Since 2016, almost 1,000 people have signed up to raise money for world-leading cancer, neuroscience and mental health research as part of #TeamCardiff.
Dr Sara Jones (PhD 2000) is one of them.
But, unlike her team-mates, she will not be lining up on Castle Street in early October. Instead, Sara will be sporting Cardiff colours through Canary Wharf, over Tower Bridge and down The Mall as the University’s first London Marathon runner on Sunday 29 April.
We – just about – caught up with her.
Sara, what does running for neuroscience and mental health research at Cardiff mean to you?
It’s very close to my heart. My dad sadly passed away in 2016 after suffering with dementia. He was a brilliant scientist and was also living with Type 1 diabetes, but the battle with dementia was one he found hardest of all.
In addition, for the past 10 years I have been working for DECIPHer, a public health research facility involving Cardiff University. I know that research into these challenging areas is essential if we are to bring about real change and affect the next generation.
How did you get into running?
I started about six years ago. I could barely run a kilometre – but slowly I increased my distance before a friend suggested I enter a 5k race and after that, a 10k. The next thing I knew, I was signed up to run the Cardiff Half Marathon. The rest is history.
Running also helped my mental health. When dad was living with us, just going out for half an hour running and just clearing my head really helped. I do always feel better for getting out and doing it. And by hopefully improving the lives of others through fundraising for research, it’s a win-win.
Have you ever undertaken a full marathon before? How does the challenge differ mentally and physically to that of the Cardiff Half Marathon?
I didn’t ever believe that I could run a marathon, but as soon as I went over that 13.1 miles milestone in training I felt a lot more confident. Now I’m up to the full training distance, I believe I can do it. We’ll see on the day!
How are your race day preparations going?
I’ve had so much support from friends who have run marathons before. I found the training plan that worked for me: a 16 week plan running four times a week consisting of two shorter runs on Tuesday and Thursday, a 10-13k on a Wednesday and a long run on Saturday. That and power pump weights on Monday. It’s full on.
I started my training plan on 31st December and have completely stuck to it except for a brief cold resulting in me missing one of the midweek shorter runs. I felt dreadful about it! The dog has quite enjoyed it as he can come with me, too. He’s only a terrier so 10k is about his limit.
“I’m motivated by the money raised for a good cause and fulfilling one of my items on my bucket list.”
Do you have any training tips for aspiring marathon runners?
Believe in yourself. If I can do it, anyone can. I was never sporty at school and I just didn’t ever see myself as a fit person. All you need to do it is a Couch to 5k programme and, if you want to, then build on that.
I compare training for a marathon to doing a PhD – you’ve just got to keep on at it. It’s difficult if you lose motivation but it’ll be worth it in the end. For the marathon, I’m motivated by the money raised for a good cause and fulfilling one of my items on my bucket list.
Similarly, do you have any fundraising tips you’ve learnt along the way?
Reaching out to an extended network of friends of friends has been fantastic – there has been generosity from lots of people who I didn’t expect to sponsor me (though my husband has yet to donate!). The neuroscience and mental health cause really resonates. I have had a few tears on some of the runs when I think about Dad and the important work we can do.
I’ve also found that emailing people and companies has worked really well. I didn’t realise that local shops and companies sometimes have a small budget to support fundraising so they often donate items.
What are you most looking forward to on the day – and most dreading?
It’ll be an amazing weekend. I watch it every year on the TV so it will be so surreal running past so many famous London landmarks. A friend said it wasn’t the finish line for them that was the most exciting, but it was when they ran across Tower Bridge which signifies half way. I’ll also be running among countless celebrities – and with the elite, even if athletes such as Mo Farah will be running at twice my pace!
I’m not yet sure how I’ll celebrate crossing the finish line by Buckingham Palace. I have a lot of family coming to London to support me from across the country and the hotel we’re staying at has a hot tub. Maybe I’ll celebrate with a long soak! I know I’ll be wearing the finishers t-shirt and medal for weeks after the race.
You can support Sara via her Virgin Money Giving page. You can also follow Sara’s progress on the day via the Virgin Money London Marathon App.