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Interview with Run To Be Runner of the Year, Julie Barclay

We were delighted to crown Julie Barclay as our Julie Strelley-Jones Run To Be Runner of the Year 2019.

An emotional Lindsey presented Julie with a trophy and bouquet after the 5k Improvers session on Thursday 12 December.

Julie Barclay is a passionate and dedicated runner. She only started running with Run To Be in May 2018, but her running journey started much earlier.

Julie’s story involves a lot of ups and downs that will resonate with most of us: from personal loss, injury and the challenges of losing weight, to overcoming a hatred of being last, enjoying non-judgemental support and making life-long friends.

In this wonderfully honest interview, Julie tells us how her competitive spirit and love of a good chinwag have led her to complete a half marathon.

When did you start running?

I took an interest in running when the London Marathon started in the early 1980s when I was in my twenties. I got a place in around 1986 but found the training hard and I gave up my place. I don't think I ever got past running a few miles! I never regretted my decision but it has always been a dream to run the London Marathon.

Over the years, I have run/ walked a few Race For Life events and in 2012 I ran my first parkrun but I only ran four of them at Gunpowder Mills parkrun as I was always last and at that time they didn't have a tail walker.

I am a really competitive person and to always finish last was really tough to take although I was just trying to focus on my own personal best time.

I had a difficult year in 2012 as my dad had cancer so I had to focus on him and bringing up my boys, so the running wasn't a priority.

In October 2012, I did however do the Shine Marathon Walk which totally ruined my feet as I ended up with plantar fasciitis which wasn't diagnosed for over a year!

In December 2012, sadly both of my parents died, which was obviously a really difficult time for me. After this I put on 3+ stone in weight and all exercise was out of the window.

In late 2017, my son got engaged and set a wedding date for July 2019 which spurred me on to lose some weight.

In January 2018, I, along with my friend Jackie, decided to start doing the Roding Valley parkrun. First we ran and walked it using the Couch to 5k app and then one day we just started running it and I got the running bug.

What was your first running course?

I had heard about Run to Be through friends but the timing of the courses had never been right for me. Then in May 2018, I saw there was a 0-5k course on a Monday morning at Loughton Leisure Centre which was perfect for me. A few friends and I took the plunge and I haven't looked back since.

How did you feel during the half marathon?

For me the half marathon was such a big challenge. In training, I had only got to around 9 miles so it was a big jump for me. My training hadn't gone totally to plan due to holidays but I was determined to complete it.

On the day, it was a mixture of emotions, I was so happy to finally be doing the run, but I was in the last wave of runners so again it was this feeling that I am one of the runners at the back of the pack, which I still struggle with as I want to be amongst all of the runners.

Between 10-12 miles, I really struggled as it was raining and a lot of people were walking, but I was overtaking them and was into the unknown! My proudest thing is that I didn't walk; I may have waddled but I did run all the way.

The last few hundred metres brought the tears; they came from nowhere, I had no control over them. I was thinking about my mum and dad, especially as I was running in their memory and on behalf of Marie Curie and I hope that they would have been proud of me.

I felt elated after, buzzing that I had run a half marathon! Even better was that my feet were good and I had no ill effects after the event and I also managed to raise £600 for Marie Curie.

What have been your biggest challenges?

One of my biggest challenges is the mental side of things. Because I am so competitive with myself, I hate being last and I have had to work on this a lot with the help of my running buddies. But I have come to realise that even though I am slow, I am still a runner and I am out there doing it!

Also, as a 'woman of a certain age', I am always worried about needing the loo and have to make sure I know where the toilets are. That may sound funny but I think that this has been my biggest challenge of all.

How important are your running friendships?

The people that know me know that I like a chat! Because of this, I have met some amazing people along the way. My good friend Jackie Cox has been my running buddy from the start and she just does it for fun so she is a good balance for me. I met Joan Brunt at parkrun and introduced her to Run To Be and we haven't looked back.... Our friendship has grown and we are now regular run buddies.

How does running boost your confidence and your mental wellbeing?

For me, a confidence boost is a personal best (I told you that I was competitive). Or when I meet people and they tell me that they have been following my running journey on Facebook. I am so hard on myself so external praise is important to me and keeps me going.

Running certainly helps my wellbeing. I love going out on my social runs and having a good chat which really lifts my spirits and also makes me feel happy. Then I love the Run To Be runs, meeting new people and learning new skills.

I also love the more competitive runs, whether that be parkrun or a 10k such as the Winter Run or in the Olympic Park. I need to have the enjoyment of the social runs in order to have the competitive runs. I just need the balance.

Has running helped you with weight loss?

For years I have struggled with my weight but more so once I started going through the menopause. I have an ongoing unhealthy relationship with food. However running has really helped me to lose weight and over the last couple of years since I started running I have lost over two stone.

What has Run To Be done for you?

Where do I start...? I love being part of the Run To Be community, from the first course it just felt right. No judgements - you are all in it together. And the idea of setting the slowest runners off first really fitted in with helping me get over not being the last person to finish.

My main mentor in my first few groups was Liane Griffin who was the perfect match for me. She helped me so much and was so kind to me.

When I moved to the Monday morning Run Series group, the main mentor in my group was Lauren Juggler Crook who was always there to spur me on and has been such a kind and supportive person.

All the mentors and runners are amazing and so supportive, and I love the Facebook discussion group, which is inspirational. And of course a big thank you to Lindsey and the admin team for all they do.

And finally, what does Run To Be mean to you?

For me, Run To Be gives me a focus and a structure, but also I find inspiration from the other runners who are all at different stages on their running journey.

If I feel low I know that I can read the messages in the discussion group and they will lift me. It has also brought me so many new friends which can only be a great thing.


Julie Strelley-Jones passed away in January 2019. She was a valued member of the Run To Be team; an amazing mentor to her runners, who kept running whilst battling incurable cancer. She was an inspiration to us all and is hugely missed.

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