Tuesday, 20 May 2014


On 20th July 2014 you are invited to do #AMileForAutism

You can walk, run or cycle a mile, or do it in any way you want to! Do 1 mile and donate £1 or more.

Do your mile and then text AMFA14 £1 £2 £5 or £10 to 70070 to support Ambitious about Autism, the national charity for children and young people with autism.

Post your #AMileForAutism picture to social media and nominate your friends to do the same.

Together we can raise money and awareness, and we can all be Ambitious about Autism.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

My London Marathon

A year ago, I entered the London Marathon ballot, didn't tell anyone, and crossed my fingers. It worked, and a minor miracle occurred - I got a place on my first attempt. Fast forward to a year later, and there I was, on the start line, waiting to go. It all felt quite surreal. When I entered the ballot the most I had ever run was about 4 or 5 miles. My training had gone well up until about 5 weeks before the big day, where during my 20 miler I had stupidly managed to slip off the pavement, injuring my foot and then my hip. The last couple of weeks I hardly ran at all, to try and prevent it getting worse, as even walking was quite painful at times. But it felt a lot better in the last few days of last week, so I was hopeful it would get me round.

I spent quite a bit of time in those couple of weeks worrying if I would manage to do it. Then a few days before I woke up one morning with the realisation that this might be the one and only time I got to do the London Marathon, so whatever it took I would finish it and I would blooming well enjoy it too.

And I had the extra incentive to keep me going, knowing that I was running as part of Team Ambitious, raising money and awareness for Ambitious about Autism. No further motivation was needed.

My hip behaved itself until about mile 8, and then started to get painful. I had to stop a couple of times around miles 14 and 16 to try and stretch it out. And from mile 20 I had to walk quite a few times. But, I loved every single second of it. My hope of finishing around the 4 and a half hour mark went out of the window, but the crowds kept me going every single step of the way. It's quite hard to put into words exactly how amazing they were. I had people cheering me on, telling me to keep going and I could do it, calling out what an amazing cause I was running for, giving me a massive cheer every time I started to run again after walking. It was the most amazing thing. Not only that, but having family, friends, and the Ambitious about Autism cheering points around the course really made a difference. I first saw my family just before mile 9, then again for a much needed hug just after mile 18. By that time it was hurting quite a lot, and I was thinking of the race in terms of "just to the next cheer point". I knew that the UKRunChat team would be at mile 19 and it was great to get a smile and cheer from them, then Ambitious about Autism were at mile 21.5 for a big cheer, a wave, and a huge smile. I was spurred on to mile 23 knowing that Ambitious about Autism had a samba band there. They were amazing, not to mention the supporter who spotted me coming, and ran over so that she could give me a much needed high five as I went through. I ran the whole of the last mile with one of the Runner's World Pacers. I had been near him for most of the second half so thanked him for keeping me going. We agreed that we would run the rest of the way, and it was possibly the best mile of them all. As we came up to Buckingham Palace he was whipping the crowd up to cheer extra loudly, telling me "they're cheering for you" and we crossed the line together with hands aloft, celebrating. It was something I shall never forget.

It was an absolute joy to run for Ambitious about Autism, and my fundraising total currently stands at just over £1700, more than I could have hoped for. I am particularly touched by the generosity of people who I have never even met, it's been incredible, and thank you to every single person who donated.

Being part of Team Ambitious has also meant that I got to meet the lovely Kate. Turns out we live near each, both started running for similar reasons, and have got quite a bit in common for one reason or another. Also turns out I love running with her. And turns out she's ace. So we met up with each other at the start, soaked up the atmosphere together, had a lot of fun, and ran the first 12 miles together before my hip decided I had to slow down. I couldn't think of anyone I would rather have done all that with, and I'm hoping we might get to do it all again another time too.

It's not too late to sponsor if you would like to, donations can be made to my Virgin  Money giving page here: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/SusanSpence2014 or you can text SSLM77 £1 to 70070 to sponsor me £1.

So, (and here's something I would never have thought possible a year ago) job done - I'm a marathon runner!

Saturday, 22 February 2014

50 days

50 days. In 50 days time I will be running the London Marathon. Now there's a sentence my old PE teachers would never have believed. I'm 36 years old, and up until almost exactly a year ago, school PE lessons was the last kind of exercise I had (begrudgingly) taken part in.

