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Virgin Money London Marathon: Our runners' stories

London Marathon David Hudson

David Hudson (MEng 1993)

London Marathon James Reilly

James Reilly (BSc 2015)

23 May 2017

Huge congratulations to the four former and current Bristol students – David Hudson, Leona Mills, James Reilly and Katherine Willis – who completed the 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon on Sunday 23 April to raise money for Cardiovascular Research at the University of Bristol.

So far, the team has raised more than £6,150 between them for Cardiovascular Research – to help scientists here at the University pioneer important research breakthroughs that could transform people’s lives. Thank you to all who donated.

Many thanks to the London Branch of the University of Bristol Alumni, who worked hard to support the runners on the day and make sure Bristol's flag was flying.

Read on for race-day stories from David, Leona, James and Katherine.

David Hudson (MEng 1993)

David used to run regularly, and had an unfulfilled ambition to run a marathon. It seemed like fate when the chance came up to run the 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon for his former university in support of Cardiovascular Research (from which David benefited eight years ago).

‘I set myself a target of three hours and 30 minutes,’ said David. ‘One of the amazing things about the London Marathon is the a never-thinning throng of fellow runners around you. It was fantastic – especially the wall of sound as we rounded the Cutty Sark.’

David’s pace was comfortable enough in the first half of the race that he could soak in the atmosphere of the London Marathon. Around the half-way mark, David caught a glimpse of the leading elite runners as they passed going the other way with just a handful of miles to go, but he kept his spirits and pace up as he headed for Canary Wharf.

David said: ‘I knew family and friends would be waiting in the crowd.’ It was around about the 16-mile mark that David’s race took a different turn.

‘From mile 16 onwards it became more of a struggle,’ said David. ‘By the final few miles, I was just hanging on.’ David had thought his 3:30 target was safe based on the average pace indicated by his watch, but with the finish line almost in sight he knew his timings were off.

‘Approaching the final kilometre, I realised it was going to be very tight,’ said David, and he decided to go for it. ‘I sprinted down the Mall (or perhaps hobbling fast would be more accurate). I crossed the line in 3:29:54, too exhausted to appreciate the moment.’

Reflecting on his race afterwards, David said: ‘Knowing what it took out of me, I have nothing but admiration for those who complete the marathon in fancy dress, and those who are not regular runners – hats off to them!’

For next year’s runners, David has this pre-race advice: ‘Unless you have an unusual name, don't put it on your shirt. Use a nickname instead otherwise you'll be continually wondering whether the people shouting your name are cheering for you or others nearby.’

Donate via David's JustGiving page

Leona Mills (BA 2005)

Not content with the usual 26.2 miles, Leona doubled her marathon challenge by taking on two marathons in April. The keen runner successfully completed the Brighton marathon on 9 April – just 14 days before Leona’s 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon fundraising challenge was due to take place.

‘Training was going brilliantly through January and February,’ said Leona. ‘I felt strong and my runs were good – but then disaster struck at the beginning of March.’ After completing a 21-mile training run, Leona got tendonitis in her foot and was unable to run properly for weeks, compounded by an allergic reaction to some foot tape she had been given by her physiotherapist.

‘My ankle looked like it had a chemical burn,’ explained Leona. ‘At that point I genuinely thought my double-marathon challenge was over.’ Leona rested and iced her ankle for three weeks and – despite the pain – she laced up for Brighton marathon, which she said she ‘loved and hated in equal measure.’ Two weeks later, she would be doing it all over again.

For Leona, taking part in the 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon was an emotional rollercoaster.

‘I had a bit of a cry with both fear and excitement when I picked up my running number,’ she said, which was a mark of things to come.

Leona’s marathon morning started with porridge, a walk to the station and a packed tube journey. ‘There was a massive sense of camaraderie,’ said Leona. ‘And there was a bit more crying as we crossed the start line. I tried to focus on the race, hoping for cold and cloudy weather throughout.’

At 12 miles, Leona was feeling strong. ‘The sun had started to come out and everything was warming up – including the crowds,’ she said. ‘The noise going over Tower Bridge was deafening. It was an amazing atmosphere and I felt very emotional.’

Leona remembers taking on water at every station and fuelling with baby food and wine gums at regular intervals, but it took all her strength to maintain her focus. ‘There were runners and spectators everywhere – at no point was it either calm or quiet,’ said Leona. ‘I remember heading through Canary Wharf but those middle miles passed me by in a blur. I just kept thinking: one foot in front of the other, drink something, eat something and repeat.’

‘The last few miles went very quickly. Seeing the 400m sign, and turning into The Mall for the homerun, was an indescribable feeling. Happy, overwhelmed and exhausted doesn’t even come close.’

Leona finished the marathon with a new personal best of 4:18:15. ‘There was a bit more crying at this point,’ she said. As she picked up her medal, Leona knew it was a day she wouldn't forget.

‘It sounds clichéd but if you want to see the good in the world, then go and watch – or run – a marathon! I ran through the streets of London with people calling my name and cheering me on, and it was beyond awesome. I’m very thankful to the University of Bristol for trusting me with a place.’

