Darren is running the London Marathon on behalf of United Response this year, with less than four weeks until the big day we checked in with him to see how it's all going...

Race day is looming large in my calendar right now. I’ve run it before in 2010, but back then it was just a challenge of getting round. This time, not only have I got to get round and raise money for United Response, I’ve also set myself a challenge of a sub-4 hour time. So the pressure is on!

Motivation is key

I like to set myself challenges as a way of motivating myself and I always wanted to run London again – the atmosphere on race day is strangely alluring and euphoric. It’s good to be slipping the running shoes back on!

But the real motivation here is United Response. Over the last couple of years, I have had personal experiences with mental health issues. My own experience wasn’t anything severe by comparison to many, just a prolonged flare-up of my generalised anxiety disorder, and I’ve been fortunate to be able to access the support I needed. But I’ve also supported friends through their own, more serious issues, and it is the contrast between my experience and theirs that really hit home.

Charities like United Response provide invaluable support to so many people who live day-to-day with mental health issues and disabilities. I also have family and friends living with autism, and have seen the challenges they face in getting the right support.

Working in a healthcare environment, I see the talk on parity of esteem between mental and physical health on a regular basis, but delivering it is a slow process. For me, success will only come when everyone can talk about their mental health without fear of stigma. By running the marathon for United Response and being open about my reasons, I hope I can also support parity of esteem for mental health.

Preparation is essential, and enjoyable!

Most people I talk to think long distance running is boring, especially the training: how is it fun to just run for miles with no real goal? For me, I have so much going on – working, studying part-time for a degree, learning Swedish, playing rugby – that the time I spend running is bliss. I listen to music, reflect and plan, all without the interruption of daily life. I’m alone for at least six hours a week. How can you not love that? Sure, the running takes effort, but it’s worth it. I’m lucky to have support from friends (even if that is jeering at me as I run past them as they walk to the shop!). My family are a little further away, but they’re sponsoring me and my grandparents bought my new running shoes as a Christmas gift.

It’s tough to fit the training in around work and life, and it has required giving up my evenings quite often to go running and rest after (I’m not an early morning runner, let’s just clear that up!), but it’s rewarding. I’m fitter and have lost a lot of weight, the running has significantly improved my anxiety so I’m happier too. It does require planning though and dedication sticking to the plan.

Fundraising is a challenge but I’ve got a lot pledged and there’s always the usual last-minute donations. I’m going to be preying on people’s sympathy by hosting a pub quiz the evening of race day at my local! It’s important to be prepared for the efforts of fundraising – you can’t just rely on friends and family – but it’s also fun!

Race Day: counting down

I have more miles of training to do but the motivation is still there. I’ve had my doubts – a couple of periods of no training under medical advice (including a hospital referral), and that can be tough – but I’ve got the all clear, so it’s heads down again. Being on the back foot doesn’t suit me, but I get past it by thinking about the progress I’ve made. I’m on course to knock over 90 minutes off my previous marathon time, I’m supporting a worthwhile charity and I’m feeling great, so there’s no giving up now!

I can’t wait to line up alongside everyone else. There’s such an atmosphere of collective support with everyone there facing the same feat – 26.2 miles around the streets of London; several ups and downs – geographically, physically, and mentally no doubt; probably the wall. But also the thousands of people lined up along the route cheering you on. It wholly demonstrates the generosity of spirit of people. Even if they can’t run themselves, they’ll be down there helping those that can with words of encouragement. And jelly babies.

Sponsor Darren's marathon efforts