Going the distance for Girlguiding

Friday 5th May 2017

Karen Illsley, Leader with 9th Edinburgh Brownies, ran the London Marathon 2017 in 1980s Brownie uniform for Girlguiding UK. Having raised a phenomenal £4000 with her marathon exploits, Karen tells us about her experience of going the distance for Girlguiding!

The London Marathon, what an experience!  Crossing the finish line on the 23rd April 2017 signified the end of a hugely physical and emotional journey.  This was my first time running for charity so as well as clocking up the training miles I had to work hard to reach my fundraising target.  

My Brownies, 9th Edinburgh Brownies, were very keen to be involved so we organised a ‘mini marathon’ event in Holyrood Park. The girls got their friends and family to sponsor them to run a one mile lap of the course. I ran round with them in groups of six at a time whilst the rest played rounders. It really was a mini marathon in terms of emotions experienced: super enthusiastic at the start, setting off too fast, hitting the hard part, struggling to keep the feet moving, and finally seeing the finish in sight and hearing the cheers from the crowd. The girls were so supportive of each other and the leaders were extremely proud of them. They raised £400, half of which goes directly to the Unit - the girls are currently thinking about what they'd like to spend the money on

Thanks to the Brownies and the generosity of my friends, family and colleagues, I achieved my fundraising target well in advanced of race day, allowing me to focus on training. Before I knew it the last long run was complete, I'd successfully 'tapered' and was packing my case for London! I met my fellow leaders, Claire and Meghan, at Waverley station bright and early on the Saturday morning where we stocked up on snacks and boarded our London Kings Cross bound train. 

I was a bag of nerves on race day and woke up at 5.30am and took my time getting ready, forcing down that all-important breakfast and then slowly made my way to Greenwich Park. The buzz around the starting areas was amazing and it wasn't long until the gun went and I was crossing the start line.  From that point on I was grinning from ear to ear, further boosted when I saw Claire, Meghan and Unit Helper Shanika just after mile 7.

I'd decided to run in a replica Brownie uniform in an attempt to set a Guinness World Record.  I realised about half way round the course that I probably wasn't going to make the target time of 4 hours but it was impossible to be disheartened due to the relentless support from the crowd.  I very quickly lost count of the number of 'go Brownies!', 'come on Girl Guiding!', 'you can do it Brownie!' cheers I received. The uniform made it instantly obviously who I was running for. I even had a few people salute at me.  It truly was one of the best bits of the marathon.  It really hit home just how many people have had Guiding touch their lives in some way or another. 

Things really started to get tough about mile 16 but I knew my support crew were waiting for me at mile 19 so I dug deep and kept pushing through.  Not long after my knee started hurting so I started walking for a bit.  Usually this would have upset me but I was still smiling!  The support from the crowds and the feeling of being part of something so iconic and special made it impossible to be sad.  I caught the eye of a stranger in the crowd just as they were saying 'you can do this!' for some reason that was enough for me to get running again (albeit much slower than the start).  The final few miles were now approaching.  And still the cheers of 'come on Brownie!' kept coming.  The Chariots of Fire tune was playing as I was approaching Big Ben and I knew I was almost home.  In the final few yards I was thinking of all my Brownies and my wee niece Eilidh (a future Brownie in the making) , of the people who have supported me on this absolutely incredible journey, and all the people who have been involved in Girl Guiding past, present and future. As I finally crossed that big red finish line I was overcome with relief, emotion, and above all, pride.  GIRLS CAN!

After a quick pit-stop at Guiding HQ where I met some of the other runners, Claire, Meghan, Shanika and I headed off to refuel with a well-deserved burger (and a celebratory beer), with me proudly displaying my medal!

Now back home in Edinburgh it's time to rest, recover and start thinking about what's next.....

If Karen's story has inspired you, find out how you could be on the start line of the London Marathon 2018 for Girlguiding UK

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