Running the extra miles – what inspires someone to run 26.2 miles?

Victoria Cusack

With the Rob Burrow Leeds Marathon taking place on the 14th of May 2023. This will be the long-anticipated return of the marathon distance to the city of Leeds. This is a huge run event for the diary, whether you participate, spectate, support, or donate. Run Leeds asked the Leeds City Council Staff who have signed up for this epic event that very question… what inspires someone to run 26.2 miles?


Donna Whitelock (Adults & Health Department)

I signed up for the Rob Burrows marathon, and whilst I am not new to running and have completed a few half marathons, this challenge seems particularly daunting (especially given the undulating route!). I have the support of my local running club, the Drighlington Dynamos, where there are a few of us signed up to do this event. In 2013 my brother-in-law Andy realised that he was starting to struggle with simple things, fastening buttons, tying laces and his work tie.

He was diagnosed with Motor Neurones Disease in the October 2022. After only a short 9 months he lost his battle with MND leaving behind his wife and 7-year-old son. MNDA were fantastic at supporting the family through Andy’s illness and I have tried to give a little back to the charity since, running the Great North Run in 2021 and now the ultimate challenge of the Marathon in 2023 – I can’t think of a better cause to get my running shoes on for! Having lost my brother-in-law to MND this one is particularly close to my heart…


Liz Connor (Commissioning Manager)

I have always been really active, and I fit physical activity into my life because it is so very important for me. I realise that others may not find it so easy to prioritise physical activity. My physical health obviously benefits from running, but I find that if I don’t keep active then it is my mental health that suffers. This is what I love about running, it helps me to clear my head.

That said, there have been some barriers that I have experienced and had to overcome. I am a mother of three children aged 8, 7 and 5. So I get it when life is really busy. I also work a 30-hour week and worked full-time when my youngest was 15 months old. I had many years where high intensity exercise just an option for me wasn’t. But when the time is right, women can build up to that level of physical activity again, it just takes time and patience. I used to walk, A LOT instead, as that was more available to me at the time.

Injuries this past 18 months, have also meant having to pull out of a couple of races. Sometimes you have to find different activities to get you through, like swimming, or Tabata workouts.

I was also diagnosed with the perimenopause in 2022 and started HRT in April, which was a huge shock as I only turned 40 in May! I think this is a topic that often gets brushed under the carpet but can be a barrier to keeping physically active. The symptoms can be really debilitating and interfere greatly with all aspects of life. Although physical activity can be the last thing you want to do when symptomatic, it is probably one of the best things to relieve symptoms.

My journey so for with this has been a bit up and down, and I do wonder if my recent injuries were linked to this, but I have also introduced weight training sessions to help with bone strength and OH MY, it has been amazing. The benefits I have felt just in everyday life, things are so much easier, and it is probably really important for women to understand the benefits of building strength in preparation for, or in response to that natural next phase of “older” life.


Becky Lawrence (0-19 Consultant)

I started running back in 2005 when a Leeds City Council colleague and friend took me along with her one evening to Horsforth Harriers running club. I was instantly hooked and enjoyed training with the club and getting into racing. In 2008 I attempted my first marathon, which was the Windermere Marathon. It was a beautiful (if rather undulating) route and so began my on/off relationship with the marathon began. I was 3 minutes off a good for age time, so decided to see if I could nudge under this milestone on a faster course. I chose Edinburgh marathon in 2009 but had to pull out after getting injured during the winter cross country season. In 2010 I had a place for Brighton marathon, but this time pulled out through pregnancy. It was 2012 before I raced the marathon again, this time achieving 3 hours 32 at Chester Marathon and I started to wonder if sub 3:30 was possible.

I used my ’good for age’ time from Chester to enter London Marathon for 2014 (back in the days when a good for age time meant automatic qualification for London) but once again had to pull out because I was then expecting my second child.

I concentrated on shorter distances for a few years, but the marathon itch never went away. In 2018 I had a great running year, and everything seemed to be going to plan, so I entered Blackpool Marathon for spring 2019. But what happens every time I enter a marathon? Baby number three was then due in summer 2019! So instead, I focused on Parkruns, and ran my 100th Parkrun at 38 weeks pregnant, accompanied by the same Leeds City Council friend who first got me into running 😊

In 2022 I returned to the marathon 10 years after my PB at Chester. Although I didn’t get the time I was hoping for at Manchester Marathon, it was enough to secure a good for age place in London Marathon 2023. But in between Manchester and getting my London good for age place, news was announced of a new marathon for Leeds! With the start just a mile from my front door! I wouldn’t even need to queue for the toilets! 😉 So I entered on the day it opened.

