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Ella’s story: Running the Birmingham Half Marathon for Changing Faces

Visible difference champion Ella, who has cranio-fronto-nasal dysplasia affecting the face and skull, prepares for a half marathon.

I have always had a very keen interest in sport from a young age, whether that was playing football with the boys, karate, cricket, rounders etc. As I got older, like many girls I fell away from sport and then life took over. Before you knew it, I had graduated and was in employment. I was stuck in the cycle of work, eat, sleep, repeat. Something needed to change.

Becoming a runner

In January 2017 my fitness journey began; my personal trainer set me four-week targets. One of these got me running on a treadmill with the aim of running a mile without stopping, which at the time seemed impossible. Running was not my forte. I remember thinking, “I can’t run, I’m not built for running”.

Lo and behold I found myself smashing my running target and that gave me the confidence to join my gym’s running club. I was a runner and even more surprising, I enjoyed running! I met my friend Sarah at the gym running club. Sarah and I would often be at the back of the pack, plodding along and we just hit it off. Sarah never asked questions about my condition because, as she puts it, she did not see it as an issue and saw me as “Ella the runner”. We motivated each other and participated in our first 10k race together.

A young woman with a visible difference in sports gear

Running has allowed Ella to raise awareness and campaign for Changing Faces

After completing the Fradley 10k in early 2018, we found ourselves asking, “what’s the next challenge?” That is when, in a moment of madness (not helped by a few Christmas party drinks), we decided to do a half marathon.

We both knew that if we didn’t set ourselves another goal, we would slow down. October finally came around: it was a miserable rainy day in Birmingham — not the best for running. Nonetheless, there were 13.1 miles between me, Sarah and the finish line. I crossed the line in tears. I completed the race in three hours and three minutes.

On crossing that finish line I said to myself, I never want to do that again! But after a good recovery, it was time to put on our running shoes again and plan our next race. At that time, I had become part of the campaigner’s group for Changing Faces and we decided that we should do the Birmingham Half Marathon to raise money for Changing Faces.

We have both been training really hard, juggling life and family along the way. Having completed the half marathon already, we have been working on not putting too much pressure on ourselves.

How we train

We don’t really follow a training plan, instead we try and get together once a week for a long run, typically six miles (10k), and then try and extend the distance by a mile each week. We also do solo runs which are just as important as you can’t always keep pace with one another for the whole distance – out of the two of us, Sarah is the stronger finisher.

I have met so many people in the running community who are very welcoming; you are seen as nothing else but a fellow runner, which is how the world should be.

We have also taken part in two 10k races, one in March (Fradley) and one in May (Birmingham) as part of our training. That gave us an indicator of where we are physically. On a personal level, I set a new personal best at 10k for the Birmingham race.

More recently I have got to the 10 mile mark which is quite an important marker in half marathon training, as you find on the last 3.1 miles (5k), adrenaline pushes you through.

You can follow the race day through my social media channels.

What running means to me

Running has allowed me to indirectly educate people about visible differences and the work of Changing Faces. I have met so many people in the running community who are very welcoming; you are seen as nothing else but a fellow runner, which is how the world should be.

There is also no better feeling in the world than getting that finisher’s t-shirt and medal. I certainly look forward to adding to my collection. And who knows, a full marathon may be on the cards in the next year or so.

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Changing Faces campaigners are a diverse group of adults from across the UK, united to speak out about living with a visible difference.

London Marathon

Running the Virgin Money London Marathon is a great way to raise money to support people living with a visible difference. Find out how to enter.