Meet Sharlene Phillips, our 2020 London Marathon runner!

Sharlene Phillips works for Pfizer as a principal scientist, specialising in R&D for medical devices. In April 2020, she’ll be running the London Marathon to support the work of International Health Partners. We chatted to her about preparing for the marathon, the importance of delivering medicines in hard-to-reach areas, and wearing false moustaches for charity!

Sharlene, how long have you worked at Pfizer, and in what capacity?

I’ve been at Pfizer more than ten years. My degree was in materials science, and I’m based in Cambridge at the Devices Centre of Excellence, which designs and develops devices (such as auto-injectors) for the delivery of medicines. When I worked with the Gates Foundation on an injectable device used in African communities, it gave me insight into how important it is to get help to hard-to-reach communities.


How did you hear about International Health Partners?

One of my colleagues told me about an advert on the Pfizer intranet, which gave information about the chance to run the London Marathon. I got in touch with IHP straightaway.


International Health Partners was Pfizer’s Charity of the Year, and Pfizer is IHP’s longstanding partner. What moved you to support this work?

When I looked at the website, I just thought, “This is exactly what we need to be doing.” Recently, I read David Nott’s book War Doctor. He’s a British surgeon who’s spent 25 years dispensing life-saving treatments in some of the most dangerous places in the world. When I looked at the IHP website, it really struck a chord. It’s challenging, but we definitely need to be getting medicines to people in hard-to-reach areas. This is critical work, I am proud to work for a company that supports this, but I wanted to do more.


Have you raised money for charity before?

A couple of years ago in November, I wore a false moustache to work every day for a month to raise money for Movember (a charity that addresses men’s health issues). I wore a different design every day, so no one knew what I’d look like when I came in.


Are you a serious runner?

Before having children I used to do a bit of running as part of triathlons. My children are now aged four and six and have done local 1K races, and my husband runs as well: we all did the Family Marathon together this year. I don’t run very fast but I enjoy the journey! I run two lunchtimes a week, and do a long run at the weekend. I also have a couple of bike sessions in the house, when the children are in bed.


Why do you run?

I really enjoy training because it means I can have time to myself to think about things or think about nothing – depending on how my day is going. Running is a good stress reliever, and every run is an achievement, getting out of the house to get some fresh air. It doesn’t matter if I run slowly; it’s just the act of getting out and about. Also, I want my kids to learn resilience and grow up to be fit and healthy: it’s important to me to be a good role model for them. 


Is this your first marathon?

No, I did my first in April in Ibiza. I wanted to go somewhere nice and warm for the first one, and I did it with a friend. I injured my calf beforehand and didn’t think I could run, but I had a lot of physio and ran conservatively, and managed to finish. It was the most amazing feeling. My friend filmed me as I came to the end, and I look so happy.


Have you done any other marathons?

In July, I did the Snowdon marathon – literally running up Snowdon. It took eight hours and I got an injury during the race so it was very challenging, but it gave me even more of a sense of achievement. My children ran with me for the last 20 metres of the race, across the finish line. It was painful at times, but that actually makes it better when you get to the end, because I know I got through it. Now I can apply that to everything else in my life. “If I can run up a mountain, I can do this...”


What have you learned from the marathons you’ve run?

To plan what I want to do in different parts of the marathon so I can keep going. I split them up into sections – each section completed was a step closer. I do a lot of positive mental self-talk: “I’ve got this far, keep going” – all of that.


How will the London Marathon be different?

The number of people in the London Marathon might be overwhelming, though I’ve heard it’s very well organised, so it won’t be an issue. Probably, it will make me run faster. A few people from Pfizer have said they will come along and support me on the day, and when I spoke to the mums from my daughter’s class, they said: “We’re going to come.” I’m pretty excited.


How will you prepare for the big day?

For breakfast, I’ll have Weetabix with cacao powder – a chocolate powder rich in minerals such as copper, and magnesium – and then a nut mix with nutrients such as selenium, to get some essential metals into me. It’s part of the ritual. One of my friends is into running and nutrition and has suggested chia seeds. In running a marathon, you deplete all the nutrients in your body and you can’t get those types of things just from an energy gel.


What your fundraising plan?

I’ve been canvassing everyone at work and asking for ideas. I’m thinking about doing a smoothie bike (using pedalling to power a blender) and a bake sale. Everyone has been very supportive, but they think I’m mad!


If people want to donate, what’s the best way to do this?

My donation page is at Click here - all money will go directly to the work of International Health Partners.

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