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Dr. Elaine Halley on Running Marathons…From the Back

Published on: Mar 16, 2022
 By: Dr. Elaine Halley
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My relationship with running is a strange one. I am not a natural athlete. My physique is such that no one looks at me and sees a runner, and yet I have run 12 marathons—all in different locations. Well, I occasionally shuffle, but still, it’s forward motion and faster than a walk. Mostly.

My younger brother Cameron (who also runs and looks like he does) says I am like that scene in Terminator where the robot is pulling itself forward with metal hands. He says I’m relentless, determined, unstoppable. A machine.

My personal best is a respectable 4 hours 11 minutes. Of course, that was more than 20 years ago and before children. My more average time is around 5 hours and lately more like 5 and a half (and a bit). If you know about running you know that is slow. I like to look around, take in the scenery and have a snack at the water stops.

I started running at university, usually around the block and as part of a weight loss plan.  Shortly after graduation I joined a running club and amazed myself at my ability to go from 3K to 5K to 10K! When I moved back to Scotland in 1995, I joined Perth Road Runners, and those lovely ladies took me under their wing. A few were training for a marathon, so I tagged along to their training runs. I was so proud of myself every time I ran further than I had before!

The marathon date was approaching, and I had unwittingly kept up with the training! So, I completed The Lochaber Marathon, my first, in the Highlands of Scotland with an amazing time I have never beaten and an incredible sense of achievement.

Three children later, with a dental practice to run and my 40th birthday approaching, I set a target of running a marathon a year until I turned 50, with some kind of notion that it might be possible and that at least it would keep me exercising.

And I do love a challenge.

My life has seen a spattering of 10Ks and half-marathons, but for some reason they don’t do it for me the same way a marathon does. The 10Ks are about speed. I much prefer the mental and physical challenge of “just keep going.” And when your physique is such that it takes 5 to 6 hours of plodding, when every sinew and cell in your body is telling you to “just sit down,” it takes strength of mind to keep going. That’s what I gain satisfaction from.

When my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, I decided to combine my challenge with raising money for research. I’ve managed to raise more than £5,800 thanks to my family, friends and colleagues. I had an emotional link with the commitment I made after he passed away in 2015, just two months before the New York City Marathon. My brother, Cameron, his wife, Krissie, and I shared an emotional journey. I felt my father’s spirit with me on those long training runs, emotion I can’t describe. There’s no escaping your mind on long training runs. There’s just you and the road or the trail.

I’ve ran marathons in Lochaber, Paris, Edinburgh, Dublin, Vienna, Copenhagen, Barcelona, Berlin, New York, Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Geneva, and made an attempt at Mont Blanc. So many memories! And all intertwined with my life, injuries, family issues, business issues, and getting up at 4 am so the long run would be done before my children woke up.

“Your marathon was getting to the start line.”

Yes, often that’s how it felt. Now here I am. And all I have to do is put one foot in front of the other. And just keep going. For a while. And when it’s done you can stop. A good metaphor for life.

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