“I dreamed of running a marathon ever since I was eight,” says Shona Darley, 41, a health and safety advisor from Gloucestershire. “I used to watch the London Marathon on TV and afterwards my uncle would phone to ask if I’d seen it. However, I’ve had asthma all my life and never thought it was possible. Then, in November 2009, I decided to start running to get fit enough to run onto the pitch in my role as first aider for the local men’s football team.
“I’d never been able to run long distances even when my asthma was well controlled. When I started running I had to try to get my breathing under control. I did this with the help of my asthma nurse and some new medication. I also listened to music so I couldn’t hear myself breathe. To start with, I could walk quicker than I could run, and I couldn’t even run a mile, but I kept it up. Eventually I could run up to six miles, three or four times a week.
“I ran my first half-marathon in 2010 and then set myself the goal of doing a marathon before turning 40. I ended up doing the Edinburgh marathon in 2014. At the time, I was separating from my husband and the long training runs gave me much-needed head space. When I lined up at the start, I was incredibly excited but also nervous as it was only the second race I’d ever done and my training hadn’t really gone according to plan. I’d joined Run Mummy Run (runmummyrun.co.uk), an online running community, and I met up with some other RMR members on the day. I found the race tough, but the elation once I stepped over that finish line in 4hrs 58mins was like no other: a dream had become reality. I was a marathoner!
Aches and exhaustion
“Later that year, I ran the Bournemouth Marathon with my friend Jo. But just two months afterwards I became ill. It started with a flu-like virus but after a few weeks, I wasn’t getting much better. I was utterly exhausted all the time: I’d go to work and then crash out the minute I got home. I was lucky I worked part time so I only had to commute three days a week. My whole body ached: some nights even having the duvet touch my legs was unbearably painful. My GP was very supportive and sent me for just about every test imaginable. By March 2015, I’d been diagnosed with post viral fatigue syndrome but later I was told I had myalgic encephalopathy (ME). This all happened at the time I was getting divorced and I believe the stress definitely aggravated my symptoms.
Less is more
“In August I went on holiday to Cornwall. Within a couple of days, I realised that my legs weren’t aching and it was then that I made the connection between stress and ME and wondered whether meditation might help. The first time I did it, I sobbed my heart out but I think I needed that release. I also later went for counselling which was very helpful. I was still running at this point – doing three miles, three times a week – but was exhausting myself. My GP suggested I try running one mile each time and that three miles should be my long run. I laughed in his face. One mile? Being stubborn, I continued with what I was doing. I’d feel great but then have the classic boom and bust that ME sufferers experience. Eventually I decided to listen to my GP and cut back on my daily mileage. I was on holiday and ran two miles on the first day and when that felt OK I went back out again the next day. Before I knew it I’d completed 10 days, and that was the start of my run streak, where I’d run a minimum of a mile every day.
Streaking with Run Mummy Run
“Not long afterwards, there was a Run Mummy Run run streak challenge and a few of us ran every day for the month of October. The encouragement I received was incredible. I’m unbelievably proud to be part of such a supportive community. Whenever I’ve posted that I’m struggling, I’ve had loads of people virtually cheering me on. Without these ladies, I wouldn’t have got this far. I try to get to parkrun most weeks as I meet up with RMRs there. My partner Simon also never stopped believing in me. He’s literally shoved me out the door some days and has been there to pick me up when I’ve felt I couldn’t go on.
“By the end of August, I’ll have run for a whole year. The secret is not to run very far. The old me would never have put my kit on to run a mile; the new me loves it! My body hasn’t really changed during the streak but I do feel more toned – I get lots of compliments about my legs! I qualified as a run leader last year and started a Couch to 5K running group at work. It’s lovely to be able to give something back.
“My long-term running goals have changed. I miss the long runs but I’m seeing huge improvements in my 5K time – it used to be 24:40 but now it’s 23:16 – and I’m currently up to running 10K without any ill effects. I’m aiming to run the Cheltenham Half-Marathon in September and plan to do a few longer back-to-back runs rather than training up to 10 miles. Time will tell if it works. The only other marathon I really want to do is London. I’ve entered the ballot, so watch this space.
“I don’t know what my long-term prognosis is. My consultant is positive I’ll be one of the lucky ones who overcome ME. I was incredibly flattered when she said I’m inspirational. I’ve always been determined never to let ME beat me. How long will I continue with my run streak? Who knows. I’d love to make it to 365 days and then I’ll reassess, but if I’m honest, I can’t see me ever stopping.’
Find out more
Visit runmummyrun.co.uk to find out more about rmr.
For more information on ME, visit the ME Associations’ website meassociation.org.uk.
For more information on running with asthma, visit Asthma UK’s website asthma.org.uk.