Runner Profile: Nicola Stevenson

Thank you (I think) to Maria for the nomination.

Early Years

If you have ever done a long run with me, you will know that I talk a lot – so I apologise in advance for all my waffle – I will eventually get to the point (hopefully!)

I am/was what is known as an ‘Army Brat’, my father was in the army. This meant that as a child we moved around a lot. I went to 5 or 6 different primary schools all over the south and east of England and in the Middle East (Kuwait). I have vague memories of sport days but none of any momentous victories.

My parents eventually wanted to settle down so bought a house in Newbury just in time for me to start at the local girl’s Secondary school. While there I played hockey and netball but we didn’t have an athletics track so running wasn’t on the curriculum. I played netball for a local team outside of school and also went once a week to the boy’s grammar school to play badminton – although I think that boy spotting was higher on the agenda.

I have 2 brothers so when the older one started karate at the local American airbase I went along with him. I also joined the local canoe club and with the help of my friend’s dad build my own canoe. I enjoyed our club trips away canoeing all around the south coast and also helping out at local races. My first ever trophy was through the canoe club but not for canoeing – I came first in a ‘coracle’ conflict event – we were given a coracle a paddle and a mop and I was the last one afloat!

Aged 19 I moved to Qatar to re-join my parents. I worked in the Amir’s stable exercising his horses 5 days a week – I did eventually have to get a proper job!!

I met my husband in Qatar, where he was working and living with his parents. My husband was a keen squash player so after spending many hours watching him play I eventually learned to play. The courts were very basic with no A/C – just a ceiling fan so it got quite hot!

After we married, we moved to Venezuela and then Brussels. During this time, we had our son. We moved back to the UK when our son was 3 and I started playing squash again.

From the age of about 16 I had smoked and this reached a peak of about 40-50 a day. I finally decided to give up about a year before falling pregnant with our daughter. My weight, which until then hadn’t been a problem, rocketed. After Emily was born, we moved to Suffolk and by the time she was 1 year old I was a size 20 and doing no exercise.

I went back into education and by the time I finished my final year at university I got back down to a size 12. My exercise regime was swimming once a week, I also started playing netball again and tried a few classes at the gym but I had a problem with my bladder so jumping was causing lots of embarrassing issues so I tried to avoid it. I did eventually have surgery so netball, squash and gym classes became much more enjoyable!

My first event

I decided to raise some money for cancer research and had seen some sort of event advertised at Stowmarket Leisure centre – it was a triathlon of some sort so ever optimistic I entered. I could swim but didn’t own a bike and had never run! I bought a bike and persuaded my son to do a bit of running with me to train – I think we did about a mile – twice! I also did a bit of fast walking/running on the treadmill in the gym. The day of the event arrived. I managed the 16 lengths of the pool without a problem it was slow but I don’t think I was last. I then had to cycle for 10k, I remembered my cycling proficiency and stopped at all the junctions, to the amusement of the marshals. Lastly came the run. Again, I had persuaded my son to run with me so he joined me at the end of the road. It was hard work but I finished as they were dismantling the finish line!

Fast forward to 2010, I was now working as a community midwife in Colchester. I had reached the ripe old age of 50 and my weight had again rocketed. I got myself under control again and as I was losing the weight one of my ladies who was gradually getting bigger told me that she had decided to run Silverstone half marathon the following March – this would give her 6-7 months after the birth of her baby to get back into shape and fit. She suggested that I do it with her – how I laughed!! Anyway, she entered us both!

Come the January I still hadn’t managed to get out and run while she was well into her training. I again persuaded my son to go out with me, I managed a couple of miles and collapsed completely exhausted. My biggest fear was what people would think when they saw me out running. It took a long time to get over that. Race day arrived and I had managed to get up to 8 miles in my training. It was freezing cold, I suffered with terrible cramps in my legs but my friend ‘bullied’ me around and I finished in just under 2 and a half hours.

I did a bit more running after that a couple of times a week slowly building up my fitness and distance. The following year the two of us did Birmingham half. It was a bit quicker and a bit less uncomfortable although I still couldn’t walk the next day! In 2014 I decided to enter Edinburgh half and did it with my daughter. We drove home the same day so it was lucky that we were able to share the driving. I think I had caught the running bug.

I managed to get a charity place for the 2014 VLM supporting St Helena Hospice in Colchester. It was around about then I started parkrun. I had signed up some time before that but had never been brave enough to go. I really enjoyed it and met loads of ‘proper’ runners. I joined a Facebook group called Run for Your Life and through that met Ali Ostler who was looking for someone to run around Alton Water with her. She picked me up and patiently ran with me. She got me to enter Tarpley 20 and the Essex 20 as training runs and took me all over round the country roads on training runs. It was through Ali that I was introduced to Felixstowe Road Runners. Just before London Marathon I went along with her to a club night and was made to feel very welcome. There were loads of ‘proper’ runners who introduced themselves and spent time to talk to me. I remember Simon and Carla Wiggins chatting to me and also Dave Solomon slowing down to jog around with me. I managed to get a place on the FRR bus to London although I was very worried about finishing in time for the return trip. I can’t say that I loved the experience as I spent a lot of time worrying that I may not finish – I had never run that far before! My daughter and my 2 nieces met me at the finish and got me to the bus on time. I had no idea how I had done until my husband rang me to tell me my finish time – I had forgotten to stop my watch! I met the lovely Anne Oliver on the return journey, she gave me the most amazing cup of tea ever and promised to rescue me from the coach toilet if I failed to return!

