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Toni Chaplin-Armer may spend her weekdays as executive assistant to Vice Chancellor Professor Peter Strike at the University of Cumbria, but her weekends and evenings she reserves for a form of exercise that has not only become her passion, but has led to her taking a pivotal role in the run up to the 2012 Olympics.
A friend nominated Toni to become one of the Cumbrian torch bearers for the Olympic flame and on Thursday 21 June she will complete a section of its journey in Cockermouth.
Toni began running seven and a half years ago, when she decided that her life needed to change. At the time Toni confesses, she was a heavy smoker, so decided to pack it in and her aunt, an accomplished runner with an American record to her name and a sub-three-hour marathon, suggested that she might begin running.
Toni explains: “Initially my aim was to run one mile without stopping, then that mile turned into two, then three and so on… Lesley, my aunt, entered me in my first 5k race in McDonough, Atlanta. She just took off and was first lady home, after which she jogged back to run with me. When I returned to the UK I joined the Quakers running club in Darlington and they really helped ignite my passion for it.”
Toni has already completed eleven marathons – London twice, Dublin, Edinburgh, Loch Ness, Berlin, Florida, Brighton, Frankfurt, Boston, Liverpool – and a number of half marathons including the Great North Run.
Taking her running in another direction, Toni has undertaken various coaching courses culminating in the six-month “Coach in Running Fitness” course, which qualifies her to coach others. She currently coaches with the Border Harriers. “I hope that I can at least give something back to others who, like me, want to change their lifestyles, and do something just for them.”
With so much experience under her belt, Toni has some valuable advice for other would-be marathon runners. She says: “A marathon is a 20 mile run with a six- mile hard slog – so do the six miles first!” She also reminds runners to “smile for the cameras as you cross the finishing line!”
“My aunt said to me when I first decided to run a marathon that it is 70% fitness and 30% mental toughness and that is so right….. it is a humbling distance and you end up questioning why you’re doing it. But then you cross that line and the just pain goes…. well, till the next day anyway, and you find you can’t walk downstairs without doing it backwards – I always want to wear a t-shirt then saying “I am walking like this as I did the marathon yesterday!”
As a former smoker, Toni admits that she still gets the craving from time to time, but is never tempted: "I just know that my new lifestyle is so much better for me, and I love being fit enough to run 26 miles so there's no chance I'll ever put my health at risk again!"