Runner Profile: Carla Wiggins
Thanks to the legend Samantha Linassi for nominating me for this – she has helped me round endless training runs and her positivity is infectious. I was dreading having to write one of these, but it was actually good to look back over my 10+ years of running.
Where it all started
Back at school I was no natural athlete. Despite my enthusiasm and love of sport, I was only ever chosen to be on a team once – I was half a person in a rounders team against St Joe’s – I batted and my friend Isobel fielded, we weren’t asked back!
After school, fitness was never really part of my life. I went horse riding and faffed around in the gym a few times but that was it. I’d watch the Woodbridge 10k and London marathon and think it was an amazing, but unachievable challenge for me.
Then I met Simon.
Simon never talked me into running but I followed him around and watched him take part in a number of events. He then invited me to join him and his work colleagues and do the National Three Peaks Challenge. I didn’t have time to do many training ‘walks’ so thought I would short cut my road to fitness by running.
Well, after 90 seconds of trotting around a field, I concluded that I must have asthma – it was so hard! Over the weeks I kept trying and it gradually got easier and I was fit enough to be able to complete the Three Peaks. (I think I could run for about 15 mins non-stop at this point).
I remember watching some of the slower runners come in during the Great Bentley Friday 5 one Summer, I guess it was 2008/9, and I said to Simon “surely I could run faster than them”. I think that’s when my motivation kicked in and I decided to keep going and see what I could do.
I soon learnt that no, I definitely couldn’t run as fast as those runners!
My first race was rather embarrassingly the Langham Fun Run. Simon was running the 10k, and suggested I did the fun run. Now I was pretty naive, and it didn’t cross my mind that it was actually the kids’ race – until I turned up to the start line. I don’t exactly blend in next to a load of 10 year olds, but I pretended to be supporting a child and got on with it! The kids all shot off and I was left plodding round what seemed the longest route ever (it was 1.5 miles). The marshals were lovely and really encouraging when I finished which made a big difference to how I felt.
Simon then offered to pace me round a 5k so I set that as a target and we completed the Dovercourt 5k in just over 35 minutes.
Becoming a Road Runner
Over the months I obviously met quite a few Felixstowe members due to Simon. I particularly remember one post London marathon meal and talking to Sally-Ann Pearce, Richard Bennett and a few others, they were all really lovely and encouraging about my running and suggested I tried a FRR session. One week I guess I did. I don’t recall it but I know Richard Farnworth would tell you that I found it tough!
FRR changed my life. When I think about how many people and good friends I have met during my time at the club, it is astounding. I have always been quite shy but suddenly found myself being able to just chat to anyone, that’s what runners do! There is always something to talk about.
Simon was obviously a huge influence to my running, we rarely ran together but he entered a lot of races back then. One year he and Tim Finnegan were competing for the LeJog trophy so he was racing every weekend. It became normal and I found myself moving from supporting to entering more and more of the races.
My times were improving but this was still way before parkrun and running wasn’t that accessible. I turned up at the start of the Turkey Trot to attempt another 10 miles in horrendously cold and icy conditions. I remember getting to mile 6 and thinking it was actually going really well and I was on for a PB. Then I realised that a couple of people behind me had dropped out and I was last. I was mortified. I battled with my head for the next 3 miles – I knew I was running well, but I also knew I would be last. I finished and was almost more pleased that I’d been mentally tough enough to ride it out, then I was with my PB.
Felixstowe Road Runners kindly awarded me a few trophies in those early years, including Most Improved Lady Runner and Lady Runner of the Year. Although I never felt deserving, it was certainly a huge boost to have that amount of encouragement and support from so many lovely people.
Simon had always loved an international marathon so we set off for Berlin in 2010 (I was playing the support role again). It was an amazing race. Simon had trained so hard and had perfect race conditions for him (cold and wet). He finally achieved his goal of a sub 3.30 marathon (despite stopping at mile 21 to propose to me).
We celebrated that evening with an all you could eat Chinese with Bob Jack from Bungay.
We had met Bob at the Bungay 10k Summer Series as we were about the same speed and used to race each other round. He was 20 stone, mostly topless and very well known to the running community. His enthusiasm and ’can do’ attitude was incredible – he defied all odds with what he achieved – completing Comrades and at that time about 80 marathons. I am sure that evening and hearing his many stories influenced me more than I realised.
