WHEN Paula Brindley crosses the finish line of the Tunbridge Wells Half Marathon on February 19, it will be one more milestone in her recovery from breast cancer – and another training run ticked off in her preparation for the London Marathon.
The fact that she has set herself this goal is not a surprise: She ran the Race For Life two days after her first chemotherapy, and since finishing her treatment has completed the Tonbridge Half Marathon, the Hever Triathlon twice and the Moon Walk – and cycled from Belgium to Tunbridge Wells. In the process, she has raised over £6,500 for cancer charities.
“I didn’t want cancer to be a reason for not running and exercising,” she says. “It was important for me to get my life back to how it was.”
In 2013, at the age of 40, Paula from Pembury was the fittest she had ever been. She had taken up running a few months earlier and lost weight. She completed the Hildenborough 10 Miles. Two days later, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
There were huge consequences for Paula and her family: “I was a freelance primary teacher and it wasn’t advisable for me to be around the children during treatment, so with sadness I left.”
But her biggest challenge was telling her own young children, then aged six and four. “I wanted to make it positive,” recalls Paula, “but following the biopsy, my lump unusually tripled in size.
“As a precaution, my medics started my chemotherapy straightaway, so we had to tell the children sooner than we planned.
“We watched a great video together by Macmillan, called Mummy’s Lump, and they were very matter of fact about it.”
The day after her first chemotherapy was her daughter’s birthday party. “I had been up all night being sick,” Paula says. “I made it to the party, but I had to drop out for a bit.”
The following day, she managed the Dunorlan Race For Life: “I was completely dazed by the drugs – friends pushed and pulled me up the hill at the end.”
Halfway through her chemotherapy, Paula had to give up running as the later treatments left her unable to keep it up.
‘I didn’t want cancer to be a reason for not running.
It was important for me to get my life back to how it was’
But after finishing treatment at the beginning of 2014 – and two stone heavier from the medication – Paula was determined to regain fitness, especially as exercise is known to reduce the risk of recurrence.
She started with a ‘couch to 5k’ training programme, notching up the Tonbridge Half Marathon that September. “I managed it, but I was so slow. I wanted to get quicker, but I got breathless when I ran.”
Rather than give up, she started training for the Hever Triathlon in September 2015, so she could mix the running with swimming and cycling. The triathlon training hooked Paula on cycling.
In May 2016, she cycled from Belgium to Tunbridge Wells with the 4 Chapel Challenge team in aid of The Pickering Cancer Drop-In Centre, a Tunbridge Wells-based charity.
And last September, she entered the Hever Triathlon again, this time as part of a team of breast cancer survivors.
“I was still finding breathing hard when running,” she admits. “It turned out my medication had caused a pulmonary embolism and my B12 levels were low.”
When those conditions were successfully treated, Paula started running again, but didn’t really enjoy it. “I had just decided to hang up my running shoes and enjoy the cycling when I got a place for the London Marathon!
It’s a daunting prospect, but also an irresistible challenge. “I’m scared, but incredibly excited. It draws a line after all the health problems I’ve had, while raising money for anyone going through breast cancer.”
Paula trains twice during the week, then on Sundays with the Nuffield Runners: “The encouragement from running in a group is great – it keeps me going.”
Now back in secondary teaching, it has been hard going out in the cold and dark after work, but she’s on track for both the Half Marathon in 11 days’ time and the London Marathon in April.
“I’m running this time for Breast Cancer Care, because they do a lot of research for ladies with secondary breast cancer.
“Some of the women I was diagnosed with are receiving further treatment, or are sadly no longer here,” she adds.
“When I don’t want to train, I remember that some women can’t choose. They are my motivation.”
You can support Paula’s fundraising at uk.virginmoneygiving.com/PaulaBrindley
To enter the Tunbridge Wells Half Marathon on February 19, visit www.twharriers.org.uk or www.race-nation.com
One week to go:
Make sure you’ve got the right kit
The fifth and final instalment in our guide to how to prepare for the Tunbridge Wells Half Marathon on February 19
NOW is the time to make sure you know exactly what kit and clothing you will be using for the Tunbridge Wells Half Marathon on February 19 so you can enjoy the best possible race.
The simple message is to stick with what you know. “Now is not the time to go and buy new kit that you don’t have time to trial on a long run before the race,” says Jane Dew, a fitness instructor at Nuffield Health Fitness and Wellbeing Gym on Knights Park Leisure Park and a run leader for Runtogether.
“You absolutely mustn’t even think about buying new trainers that you don’t have time to wear in, but even an untested pair of socks could cause a blister, or a new label could rub.”
You also need to think about the temperature and the weather, how that contrasts with training conditions and the solutions that worked best for you.
“If it’s expected to be cold, can you run comfortably in an extra layer, or will you get too hot? If you think you might get cold waiting at the start, you may like to take a layer that you can discard after a couple of miles, or ask a supporter to position themselves to take it from you,” advises Jane.
If you’re likely to overheat, accessories could provide the right solution. “Gloves, sleeves and a hat can all be taken off and put into a pocket or tied on to your belt,” says Jane.
If it’s due to rain, only take a jacket if you have already practised running in one. “If you get too hot, will you be comfortable running with it round your waist, or will it annoy you?” asks Jane.
“You may be better off with a cap to keep the rain out of your eyes, but again you need to trial it to know that it works for you.”
You also need to think beyond the finish line. “It’s likely to be cold, so you will need to layer up afterwards. Are you going to have your extra clothes in a kit bag that you hand in, or can a supporter bring them to you at the end?”
You also need to plan your nutrition and other kit. “If you’re using energy gels, you will probably want to carry them on a belt, but you need to have tested it to make sure it doesn’t rub,” says Jane.
“You also need somewhere secure, comfortable and waterproof to store your phone. And, if you’re using a runners’ watch, make sure it’s charged.”
Finally, don’t forget to work out how you will travel to and from the start line. “If you are driving, plan where you intend to park and what time you need to leave to ensure a space,” adds Jane. “Leaving it until the last minute can cause undue stress on race day.”