Last over the line - Sandra's storyFriday 25 August 2017
Every race needs a winner. And by the same token, someone has to be the last person over the finish line.
While first-past-the-post inevitably gets the spotlight - it is often the last-placed finisher that has arguably accomplished the most.
At Run Norwich 2017, the last person to pass underneath the white arch was Sandra Acton and her result is just as inspiring as that of winner Michael Kallenberg.
Sandra, who has cerebral palsy, was one of a number of runners taking part in their first ever 10-kilometre race.
One hour and 54 minutes after setting out on her Run Norwich adventure, Sandra would soak up the cheers from the crowds on the finishing straight, before crossing the line with friend and supporter Colin Makin, to accomplish a massive personal goal.
Now, three weeks on, the 37-year-old reflects on an emotional day:
“There was so much that went through my mind when I crossed that finish line. A huge sense of elation, relief and that wonderful realisation of achieving a goal I never thought possible.”
“It was a hot day. My aim was to do a sub-2 hour and that was achieved. The hills were a challenge. I did really struggle from 8-kilometres onwards but I’d come too far not to finish. Seeing other runners on the pavement with their medals hanging around their neck gave me that drive to finish.”
Sandra was accompanied around the route by close friend Colin, who was responsible for making her take the leap into the unknown and sign up for the race.
“He’d run the previous year and asked me if I wanted to do Run Norwich 2017 with him. I was apprehensive at first, but Colin’s support, and that of his colleagues at Ashtons Legal was incredible. They were all very helpful and encouraging to me.
“Colin said that he would stay with me throughout the whole race and true to his word he did. It’s great to be able to run with someone who is more than happy to go at your pace. He kept me going throughout the race, especially towards the end when the pain in my legs was unbearable.”
With the finish line in sight, Colin eased off and let her pass over the line before him.
Recognising the effort that Sandra had put in to complete the race, the organisers arranged for her finisher’s medal to be specially presented to her on the City Hall steps by the race’s guest of honour, Norwich City FC legend Grant Holt.
For Sandra, these moments were the culmination of four years of hard work, perseverance and training. Like many, it was the legacy of the London 2012 Paralympic Games that influenced her to take up running.
“I had the privilege of being a volunteer at the Games, and I knew even before the week was over that I had to get involved. I was fortunate enough to meet some runners from my native South Africa with cerebral palsy, and they really inspired me.”
She made enquiries and soon joined her local athletics club, Huntingdonshire AC.
The first months were hard.
“I couldn’t even run 10-metres when I first started training and I never imagined myself running more than 100m. I was extremely self-conscious and preferred training in the dark.”
“But I had a great coach who never gave up on me and who instilled confidence and helped me overcome my self-doubt. His words of wisdom to me were “whatever happens in a race always cross the finish line.” These words always come back to me when I needed picking up.”
In 2016, Sandra started regularly attending Huntingdon ParkRun and took part in her first road running events - a number of 5K fun runs.
Her training saw her at the athletics track twice a week, with another 1-2 nights of road running, while making sure she walked a minimum of 2-3 miles a day. In June, she did her first 5-mile time trial to gauge her fitness and her time expectations for Run Norwich.
The morning of the race soon came around, and Sandra found herself running the streets of Norwich with thousands cheering her, and the rest of the field, on.
“I’d never run in front of so many people before. Never underestimate the power of crowd support. It’s so important, regardless of whom you are there to cheer for. The atmosphere was great, and Norwich is a beautiful city to run a first 10k in.”
With a 10km now under her belt, Sandra is eyeing up the next challenge: a half-marathon (as well as returning to Run Norwich next year to beat her time!)
Her advice to others is simple: believe in yourself.
“Never compare yourself to another athlete or become overwhelmed because someone else runs faster or longer distances that you. Set yourself mini-goals, and build on them.”
“My club and other people who know me are very supportive in all that I choose to do. With their support and my self-belief, I believe anything is possible.”