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Zaira Brilhante

Blog

08-03-2024
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Meet the Women Making Running a More Inclusive Space

The women’s-only world record is there for the taking at the 2024 TCS London Marathon. The elite women’s field, led by Tigst Assefa who ran an astonishing 2:11:53 in Berlin last September, features ten women who have run under 2 hours 17 minutes and 30 seconds. 

But it was only in 1967 that Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon as an officially registered competitor. 

This year’s International Women’s Day is all about inspiring inclusion, so we spoke to five women about the impact the TCS London Marathon had on their lives and the changes from representation to entry conditions that need to happen so that more women can see running as a sport for them.

 

“That’s an able-bodied person making that decision, not a wheelchair user. That is one of the biggest frustrations.”

Claudia Burrough portrait for International Women's Day

📷 Grassroots & Beyond

Claudia Burrough’s resilience and athleticism are second to none. She became the first wheelchair athlete to complete Centurion Track 100 in 2022, taking home six ultramarathon world records. She also bagged a Guinness World Record for the fastest marathon in a non-racing wheelchair by a woman at the 2023 TCS London Marathon.

For Claudia, inspiring inclusion means more people taking part in events in day chairs. She says: “I see people in day chairs cheering at the side, and if they see other people doing it, they might think, ‘What can I start with?’ It opens it up as an option.”

It’s not just a case of representation but also entry. Claudia has competed at events as part of the elite field and as part of the masses, but not all events allow disabled participants outside of the elite field.

Claudia says: “People perceive wheelchair users to be a problem. There are health and safety implications. You need accessible toilets on the route and all those things. They judge it to be the course that isn’t accessible, but that’s an able-bodied person making that decision, not a wheelchair user, that is one of the biggest frustrations.”

Claudia’s running journey started with parkrun, and she is just six weeks away from participating in her 250th community event. She has toured the world, tackling a 5K course so boggy it took more than an hour to complete, as well as a fast tarmac track she sped around in the Netherlands. Claudia has done a lot of work with parkrun on the experiences she has had taking part in a wheelchair.

“I did parkrun as a runner, then on crutches, and then in my chair. So I have experienced it all. I’ve had some interesting comments from volunteers like, 'Who is pushing you?' and I’m like, ‘No one is pushing me anywhere, I am doing it myself.’”

Claudia says feedback is a vital part of the process for event providers. “It is knowing that you are not going to ace it first time, but it’s about being aware and opening it up going forward and taking on feedback.”

Claudia says that training facilities are also often overlooked for wheelchair athletes.

“It is hard to find somewhere to train, particularly for long distances,” she says. “It depends on where you live and what you’ve got access to. Pavements are all on a camber, so training on them is awful. That gets forgotten about because runners can go anywhere.”

 
Claudia Burrough who wrote the Wheelchair Training Plan

Thinking of taking on a marathon?

Check out Claudia’s Wheelchair Training Plan

“There are so many women who have the ability to make change happen.”

Nazrin's International Women's Day portrait

📷 Grassroots & Beyond

Nazrin Khanom only started running two years ago, but this April marks her third TCS London Marathon, and she will be taking on her first ultramarathon, Race to the King, in June. For Nazrin, inspiring inclusion means providing a safe space for women to run, and asking: “How can we help women break barriers to come out?”

She started running through grief after her brother passed away from brain cancer, but it was TrackMafia that changed everything. The club holds track sessions at Paddington Recreation Ground every Thursday and it opened up “a whole other world” for Nazrin. She says: “It gave me the energy I didn’t know I needed. There were so many black, brown, and white runners. It is mixed. We are one people. One community.”

Nazrin kept going and soon booked her first event, The Big Half 2022. Being part of that community of runners is what inspired her to keep coming back. “I did not like running when I started. I can’t run alone and struggle to run with my thoughts. Many people use running to run with their thoughts, but I can’t.”

To get more training sessions in, Nazrin started going to other running clubs too, but she noticed that something was missing. She says: “The more I was running, I noticed there weren’t enough Asians or Muslims where I was. I kept getting frustrated and I didn’t know what to do with it.”

That was until The Outrunners, a youth charity and running club, approached Nazrin to head up a beginner women’s programme. “I grew this attachment with the women as you see the change in them and they need this space,” she says.

This inspired her to start sheRUNS, a club for all women in support of underrepresented women, Muslim and Asian runners. Nazrin says workshops that reassure and encourage people that running can be for them are crucial to improve wider participation in the sport.

"Beginner is great, but what about introductory sessions? Particularly for the Asian community we need that as we don’t see a lot of runners. We need to work on the mental side too,” Nazrin says. “We need to be culturally sensitive to the women who can’t step out. How do they feel safe outside? Do they need to be in a closed area? Do they need more women to run with?"

She also says there are women across the UK who could run sessions like sheRUNS and help expand the community.

“We need more leaders. There are so many other women within the community who have the ability to make the change happen.”

If you live in East London, you can check out sheRUNS on Instagram here.

 
Runners at The Big Half 2023

Part of a London community group?

 You might be eligible to enter The Big Half for £15!

“I do 90 per cent of my runs with someone, I hardly ever go on solo runs and I would love to.”

Zaira Brilhante portrait for International Women's Day

📷 Grassroots & Beyond

Through sharing her lived experience of domestic abuse, Zaira Brilhante has helped others speak out and reassure them they don’t have to live in fear. For Zaira, inspiring inclusion means creating more safe spaces for women, such as more well-lit parks. “Women are disproportionately affected [by the lack of safe spaces], and it is not OK,” she says.

