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“My top marathon tip? Convince yourself it’s not raining!”

Sightsavers, April 2018
Sightsavers ambassador Ben Quilter during a training run.

World champion judoka Ben Quilter is running the London Marathon in 2018 to raise money for Sightsavers.

He has a rare genetic sight condition called Stargardt disease, which means he has no central vision (he can only see peripherally). As well as a Paralympic bronze medal from London 2012, he also has a couple of marathons under his belt already. Here he tells us his fundraising story, and shares some tips for anyone else considering running for charity.

 

Hi, Ben! We’re so pleased you’re running the marathon this year. What motivated you to support Sightsavers?

I was very interested in Sightsavers’ work across the world and I’m excited to play whatever role I can to support the hard work being done by all staff and volunteers. Dealing with blindness even in a developed country can be tough, and having lived through this myself in relatively comfortable surroundings with fantastic support from similar local charities I was inspired by those who were dealing with this in less privileged situations and wanted to support in any way possible.

You’ve run the London Marathon before. How was it?

I ran London in 2014, a week after completing my very first marathon in my home town of Brighton, so was still recovering from that effort, which made it harder I think. However, the support and the atmosphere around the whole course was incredible. I remember it being a painful experience – I really had to dig deep and push myself, but the sense of achievement was amazing and worth the effort.

Brighton Marathon is another of Sightsavers’ events for 2018. Would you recommend it?

I really enjoyed running in my home town – I love Brighton and it felt great to be a part of such an incredibly successful up-and-coming event in such a fantastic city. I found the bit out towards the old power station really difficult as the crowd was much thinner out that side. I was starting to really struggle. But it got really good towards the finish line with the support from everyone along the seafront.

Did you do much running during your judo career, or have you taken that up after retiring?

I haven’t done either! I wasn’t required to run much as a judoku, but I’ve always had a good aerobic fitness and always enjoyed running in the right surroundings – I used to run over the South Downs for hours with one of my good friends, Matt Barton, who will be a guide for me next year. As my sight has deteriorated it has become harder to run alone. Now I have children, so finding the time is hard. I really need to dust off my trainers and find somewhere to go!

“The sense of achievement is amazing and worth the effort”

Ben runs down a country road.

How do you go about preparing for the marathon?

Another friend of mine, John Prescott, who is my training partner, reassured me that he had a training plan sorted for me. Last time I trained for a marathon I just ran once a week, but at that point I had a very good base fitness level from a 20-year career as a full-time athlete. So I needed to ease my way back into it. I have to keep the road running to a minimum – I had significant knee surgery following a knee injury that I picked up preparing for the London 2012 Paralympics, so I’ve had to find other methods of getting fit enough to get round all 26 miles.

What’s your best trick for keeping yourself motivated when it’s rainy and cold and you don’t want to run?

Try to convince yourself that it’s not cold and raining! If that’s not possible, embrace the fact that you’re tough enough and committed to the cause and just get on with it. No excuses!

Your best training tips?

Have a weekly plan and stick to it. Try not to make excuses about why you don’t want to train. I personally guarantee that if you don’t fancy training but you make yourself do it, you’ll feel so much better afterwards. I used to struggle for the first few miles on a training run, but after four miles I’d always get into it and enjoy it. So keep going, even if you’re struggling early on. And always train smart – there’s no benefit to training through a genuine injury or illness

Are there any particular exercises you’d recommend?

I’d recommend stretching and possibly yoga. Running can be tough on your ankles, knees, hips and back, so look after your body – see a professional if you have any injuries and listen to your body. Maybe mix up your training and try other cardiovascular training from time to time, such as cycling or swimming.

Any mental tricks you learned during your career that runners could benefit from?

Be very honest with yourself, know when you’re making an excuse and never ever give up when it gets tough! There’s no short cut or magic that will make this experience easy, so embrace the challenge and remember: nothing worth having is easy.

What about food? What should runners eat?

Eat a lot of good healthy stuff. Work out your calorie requirements and stay hydrated, pay attention to your body’s response to exercise’ and research diet tips specific to you well in advance. Looking after yourself and fuelling is as important, if not more important, than training itself.

What will your training schedule be like the two weeks before the marathon?

I’m not sure yet. I’ll probably start to reduce the volume of training – if I manage to increase it in the first place, that is! I would like to complete the marathon in under three hours 30, but I think that would take considerable training – I managed 3:43 last time. I’d like to enjoy this one more, so I’ll be happy with under four hours.

Why should people undertake a challenge to raise money for Sightsavers?

To set and achieve a personal fitness challenge and support the great work of this charity at the same time.

The 2018 London Marathon takes place on 22 April.
To sponsor Ben, visit his fundraising page.

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