London Marathon 2021: Three inspiring runners share their story

01 October 2021

On Sunday 3 October 2021, 100,000 runners will be taking part in the great London Marathon – 50,000 returning to the streets of London, and 50,000 taking place virtually in their local areas.

Among them will be our amazing Versus Arthritis runners – we have 65 people taking on the challenge of running 26.2 miles.

Imogen-Rose, Laura, and Oliver are running on Sunday. Here they tell us why they’ll be wearing a Versus Arthritis running vest this weekend and taking on the challenge for people with arthritis.

“I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when I was 22.” Imogen-Rose

I was a dancer, performing was my life and what I thought would be my future. Suddenly, I was in excruciating pain and there were weeks where I couldn’t get out of bed.

After months of GP trips and hospital admissions, I finally had my diagnosis. ‘You have an auto immune condition called rheumatoid arthritis’. Of course, I’d heard of arthritis, but I had never met or heard of a young person suffer from it so badly.

“My biggest challenge was accepting that I am a young woman with rheumatoid arthritis.”

This acceptance happened when I realised I wanted to help others living with arthritis. I realised my arthritis wasn’t going anywhere, so I decided to give it a name and I called it ‘Arthur’.

I had to learn that Arthur was making me a stronger person, even though it took away my strength and performing career. After many trials we have found medication and a diet that works to help keep Arthur at bay.

“If you told me 5 years ago that I would be able to run a marathon – I wouldn’t have believed it!”

I couldn’t even walk properly 2 years ago, and I feel like I’ve just started to see the light at the end of a dark tunnel. Thinking about my journey of recovery, my new ‘normal’ and giving other sufferers hope, is what will get me across that finish line… even if I’m crawling!

Running a marathon means I can support the charity and help others like myself. I want to get my message out to the world that we need help. We need support. We need to be understood.

I’m extremely nervous about the big day but knowing that I am having an impact on a charity so close to my heart is getting me through. If I, a 27-year-old with rheumatoid arthritis can do this… guess what? You could too!

Versus Arthritis family… you are not alone. You’ve got this.

“I’m running the marathon to raise funds for Versus Arthritis, a wonderful charity very close to my heart.” Laura

My niece Aria, 5, has juvenile idiopathic arthritis and was diagnosed just after her second birthday. She’s often in pain and the condition can be stressful and painful, but she takes it all in her stride and faces each day with a lovely little smile, rarely complaining about how she feels.

My Mum, Christine, has osteoarthritis; a nurse for over forty years, she continues to work long shifts on her feet all day despite the pain she is in. She goes above and beyond to support others and is an amazing friend, mum, and nanny to Aria and her sister Thea. They are my inspiration and the reason I’m taking on this challenge!

“I’m feeling a little nervous as I know it is going to be hard both physically and mentally.”

I’m excited about being with all the other runners on the day as this will be the first London Marathon since the pandemic started so it will feel even more special! I’m particularly looking forward to the views when running over Tower Bridge and of course the last mile up to Buckingham Palace.

“My advice for anyone wanting to take on a running challenge is to just give it a go.”

Prior to 2019 I’d only ever run one very slow 5k and would certainly have described myself as more of a couch potato than a runner. However, since deciding to take part, I have slowly worked my way up to the distance at my own pace.

If somebody had told me two years ago that I would be able to run 10k, let alone the 20 miles I have managed so far during training I would not have believed it. Persevere and go at your own pace - it doesn’t matter how fast or slow you are, just enjoy it!

“I was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis back in 2006.” Oliver

Whilst studying for my A-Levels, I woke up not being able to put any pressure or weight on my feet due to the inflammation in my joints across both feet. A couple of weeks later, I was diagnosed as carrying the HLA-B27 gene and this was the start of what has been a 15 year journey.

Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is an autoimmune form of arthritis. There’s still no defined trigger to experiencing a flare up, which usually manifests itself in significant inflammation in the joints and spine. It also leads to osteoporosis, which I’m currently having monitored due to early signs, and iritis, which I have suffered from regularly in recent years.

“You're probably wondering why I have run marathons and why I am running another?!”

There’s no cure for ankylosing spondylitis but one of the most effective treatments is exercise. A marathon may be an extreme version of treatment, but my running has always been an outlet to help me. When I’m out running it feels like I’m winning the battle against my condition.

I haven’t always won – I have completed two marathons in Dublin (2012) and Berlin (2015) but I didn't make it to the start line for two others due to my AS.

It‘s always been a dream of mine to run the London Marathon and I couldn’t be more excited about the prospect of finally running it for Versus Arthritis.

“Living with the condition can be challenging both mentally and physically.”

Versus Arthritis do a wonderful job in providing support for people living with arthritis conditions as well as continuing to develop breakthrough treatments.

I love my running but for me the London Marathon this year is not just any run for many reasons, both from a personal perspective and also as we look back on the last eighteen months when all of our worlds were turned upside down.

I feel very honoured to have a place to run in support of Versus Arthritis, such an important charity and their work in the UK helping people live with arthritis.

Have you been inspired by these stories?

We have charity places available in the London Marathon 2022 – do you or someone you know want to take on the challenge? Find out more and apply today.

If running isn’t for you, there are lots of way to get involved and support people with arthritis. Through fundraising, volunteering, and campaigning, you too can be Versus Arthritis. Find out more and get involved.

We’re here whenever you need us.

  • If you would like to talk to someone, you can call our free helpline on 0800 5200 520 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm).
  • Chat to our Arthritis Virtual Assistant, using the blue icon in the bottom right corner of this page.
  • Join our online community.
  • Stay in touch and follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.