this year. I’ve got New York coming up on 3 November and then London again next year.”
She’s come a long way from barely being able to run a mile – what does a typical training regime look like for Charlotte now?
“I joined Litchfield Running Club, and I train with them once or twice a week,” she explains. “I can only run three miles on my own because of my disability, so I have people that run with me for longer runs.” Charlotte relies on her Sunday Support Team, who take it in turns to run with her on a Sunday morning. “They’re like ‘oh God, she’s off again!’ They all can’t wait to get me out of their hair! They do a run with me and then get four weeks off – I give them a break from me!”
Her crack team of supporters lend a helping hand, but only Charlotte knows exactly what it takes to get herself marathon-ready. “I start my marathon training off with ten miles in the first week, increasing every week until I get to 21 miles and then taper off for two or three weeks. And then obviously there’s the big run itself at the end!”
Charlotte will be running with Mencap again for next year’s London marathon, for which they happen to be the official 2020 charity.
“It’s really exciting that Mencap are the official charity of the London Marathon this year, as it helps get our message out there. We’re trying to get as many people as possible to run and we’ve got quite a big disability team running for Mencap now. We’re trying to raise awareness that people with disabilities can run marathons!”
The money Mencap raises at the 2020 London Marathon will go towards their new All Move project, which aims to bring people of all abilities together to take part in different team sports, helping to breakdown stereotypes and normalise disabilities.
“It’s about making people feel more confident and it helps people understand more about learning disabilities, too. There needs to be more inclusion in sport,” adds Charlotte, who is adamant that sport can bring people together.
Charlotte will be running in a Mencap vest on 3 November at the New York marathon. We wish her the best of luck!
You can support her London marathon race here.