Tim is a classical music conductor more used to life in the orchestra pit than pounding the pavements. But on 2 October 2022, just after 10am, he set off from the start line on his first London Marathon. It wasn’t just the first marathon he had run, it was also the first ever competitive running race he’d taken part in.
Read his testimonial below to hear why he decided to run the Marathon, his belief in Amref’s work and his top tips for successful fundraising...
The Journey: Couch to 26 miles
'Prior to the pandemic I didn’t exercise at all, apart from the more physical aspects of conducting, which is really bad. Then, COVID happened. While most of my friends and neighbours could just transfer their working lives to Zoom, I lost all my work as the performing arts industry shut down completely. So I was at home, without work, and had three kids to home-school!
I needed an outlet for that stress, for my mental and physical health. I wasn’t a runner at all and the first time I went for a run, I found terrible-fitting tennis shoes and shorts at the back of the cupboard. When lockdown restrictions eased slightly and we were allowed to leave the house regularly, I started with the Couch to 5k app, and ran with our eldest child, Arlo. Like many families we’d been doing Joe Wicks’ workouts every morning so had got into reasonable shape. Physical activity boosted my mood and allowed me to cope with this tricky situation, and then – it became a regular thing and I realised I really enjoyed it and I couldn’t do without it.
I set myself a ridiculous challenge for 2022 which I never in a million years would I have thought I would do: the London Marathon!
Why the London Marathon?
Once I started running regularly, I realised I could challenge myself more and more. I had the time, the practice and the motivation to do it. Once I decided to do the Marathon, I knew that it needed to be a charity run because that felt right. And it needed to be a charity that I believe in and want to raise money for.
Why Amref Health Africa?
I have a professional and personal connection to southern Africa, having spent lots of time working in South Africa, particularly with Cape Town Opera, over the past 20 years. During the first stage of the pandemic, I kept in touch with my colleagues there who told me about the challenges they were facing: being ‘at the back of the queue’ for vaccines, the really strict lockdown regulations, and the social conditions that made stopping the spread almost impossible. For example, how can you socially distance when there are two families living in one room?
The catalyst for me was when vaccines for children started to become available in the UK. We went on a website, clicked a button and took the kids to be vaccinated. I remember coming back on the bus from Lewisham Hospital and thinking how incredibly easy it is for me – they got the vaccine, a biscuit and a sticker and I took them back to school - and how incredibly difficult it is for others.
That made me certain that I wanted to run the Marathon for a charity focussed on Africa and healthcare. In Amref I saw that the money raised would go to where it is most needed. It’s honest, clear about its aims and objectives in the areas of vaccine equity, health worker training and maternal health. So, I applied for my Marathon place through Amref Health Africa UK.
After deciding on the cause, there’s the training. How was it for you?
Long and difficult! But I really enjoyed the discipline of it; I followed the intermediate London Marathon training programme to the letter. I did 14 weeks of intensive training – after a previous 18 months of chaotic, haphazard running – so I had a foundation which I needed to build on in a different way.
I had never run six miles before I started this training, but I remember getting to the point of doing 12 miles and thinking ‘I could do two more!’
I learnt that I had to slow things right down. There’s a well-known moniker for (usually) men at park runs—Weekend Warriors. They go, run as fast as possible to prove how brilliant they are, and then do no running during the week. So I had to learn to do things differently: to do easy runs and to keep my heart rate low.
You have to build mileage up; there are fast days and slow days, and long Sunday runs. As you build all the way up to 21 or 22 miles you can feel your body adapting, particularly in terms of endurance, and that’s actually a great feeling.
And you raised an incredible £3,130 for Amref as you were training. How was your fundraising experience?
The more I ran, the more I wanted to raise money; it was a kind of feedback loop. Runs were my thinking time - who else can I ask, what more can I do to fundraise? That’s why I wanted to choose a charity that I believed in, so that I was as motivated to fundraise as I was to run.
My fundraising was almost entirely online, and I learnt very quickly not to be shy, and to be persistent. I would tell people about Amref’s work and share the annual report, and let people know about my personal and professional connection to Africa.
I also connected my Justgiving page to Strava – and it took me weeks to realise that every time I did a run it would update my supporters! These poor people would have had 80 updates for all the runs I did! But it’s great as it shows how much effort you’re putting into it.
And the day itself, talk us through what that felt like to be there and to do it?
It started off unusually when I got an unexpected lift from a fellow Marathon runner who spotted me at the bus stop, and who happened also to work in classical music!
At the start line, the atmosphere is amazing. I was quite nervous which I didn’t expect, but the thing that struck me was how enjoyable it is! In the weeks leading up to the Marathon you get something called ‘Maranoia’; worrying about getting injured, things going wrong and you get very twitchy. But when you get there and the crowds are there, it’s the most extraordinary atmosphere, especially at Bermondsey, Canary Wharf and Tower Hill, Embankment and Parliament Square.
I was really strict and I didn’t push myself in the first half. What I remember is the noise: people outside pubs cheering you on, kids high-fiving you, and lots of fantastic live music. All this is was amazing, but it can push people into going faster than they should.
I was really proud that I saved enough energy to speed up the last ten miles, which felt really good. (The running geeks call this a ‘negative split’...) When you turn the corner from Embankment into Parliament Square the INCREDIBLE noise hits you and suddenly it’s the final mile.
There’s a great photo of you with Big Ben in the background, what were you feeling at that moment?
It was a combination of not really exhaustion, but having to push really hard to keep going, and total elation. I’d seen the Amref team in Bermondsey, and my family at Canary Wharf, and at this moment you hear the wall of noise from the crowd in the final mile in Parliament Square. I’d read a lot on Facebook groups about how it would be, but you can’t imagine it until you’re in it. It’s really like the noise of an audience after a performance, although an opera audience is different to a sporting crowd, but there is a similar feeling: I’ve done something well here.
Was it complete relief when you crossed the finish line?
My watch told me I had completed the Marathon four minutes or a half mile before I actually had!
I knew that I had friends in the Grandstand so I swerved over to try and see them, heard them scream really loudly, and then it was just 200m to go, so I kicked hard! I felt really happy when I crossed the finish line, I didn’t have any pain – the adrenaline and endorphins kept me going – but that changed in the next few days! I took two weeks off for recovery which I think was alright – Paula Radcliffe took a month off!
What are your top tips for runners in April 2023?
- Choose a charity that you truly believe in. You have to want to do it – both run and raise money, so your commitment is to both.
- Talk about the charity’s work. I enjoyed the fundraising more than I thought I would, because I could show my supporters about Amref’s work and my commitment to it.
- Don’t apologise! I used social media platforms and direct emails to fundraise with my networks. I was really, really persistent and I decided not to apologise for asking for donations or following up on donations, which is a very British thing. I kept very positive.
- Forget Personal Bests – enjoy the moment! I had a time in my head that I wanted to run it in. When you get there, it’s just so enjoyable and the atmosphere is so great, and you can just do it. It’s a really great achievement just commit to it and enjoy it!'
And the final word goes to Tim’s son, Arlo, who says though he is very proud of his dad for having completed the Marathon, "I think he could’ve done it a bit faster".