We’re not superhuman, we’re just us”- lessons on grief as told by two world-record holding marathon runners

5 mins read

Prior to their stunning Guinness World Record achievement, in which they consecutively ran one hundred and six marathons in as many days, Fay Cunningham and her partner Emma Petrie knew just how important preparation would be to their chances of success. No amount of training, physical or mental, would prepare Cunningham for the loss of her father, however, just two weeks before they were due to start.

The pair had decided on the attempt in order to raise funds for the charities MND Scotland and Macmillan Cancer Support. The former for Cunningham’s father, and the latter in memory of Petrie’s mother, who had passed in recent years following a battle with cancer. Grief was not unfamiliar to the couple, but in the months to come, the unique challenge would test the limits of their mental and physical thresholds. As both runners had received support from the respective charities in the past, they saw the challenge as an opportunity to give something back.

With a background in the Royal Air Force, the challenge would come as no shock to Cunningham. She already had an impressive list of achievements under her belt, including a channel swim, an Ironman competition and a 100-mile ultra-trail mountain-biking race. She was no stranger to pain, grit and perseverance when things got tough, in fact she believes that this became a motivation. “I had a big advantage mentally, with a personality that likes to be challenged” she said.  

Petrie also demonstrated a striking passion for sport, being a qualified personal trainer, ski instructor and ultra-marathon runner. She spoke of the challenges she faced at the beginning of their challenge, admitting that she struggled to have faith in her abilities, however “the longer the challenge went on the more I believed in myself”.

Living through raw emotions, the charity pursuit became imperative; not only as a coping mechanism, but as a means of channelling heartache into a positive outcome. As they coped with their grief, Cunningham reflected that “having the ability to just run was probably one of the best things that could have happened; it was an escape, it was how I switched off from it all”. “It was the reason why we both wanted to do it in the first place, and we both came out of it a lot stronger”.

Community was a driving factor in the pair’s success. When injury or lack of confidence struck, they had a team of experts and loved ones to see them through. “We knew what we needed, and we knew that we couldn’t do it all ourselves” remarked Cunningham.

Upon facing the heartbreak of watching a loved one succumb to illness, and lose simple things such as “the ability to make a cup of tea”, “do it while you can” was the mantra adopted by Cunningham and Petrie prior to the challenge, and was what saw them through.

The aura of athletic brilliance slowly begins to lift while speaking to Cunningham and Petrie, revealing kind, relatable everyday women but with extraordinary ambition, strength, and drive that sets them apart.

This relatability undoubtedly contributes to the success of their personal training business. They are strong believers in “putting in the work beforehand, and enjoying every opportunity” we “went into it (the challenge) not knowing whether we could do it or not” remarked Cunningham. What’s most important according to Petrie, is “just going for it, because you always regret the things you don’t do”.  

Six months after completing this remarkable achievement has naturally left both thinking “oh god, how did we do that?” observes Petrie. Having the strength to remain positive after such a devastating loss is something of an inspiration, but is also the common denominator which ties us all together. Grief is an unavoidable part of being human, but perhaps so is one’s spirit; to carry it with pride, not devastation.  

Feature Image Credit: Match My Workout

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