Dr Matthew James from local GP surgery St George’s Medical Centre ran for Tomorrow’s Women at the recent London Marathon in October 2021. After originally securing a ballot place for the 2020 race, and although under no obligation to do so, Matt kindly chose to run in support of Tomorrow’s Women. As a GP in the Wirral Matt has often referred his patients to the charity and found it to be an invaluable service on the Wirral. Matt was finally able to complete the London Marathon third time lucky, after 2 previous postponements, in October of this year and raised a staggering £2134.91!
Tomorrow’s Women Communications Officer Sharna sat down with Matt to talk about this outstanding achievement:
Sharna: Hi Matt. Firstly thank you so much from all of the team at Tomorrow’s Women – we are eternally grateful! So can I ask, what encouraged you to raise money for TW?
Hi Sharna. So yes I wanted to run for a charity and I was lucky enough to get a ballot place, so I didn’t actually have to raise money for a charity but chose to for my own personal reasons. I wanted to choose a local charity close to what I do at work and I’ve experienced and spoken to a lot of women in surgery who have gained a massive amount of support from Tomorrow’s Women and who have also gone on to help with the charity. I think it is such a fantastic charity and I definitely wanted to support it! My wife is a GP and has a similar experience using the service for her patients and I think it is a fantastic charity that supports very vulnerable people. But more than that it helps people whatever their needs are which is brilliant, especially given the challenges everyone is facing at the moment.
It has been such a journey for you to even get to run the marathon itself, so if you could tell us a little bit about that process?
So it’s an enormous personal challenge; I’m not built to run but have always kept fit through swimming. I never thought I had a marathon in me; I went to watch my wife do the marathon a few years ago as a spectator and it was an amazing event and to be honest my wife inspired me to do it because I saw her going through the training and complete it. Previously I thought my body can’t do a marathon but that convinced me I could.
So you have to enter within a week of the previous marathon, so I entered the ballot in April and You don’t hear until October. I got a phone call from my wife who said “you better come home and open this envelope! There’s a letter from London Virgin Marathon here and even I’ve never had a letter like this.”
So then I started to think how on earth am I going to train for this? Is this the right thing for me to do?
I got a training plan up and running and started training just before Christmas through winter into April. I got up to 17 miles in my training but the most important training point is the long run and I thought I’ve got this… and then it was cancelled. There was obviously so much going on at the time, work was a big challenge and so it was moved to October 2021.
I started to build up my training again in August, got back up to 14 miles and then ofcourse they postponed again to the following October, so by 12 months. I stopped running for 3 months basically and parked it, and then had to start building up again in May 2021 at 3 times a week. That’s why when I say I feel like I’ve trained for this 2 times I literally have!
But I did it and I wanted to run the whole way and I did, and I wanted to not get injured as well as do it for a charity of course and I did all those things. It’s quite overwhelming as people I see say its brilliant that you did the marathon in under 5 hours, and having done it, I’m overwhelmed by how much people think it is such an amazing thing!
[Matt pulled out the t-shirt that he ran in and the Marathon medal that he achieved] It really is amazing Matt, especially the time in which you ran! So tell us a bit more about the day itself then…
The thing is, and I didn’t realise at first, but the marathon itself is the hardest bit but not the only challenge as it’s such a long day. The day before I had to go and register at the running show and the queues are enormous on your feet for a long time with a lot of emotional energy and standing round.
My start time was 10am on the day so I had to be there an hour before, and the closer you get to the start on the tube the more London marathon runners there are, and everyone is nervous! My wife had told me from experience to start up a conversation, so the lady next to me was telling me why she was running, and other people chipped in so that was nice. Then it is quite a long walk to the start and you’re standing around in the cold, though it was bright and clear. Everyone has old clothing that they wear to wait in and then discard of before they start, which are donated to charity, but you could feel the atmosphere starting to build but due to COVID you are in waves of 1000 and not all 40,000 people at once.
When you cross the line the first few miles were quite emotional with tears trickling down my face and I’m thinking am I the one doing this? but everyone’s faces are all quite similar and they were all quite emotional as well. As you have your name on the front there [shows t-shirt] they shout, “looking good Matt” or “doing well Matt” and these people don’t know me but are cheering me on, as well as crowds all the way and bands playing. You feel physically the best you have ever felt after all this training, resting the week before and the first 7 and 8 miles even to halfway feel brilliant. The challenge is trying to not run too quick too soon, but you feel so brilliant, and people are cheering you and with all the adrenaline that is hard.
A real highlight was running around Cutty Sark and you’ve only ever seen that on TV, and then going over London Bridge and seeing all these massive landmarks. I saw my wife at 19 miles and felt ok but then at that point where you’re the furthest you have ever ran before and you have 6 miles left, you think it’s only running to West Kirby and back – you could do that in your sleep and it’s so near but honestly so far. You run down the embankment where you see Big Ben but it seems too far away.
You are lapping it up, but your body is saying I just want this over! But I carried on running, kept going and crossed the line which is such a shared experience and is overwhelmingly just relief! You stop running and it’s a long walk to reunite yourself with your bag, crowds are everywhere, I took half an hour to find my wife who took over from there.
It’s a big day physically and emotionally, but that’s what I remember of the day and sometimes at night I try to relive it. My official time was 4 hours, 49 minutes and 4 seconds! People had been asking me if I was going for a ‘time’ but I just wanted to run it and run the whole way. I ran a sweepstake at work and everybody signed up for a time, and someone chose 4 hours 48 minutes and someone chose 4 hours and 50 and there were literally only 4 seconds in it!
Even from that insight Matt you can feel how intensive it all is but you’ve done such an amazing job! So how about the target that you had set for the fundraiser itself as that’s what all this was in aid of, and how much you have raised so far?
As I said I was lucky to get a ballot place, and targets vary from charity to charity enormously but I didn’t have that pressure of the tiring effort of fundraising events and things, and obviously I had chosen yourselves as a local charity for the reasons I have described. To be honest with you any amount of money I was able to raise would have been brilliant! I was really blown away by my colleagues at the University of Liverpool, colleagues at the General Practise and my family. I hadn’t set a ‘target’ but at the moment I have raised just over £2000 which blows your mind really and the good that that can do!
[Matt was awarded a thank you letter and certificate and I informed Matt that we will be using the raised money to purchase much needed new benches in the 'oasis of Birkenhead' that is our Community Garden. Matt was thrilled as he knows the impact of the community garden in women's emotional wellbeing and mental health, and is keen to come down to the centre to see the benches when they arrive].
We are so thankful to Matt for choosing our small but mighty women’s charity to be the recipient of his fundraising efforts as part of the London Marathon; a first for TW and a huge amount of money that will have such an impact on our work with women!