I can’t wait to run a marathon in my home city. Even though this will be just three weeks after London Marathon, so I will be treating this as a recovery run rather than aiming for a particular time. I’m really looking forward to the challenge of the hills, running along roads that I’ve trained on with my clubmates for so many years, and what I’m sure will be an amazing atmosphere.

In memory of a former Horsforth Harrier who died from MND, please donate here Just Giving Page


Eleanor Gallon (Audit Manager)

I signed up to do my first marathon in 2007 after receiving a group email from an old friend saying she was running the London Marathon in 2006 and could we sponsor her? I was blown away as the two of us were beer guzzling, pizza loving students together with exercise exactly nowhere in our weekly schedule. I got back in touch with her, and she told me all about how she had got into running and how excited she was about the marathon. On a total whim, I decided I would run it the following year, having never run before, so I bought my first pair of trainers and ran the London Marathon in in 2007.

I assumed that I would hate the training and the only good bit would be crossing the finish line but oh how wrong I was! Somewhere along the way I got completed addicted to running, and ended up running my first 5k, 10k, 10 mile and half marathon races during my training for the marathon and absolutely loved every milestone. Fast forward nearly 16 years and I now have approximately 18 marathons and 8 ultra-marathons under my belt.

It is funny how your perception of what ‘floats your boat’ and what you are capable of achieving changes over time. After my first half marathon I thought I’d never manage to run twice that distance to complete a full marathon, and genuinely feeling scared that I was out of my depth in trying. After many years of running marathons, I heard about ultra-marathons (anything longer than 26.2 miles) and thought it a new level of stupidity that I would never, ever be tempted by. And yet, in 2018 I somehow found myself running 65 miles and now my ‘distance PB’ set at a Backyard Ultra last year is 104 miles.

So why the Leeds Marathon? I couldn’t not enter it. It is just so exciting to finally have a full marathon back in our wonderful city, a fabulous route and for an incredibly good cause too. I will admit I entered without giving it too much thought, only that I would probably suffer huge FOMO if I didn’t… however, as the weeks and months have gone by and the anticipation around the event is steadily building. I keep discovering more people who are training hard for it and have found myself getting swept along in the excitement.

 I really cannot wait for the race now! My one tip for anyone doing their first marathon is to get your fuelling right. Your body will not run 26.2 miles on just water, so experiment with energy gels, energy drinks, chocolate, cheese and marmite sandwiches, whatever – find something that works for you and make sure you have tested it well before race day.


Caroline Armstrong (Senior Commissioning Officer) & Vicky Smith (Senior Intelligence & Policy Officer Adults & Health)

Caroline – As a runner with many years behind me people always ask are you going to do a marathon? My response was always, “no way, it’s too big a commitment and it’s really far!”

And then a marathon comes to my home city. I won’t say Vicky twisted my arm or anything, but I definitely wouldn’t be doing it without her! Vicky is a great training partner (especially as a run usually ends with cake) and I’m very much looking forward to the journey that we’ll be going on together to cross that finish line.

The icing on this cake? Being able to support Rob Burrow and MND and raising vital funds for the Leeds Hospital Charity to help fund the building of the Rob Burrow Centre for Motor Neuron Disease. 

Vicky – When the Leeds marathon was announced I didn’t have to think twice about signing up to what will be my second marathon.  It’s entirely Caroline’s fault that I started running in the first place, back in 2014!  We have run a few races together over the years and since we started running together regularly in Covid times we’ve covered many miles around Leeds, but marathon distance will be a whole new challenge! 

As a Leeds Rhinos fan, (I got married at Headingley Stadium), particularly in the treble winning era when Rob Burrow was a player, I was always going to run Leeds marathon to try to raise money to support Rob and MND, and so we are raising money for the Leeds Hospital Charity to help fund the building of the Rob Burrow Centre for Motor Neuron Disease.   

Donate to Caroline and Vicky’s justgiving page


Katie North (School Improvement Adviser)

I signed up for the Leeds marathon as it is for such a good cause, and I have been particularly motivated by Rob Burrows and the amazing work and sporting challenges taken on by Kevin Sinfield. I am also running on behalf of St Gemma’s Hospice in Leeds and hoping to raise some money for them in the process, as they do such amazing work for people in such difficult circumstances.

I would never describe myself as a runner, certainly not a marathon runner, this will be my first (and most probably last!) marathon, so I am looking forward to the personal challenge of hopefully making it over the finish line in one piece!

