September 7


Richard Dixon’s Experience with Maggies plus Cheltenham Running and Walking Club

By Conor Graham

September 7, 2021

cancer, Cheltenham Running, couch to 5k, half marathon, walking

Richard has been inspiring club members since joining in 2016 and after a lengthy fight with cancer has now returned to club sessions. 

Take a minute to read his story for a true picture of what a motivated individual can overcome with help and support.

In 2015, aged 68, I was in poor physical shape, classed as obese according to a “well man” check at my surgery, and sciatica not helped by long days driving the length and breadth of the UK as a Vehicle Delivery Driver.

After gentle persuasion by Head Coach of Cheltenham Running Club, Conor Graham, I turned up for the first session on a cold, dark evening in January. Conor has very cleverly adapted the NHS Couch to 5K programme so that people can progress at their own level.

In my case this meant starting in the lowest pace group, mainly walking to start with, but interspersed with short jogs. Week by week the jogging sessions increased, and in what seemed like no time at all we were ready for our first 5K at the Cheltenham parkrun, March 2016.

Within the same year I had progressed from parkrun to the Cheltenham Challenge 10K in June followed by the Cheltenham Half Marathon in September. 

After the Half Marathon a torn calf muscle frustratingly put me out of action for several months, but was greatly helped in my recovery by Conor and Physiotherapist, Katie.

The following year, I passed my 70th birthday, but continued to make progress. 

At the start of 2018, I started to get symptoms, which I now recognise as the early signs of bowel cancer. These got worse, and a week after participating in the Westonbirt House Easter 10 K, a 111 appointment led to a CT scan, which showed a blockage.

Two days later on my 71st birthday I had an operation which left me with a colostomy.

The surgeon reported that I was very fit and that the operation went very well. This was thanks to Cheltenham Running Club, and my fitness which greatly helped my rehabilitation.

My plan was always to get back to running as soon as possible, but things did not turn out as expected. A side effect of chemo is peripheral neuropathy, numbness in hands and feet, which turned out to be permanent in my case. However I still felt very connected with CRC. I was a supporter at events and parkruns, and kept records of all entries and results, which I reported on the Facebook page. 

Towards the end of 2019, I had improved to the point that I was thinking of getting back to running by repeating the Couch to 5K programme. It was at this point that I made a visit to Maggies with the intention of signing up for a Nordic Walking Course. 

The idea of an aerobic exercise, which provided a safe body workout appealed. However they introduced me to a whole range of activities designed to help my rehabilitation process, which included the Macmillan Next Steps Programme. 

This embraces a wide range of activities, which included physiotherapy, and one to one sessions with a Personal Trainer, from which followed Group Exercise sessions. 

This guidance and support was vital if I was ever to come back to regular outdoor exercise.  

At the start of 2020 I was well set up to start the Couch to 5K programme, but a CT scan showed that the cancer had come back and was told that it was unsuitable for the radical surgery which offered a potential cure. 

However I accelerated the Couch to 5 K programme and managed a couple of parkruns before chemo and lockdown.

The next year was spent fighting for the surgery for which I was turned down and I found a London Surgeon who was prepared to operate.

On 27 April, 2021, I had a 12 hour operation, for a procedure which is reckoned to have a 6 month recovery period. My recovery was very slow to start with, but at the end of June, I resolved to walk at least 1 kilometre a day, with the results recorded on Strava.

The thought of coming back to the club became a big motivation for me in fighting the cancer and keeping positive through such a tough time.

I have been gradually increasing distances and at the time of writing this can manage distances of 5 miles without undue difficulty.

I was greatly heartened to hear that Cheltenham Running Club had started a walking community, as this is ideal for people in my circumstances.

I have recently partaken in the club walks which seem to be very sociable. 

I hope that in doing so my fitness will continue to improve, and at the same time enjoy the company of like minded members.

Organisations like CRWC and Maggies help cancer patients realise there is more help out there beyond the hospital. The physical benefits of exercise are obvious but having people and structured programmes to follow also gave me purpose which does a lot for mental health in a time when I could easily just lie down and wait for things to improve or regress. 

Conor Graham

About the author

Conor is the Head Coach and Founder of Cheltenham Running and Walking Club.

His experience as a Strength & Conditioning Coach, Triathlete and Personal Trainer ensure members are educated on best practice in regards to training progression while also nurtured through the early stages of fitness development.

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