After reading a magazine article about running, teaching assistant Beth Hart, 53, from Cambridgeshire, decided she wanted to give it a shot.
“I bought some trainers and tried running from home on my own. Eventually, I joined a local running group. I remember the first night when I turned up and the leader said we were running for about a mile. I couldn’t even get to the gates of the sports centre without feeling that I wanted to stop and walk!”
Shortly after taking up her new hobby, Beth began to feel there may be a more sinister reason why her fitness level was not improving as it should. “I was always at the back with the leader as I kept needing to stop and I didn’t seem to improve in the weeks I was going. My legs hurt and my chest felt like it was going to burst. I had to stop running as I felt so ill.”
Beth’s gut instinct was right. After her GP referred her to Papworth Hospital, she was diagnosed with Ventricular Outflow Tract Ectopy: a debilitating condition which was causing palpitations, giving Beth 6,000 extra heart beats a day.
“Even though I had this condition I knew from scans that my heart was healthy, but I was still nervous of doing any exercise so spent months doing a lot of sitting and eating! It was hard being so inactive but I had days when I couldn’t do a lot as I had such debilitating symptoms.”
New lease of life
After a seven-month wait, Beth was able to undergo the operation she needed to fix her irregular heartbeat, and the result was instant. “I felt so much better straight after the operation that I was desperate to be more active. I’d seen a poster at Wimpole Hall National Trust advertising an introduction to running a course which was only one month after the op. Running around the parkland there was spectacular and I couldn’t believe how lucky I was.
Post-op, Beth found she was hooked on running and soon she was looking for more group events to join. “I tried parkrun which was great fun – I’ve just run my 40th! My daughter now joins me every Saturday, too.
“My family have been incredibly supportive and they know that, if we are away on holiday, I will be checking to see if there is a local parkrun. Running the Clonakilty parkrun whilst on holiday in Ireland last August and getting my PB was a real highlight.”
In a short space of time, Beth had gone from beginner to experienced runner, which spurned her to take on a more challenging role when the opportunity arose. After 18 runs at Wimpole Hall NT, the sports development officer asked Beth if she would be interested in training as a volunteer Run Leader.
“They thought I would be a good role model for first timers and to encourage people to try a new activity. The National Trust funded my Leadership in Running Fitness course.” Beth finished the course with flying colours and in September 2015 she helped to run a 10-week beginners’ course at Wimpole.
“It’s a great feeling to think that someone has come back because they felt encouraged or inspired by me to give it a go. I think because I can empathise with them, and can say that not that long ago I was in their shoes, really helps. One runner said they would not have believed they could have achieved what they have without the group.”
With her confidence growing, Beth decided that she wanted another challenge. When she saw a listing in Women’s Running for the Asda Lincoln 10K, she knew it was the event for her. “I was born and brought up in Lincoln and the route goes passed the house I was born in almost 54 years ago, and ends at the Cathedral which holds special memories for me of my dad. I am running and raising money for St Barnabas Lincolnshire Hospice, an amazing local charity who cared for my grandma before she died. It will also be a tribute to my mum, who died in April 2014. She loved to hear about my running achievements.
“Running has transformed me. Not only do I notice the health benefits – I have so much more energy in my job – but it has also given me my confidence back and has led to so many new experiences. I am a teaching assistant in a local primary school, but [at busy times like Christmas and Marathon Expos] I now also work at an online magazine and gift shop for runners, The Flying Runner. Being a runner helps with that.
“I hope the heart condition will not return but I will run as much as I can for as long as I can. I still run with my local village group but I am now one of the experienced runners who help the newer members. If I can encourage just one more person to try running, I will be happy. Taking up running at 50 plus may seem scary, but the alternative is even more frightening and it can give you such a boost both physically and mentally.”