Our London Marathon runners share their stories
See why some of our brave London Marathon runners are taking on one of the world’s most iconic marathons. Here we’ll introduce you to Stefan, Laura, Dave, Alan, John, and Rachel and share their stories.
Stefan Gilford, 31, from Weymouth, will take on the Marathon on Sunday, after being diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma brain tumour in December 2021.
Stefan, who works in a gym and also part time as an On Call firefighter for Dorset and Wiltshire Fire Brigade, first noticed something was wrong when he experienced hearing loss in his right ear. Over the next nine months, he had several GP and hospital appointments, which failed to diagnose the problem. He was repeatedly told this was nothing but a perforated eardrum, until he was finally booked in for an MRI scan. Stefan knew at once the news was serious when he received a follow up call just a few days after his scan. He was told that his tumour was 4cm in size and would require urgent surgery. Stefan said:
“The diagnosis was the toughest challenge I have ever had to go through, and put incredible amounts of stress on me and those around me. I would never have imagined that I would receive such news, especially at 30-years old. Until I was directly impacted, I had no idea how common brain tumours were and the high percentage of lives they take every year, especially those who are aged under 40.”
Stefan had an operation on 29th March 2022. Surgeons were able to remove 95% of the tumour and he was relieved to discover that his tumour was benign. He now has annual MRI scans to check for regrowth. If that does happen, he will be offered radiotherapy. Stefan said:
“I’ve been very fortunate to have bounced back quite quickly after my surgery. I was warned that recovery could take a long time, but luckily that hasn’t been the case with me. After taking things easy at first, I built up my fitness again gradually and was able to return to work after two months.”
Stefan is keen to raise awareness of brain tumour symptoms and wanted to take on a big challenge to raise funds. Prior to securing his Marathon place, he was not a regular runner – but has grown to enjoy the long distance runs. Training has been going well. After clocking up some 10k runs, he recently completed the Weymouth Half Marathon, and followed that up by a training route of 18 miles. Now he feels as ready as he can be and can’t wait for the day itself. Stefan said:
“I always knew the London Marathon was going to be a big challenge – post surgery or not! I am looking forward to experiencing the atmosphere, to be surrounded by like-minded people, and soak up the day and experience as much as possible. I will hit a wall at some point and I have told myself to run that mile and every mile after, for someone I am grateful for. I am fortunate to have an amazing support network – the tough miles are for them, and those who have suffered with brain tumours who can’t be there on the day.”
Stefan’s friends and family will travel to London to cheer him across the finish line, on what will undoubtedly be a proud occasion.
“With the race being just over a year since my surgery, I still find myself occasionally getting emotional whilst talking about it. After running on adrenaline and the atmosphere, I expect the finish line to come with a few tears. Running the marathon for the Charity and raising vital funds and awareness is a chance to have a positive impact on something I will have ties with for the rest of my life. Raising awareness of brain tumours, the signs and symptoms, is now something I actively look to do. Although it’s a horrible situation to have gone through, I see myself as fortunate and one of the lucky ones. I like to look back on my health scare and remind myself how it made me feel at the time – it gives me clarity on what is important to me. After being affected directly by a brain tumour I was shocked to see how common and how fatal they can be. With only a tiny percentage of money spent on cancer research each year being spent on brain tumours, if I can make a tiny difference by raising awareness or funds to help The Brain Tumour Charity it will be time well spent. I am motivated to support those who are going through a similar journey to myself.”
Laura Russell, from London, is no stranger to the London Marathon, having completed it once before in 2012. However, eleven years on and a mother of two young children, long runs were no longer part of her routine. Taking on the epic fundraiser seemed much more daunting, as she had to juggle training with looking after her 5-year-old twin boys, Theo and Freddie.
But after losing her Dad, Steve King, to a brain tumour in November 2022, only three months after his diagnosis, Laura wanted to take on a really difficult challenge to raise funds. Running was something she and her Dad used to do together, and so, although a little scary, the Marathon was a fitting choice. Laura said:
“In August 2022 my world was shattered when my wonderful Dad was diagnosed with a brain tumour. The unbearable happened in November 2022, when he passed away. Dad was simply the best Dad, Grandpa and friend I could ever wish for and I miss him every single second of every single day. When Dad passed away, I’d never experienced grief like that before. I needed to do something to make a difference. Seeing my fundraising total go up and knowing that the funds I raise will make a difference is really motivating. It may be too late for Dad, but I would love to stop another family going through the pain we have.”
Sunday’s race will be poignant for Laura because Steve was a keen runner and completed the Marathon himself on three occasions. Father and daughter used to run together in Richmond Park.
