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17th May 2016

Lucy Zirbser

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“So, I’m 36 years old. I live in Aldershot in Hampshire with my lovely husband, Mark, our two dogs, Maple and Pretzel, and a house rabbit, Jefferson Bunny.

Lucy ran marathons with stage 4 lung cancer
Lucy, with her husband Mark

Like many people, I started running by taking part in a ‘Race for Life’ back in 2002. I didn’t particularly enjoy running and it wasn’t until 2005 that I actually caught the running bug.

My friend was running the London Marathon and wanted someone to keep her company on long training runs. Back then, I was spending lots of time at the gym but wasn’t running.

When I started, it left me with a huge sense of achievement that I didn’t get from working out in the gym. I managed to get a place in the marathon and loved it – although I vowed I’d never do it again. I lied! I well and truly got the marathon bug.

2016 will be my ninth London Marathon and my 63rd marathon/ultra-marathon.

I’ve been lucky enough to take part in all kinds of running events including the Mount Everest marathon in 2011 and marathons in France where they give you wine at the aid stations! I’ve run 50-mile races and a 125km in the Canadian Rockies where my head torch died at 3am. I was in the woods with no one else around and I was convinced a grizzly bear was going to eat me – excellent motivation to keep moving! I’m hoping to join the 100-marathon club by my 40th birthday.*

In 2015, I was training for the Centurion Grand Slam – four 100-mile races throughout the year – but was having some trouble with my shoulder. I was seeing a physio but with little success, so was referred to a specialist.

An MRI and CT scan showed I had tumours in my left lung and on my right scapular. It was a massive shock. Like many people, I thought lung cancer was an ‘old smoker’s disease’ and not something I needed to worry about. I now know different.

A CT guided biopsy showed that my cancer is a particular mutation for which there is a targeted therapy. I’ve been on that treatment for 14 months now. Initially I had a rash on my face that looked like I’d shoved my face into a bowl of rice pudding and had to plan outings, particularly runs, around loo stops.

The diagnosis left me shaken but, after the initial wobble, I knew I wanted to continue running. I spoke to a dietician and made some subtle changes to my diet and skincare. I have come to appreciate doing something I love is good for my body, mind and – ultimately – my wellbeing.

Lucy didn’t let her diagnosis stop her from doing what she loved

Having goals, and training for them, is more important to me now as a cancer patient than it was before I was diagnosed. I completed 12 marathons last year, and two this year so far, including the Dopey Challenge in Walt Disney World Florida, where you run a 5k, 10k, half marathon and then a marathon in the Disney parks over four consecutive days.

There are still days which are better than others, but generally life is good. My team of doctors, as well as my husband, family and friends, have been wonderful throughout the diagnosis and treatment. One friend even got all the girls at her hairdressing salon to complete an army-style obstacle course, and my husband is planning to do a ridiculously hard five-day race in the Welsh mountains next year to raise money for Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation too.

Running helps me relax and unwind. It helps me to feel like I’m healthy, looking after myself and gives me some sense of control over my body.

I haven’t done much training for the London Marathon this year so I’m not too sure what to expect. London used to be the race I ran to achieve a time target. For the last few years, my target was to run 3:15. I ran 3.16 three times but never under. For the 2015 marathon, I had qualified to run with the Championship Ladies who start behind the Elite Men so you’re generally expected to run 3:15 or faster.

I felt like a bit of a fraud lining up with these athletes, knowing I had stage 4 cancer and wasn’t going to run that fast, but I couldn’t change my start and, with all the sponsorship I’d received, there was nothing going to stop me getting round.
This year, though, I’m happy to relax, soak up the atmosphere and just get round with a smile on my face. The crowds are always fabulous and you meet lots of different people all taking on the 26.2-mile course for their own special reasons. No one else remembers your time anyway!

Lucy ran the 2016 London Marathon for Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, completing the 26.2-mile course in 3:38:13.

She had a place in the 2019 London Marathon and was hoping to compete in it. Sadly, Lucy died in August 2018. Her family and friends completed the London Marathon in her memory and will carry on her work to honour her legacy.