After dark, 48 per cent of women prefer not to be active outside, and 60 per cent worry about the risk of sexual harassment or intimidation (This Girl Can research, 2023).

Zaira says it’s also down to where you live and what you have access to, especially in rural locations. “I found spaces where I felt safe. It hasn’t prevented me from going out for a run, but I know a lot of my friends from Refuge [the UK’s leading domestic abuse charity] who live in the countryside don’t go for a run if it is dark. They have to fit it into their day because they don’t feel safe.”

Education is also important. “We need to educate boys from a young age to ensure we have a new generation of allies and advocates who are actively protecting those around them,” Zaira says.

She also says it is vital to report all incidents of abuse. “There and then, be safe. Extract yourself from that situation, but make a record. Pick up the phone and call the police because you don’t know if 20 other women before you experienced the same, and if there are enough records, it might get looked into. Don’t pretend it didn’t happen because you don’t know whose life you could save.”

Following the murder of Sarah Everard, Zaira says she felt anxious about going out for a run on her own. “It’s not just the feeling of being safe because sometimes that might be misguided but it is actually being safe. I do 90 per cent of my runs with someone, I hardly ever go on solo runs and I would love to.”

This April, Zaira will take on the 2024 TCS London Marathon. It’s her tenth marathon, and while she might be an old hand at completing 26.2 miles this is the most personal yet. As an expat who finally found somewhere to call home in London, she has also taken her lived experience of domestic abuse to tell her story and fundraise for Refuge.

 
Zaira crosses Tower Bridge during the Vitality 10,000

Fundraising with lived experience: making an impact with your story

“I am not new to fundraising, but nothing compares to this experience.”

“There are stereotypical ideas about why you should get into exercise.”

Jasmine Flatters portrait for International Women's Day

📷 Grassroots & Beyond

From the boardroom to the drinks stations of the TCS London Marathon, Jasmine Flatters has helped thousands achieve what they previously thought wasn’t possible. For her, inspiring inclusion means breaking away from why you think you should exercise. She says: “It’s a case of getting away from marketing that focuses solely on losing weight.”

Event Day wouldn't happen without our volunteers. Every year, about 6,000 people contribute their time and enthusiasm to making the day extra special. One of those volunteers is Jasmine, a London Marathon veteran with 39 years of service and even one medal as she ran the iconic event in 1987. Volunteering has created incredible opportunities for Jasmine to work in the world of sport, from governing bodies to a key role at the Olympics. If you’re running in April, Jasmine's team will be handing over your final energy drink at Mile 23. “I love volunteering because of the camaraderie, we all have a great time, and I get people coming back year after year,” she explains.

“There are stereotypical ideas about why you should get into exercise. It’s actually about keeping fit, making friends and being part of a community. Not only is it fun, it’s about feeling better in yourself. There’s so much choice now there’s almost no excuse not to do something.”

Jasmine’s sporting career began when she joined the Datchet Dashers with her husband during the running boom in the 1980s. She has always put herself forward to help out and bring others together, so when her husband started competing in triathlons, she went from assisting at events to becoming the Chair of British Triathlon. Jasmine also served as Age-Group Team Manager for British Triathlon, taking athletes to events around the world, and was the Triathlon Services Manager at the London 2012 Summer Olympics.

In 2014, she was awarded an MBE for her services to triathlon and is now a trustee for the Brownlee Foundation. The Foundation wants as many young people as possible to experience triathlon and offers Key Stage Two pupils the opportunity to swim three sides of the pool, cycle 800m and run 300m. You can see its events here.

Jasmine says: “We had our 50,000th child through last year since the beginning of the Foundation, so I’m really enjoying that.”

Volunteer handing over a medal to a Mini Marathon participant

Interested in volunteering?

Read more about it here or go ahead and sign up below.

“It’s a good space to have conversations you might find more difficult.”

Alice Young's portrait for International Women's Day

📷 Grassroots & Beyond

During the week, you’ll hear radio presenter and journalist Alice Young breaking the news to the nation on Heart Breakfast with Jamie Theakston and Amanda Holden. When Alice is not on the air, she can be found volunteering at parkrun and is an ambassador for the TCS London Marathon Official Training App, Coopah. For her, inspiring inclusion means we need to get better at opening up. “So often people ask, ‘How are you?’, but not how you are really doing,” she says.

Alice joined a Couch to 5K programme for her mental health. Running is now a part of her life, and April marks her first marathon, as she will be joining you on the Start Line of the 2024 TCS London Marathon. She says: “It’s a huge personal challenge. I’ve found it surprising how tough the training is in terms of mental resilience more than anything.”

No matter how tough those long runs can seem, Alice knows the positive impact of movement and is keen to give others the confidence to get outside. It’s not all about endorphins, either. Alice finds if you’re out with a friend it can be a great space for a chat.

“If you are finding it difficult to speak about something you are struggling with, try while you are out for a run or a walk,” she says. “You might surprise yourself at how easy you find it. You might also find that conversation is helpful for whoever you are having it with. You might not know that they needed to speak about that too.”

If you’re looking to join a running community, Alice says to check out Coopah: “It's a welcoming space, and it's great to see so many people inspiring others. It’s not always about PBs, although using it will probably get you one!”

Two people running and graphics showing the Coopah app

Want a personalised training plan?

Check out London Marathon Events’ Official Training App, Coopah