Charlee Bennett reflects on the rationale behind her recent half marathon race and why the pain was worth it.

It’s amazing how immediately after you slow from a run to walking your legs are tired and a little bit wobbly, but sit down for just one minute and they immediately seize up and become agonisingly painful! 

On Sunday 6th October I took on the Royal Parks Half Marathon alongside 16,000 others. Before I started training, I hadn’t done any running since the 800m at my secondary school sports day. However, when one of my friends said they were looking for a challenge, I knew Progressio were looking for runners so I signed us both up.

What was I thinking?  

I was lucky enough to work with Progressio in Zimbabwe on the International Citizen Service. In the Nyanga area of the Eastern Highlands, I met a woman called Mai Mawadza. She was 37 years old with 2 children and she found out she was HIV positive in June 2008. She was tested when her husband fell ill and passed away a few months earlier.

One image that will always stay with me was of Mai Mawadza showing me her photo album. On every page there were at least 2 people that had passed away in the last decade because of AIDS. It was haunting how pragmatic she was about it, like it was the norm. It is for this reason that since I got back in December last year I have taken every opportunity available to raise funds for the work that Progressio does on HIV and AIDS overseas.

More than a run in the park

We were so lucky with the weather on the day, the sun shone and London looked absolutely stunning. Meeting up with the Progressio team for the pre-race warm up gave us a real buzz and standing on the start really brought home just how big the event was.

The first 5 miles of the route were really enjoyable, starting in Hyde Park, dipping into Green Park and through St James’ Park out to the river left you with stunning views of Big Ben and Parliament. My first minor problem came at 3.5 miles when I was caught short, literally, and had to duck into Victoria Embankment Gardens to avoid any Paula Radcliffe style antics. 

Hannah and I definitely got caught up in the excitement of the day and went off much too fast. After going past Wellington Arch and mile 7 I started to feel the burn and I definitely thought it would be good if this was just a 10k. It was very frustrating when the 1hr 50 minute pace setters went past me and I just couldn’t keep up but my steadier pace was much more bearable.

Going the extra mile

The last mile was long, slightly uphill and directly into the sun. Not ideal for sprint finishes, but I pushed it and made it across the line to big cheers that I thought were for me but were actually for a guy whose legs had given up just short of the finish and was being carried across by stewards! I didn’t feel I could complain too much after seeing that. 

People have told me they think that running long distances is a little like giving birth (not that I would know) in that you forget all of the worst bits pretty much immediately. If this is the case, I completely agree! The adrenaline and sense of achievement you get once you cross the line is fantastic and meeting up to celebrate with the Progressio runners made you feel like part of something bigger. Saying that, I think I will stick to 10ks after this. 

I raised £445 for Progressio’s work by running the half marathon. Knowing that the money I collected will go towards supporting and empowering people like Mai Mawadza to improve their lives is what makes it all worthwhile.  

Between them, our fabulous Royal Parks runners raised over £5,000. It's an awesome contribution. Thanks so much for your support!

Find out about more ways to fundraise and friend-raise for Progressio.


Photograph: Jeremy Robson and Vicky Schutzer-Weissmann after completing the Royal Parks run 2013 (Progressio 2013)