Keep on running . . . Ellen’s marathon dream

When we sought a London Marathon debutante whose preparations we could follow we stumbled on a nice angle. In looking for a charity to support, Ellen Marshall unexpectedly landed a job there. She explained all to Steven Russell

YOU have to be careful what you promise during giddy moments of euphoria. Ellen Marshall was in the pub with pals after last year’s London Marathon, which one of her friends had just completed, and the mood was upbeat. “You know when you’re saying ‘Wow! I’m so impressed! That’s amazing! I’m going to do the marathon . . .’, without really thinking? On the strength of that I signed up – on a whim, really – literally two days after last year‘s marathon, as soon as the ballot opened. People try for years to get in, and don’t, so I was sure I wouldn’t. But I did – which was a bit of a surprise, but also really good!”

The little magazine/booklet that accompanied the happy news last October carried a host of adverts from charities seeking sponsored runners. “I was looking through it and calling out charity names to my dad – ‘What about this one? What about that one?’ – and came across Anthony Nolan,” explains Ellen, whose family home is near Manningtree. The organisation began life in 1974, was long known as the Anthony Nolan Trust, and became the streamlined “Anthony Nolan” last summer.

“I knew quite a lot about them anyway, because friends at university were quite involved and did a lot of fundraising. My dad thought they’d be really good. I went on the website to find out a bit more and that was when I saw the vacancy.”

It was for a communications officer to publicise the charity’s work. Ellen applied, and started work on January 4. So as well as finding a cause to champion during the marathon on April 17, the 25-year-old also landed a new job with a charity that seeks matches for leukaemia patients needing a stem cell, bone marrow or cord blood transplant.

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She’ll be penning a weekly column for ealife on the trials, tribulations and triumphs of marathon training, so we won’t steal her thunder. But we must ask, briefly, how are things going?

“Running was going quite well. I sort of took December off – I figured it was Christmas! – and since I got back in January I’ve been up to 17 miles on the long runs.

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“Last week my hip started hurting, so I’m going to a physio to have it checked out, but I spoke to him briefly at the end of last week and he doesn’t think it’s anything too serious.”

There were dreaded blisters – caused by the first 14-mile run. “They were horrific and I felt crippled for days!” Then there was a knee injury that meant she had to run with a support.

Ellen’s pounding the streets between three and five times a week, covering 25-35 miles a week. Motivation has been reasonably easy to come by.

“In January I was really, really keen and was enjoying it. In February I’ve found it a little bit harder, because you do obviously have to sacrifice your social life quite a bit. I’ve got a bit bored with it this month, but I’m getting back into it, because I’ve looked at my fundraising page and realised there are less than 60 days to go!

“I was saying to someone at work the other day that it’s getting lighter in the evenings and it’s a lot easier to make yourself go out when it’s not pitch-black.

“I am enjoying it . . . on the whole!” she laughs.

Helpfully, Ellen’s got a sporting background.

Born at Chelmsford, she moved with her parents to Little Bromley as a baby. After St Mary’s School in Colchester she spent the ages from seven to 13 at Orwell Park School near Ipswich. (Although she now lives in London, her parents are still in Essex and she returns “home” about once a month.)

Most teenage years were spent boarding at the famous Rugby School in Warwickshire.

“I really enjoyed it,” says Ellen, who has three brothers. “I think I had an advantage in that I played a lot of sport. If you do that, it’s always easier to fit in somewhere.”

She was, in fact, sports prefect. “It meant that whenever there were sports people didn’t want to play, I’d step in. I did end up doing a lot of cross-country, which was surprisingly unpopular!”

Ellen read law at The University of Nottingham, followed by the year-long legal practice course at Nottingham Law School.

“It was halfway through that course I realised I found it all really boring and didn’t want to do it! It’s the kind of thing you’d be doing every day, in your working life, and I just wasn’t interested in it. So I thought it was better to get out then than halfway through a two-year training contract.

“The only reason I did it in the first place was because I didn’t know what I was going to study at university and my mum’s a lawyer!”

Ellen had work placements in publishing and got her first job in the spring of 2008 with lifestyle book publisher Octopus.

Unfortunately, she was made redundant early in 2009, but quickly got a post with a small independent house.

“Because there were only three of us in the company it meant I was doing a bit of everything – a bit of editorial, a bit of publicity, a bit of sales, a bit of marketing – and then in the summer last year I thought I wanted a change. I thought what I was best at in my job would be suited to a communications role. Because I still enjoyed my job, and I really liked the people I worked with, I didn’t do anything, really, about it.”

And then came that advert from Anthony Nolan and a fresh challenge.

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One small step

JUST as Ellen Marshall’s marathon adventure began in the pub, so did the race itself.

The Dysart Arms, next to Richmond Park, was the home of a running club and athletes would chew the fat, according to Several enthused about the New York City Marathon. “They were amazed how different it was to the UK marathons, where a handful of spectators and a few cows watched 20 or so competitors trudge around country lanes.”

Olympic medallists John Disley and the late Chris Brasher decided to see for themselves and entered in 1979.

Taken with it, Brasher wrote an article that wondered aloud if London had “the heart and hospitality to welcome the world”.

The snowball was rolling. The authorities came on board and Gillette’s �75,000-a-year sponsorship underpinned the dream.

The first race on March 29, 1981, attracted 20,000 applicants; 7,747 were accepted.

Today, the race is shown on TV in more that 150 countries.

In all, well over 750,000 runners have completed the London Marathon. A record 35,694 finished in 2007.

The boy behind the vision

Anthony Nolan was born in 1971 with a rare condition. The only cure was a bone marrow transplant, but there was no system to find a matching donor.

His mother, Shirley, dreamed of starting a register to link potential donors with people like her son.

In 1974, a bone marrow register was created in Westminster Children’s Hospital, where Anthony was a patient. Shirley campaigned and fundraised and in 1978 the team moved to its first official laboratory.

Anthony died in 1979.

Today, 65 people a day in the UK are diagnosed with a blood cancer (about one every 23 minutes).

Every day Anthony Nolan provides two matches for people who need a lifesaving transplant – but the charity can still find matches for only about half the people in need.

There are almost 1,600 people in the UK waiting for a stem cell transplant.

There are more than 400,000 people on the register, but, to provide more matches, Anthony Nolan wants to build it up to one million potential donors.

To join the register, people must be aged between 18 and 40.

The charity particularly needs more men and more people from ethnic minorities.

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