A little over a year ago, 51-year-old Sharon Baker was recovering after a major operation, had just started walking to help with her recovery, but would not have been able to run to the end of her street.
Twelve months on, she has completed a medal winning half marathon, many 10k and 5k events, and no fewer than 35 Park Runs!
Where in previous years Sharon took out a subscription to OK! magazine, now it’s Runners’ World.
Where once receiving money for a gift would have seen her head to Pandora for some ear-rings, she now splashes out on a nice new pair of running shoes.
And that is now set to continue as Sharon prepares for one of the biggest tests of all, this year’s Virgin Money London Marathon, which she will be running on Sunday, April 28th to raise money for Cure Leukaemia.
Sharon, Lead Business Management Analyst at Deutsche Bank in Birmingham, was also single when she, set off, quite literally, on her running journey this time last year.
But this new challenge has also helped her meet new partner, Phil Damms, a bus driver and running coach who was with her on her first half marathon - last year’s Simplyhealth Great Birmingham Run - and will now be guiding her through an intensive training programme and also the big day itself.
“My good friend Pam, who also works at Deutsche Bank had made impressive progress with her running journey, she inspired me to take it up when I saw the fantastic progress she made.
“I had a laparoscopic hysterectomy towards the end of 2017, and before that I had never done any running in my life.
“But when I was off work for six weeks, I was bouncing off the walls at home – when I was ready to start walking the snow came and I was too worried about falling if I went out”.
“It took a while to build up the distance, and this time last year I was still only walking.
“To start with I couldn’t even run half a mile, but I was determined to give it a go.”
And give it a go Sharon did, initially with last year’s Great Birmingham 10k, which she admitted was something of a challenge.
“To be honest I found the first one really tough,” she recalls.
“It was quite warm, and I woke up in the morning so nervous I felt sick.
“I was a bag of nerves not really knowing what to expect and at that stage I was still walking part of the 10k.
“But I managed to make it through, and the sense of achievement at the end was fantastic.
“I remember when I got home I felt really flat, I couldn’t quite believe what I had achieved and how hard I had worked towards it.
And so, with that, the appetite for exercise was very much up and running.
Sharon completed her first 10k (without any recovery walking!) at Goodwood Motor Circuit, and it was after that she started thinking about moving up to a half marathon and also ran the Silverstone Circuit during last summer’s heatwave. I want to run all the motor circuits I can as I am an avid F1 fan.
When it came to the Great Birmingham Run last October, the elements conspired to make it something of a challenge, but once again Sharon came through, with a little help from her friends!
“The weather did put a dampener on things with all that rain,” she says.
“But Geoff (Thomas) was stalking us all the way around which was really good, because whenever he popped up in the crowd it gave me a lift.
“For the last half a mile, I think I was running so slowly I would have been quicker walking.
“But Geoff came out of nowhere out of a bus shelter and started shouting my name, at which point I just looked across and started crying!
“I then got around the corner and saw one of the girls from Deutsche Bank in the crowd and started crying again.
“By this time Phil and I were together and he was running alongside me and telling me to get on with it and get over the finish line!”
Sharon has now completed two further half marathons and brought her personal best down to two hours 55 minutes.
Now though it is time for the big one, the London Marathon, for which she managed to secure a place via New Balance with the help of Cure Leukaemia CEO James McLaughlin.
“I was on such a high when hearing I had got the space,” Sharon explains.
“But I am also a bit scared as well.
“Training has been going really well, and I am up to 17 miles, without any walking at all.
“I am really looking forward to the challenge, Phil and a couple of friends will be coming down to support me and hopefully it will be a great weekend.”
All the fundraising from Sharon’s marathon efforts will be donated to Cure Leukaemia, one of Deutsche Bank’s two UK Charities of the Year.
Sharon has been one of the key drivers of the partnership with Cure Leukaemia to date including assembling a team of 16 for last year’s Great Birmingham Run.
Meeting some of the patients who have been treated for leukaemia and responding by completing their own arduous fundraising challenges has provided a source of great inspiration.
“We all know what Geoff (Thomas) has achieved with his fundraising and then there are other patients like Jenna (Ostrowski) and Mark (Nicholas) who rode 300 miles from London to Paris last year,” says Sharon.
“Leukaemia is a disease which can just suddenly hit you, and what they have done by going out to fundraise after their treatment is incredible.
“Then there is the story of 23-year-old Brooke (Evans) who has gone on to become a nurse in the very building where she was treated for the disease – how amazing is that?
“I just love the charity and every single one of the people associated with it, and at Deutsche Bank we are really made to feel part of the team.”
Taking on the London Marathon will be a fantastic challenge for Sharon who readily admits to not exactly being an exercise enthusiast up until 12 months ago.
“I’ve never really been too sporty,” she acknowledges.
“I did the odd bit of exercise in dribs and drabs and had a phase of going to Harborne Swimming Pool and knocking off 40 lengths before work.
“But I never really did anything sustained, until now that is!
“Am I surprised at the progress I have made and that I am about to take on a Marathon? There is no one more surprised than me. Shocked, even!
“I feel so much better for it, my body shape has changed, and I am far more toned that I used to be and running gives me time to clear my head and switch off.
“I used to see people go out and running from work and think: ‘Why on earth would anyone do that?’
“I’d just come in, get myself a big plate of grub, and sit on my bum for the rest of the day!
“Now it’s me, bringing my running gear to work and heading out two lunchtimes a week, as well as running at the weekends.
“All this started from taking part in the Simplyhealth Great Birmingham 10k, and I would really encourage anyone who is thinking about it to give it a go.
“Putting yourself forward for an event gives you a goal to aim for and keeps the mind focused and a 10k is an achievable distance from which to start.”
*Click HERE to support Sharon in her fantastic fundraising effort for Cure Leukaemia with the London Marathon
*Click HERE for details on running for Cure Leukaemia in the Great Birmingham 10k and other events.
How funds raised for Cure Leukaemia help save lives