Before Berlin I had never thought I could achieve a marathon distance, but maybe….
Simon and I set a date for our wedding in 2012, planning was in progress and then a London marathon place landed on my doormat – which would be 2 weeks before the wedding.
Training for a marathon definitely takes the stress away from wedding plans as I was following a plan and trying pretty hard in the hope I could make it round. The aim was to get round, sub 6 hours preferably, with a dream time of sub 5.30. I had such an amazing race, loved it and sailed over the finish line in 5:19:17. I was delighted, amazed and eager to go again!
I entered the ballot again as soon as I could – dreaming of running it again in my married name. I am obviously luckier than Paul Schwer as the congratulatory magazine landed on my doorstep again in 2013.
I was super excited to be going again, knowing what to expect makes a huge difference and I’d learnt so much about marathon running the year before. I was running better than ever – I’d got my parkrun times down and was regularly hitting sub 30. I headed off to my work’s Christmas party with plans to run a Santa run in Ipswich the next day….
Things didn’t quite go to plan.
I got back to my hotel at 2 am with my arm in plaster after falling awkwardly off a bucking bronco horse, dislocating the elbow and fracturing the joint. I’d cried in hospital because (a) they made me take off my wedding ring and (b) this would put a stop to my running for a few weeks.
I was still determined to run London again and started training again in early February, I’d missed about five weeks of what I was intending to do but just got on with it. Things don’t always go to plan but it doesn’t mean things won’t turn out ok… I completed the 2013 London marathon in 4:56:55, smashing my PB and pretty much dancing down the Mall as I knew I was going to get under the 5 hour mark.
The following year we planned to run Budapest, I had a place but a couple of weeks suffering with a cold and cough put pay to that. Simon ran but I just supported – it was unseasonably hot so I was glad I was on the sidelines as I was convinced I couldn’t run in the heat.
This got me thinking about places to do a marathon that would be cold! Perhaps rather obviously I got fixated on Iceland. It seemed perfect and ended up being my first real international marathon experience. We had the pleasure of the Schwer’s joining us on that trip and I later bored Paul and Julie with PB achievement (4 hours 37 mins)
Sam always calls me her international running friend – much to my amusement, but I guess she might be right. Since Iceland I’ve run in Ljubljana, Tallinn, Rotterdam, France, Valencia, Lisbon, Sardinia, Porto, and the Azores… combining running with a holiday is just perfect for us and gives us the opportunity to eat and drink whatever we want without feeling guilty!
My toughest and best race to date has to be the marathon we did in the Azores. The route took us up and over a volcano which was pretty special. I didn’t train as hard as I should have done, thinking I would have to walk a lot of it anyway…. I soon regretted my laziness.
Simon had kindly agreed to run it with me which was nice, we were to head out on a proper adventure together. After 3 miles I told him to leave me and save himself! He had just spent 100 yards literally pushing me up a hill and I was done! He was getting anxious about the cut-off times and I was ready to go back to the hotel and sit by the pool!
He left me and I stood there for a bit thinking all kinds of things, then the sweepers came up behind. I had to get to the next checkpoint to pull out and that was another 3 miles up the hill, so I had no choice but to join the sweepers and a girl with a sore ankle.
After about 20 minutes of trudging and chatting (reluctantly as my grumpy mood had set in), I found that I was able to jog a bit on the flat. The scenery was incredible. I got to the checkpoint and my mood had improved. Instead of pulling out I decided get to the top of the volcano – I had all day after all.
The rest of the race continued like that. I got to each checkpoint expecting to be pulled out as I was over time, but I was encouraged on by the marshals who revived me with strong, black, sugary coffee, cake and orange segments. The sweepers were still just behind me but kept their distance unless I needed them – they were awesome.
Running down the scree slope of the final volcano towards the finish line was the best feeling… I was well over the time but could hear everyone cheering me in. I’d overcome so much during that race, it was and still is my biggest achievement.
This coming Sunday (6th September) I will run my 20th marathon. It should have been in Milan, but I’ll make do with a day trip to Barrow.
Writing all this has reminded me how far I have come. Since lockdown released I have been running more than ever and even completed a 100 mile week. I am still breaking down the barriers of what is possible for me…. and I plan to keep going.
I would like nominate someone else who has smashed through more than a few of his own barriers – an Ironman and our fantastic coach: Ian Duggan.