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An inspired first 5km

Here we interview Ingrid Milsom, a new 5km runner at the age of 57.

Last Sunday, Ingrid Milsom, otherwise known as ‘Wo’ ran her first 5km. She took part in the Race for Life in aid of Cancer Research UK in Cambridge, and event which saw over 7,500 women don their trainers to run, jog and walk to help beat cancer.

Just four months previously, Wo hadn’t run even 1km in over 20 years. “I was there because my daughter entered us both as a surprise without me knowing. It was actual a total shock to me when she told me back in March. I hadn’t run for years!”

Wo saw a 5km training schedule for beginners in a copy of Zest magazine and decided to follow it. It was a 10-week programme building up from walking and running to doing more running than walking. “It was great and I followed it as far as I could,” Wo says, “but in my training I never got to make the transition to run more than walk. I did my routes around the town on flat ground as hills really put me off. My husband worked out a 3-mile route for me, which I probably should have done more than I did, but I injured my foot.”

Training hurdles

Beset with freaky weather and a foot problem, Wo’s training hit some hurdles along the way. She admits it wasn’t something she enjoyed, but every time she got back from a training session she had a real sense of achievement. “Sometimes I really had to make myself do it,” she admits, “especially with the wet and windy weather we were having here.” And what about the foot injury? “Four weeks ago, I got this pain in my foot and although I rested it, it didn’t get better. I decided to run through the injury as I was determined to do the race. Obviously, this didn’t help the injury, so it remained painful, but now I have done the race, I’m off to the doctor to sort it out.”

Despite these problems, there was a strong motivation to keep going. “I would have felt guilty if I hadn’t shown improvement from going from no running at all to actually doing the 5km. Plus, I had my daughter asking me about it and she probably would have told me off for missing sessions!”

Being a smoker and a drinker, Wo knew that being made to do exercise would do her good.  She explains: “I always knew it would be good for me; that it would get my lungs working. And it did. It made me realise I really should give up smoking again (She gave up for 10 years 15 years ago and started again five years ago) Although I didn’t weigh myself, I noticed I was losing fat. People commented that I looked slimmer and had lost weight. I noticed it the most around my hips and waist.”

Before the event, Wo also invested in some capri running pants. “I had been training in my daughter’s old PE jogging bottoms and she’s now thirty, so I didn’t want to look shabby on the day! Wearing the proper gear made me feel the part,” Wo says.

Race day nerves

“I actually started to get nervous the evening before the race and I was very quiet at dinner. I don’t speak when I’m nervous. I felt the same the next morning, so while Laura was being excited, I was a bit worried about my foot and that I was going to let people down by looking like a plonker.” However, these worries were dispelled when they got to the event itself. “I saw all those women in pink and who they were running for and I got emotional thinking of the people I had lost; my parents, my brother. St the start of the race I had a few tears. It was amazing to see so many women all running for the same cause; ranging from the old and unfit to the young, children even. We were a very diverse bunch and that made me less nervous.”

Before crossing the starting line Wo took part in the warm up and absorbed the atmosphere: “We danced a bit and took photos, although I thought that jigging around before the race was taking up energy I would need later on!”

Wo continues: “As we got nearer to the start I was just thinking about my foot and if I was going to make it to the end. I really wanted to run more than walk as in training I had only walked for one and a half minutes and ran for one and a half minutes alternating. I really wanted to increase that and have enough energy to cross the finish line.”

The 5km route took the women in pink through Cambridge city centre and its cobbled narrow streets to King’s College’s beautiful grounds along the river and ended up at Jesus Green. There was support along the streets all the way, even from shop workers clapping in their windows. “Considering it went right through the centre, no one got in your way and it was a very pretty route. The atmosphere was great, very jolly and everyone was buzzing. There were lots of turns and twists along the way to keep it interesting and we never got bored,” says Wo.

The right pace

At the start line, the women divided themselves into runners, who set off first, followed by joggers and then the walkers. Wo was in the middle section and enjoyed the slow start as it meant she could set a pace to stick to. She explains: “As it was so narrow at the start, we could only go slowly and try to overtake people. I started running at a slow pace and I could keep that pace up. I could even have a couple of conversations, which has never happened before! Laura kept asking if I was OK, but I was because it was a good pace and I felt good. She stayed level or behind me and didn’t push the pace which would have put me out of my comfort zone as far as the running was concerned. This way I wasn’t anxious and could just surprise myself by continuing to run!”

There were many highlights of the race for Wo, but one was definitely the fact she ran the whole way. “I never thought in a million years I would be able to do that. I was also happy I got round and m foot held out. I felt better than had in any of my training sessions and my breathing was really good. It just shows what you can do with adrenalin running through you and the thoughts of loved ones in your mind. You think I am going to do this… And you do.

I finished holding my daughter’s hand in the air, with an announcement for us over the speaker and it felt absolutely great. It was the most exhilarating sense of achievement I’ve had since I did a sky dive some years ago. I was really proud of myself and hoped others were too, as I didn’t think I would run the whole thing. It was great to see so many others finishing and being proud of their achievements as well.” Afterwards, Wo and her family celebrated at a local pub with another friend who had ran it. Although the adrenalin was still going, she managed to toast her success with some cider and roast beef.

Achieving the impossible

Wo has taken a lot from doing the race; from the support she received from her husband and daughter during her training to the seemingly impossibility of running nonstop actually happening. She says, “I would definitely do another one as now I have the confidence to know I can do it. Throughout the training I learnt that I could improve my fitness and I am pleased with my recovery rate.

I have also learnt that what seems impossible can be achieved and you should have belief in your capabilities because if you put your mind to it, you can do it. It is very much a mind over matter thing. I learnt through the training that you have to accept that you have to build up to results; you’re not going to get something straight away. Usually I would give up if I don’t see progress quickly. But I did see it over 10 weeks so, you have to have the patience to see it through and not give up.”

Wo sees exercise becoming a part of her life. Quite simply she states: “I really want to keep it up and continue to improve. I think the health benefits will greatly enhance my life.” And her advice for other older runners seeking their first 5km? “Get a good beginner’s programme and stick to it. Even if you feel you want to go harder, don’t, because I think injuries will set in and it’s best to establish a fitness level beforehand. It’s good to push yourself, but not overdo it. And the results do come, just not as quickly as you might expect.

It was a great experience and thank you very much to my daughter for making me do it, because I wouldn’t have done it in a million years, as you well know!”

From M&M Running Club to all the women running the race for life: CONGRATULATIONS! Wo raised money for Cancer Research UK to fund their pioneering work into cancer causes, diagnosis and cures. To sponsor or donate please visit: