Great North Run 2019: Three inspiring runners share their stories

Two great north runners looking to the camera.

On Sunday 8 September, 57,000 runners will take to the streets for the biggest half marathon in the UK.

This year, 110 of our runners will be pounding the roads to raise funds and awareness for the charity. Among them will be our fundraisers James, John and Helen. Here they tell us why they’ll be donning a Versus Arthritis running vest this weekend at the Great North Run.

“I want to be a good role model for my kids and show them nothing should limit their goals. You just have to keep moving forward and do what you can.”

James Hansford, 37, was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis last year and says it’s been a tough year for him and his family. Now, he’s keen to represent the charity and show those living with the condition that they can still be happy and achieve their goals.

Before his diagnosis, in May 2018, James had been a keen runner and often took part in races with his local running club. Reflecting on the months leading up to his diagnosis, James explains: “I started to experience severe pain on the bottom of my feet and in my knees and found it difficult to walk. Even climbing the stairs at home felt challenging. I’ve always been a keen runner and at the time I assumed I had an injury related to my running.”

James adds: “I then started to develop pain in my hands and would have trouble dressing my two young children. Even basic tasks like taking a shower and standing in the kitchen became difficult. I went to see my GP in March and within two months I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Like many others, I incorrectly assumed that arthritis only affected older people, and it came as a complete shock.”

After his diagnosis, James was treated with a drug called methotrexate and received weekly steroid injections, which he says, “eased the pain in his feet and knees and meant I could continue to run. Although, I’ve had to pace myself and listen to my body a lot more.

“It has been a really tough year. Finding the right combination of drugs has helped me to manage my symptoms, but I still have bad days. Sometimes, I wake up and I can’t do the most basic things as I’m in so much pain, but I try my best to be positive.”

James adds: “I’ve been determined to not limit myself because of my arthritis and I want to be a good role model for my kids and show them that nothing should limit their goals – that’s why I signed up for the Great North Run.”

James is now looking ahead to this week’s half marathon and says: “I’m looking forward to representing Versus Arthritis in my hometown. They are a great charity who do so much to support people with all types of arthritis. I want others to know that they can still be happy, even with arthritis. You just have to keep moving forward and do what you can.”

“I really admire Versus Arthritis… their drive and passion to keep campaigning and raising awareness of the condition has kept me motivated.”

John Isaacs, Professor of Rheumatology at Newcastle University, will be taking part in his fifteenth consecutive Great North Run for the charity after dedicating years of research to support people living with inflammatory arthritis.

John says: “I initially started to train as a kidney doctor, but I wanted to find a condition where I felt there was an opportunity to make a real difference with the new drugs that were then being developed.  For me, that was inflammatory arthritis.  Before I moved to Newcastle in 2002, I broke my ankle and I feared that I would never run again. That’s when I set myself the challenge to recover to a point where I could take part in my first Great North Run. I would never have imagined that years later, I would be taking part in my 15th consecutive run.

John has been involved with the charity for many years, and alongside colleagues in Glasgow, Birmingham and Oxford, leads our inflammatory arthritis centre (RACE), to understand why inflammatory arthritis starts, why it attacks joints and why it persists. Their overall aim is to discover and deliver better treatments for thousands of people.

John is also Director of Therapeutics at Newcastle University. His team are currently developing a new injectable treatment, funded by Versus Arthritis, that could deliver better outcomes for people living with rheumatoid arthritis, potentially switching off the disease. Patient participation is an integral part of John’s research and his team are already testing this new treatment in patients.

Looking ahead to next week’s run, John says: “I really admire Versus Arthritis and the work it does to support people with arthritis. It’s their drive and passion to keep campaigning and raising awareness of the condition, that has kept me motivated. I know that I’m doing this for a great cause.

“This run will be my last – although I have been saying that for many years now! But 15 is a nice round number and I have celebrated a ‘landmark’ birthday this year. So, it feels like a good time to find a new challenge!”

“I’m looking forward to representing Versus Arthritis. Without their research and support services, the last 29 years of my life would have been much harder.”

Helen Pattison, 39, was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis at the age of 10. Five years ago, her condition deteriorated to a point where she was in constant pain and struggled to walk or stand. Helen chose to have her toes fused, which has helped her to manage the symptoms. Following her surgery, she vowed to start running and is now looking ahead to the Great North Run.

Helen says: “Most of my childhood was spent outside of the classroom and in hospital waiting rooms. I missed a lot of school and my peers regarded me as someone that was different to them. It certainly didn’t help that I had to rely on hand and leg splints to move around. My arthritis continued to deteriorate and by the age of 18, it had spread to my shoulder, neck and spine.

“When I left school, I wanted to train as a nurse, but my doctors advised that I wouldn’t be able to cope with the demands of a physical and hands on role. It was heart breaking to hear this and I chose to work in office-based roles going forward.

Five years ago, Helen’s condition deteriorated to a point where she required weekly injections as she struggled to walk or stand. She says: “Simple things like nights out with friends or walking my dogs became impossible. I began to feel really down and couldn’t imagine a life where I wasn’t in constant pain.

“In 2017, I was given the option to have surgery on my feet - to fuse my toes. The surgery has helped me to manage my pain but if I’m on my feet for long periods of time, the pain can be excruciating.”

After the surgery, Helen set herself a goal to start running and in May 2019, she completed her first half marathon. Helen is now looking ahead to this week’s half-marathon in Newcastle and says: “Now, my sights are set on running and walking the Great North Run. It won’t be fast, but for someone who struggled to walk a few years ago, just completing the course will be incredible.

“I will be managing the pain with medication, before and during the race, and I have been guided by my GP throughout training. I’m looking forward to representing Versus Arthritis. Without their research and support services, the last 29 years of my life would have been much harder. I also want to show others living with arthritis that it doesn’t always control your life.”

Helen adds, “I will feel it the day after, but I have accepted that and I’m looking forwarding to having a movie day in bed!”

If you’ve been inspired by these stories and would like take get involved in one of our challenge events, visit our events page.