IHP London Marathon runner Sharlene reflects on an incredible achievement On Sunday, our sponsored runner Sharlene Phillips from Pfizer ran more than 42km in a ‘virtual’ London Marathon on our behalf, beating her personal best by 25 minutes and raising more than £3,500 for our work. Find out how it went and how you can support Sharlene’s run. Q: How did you feel on Sunday morning? A: Super excited and also a bit nervous. I’d run marathons before and knew it was going to hurt! I knew it would be very different from the London Marathon: no crowds of people cheering me on, mile markers or pacers - just me. The logistics were totally different too: I had to pick my own route and figure out how to use the app and my new GPS watch. I got lost on my bike trying to scope out a route (not a good start!). My plan was to run around villages near where I live in Stansted, then head over to the Flitch Way and Hatfield Forest, with hills and muddy trails to keep it interesting. I decided when it got tough, I’d think about my friends, family and work colleagues who sponsored and supported me. Q: What preparations did you make? A: I woke about 6 am to find the wind howling and the rain pouring. I wasn’t feeling the love! After a bowl of cereal and fruit and a decaf coffee, I looked up the route through Hatfield Forest as I was panicking about getting lost. Then I started regretting sending my bib number to so many people so they could track my run. What if I couldn’t do it? I filled my backpack with water and juice bottles, counted gels, put my earphones and phone into ziplock bags, and packed dry clothes, water and snacks into a bag for my husband. Then I covered my feet and every seam on my clothes with “body glide” to reduce chafing. I got dressed, went to the loo and mentally prepared myself for having to pee in a bush later (spoiler alert: it didn’t happen). Then said goodbye to my husband and children with hugs and cuddles and a few Joe Wicks warm-up moves. Q: How did the run start – were there any hiccups? A: My husband walked me to the end of the road and I turned the tracking app on... and started running. I had so much nervous excitement but knew I’d be fine once I’d done a couple of kilometres. My GPS watch started relaying messages from friends and colleagues sending words of encouragement. It made me feel so good and determined to get this thing done. The first five kilometres I ran really fast: I was a bit worried about burning myself out but decided to keep going. I ran past Manuden and Rickling Green, where a local cycle race was taking the same route. Cyclists started flying past me, cheering me on. That gave me a boost, as the road was completely flooded in parts and I had to keep jumping onto the bank. As I ran back towards Stansted, people hooted their horns - it was amazing to have all the support. My husband and girls drove past honking: my tracker app had stopped working and my husband wanted to make sure my GPS watch was working so we could upload the data. I felt bad people couldn’t track me, but put it to the back of my mind. Q: Talk us through the rest of the run. At Birchanger, a lovely lady gave me some great encouragement – exactly what I needed as my legs and back were tiring. I went over the Flitch Way, where my husband and the girls were waiting with snacks and drinks. About 18km in, I entered Hatfield Forest, where the grass was completely waterlogged and the puddles were halfway up my calves. I saw another London Marathon runner and her friends and we told each other to keep going. I felt disorientated but eventually found the path and got back on track. My daughters ran with me for a bit until I reached the gate out of the forest. I saw other runners and we all shouted hello and well done! At the road bridge at Great Dunmow, I headed off to the woods for a wet and muddy section. In the last nine kilometres, my legs and back really started to hurt, so I put in my earphones and listened to music, concentrating on the rhythm and putting one foot in front of the other. My calf muscles threatened to cramp and I counted down every kilometre as if my life depended on it. In the distance, I saw my husband and kids, shouting and cheering. For the final few hundred metres, they ran with me. My watch said 42.2 km (just over 26.2miles) and I was done! I stopped the watch and stopped running, my legs gave way and I tumbled onto the wet ground. The girls helped me up and made me walk. Q: You did an amazing run: how were you feeling? A: I realised I hadn’t got my official selfie, so took out my phone, pressed the stop button on my tracker, and saw I had run 26.19 miles in 4hr 30mins. It hadn’t tracked my distance properly and wouldn’t let me start it again or do a selfie. I was devastated. But lots of other people were having problems with the app and we could submit my GPS watch time, which showed 4hr 27mins. Later, after a hot shower and Sunday lunch, the London Marathon people messaged me to say congratulations for finishing in that time. It was official: I’d done it, 25 minutes faster than my own personal best. I was so relieved. Q: Why did you sign up to run for International Health Partners? A: I wanted to raise money to improve access to essential medicines in disaster-hit and hard-to-reach communities. I work in research and development at Pfizer, and I’m passionate about delivering breakthrough medicine that changes patients’ lives, so I was super-proud to discover Pfizer has been donating medicines to IHP for almost 20 years. It inspired me to do something more. Q: You’ve worked really hard to support IHP – why? IHP is a small charity that makes a massive impact. It is a bridge between donors of medicine and the medical professionals and charities in countries that need long-term healthcare programmes and short term-assistance for humanitarian crises. It supplies essential health packs (each one like a mobile pharmacy, containing 800 treatments) to help people when disaster strikes: for example, Hurricane Matthew in Haiti, the earthquake in Nepal and Ebola outbreaks in Sierra Leone. IHP also assists with longer-term healthcare, such as supplying chemotherapy medicine in Gaza. During this pandemic, supply chains have been disrupted, making this job even more challenging. In Beirut, even after the horrific dock explosion in the summer, IHP has managed to get lifesaving medicines in. I think it’s an awesome charity and I feel very privileged to support them. Q: Can people still sponsor you? A: Yes! You can sponsor my London Marathon run through my Virgin Money giving webpage or by donating directly on the IHP website.