A Marathon Effort

Paralympian Richard Whitehead MBE speaks to our Editor about his recent World Record-breaking run, while Dr Julie McElroy explains how she got into competitive racing – with the help of Richard’s charity – to become the first female frame runner to complete the London Marathon

Richard Whitehead MBE

How are you? It’s the first question I ask Richard and Julie when I speak to them, four days after the London Marathon. “It’s two hours, 42 minutes of running as hard as you can for as long as you can, just trying to hold on,” says Richard. “I came off that route pain-free, no blisters,” explains Julie, “and I was back on my local track last night.” 

Julie’s first marathon experience was a far cry from Richard’s debut. At the New York Marathon in 2004, he says: “I finished in five hours, 19 minutes. I was so sore, had loads of blisters, said I’d never do it again… The rest is history. Four Paralympic Games, two Paralympic gold medals, world titles, world records – and I’m still going!” 

PASSIONATE 

April’s race was Richard’s 79th marathon. “I’m passionate about disabled people being on the other side of the barrier,” he says, “getting them on the road and into events.” He set up The Richard Whitehead Foundation to support disabled people into sport. The charity has helped people who weren’t active – “And now they’re running marathons,” he exclaims. “That’s fantastic.” 

Julie has cerebral palsy and is profoundly deaf. She’s always led an active lifestyle. But a serious accident six years ago left her in chronic pain. Three years ago, her physio mentioned frame running, and she’s never looked back.  

CHALLENGING 

“It was very challenging because it was so busy,” Julie says of the London Marathon. “It was great to have my support runner Gill Menzies giving me the space to manoeuvre through the course.” Julie, who has completed shorter races without a guide, feels she couldn’t have crossed the fi nish line without Gill. 

The Richard Whitehead Foundation set up the Supported Running Project in partnership with Nissan, for whom Richard is an ambassador. It trains volunteers, like Gill, to support disabled runners to take part in events. That could mean pushing a wheelchair, keeping a frame runner hydrated, or guiding someone like Richard to run safely with running blades.  

Julie training with Gill

NEXT GOAL

Julie’s next race is the Paisley 10k. “I’m grateful I found an outlet, after my injury, to let me take care of my mental health,” she reveals.” Richard’s next goal is Project 235 – running the Chicago Marathon in October in two hours, 35 minutes. “I’m 47, so it takes a lot of hard work and sacrifice just to get on the start line fi t and healthy,” explains Richard. “This year is a big year. I‘ve got a lot of momentum and I want to bring people on the journey with me.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION

If you’re interested in learning more, visit www.whitehead.foundation, where you can also register for Run with Rich, a fun and inclusive event that takes place in Nottingham on 2nd June. 

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