Beth Hart has been on a journey that has taken her from being too unwell to go outside her house, to becoming a running instructor. She is a shining example who shows that running can be for anyone who enjoys it. Beth is also our highly-organised assistant and creative parcel-packer at The Flying Runner, lending a hand in our busiest periods. I chatted with Beth to get the low-down on her running story…
Many people who have been through health experiences like Beth’s might assume that running is not for them, but Beth isn’t so easily deterred. Through running she has gained fitness, enjoyment, challenge and friendships.
“I couldn’t really move”
In early 2014, Beth was diagnosed with a heart condition. It explained her recent struggles. A couple of years earlier she had joined a local beginners’ running group in Sawston, near Cambridge, but she couldn’t understand why running had started to feel harder rather than easier, and her fitness wasn’t improving. Then Beth noticed heart palpitations and was often out of breath.
“I had weird symptoms,” she explains. “My hands and feet would go numb. It was worse at night – I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t really do anything at all for several months, because I felt dizzy and couldn’t walk around much. It wasn’t safe for me to drive either, so I was stuck at home on the sofa and I couldn’t really move.”
Beth was diagnosed with Ventricular Outflow Tract Ectopy, which caused her heart to beat an extra 6,000 times every day. “It was painful and scary,” she says “and I felt terrible”. It was a huge constraint for someone who had just left a very active job as a teaching assistant in a primary school, and was used to plenty of walking and jogging as exercise.
In July 2014, after waiting seven months for her operation, she was given a procedure called catheter ablation at Papworth Hospital, using electrical impulses to correct the arrhythmia.
“It was an amazing feeling. I’d got so used to the feeling of a racing heart, and it had gone. I had to rest for a few days, but I felt better immediately.”
(In fact, by the weekend, she was back to baking cakes for the school fair – and Beth’s baking is famous around here, so that was good news all round!)
Incredibly, just four weeks after her heart procedure, Beth had joined a running group. She spotted a flyer for the beginners’ group at Wimpole Hall (a National Trust property near Cambridge). With the go-ahead from her heart consultant, she decided to give it a try.
“I saw the leaflet for the beginners’ running group and thought I’d try it. I was more worried about whether I would look foolish–and about being left behind by a super-fit, lycra-clad bunch–than about my heart, because I felt fine. I was concerned about being the newbie and being at the back.
“But I needn’t have worried – it was a small group, including other new people, and was very friendly. We ran and walked together. It felt lovely to be outside again, and amazing just to be able to do something active!”
Building up her stamina each week, Beth could eventually run continuously for the whole session. By Boxing Day 2014 she was fit enough to take part in a 10k organised by Royston Runners.
Becoming a running group leader
When the leader of Beth’s beginners’ group moved on, the National Trust at Wimpole wanted to ensure the group continued. They asked Beth if she would lead it, pointing out that she would be a great role model for beginners because she knew what it was like to start from scratch.
The National Trust funded Beth to do the England Athletics Leadership in Running Fitness course, and she began leading a 10-week running course in autumn 2015.
“I completely understand how it feels to get started as a new runner – it’s very hard. But I think we all get joint motivation from being part of a group. One man in the group told me it’s the best thing that’s happened to him since he retired!”
There was another lady in Beth’s group who said she was going to give up after her first week, but only came back because Beth had been so encouraging. Beth could relate to how she felt, and had emailed her after the session to say thanks and well done.
Wimpole parkrun pro
Beth also started going to Wimpole parkrun. “I’d got used to running at Wimpole, so thought I’d give it a go.”
She became a regular and has now done 37 parkruns. She has improved her times significantly, starting at 38 minutes and now with a fastest time at Wimpole (a hilly, cross-country course) of 33:21. She has also done parkruns at Aberystwyth and Clonakilty in Ireland where she ran her best time of 33:05. Her next target is to get closer to the 30 minute mark.
Like so many people, Beth has found a home at parkrun:
“It is so friendly and welcoming. You recognise the same faces each week, and there’s a lovely atmosphere and sense of community. It’s very supportive, and there’s something special about it. I love being outside too.”
Running and the menopause
Among the many benefits of running, Beth says she feels much stronger and gets fulfilment through a hobby she loves. She feels more energetic, and now she’s working in school again she says it’s easier to keep up even with the little ones. She’s loved getting to meet new people through running, and feels it adds another facet to her personality.
At 53, Beth also points out that running can be very helpful for women entering the menopausal phase of life.
“I think it’s important to be fit when the menopause starts. Exercise is a good insurance policy to combat symptoms generally, even though everyone seems to experience the menopause differently. The loss of oestrogen can affect the heart too, and running is helpful for a healthy heart. I think running also encourages women to think more about food and looking after themselves.
“There are all the emotional aspects too. The menopause can be difficult emotionally, but running helps you to build self-confidence, and you feel good after going for a run.”
Beth has now signed up for two 10k races this spring, including the Lincoln 10k in April. She will raise money for the St Barnabas Hospice, where her Grandma was looked after at the end of her life.
“The 10k course goes right past the house where I was born. I couldn’t resist that!”
It seems Beth has been well and truly bitten by the running bug.