Monday, March 1, 2010

RunnerDude's Runner of the Week: Natalie

This week's Runner of the Week hails from across the big pond. Natalie Onions, a young runner from the UK, is on a mission—a 1,000-mile mission. Read on to learn more about this ambitious young lady.

RD: How long have you been running?
Natalie: I’ve always been into running, but just as a hobby really. I’ve never done anything serious until now.

RD: Usually I ask what’s your biggest running accomplishment, but I see yours is yet to come. I understand you’re planning to run 1,000 miles by New’s Year’s Eve, 2010 to help raise awareness and funds for the MS Society. What motivated you to set such an ambitious goal
Natalie: There’s a song by the Proclaimers—you might know it—it’s called “I would walk 500 miles.” My housemate and I were saying how it would be a good challenge to set yourself – walking 500 miles in a year—but I wanted more of a challenge than that. So I upped the mileage, and made it a run! I realized that I could potentially get quite a lot of interest in taking on the challenge, so I chose a charity that means a lot to me. My aunt was diagnosed with MS three years ago, and I really wanted to make her proud and help raise awareness about what having MS actually means for the patient and their family and friends.

RD: Tell us a little about the MS Society. What does it do? Who does it serve?
Natalie: The MS Society has a lot of functions. They fund areas of research, give grants to people who are disabled by the disease to make learning easier, provide respite centres, physical aid, care for patients, provide a helpline… they do a lot! They also educate people on what MS is, so that awareness is raised, and people who are affected by the disease, either through having it or having a friend or relative with MS, have information to help them understand the disease and its implications. But of course, all of that costs a lot of money and so I wanted to be able to help!

RD: When was your official start date? How many miles have you logged so far?
Natalie: I started on February 8th. As of today – Feb 21st, I’ve logged just over 46 miles. So I’m a little ahead of my target. There’s a long way to go yet!

RD: Tell me a little about where you’re running? Are you logging the miles in your area or are you running from one destination to another?
Natalie: I’m running in my local area on a daily basis, but I do have plans to travel to different areas to do various running trails.

RD: I see you’re located in Solihull, England. Is that an urban or rural area?
Natalie: It’s a bit of both really! I live in a small village in Solihull, which is quite rural. There are a couple of really nice, big parks. But it’s also very close to town and so there are some very urban areas too. It all depends which direction I run in really!

RD: How have your family and the local people reacted to your quest? Do they think you’re loco for running so many miles?
Natalie: Oh yes. They think I’m insane! I told my parents, and they said “Are you mad?!” but then I told them that it was for the MS Society and they said “We’re so proud of you”. So that was great. My workmates have been really supportive too, and we have a laugh about how mad I am. I’ve found that most people are quite shocked at first, and think that I’ve lost my mind, but then they see what potential it has to help people, and they also see how much fun it will be to follow me on the challenge and so they really want to help spread the word. So everyone’s been great.

RD: What’s your longest run to date?
Natalie: I’ve done a 5.2mile run, which isn’t really that long when you consider that there are people doing 18+miles in training for marathons, but I don’t want to push myself too soon, and end up not being able to run later in the challenge. I think that once my body is used to the constant exercise, then I’ll do some longer runs. I might try and plan a 10mile route to coincide with crossing the 100mile mark. That’s my first big landmark!
RD: There are lots of ways to go about raising money and bringing attention to a charity’s cause; what motivated you to choose running as your venue?
Natalie: Well, I had a think about things that I enjoy. The top of the list would be music. But apart from arranging a charity concert which would be built up over time and then over in one night, there wasn’t much I could think of. So I chose running because it can be quite a difficult challenge to set, and it would allow me to spread my challenge over a longer period of time, therefore raising more money. I can also have fun with the running. I set targets to get more money and followers, such as promising to run in a pirate costume when I got 200 facebook friends! I also thought that it was quite poignant to choose something physical, because MS can leave the patient unable to walk, never mind run. And so I wanted to show people that those of us lucky enough to be able to run, should really go for it.

RD: Are you running solo or do you have friends joining you on this journey over the next year?Natalie: No, I’m running solo. My friend has a very energetic dog who needs a good run every now and again so I’ll probably end up taking him with me at times, but I’m flying solo apart from that!

RD: In addition to Twitter and FaceBook, you also have a vlog on YouTube. Tell me a little about that.
Natalie: I realized that, if I’m going to keep people behind me throughout the year, I would have to entertain them. And I wanted them to be able to get involved too, and get to know me a little bit. And so I came up with the idea of a video diary, that lets people see how I’ve been feeling throughout the week, as well as what I’ve been up to. I also have a weekly ‘Nat Vs.’ feature where people send in challenges for me and my housemates/friends to go against each other in. It involves people, and makes it more fun. People send in some good suggestions! I also ask for music recommendations for my running playlist. It’s been quite successful, because people can learn about MS and see how I’m doing without having to read lots of literature. YouTube seems to be taking over the Internet really, so I thought I’d join in!

RD: Do you have a favorite brand of running shoe? Which model? Why?
Natalie: I wear Nike+. They’re very lightweight, durable (which is key when taking on 1000miles!), comfortable, and best of all they allow me track my runs very easily with the Sportband facility. They’re expensive, but well worth the money.

RD: What’s the funniest or oddest thing that’s happened to you while on a run?
Natalie: Oh gosh, there’s been a few! When I was dressed as a pirate, one woman who was walking her dog got a bit scared and started to run away from me as if she thought I was after her! And the other day, the members of a wedding party were on its way from the house to their car as I was running past, and they all started cheering and clapping after they saw my running t-shirt which says that I’m running 1000miles on the back. So I attempted to shout ‘congratulations’ to the bride. It came out a bit breathless, but the thought was there!

RD: If you were speaking to a group of non-runners or runner wannabes and trying to encourage them to run, what would you say?
Natalie: I would tell them to be tough, but also to enjoy it. It’s going to hurt and there are going to be days that you feel like you don’t want to run, but the feeling that you get from soldiering through is brilliant. You can literally go from feeling very low to being so immensely proud of yourself in the space of just a few miles. Do it for charity, or for part of a group, but also do it for yourself. And if you really stick to it, you’ll look great too and who doesn’t want that as an added bonus?!
RD: Open Mike: Share anything you‘d like about your running experiences, past accomplishments, goals, dreams….anything you haven’t previously shared.
Natalie: I’m looking forward to talking to loads of new people over the next few months, and I hope that everyone will stick by me and keep on being brilliant with their words of encouragement. This is by far the biggest thing that I’ve ever done, and I can’t wait for the feeling that I’ll get when I finish the 1000miles and see the smiles on people’s faces, and then be able to officially say that I’ve run 1000miles for MS. I worry sometimes that I’m going to get half-way and start to find it all too much. But I swear I’m not going to quit, or let anyone down. And if I can inspire just one person to take on their own challenge, then I’ll be so happy.

A big thanks to Natalie for sharing her awesome adventure. I know Natalie would greatly appreciate your moral support and encouragement over the next year, and if possible I'm sure she'd also greatly appreciate contributions of any size to her fundraising and awareness mission for the MS Society. For more information on how to support Natalie, be sure to check out her website. Below is a sample from Nat's vlog (video blog). Go Nat!

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