“Running isn’t really my sport and I didn’t want to tell lots of people beforehand that I was taking part in the London Marathon, in case I didn’t manage to complete it and had to give people refunds!” Gaby says with a laugh.
The spur for taking part in the Marathon came last year when Gaby’s uncle was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease at the age of 49. “I wanted to do what I could to raise awareness about the disease and funds for Parkinson’s UK, a charity that is working to find a cure for Parkinson’s and improve life for people affected by it.”
She only told her immediate family about her plans to run the London Marathon and they helped her raise the £1,800 she needed to apply for a charity entry into the race. Much of her preparation was done at home in Liverpool during coach weekends and exeats. “I’m not a member of the Hunt, but at school I tried to maintain a good level of fitness with my hockey and fives and running on the treadmill with Mrs Weston,” she explains. “Marathon runners are supposed to build up the distances gradually, but I did three big runs of 15 miles, 18 miles and 22 miles when I was at home.”
The last of these was during the March coach weekend when she ran the 22 miles from Tarleton to Crosby. “I was basically running along the bypass that goes down the coast. It was awful. I felt that if I could do that, then I was ready to cope with running the Marathon – and in fact it was much harder than the Marathon itself.”
The day of the Marathon was warm and sunny – perfect for the spectators but not ideal for the runners. Gaby’s whole family travelled to London to support her and cheer her on. “The crowds were amazing and the atmosphere was fantastic, like a huge party. During the first ten miles I was fine, looking at all the people in costumes, feeling ‘I can do this’” Gaby said. “Then when I went over Tower Bridge at the halfway mark, I realised that I still had to do the same distance again – and that was hard.
“At 21 miles I hit the wall, but fortunately I caught sight of my mum at that point. The crowds really do carry you through. The final mile running down the Mall with everyone cheering and Buckingham Palace behind me was just amazing. And when I crossed the finish line, my Dad was there to give me a huge hug. He’s been my rock through all of this.”
Gaby is thrilled with the huge support she has received; donations to the charity made in her name now total almost £5,000. She has no immediate plans to run another marathon, however. “I haven’t really caught the ‘running bug’. The main thing for me was the huge sense of achievement at overcoming a challenge.”
After finishing her A levels this summer, Gaby will be spending a Gap Year in Australia, where she has won an internship working for Channel 9 TV. She also hopes to tackle another challenge: climbing Kilimanjaro.
To support Gaby’s great achievement and donate to Parkinson’s UK, please visit her fundraising page on VirginMoneyGiving.com.