I have done lots and lots of events and different distances since joining FRR – I am quite good at entering multiple events on the same day or the same event twice! I am also well known for stopping for a wee half way round races, even parkrun!

My Favourite Race

Stowmarket half is probably my favourite event, I ran it as part of a training run for Manchester marathon and my dear friend Sally was my cycle support. We chatted the whole way round without realising how far I had done. I love the course and the atmosphere of this race and the medal is always a bonus. And I do love a medal!!

Lowest Point

I decided to enter Valencia Marathon in 2019, I had done ok at Manchester and a group were going so I jumped on the bus. My training was going really well, I had managed 4 laps in our One Lap to Ultra event and planned to run to Stowmarket for the Scenic 7 for my final long run (20 miles). The week before my left hamstring started to niggle and by the time I got to Stowmarket on the day of the Scenic 7 I could barely walk. The next day I was in a lot of pain so booked to see Bridget. She told me to rest and gave me lots of stretches to do. Everyone was reassuring me that with rest it would be ok and that it didn’t matter that I was missing the last few weeks of training.

Valencia was beautiful, we found a nice AirBnB to stay in. Dave, Ben and Ade were running the marathon with me, Sally was running the 10k and Genni was our interpreter!  I managed the fun run on the Saturday with some pain but I convinced myself that it would be ok the next day. I managed 11 miles of the marathon before I was tapped on the shoulder, I turned to see the sweeper bus and was invited to get on. No surprise really but I was devastated.

Another month of no running and we went over to South Africa with the Barmy Army to watch the cricket. Towards the end of our tour, I was determined to do a parkrun. I found one in George and managed to get around in 35 minutes. It was a hilly course so I was quite pleased and the pain was a lot less although still in the background. We got back to the UK the end of January 2020.

On our return Sally persuaded me to jog around parkrun and do a couple of slow runs with her. I did and things started looking up – thank goodness!

LOCKDOWN

Like many people I found lockdown hard so was very grateful to be able to run again. It did take some encouragement and reassurance from Sally that I wasn’t going to be struck down and die from COVID the minute I left my house. She had decided to run every day from day one of lockdown. I was nervous about going outside but ventured out on day 2 very early in the morning, it was very strange to run when it was so very quiet with virtually no cars or people anywhere. That day was the first of my 365 days of running. I set myself daily targets and was very grateful to the ‘virtual’ FRR sessions and ‘virtual’ races. When we were able to run with other people Sally and I ran together (socially distanced). I also ran with a friend from Run for Your Life (Margaret) once a week. Margaret is a slower runner than me so it was nice to run at her pace once a week and with my commute to meet her it became my weekly long run. Once groups were able to run together, I joined in with Justin and Ali Ostler with their weekly Whitton Not Parkrun. At the same time Ian was collecting our times for the FRR virtual parkrun so I had a weekly (not) race to take part in.

I celebrated my 60th birthday that year and decided to do a half marathon. On the day Sally was my bike support and Ben Jacobs cycled out and met us at about mile 10 with a surprise cake and bottle of wine. After that I then set myself a challenge to do a half marathon every month. I entered the VLM virtual, which I did around Felixstowe with a group of FRR runners. Jo Whelan sorted out the route and I ran with Carla Wiggins and had a great day with great support from Jane Moon and Kirsty Marsh who set up refreshment stations outside their homes (all socially distanced).

Another thing that kept me going during Lockdown was all the other routines that I set myself. I played table tennis every day in the garage against my husband, I got better but he tended to win. I also downloaded several apps onto my phone with 30-day challenges – there was the Plank challenge, the Squat challenge and the flexibility challenge (that one came from Bridget and was the most difficult for me). Sally and I would WhatsApp video call each other and do the challenge together. I think we repeated each of the challenges about 4 times. I also started doing Pilates with Helen via zoom.

Get to the point

Since my 61st birthday I have PB’d nearly every distance, I am most proud of my half marathon PB which I got with the help of Dave Solomon at Great Bentley this year.

The time I got qualified me for the England Masters along with Kaye Branton. Wearing the England shirt at Chester half is something I will always remember.

I also PB’d my marathon time this year even though I had been struck down with COVID 3 weeks before the event. Luckily it didn’t affect my breathing but it left me with fatigue which took ages to resolve.  Part of me feels that maybe I could have done better??

So, Maria asked how I got so fast, I don’t know exactly but maybe it was all that running with no one to talk to, or the lack of toilets to use on my way round? Thinking about it and chatting with other people I believe that it has probably got a lot to do with all the core training that I did during lockdown and also that my weekly long slow runs with my friend Margaret played a big part.

What’s next

Who knows!! I would like to maybe run another marathon.  I feel that I could get my time down to 4:30 which I think is the good for age time for my age group for the VLM.

My favourite distance is the half marathon. I completed my 40th official one at Colchester in May – at one stage I wanted to run as many half marathons as my age, I am not sure if I will make that but I think I can always try.

I would now like to hand the baton on to Claire Butcher and hear about her journey to Manchester and Barcelona marathons this year.

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