Donate via Leona's JustGiving page

James Reilly (BSc 2015)

James had never run a marathon before the 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon, but after 26 miles and 385 yards around some of London’s many iconic landmarks, he has definitely caught the running bug.

‘It was an amazing experience to run the London Marathon this year,’ said James, whose motivation during those long months of training was knowing he was raising money for a worthwhile cause.

James said: ‘Cardiovascular Research has a huge potential to save lives, and so the months of training and commitment was more than worth it. It was a great opportunity to help raise money for them.’ In the run-up to race day, James had one clear goal in mind: finishing without injury.

‘I had never run a marathon before, so rather than trying to aim for an ambitious time, simply being able to finish the race without injury was all I was looking to do,’ explained James. ‘That was my goal.’ However, for James that goal very nearly escaped his grasp before even crossing the start line.

‘I slipped and deeply cut my right heel three days before the marathon,’ said James. ‘I felt like a bit of an idiot.’ Luckily though, some heavy bandaging and strapping meant that James was still fit to run on the day – and he enjoyed it immensely.

James said: ‘The event itself was incredible. Being able to run through such an iconic city, spurred on by the cheers of spectators lining the streets, was definitely a special experience. The atmosphere and camaraderie between runners was electric, I gave countless high fives along the way and shouts of encouragement helped push me on.’ Friends and family came out to support James on race day, which he said helped to keep him going.

‘It was really nice seeing my friends and family in the crowd, especially near the end of the race,’ he said. ‘It kept me running until the last moment. I was really happy with my time in the end and it was great to see the University of Bristol stand at the finish line.’ Reflecting on the marathon after getting his breath back, James is already looking forward to pounding the pavements once more.

He added: ‘I would love to do a marathon again in the future and have definitely learnt a lot in the process!’

Donate via James's JustGiving page

Katherine Willis (BSc 2015)

Katherine Willis ran the 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon to raise money for Cardiovascular Research at the University of Bristol – both of which are close to her heart.

‘As a 2015 graduate, Bristol holds huge sentimental value as a university, lifestyle and city,’ said Katherine. ‘A number of people close to me and my family have been affected by heart health. As the crucial muscle in the body, making breakthroughs is fundamental to helping save lives. It was an honour to be part of funding biomedical research, clinical trials, regenerative medicine, cardiac surgery and the BNI Hospital – something that could decrease risk for those vulnerable.’

Katherine was part of a team of four runners, each with an individual fundraising target of £2,000. With her JustGiving page now totalling £2,198.96, Katherine is delighted to have exceeded her target.

For Katherine, training for the 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon had its highs and lows.

‘The hardest bit was getting up at 05:30 in January, in a hat and gloves in the pitch black,’ she said. ‘I was relatively unfit, and sleepy. Plus, it was super cold - the water fountains even froze once, which was a nice surprise.’

As the season began to turn, Katherine’s training also turned a corner – although she still appreciated a hot shower and large plate of food more than ever.

‘The best bit was it suddenly getting light in the morning: the sunrises, and general warmness. The feeling of being in the swing of a long run and your mind wanders and you forget which mile you're on. I also really looked forward to showers and food!’

Ahead of race day, Katherine thanked those who helped her raised funds for Bristol CardioVascular in a very imaginative way.

‘I used a running app on my phone to trace my route and took very deliberate paths and steps so that I could ‘write’ the names of those who had sponsored me during my training runs and post the maps online,’ said Katherine. ‘I thought it would be easy to do but I soon realised I’d have to make each letter around 20 feet tall so that they would show up clearly on the map.’

Katherine also had to leave a space in between each letter, so that they didn’t overlap.

‘One or two names involved more than a mile of running,’ said Katherine. ‘At first I thought I’d do all names, but after a big run it became too much to run everyone’s names five times until they were legible on my app, so £20 became the tariff!’

Having completed the marathon, Katherine has noticed a difference in her outlook on running long distances .

‘I genuinely get excited to run now. It’s not unpleasant at all,’ she said. ‘It’s also made me realise that any skill you want to learn, not to get overwhelmed by the end target, but if you create and stick to a structured plan you’ll very quickly improve. Just start doing it.’

Katherine plans to keep her fundraising page open for a while longer.

‘Any pennies you have to spare will be hugely appreciated,’ Katherine added.

Further information

David Hudson, Leona Mills, James Reilly and Katherine Willis completed the 2017 Virgin London Marathon to raise money for Cardiovascular Research at the University of Bristol.

Bristol's researchers are at the top of their field: they pioneered off-pump coronary artery by-pass surgery, they pioneered the use of stem cells to regenerate defective cardiac and casual tissues, they’ve developed the world’s first analogue pacemaker that mimics the natural rhythm of the heart, and they may have just developed the first new high blood pressure medicine for 20 years. For more information, please visit the Bristol CardioVascular pages of the University's website. 

If you'd like to support this vital work, you can make a gift online. Please select 'Bristol CardioVascular' from the drop-down list in the donation information section - or you can choose to leave this field blank to make an unrestricted donation. Thank you for your support. To enquire about joining Bristol’s team for the 2018 Virgin Money London Marathon, please contact