Fitness: Meet Marathon Nan

Aged 51 and a granny of six, Jude Clarke is running her first London Marathon this year. As she tells Velvet, in her new monthly column, she’s “85 per cent delighted, 15 per cent terrified” at the prospect. . .

From afar, I’ve always absolutely loved the London Marathon. Even as a decidedly exercise-phobic teen, as soon as the race was founded, way back in 1981, and for every year since, I have remained glued to the TV coverage each April – gripped both by the astonishing pace and time of the frontrunners (“wait: she’s on mile TWENTY FIVE and still managing to sprint like that?”) and the bravery and stoicism of the amateurs – the charity runners, the fancy dressers, the first timers:all with a story to tell that frequently has me weeping unashamedly from my sofa.

I had toyed, over the years, with the thought of running it myself, sure, but those fantasies usually remained just that, minus a couple of failed ballot applications in the last decade, with only a commemorative consolation cagoule from Virgin Money to show for it. Never much of a runner for most of my adult life, a brief spell of training (and loving it) culminated in me managing to complete the Cambourne 10k and. . . developing a case of shin splints so severe that I could scarcely walk for a time and was unable to do exercise of any form for the next far-too-many years.

But my love affair moved a little closer last year, when I joined a cheer squad for the actual race itself. Suddenly, I was there (at mile 16) in the thick of it, seeing close up not only the likes of Mo Farah and the admirable soap stars running for a cause,but also the everyday heroes that I’d long admired: the nutters doing the whole race dressed as Big Ben or wearing a fridge, the nimble pensioners racing along at an astonishing rate, the middle-aged women who, actually. . . hang on. . . didn’t look that different from ME – out there, doing it, not breaking any records but getting round the course. I think it was then that the urge seriously took hold. If they could all do it, why shouldn’t I?

Jude Clarke, Marathon Nan - A medal holder, following the Town & Gown (22601644)
Jude Clarke, Marathon Nan - A medal holder, following the Town & Gown (22601644)

So I picked up my (new, properly gait-analysed, frankly more expensive than I could afford) running shoes again last January and started tentatively building up my pace and distance, promising my husband that yes, I WILL stop if the shin splints come back (miraculously: they’ve not), entering for the Town and Gown 10k last October (completed in 1hr 21mins, thanks for asking – my grandsons were both there to cheer me on and I think just MIGHT have actually been a little proud of me); all the while with my revived dreams of London playing through my mind for every kilometre I clocked up.

So I’m astonished, 85 per cent delighted and 15 per cent absolutely TERRIFIED to now find myself - at the grand old age of 51 and with six grandkids, most of whom almost certainly think I’m crazy – the very proud recipient of a charity running place in this year’s race. I KNOW.

Since hearing the news that I had been accepted to run for the organisation where I work–Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity – life has been a bit of a blur, a whirlwind of Google searches (“beginner marathon training plan”, “what is 26 miles in km?”, “running leggings, short leg”, “sports massage, Cambridge”), lists (fundraising ideas, the best core exercises), daydreams about the day itself, butterflies, doubts and adrenaline. I also find that I can’t stop smiling, every time I think about it.

Jude Clarke, Marathon Nan - Doing the Town & Gown 10K (22601647)
Jude Clarke, Marathon Nan - Doing the Town & Gown 10K (22601647)

I’ve already bored family and friends to tears, and now in this column over the next few months I’ll be boring, I mean SHARING WITH YOU, my journey, both physical and emotional, as I prepare for what is going to be one of the biggest and – I hope – best experiences of my life. The training plan starts this month, I’ve got a metaphorical mountain to climb, but I couldn’t be more excited for what’s to come. Let’s GO!

Jude is running the London Marathon for Alzheimer’s Research UK. Dementia is now the leading cause of death in the UK. One in two people know someone affected. It is caused by brain diseases, therefore – as with other diseases –it can be tackled with research. Sponsor Jude at or find out more about the charity at

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