“I have been enjoying the training. I use the time I run to think about Dad, and to process everything that’s happened. I’ve been pacing myself, because I get aches and pains in my knees, and would hate to get an injury on the day. I know it’s going to be an emotional day. I want to be super-focussed on the run itself, but at the same time, make sure I make time to take in the moment.”
Laura sought the help of another Mum to draw up a training plan and has been following it successfully. Her fundraising has surpassed a remarkable £10,000.
“I’m most looking forward to seeing the people who have come to cheer me on and support me. Having the crowd there will keep me going – it’s such a massive thing. And having run London before (in 2012) I am going to really try and soak up the amazing atmosphere. I’m going to ask friends and family who are coming to spread themselves out around the course – I know just seeing them there cheering me on will give me a massive boost. I’m sure Dad will probably be up there thinking, “Oh Doll, what have you signed up for, don’t get injured!” But, just like he was my whole life, I know he’ll be supporting me every step of the way, and I’ll do my very best to make him proud.”
Laura Russell (right)
Also taking on the world’s most famous 26.2 miles is retired headteacher Dave Evans, from Lewes, Sussex. Dave was diagnosed with a Glioblastoma Multiforme brain tumour in 2021, after suffering from a seizure. In a cruel coincidence, Dave’s mother Jean also had a brain tumour. Jean died in 1991 at the age of 50.
“She was incredibly brave, enduring four major operations, radiotherapy and chemo during her nine year battle with her illness. After I was diagnosed, I had successful surgery followed by radio and chemotherapy. I am currently fit and healthy, but GBM 4 is an aggressive form of cancer and is unpredictable and uncurable. 50% of GBM4 patients do not survive beyond 18 months after diagnosis so I am certainly one of the lucky ones, even if my illness is likely to recur eventually.”
Dave has been training hard for Sunday’s race, and completed the Brighton Half Marathon in February, and more recently, the Brighton Marathon 10k. And he has been delighted to see his fundraising total reach nearly £9,000.
“By running for The Brain Tumour Charity, I’m playing my part in the Charity’s movement to defeat brain tumours sooner – by moving faster and further to find a cure. While I still can, I want to do my bit to support the research and campaigning work of The Brain Tumour Charity.”
Alan, from Dumfries, lost his wife Anneka to a glioblastoma brain tumour in 2019. Anneka was just 33 when she died, six months after receiving her diagnosis. Their daughter Sienna was a baby at the time.
Alan, a medical engineering technician, is no stranger to endurance challenges. Last year he completed the 214 mile Southern Upland Way, and has raised nearly £75,000 for the Charity in Anneka’s memory. Alan has been training hard for the race, fitting in long runs around caring for Sienna, and can’t wait to soak up the atmosphere on Marathon Day.
“I was probably a bit blasé to what was actually involved whilst also being a single dad, so it’s taken a lot of time out of my evenings and weekends, and time away from me and Sienna. But I’m also looking forward to what I expect will be a great atmosphere. I’ve wanted to do the marathon for 20 years and I’ve watched so many of them take place on TV. I’ve heard other runners stories, why they do it, most being as heartbreaking as mine.”
Alan, who makes TikTok videos to raise awareness of brain tumours, saw his fundraising greatly boosted when the story of Anneka’s battle with the illness went viral. He now has 40,000 followers, with many sharing their own stories of being affected by brain tumours. He will be running with all his supporters in mind on Sunday.
“When things get tough I’ll think of all the difficulties and challenges Anneka went through when she was diagnosed with her tumour. Watching her go through what she went through was so horrific, to think what it must have been like for her, thinking of not seeing our daughter grow up and be the amazing mum to Sienna that she would have been, gives me nightmares. That’s all she wanted to do.”
John and Rachel’s Story
In August 2016 John, from Syston Leicestershire was diagnosed with a grade four glioblastoma. His diagnosis led to an emergency operation and grueling rounds of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. When diagnosed, John was given just 15 months to live. But six years later, he has had no reoccurrence and on Sunday, will run the London Marathon with his wife Rachel.
John is now an ambassador for the Charity. He was inspired to take on the Marathon after seeing wife Rachel run it successfully last year. Taking on the 26.2 mile challenge is all the more impressive as John’s brain tumour treatment causes him pain in his feet. Rachel has her own health problems and suffers with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), but by running together the pair hope to pull each other through.
Rachel said, “When watching last year’s marathon and seeing all those people raising money for their chosen charities we both said wouldn’t it be great to do together even though John is suffering neuropathy in his feet. On the day we have decided to start off running together, hopefully in the same pens. If one of us is running faster than the other, we will separate but have said whoever reaches mile 23 first will ring the other to see how far behind they are and if they are close, we will wait and run the finish line together. Probably in tears.”