INSPIRATIONAL expat mum Penny White is pounding the footpaths and roads of Bahrain in a bid to become fit enough to return home to England and complete the gruelling London Marathon next month.
She is also hosting coffee and cake mornings with friends in a bid to raise awareness of a charity that researches into the causes and new treatments for dementia and brain tumours.
Penny, 45, said: “I have NEVER done anything like this before! I am not what you would call sporty at all.”
She is married to Chris, 56, a senior procurement consultant, and lives in Jasra. They have three children - Katherine 18, is currently on a gap year and volunteering in Peru before starting an anthropology degree course at Sussex University, and St Christopher’s School pupils Daisy, 15, and Ruby, four.
“I’ve been running on and off for the last six years as a way to get fit,” she explained. “If I’m honest, there are times when I don’t enjoy it - when it’s a long slog of a run and bits of my legs are hurting, then it’s hard, but I am determined to do this.
“I can’t stop - I’ve spent a fortune on Lycra and leggings! I also enjoy the fact that if something requires exertion I don’t have to think about it anymore, I can do it.”
The White family came to Bahrain 10 years ago this summer with Chris’ job and they had a brief two-year spell in Abu Dhabi before returning to the kingdom. It was during their spell in the Gulf region that Penny heard the awful news that her late father, Jack, had been diagnosed with cancer … and in a combination of further family tragedy, her mother, Marianne, passed away last year, and leaving a positive message for her own children spurred her on to run.
“In typical dad style he didn’t tell anyone; he was a quiet, reserved Irish man who hated a fuss so he lived his last days the way he wanted to - he survived for five years before he died in July 2015,” she said.
“He was a well-organised man and wrote his obituary - and in it he said that he had travelled around South America four times, Africa five times, cycled from Dublin to Morocco, then to Denmark where he trained to be a gymnast and worked in a steel works in Sweden. He also enjoyed a drink with the author Graham Greene in Cuba, was tutored by the philosopher Bertram Russell at Oxford, been a British Labour Party and union activist his whole life. He was a cool guy.
“I thought, what will my girls say about me? So I decided to sign up for the London Marathon so when I’m an old lady who is gaga in the corner - my family will know I was once fit enough to run 26.2 miles.
“It became clear after dad died that mum couldn’t cope - so we started to make plans for her to live with us here. Last summer she was noticeably slowing down and on a trip to the UK it became clear that something wasn’t right. When we came back to Bahrain we took her to the doctor and advanced cancer of the colon was diagnosed. Running gave me space, a white noise if you like, to cope with her decline, a space to cry so no one could see how bad it was. She died six weeks after she was diagnosed.”
Marathon training involves one session of sprint training featuring six 150m dashes to build up cardio strength and leg muscle, plus one treadmill session on hill setting to build-up muscle and one long run a week of at least two hours to build up distance.
“Before the long run I start to ‘carb load’ at least two days before which I find quite difficult to do as I get so full up!” she said. “I also go to a Pilates class at Equilibrium at least once-a-week but preferably twice for core strength and Zumba with Gill at Ballare as well for a more fun work out.
“However, the most important day is the rest day - muscles need a little time to recover - I love rest day! As I’m not working I can do a lot of this in the day, but the long run involves not going out the night before so I can be up at 6am to go out before the sun gets too hot.”
Her chosen good cause is Brain Research UK. There are hundreds of neurological conditions and it helps fund the best research to discover the causes, develop new treatments and improve the lives of those affected.
The charity says it aims to ‘inspire scientists and families to come together, side-by-side, stride-by-stride’.
Penny will do just that when she strides out for the next London Marathon on Sunday, April 22.
“After dad died it became clear that mum couldn’t cope - in the space of two years she went from a sparky woman from Peckham to someone that I couldn’t leave on her own as she wouldn’t remember where she was,” she explained.
“My sister has also been diagnosed with hydrocephalus - water on the brain - which is causing early dementia.
“Brain Research UK look into ways to help people with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and brain tumours for starters. There are people on the team running in memory of loved ones who’ve died from brain tumours and strokes, people running who are living with brain tumours, who have loved ones that they look after who have suffered a stroke, and parents running to raise money for their son diagnosed with a brain tumour at 15 months - it was successfully removed but he now has epilepsy and autism.
“Our unofficial mascot is Freya who was born with her skull 20 per cent smaller than it should be - she is nearly blind and has difficulty moving - but has the biggest smile that we get every Friday courtesy of her dad who is running.
“One in five of us will experience neurological problems in our lifetime, in fact the biggest killer of people under 40 is a brain tumour. If I can help someone then why wouldn’t I?”
Despite her daring attitude the extreme decision to run a marathon for the cause surprised her family and friends. “Well, once they picked themselves up from the floor where they’d fallen laughing hysterically, their reaction was, yes, great!” said Penny.
“I’ve had people tell me how inspirational I am, how proud they are of me. I’ve received donations from strangers once they’ve heard what I am doing. It’s been amazing - I am so proud to call my friends, my friends.
“Chris can’t run due to assorted sports injuries but he is following races for me and now talking about getting his knees operated on so we can run together!
“All three of my girls were here for the recent half-marathon in Bahrain and it was so emotional to run over the line with them. I’ve been promised a crowd of supporters in London, with my stepdaughters, family, friends … about 20 people will be coming to see me stagger home. I can’t wait!
“My message to people is simple … just do it! Just go out there and do something that utterly scares you and that pushes you to the limit.
“You can do it - maybe not at first - but with work, determination and more than a little bit of stubbornness you can do whatever you want to.
“I recently did the Seef half marathon and, as I am a plodder, I quickly fell to the back of the pack. I saw a guy running in a blue shirt and thought ‘I will overtake you’ and it took me 19kms but I did it! Persevere, remember you won’t always enjoy it but look up and keep that goal in sight!
“I am going to cry my eyes out as I run up the Mall in London when the marathon finishes. This one is for you dad … next one for mum!”
For more details visit https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/Kinahap. Penny is holding a charity coffee and cake morning on Friday. If anyone would like to donate a prize email firstname.lastname@example.org
Stanley Louis Szecowka
Editor/Journalist & Blogger, Restaurant & Motors Reviewer, FinTech Writer, Manager, Trainer.
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