Donate to Katie’s justgiving page


Mariana Pexton – Director of Resources

My most recent running was about 18 years ago, raising money for Jane Tomlinson before she died, I ran 3 half marathons in a month. I started running again about 10 months ago, with a marathon on my unfinished “to do” list despite being a lot older!  As someone who is heavily involved with the Leeds Rhinos, and fundraising for Rob Burrows and Kev Sinfield, it didn’t take long for my heart to overrule my head and enter!

My aim is to finish, survive, and raise money, I don’t care about a time.

Training is mixed… weekends I can find time to train, but during the week it is harder, with work so busy. I am hopefully doing just enough. I’ve had a couple of runs up the big hill on the marathon route, albeit on fresh legs!

I think it will be an incredible occasion for the city, iconic, with the stadium start and finish. It is for such a worthy cause too. I just hope that I haven’t got my ambition and capability mixed up too much!  I’ll be running for both #TeamRhinos and #TeamLCC.

Good luck everyone, I know I will need it!


Andy Dodman – Chief HR Officer

Running is a big part of my everyday life. I run to work most weekdays, (short and fast) and run for fun at the weekends (longer and slower). Whilst the physical health benefits are great, I particularly value the comradery of running with others and the headspace provided when running alone.

For the past 10 years I’ve endeavoured to run one marathon annually, which has included taking on Windermere (hilly), London (busy), Chester (pretty) and York (friendly). My last race was the Manchester Marathon in October 2021, shortly after the end of lockdown restrictions. My optimism, however, didn’t match my preparation and fitness, and I found the run horribly tough. Indeed, I vowed never to do another marathon again, deciding that I was much better suited to shorter distances.

My resolve faded quickly, as soon as I heard about the Rob Burrow Leeds Marathon. The opportunity to participate in my own home city and for such a worthy cause was too much of a temptation. I don’t doubt that the support from fellow runners and spectators will be fantastic on the day – and may even compensate for the challenging route!

Good luck everyone and enjoy.  


Graham Turner, Multisystemic Therapist, Children & Families

This will be my first marathon!

Ed, Louise, Alex and I all work together for Leeds City Council as part of the MST department. We have all been inspired by Rob, his family and the amazing Kevin Sinfield (what a friendship!), to take part in this challenge. We would really like to raise some money for MND along the way.

If you are able to donate here is the link to our just giving page;

Running For Rob


Amy Beswick, Project Manager, Economic Development

I ran my first marathon last year in Edinburgh which was a big bucket list goal for me. After that I decided I wouldn’t do another road marathon again… but I was just too tempted by the Rob Burrows Leeds Marathon. The route is real home turf for me, going past all the places I grew up and where I went to school. I also knew loads of friends, family and colleagues would be running it too, so I didn’t want to miss out.

Running has been an important part of my life for many years, but particularly since I joined the Slaithwaite Striders, a really supportive, inclusive and welcoming club for runners of all abilities and interests. Since then, my running has really taken off, thanks to the amazing support and friendships I’ve found through the club. It has encouraged me to be more ambitious and confident, but my love of running is always the main motivator.

Running is one of the most accessible sports and can be done anywhere without the need for loads of kit or big expense (until you become obsessed with shoes, Garmin’s and Strava stats which is a slippery slope!) Trying a Couch to 5k, taking part in your local parkrun (or parkwalk) or joining a running club are all great ways to get started.

My advice for any runner who is thinking of taking on their first marathon… is to go for it! When you train for your first marathon you are building your distance week on week, so you are constantly breaking the barriers of what you thought you could achieve, which is an amazing feeling. It’s a cliché, but it really does prove that if you set your mind on doing something, then you can achieve it (but it might be painful!). My other advice would be to prepare well, don’t underestimate it.

I am really looking forward to the marathon. I know there will be an amazing atmosphere on the day and Rob Burrow is such an inspiring person. The awareness and fundraising for MND that he and Kevin Sinfield have already achieved is just staggering. I’m sure it will be a very special day for so many people.


Thanks so much for sharing your inspirational and heartfelt stories with Run Leeds.

Best of luck to all the Leeds City Council Staff running the marathon, you are absolute heroes! And a big thanks to everyone volunteering, working and supporting on race day to make it a memorable event for the City of Leeds.

If you would like to make a donation and support those with MND and some of the other amazing charities that our LCC staff are running for, then please click below:

Horsforth Harriers  Just Giving Page

Donate to Caroline and Vicky’s justgiving page

Donate to Katie’s justgiving page

Donate to Graham, Ed, Louise & Alex’s justgivingpage