Then I heard about Couch to 5K. I still wasn't remotely a fan of sport, but I am fairly stubborn and I do like a challenge. So I thought I would give it a go. Mainly for the 'no one would think I could do it, so I'm going to do it' reason.  And much to my surprise I didn't find it completely hideous, and actually quite enjoyed it. Me! Enjoying running! I didn't really tell anyone I was doing it, and ran in a park which was set back from the road to minimise my chances of being seen by anyone I knew. Then, as I was starting to run for longer and longer, I got a bit bored of running round the same circuit, got brave, and actually ran on actual pavements, where people I actually knew might be able to see me.

And I kept running further and further. And I kept loving it. I entered myself for a 10K, which I enjoyed. And then, I found myself in the lucky position of running my first half marathon, the Great North Run, as Jo Whiley's running buddy. I can't quite explain how much fun that was, and how much I loved it.

A couple of weeks after that, I found out that I had got a ballot place in the 2014 London Marathon. I hadn't actually told anyone I'd even entered the ballot, not even my husband. I had heard about the people who have entered for years and years in a row and never got a place. And I got one on my first year of entering! I'm a big believer in things happening for a reason, and took this as a sign that someone somewhere thought I should keep running.

I also have an extra motivation to keep running, and that is raising money for Ambitious about Autism. They are the national charity for children and young people with autism, and the work they do is amazing. Their mission is to help children and young people with autism to learn, thrive and achieve. I ran the Great North Run for them, and knew as soon as I got my marathon place that I would run again for them too. As part of Team Ambitious I was lucky enough to visit Tree House School a couple of weeks ago, and see some of the ways they put this mission in to action. I left feeling inspired and even more dedicated to raising as much money as possible for this amazing charity. As a parent of a child on the autistic spectrum I am inspired by their positivity and outlook. I am thankful that they exist to help and support not only children with ASD, but also their families.

So, this time last year the longest I could run for was 3 minutes. Yesterday I ran for over 3 hours, and ran 18 miles. In 50 days I shall run the London Marathon. All 26.2 miles of it. I shall run it proudly as part of Team Ambitious, wearing my Ambitious about Autism vest, and knowing that I am raising as much money as I possibly can for the most amazing cause.

If you are able to sponsor me a £ or 2 you can do so here:


You can also sponsor me by text, by texting SSLM77 followed by either £1, £2, £3, £4, £5 or £10 to 70070. So to sponsor me £2 you can text SSLM77 £2 to 70070.

Thank you.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

STAARS Project - major new research into early detection of Autism and ADHD

Last week I was invited to Birkbeck, University of London, for the launch of the STAARS project - Studying Autism and ADHD Risk in Siblings. The aim of this project is to learn more about the early development of baby brothers and sisters of children with either autism or ADHD, in the hope that the study will provide long-term help to improve early detection and diagnosis of children with autism and ADHD.

It was a fascinating morning. We began by hearing about the work that the Babylab does, and the research that has already been done into early detection of autism. We were told that 40% of children with ASD also meet criteria for ADHD. Those working on the STAARS project feel it is important to understand what early risk factors might be specific to ASD or ADHD, and which risk factors might be common to both conditions. Children with an older sibling with one of these two conditions have a significantly higher possibility of also developing either ASD or ADHD, and so it is these younger siblings on which the new research will focus. As a parent of a child with ASD, I fully understand how earlier detection and diagnosis would be a welcome and positive step, leading to earlier support and earlier access to relevant services. It was also explained that approaches to treatment of the two conditions have, up until now, had separate traditions, but this might be about to change. Understanding early infant neurodevelopment may also identify new types of interventions. Early results of the research are expected in 2017/2018.

We were then taken on a tour of the Babylab itself, which was fascinating. It was a relaxing environment, and it was obvious that participating in the research is a fun experience for both the children involved and their parents. A parent whose child had been involved in an earlier phase of research was also present during the morning, and confirmed that this was very much the case, that it was great fun, and actually a lovely way of spending time with your baby. We were shown research methods such as the eye tracker, the EEG sensor net, and the Near Infrared Spectroscopy hat. This NIRS hat it was explained, was helping to fill a research gap that currently exists because of the practical problems of young children undergoing an MRI scan. It was explained that babies up until the age of about one could undergo an MRI scan when they were asleep, and children from about six years of age upwards were old enough to have the process of an MRI explained to them before undergoing it. However the gap exists in between these two ages, and the NIS hat is helping provide research to fill that gap. Research techniques include monitoring whether babies respond more to social cues (e.g. an image of someone smiling) or non social cues (e.g. a tractor), monitoring how the brain responds to socially interesting videos and sounds, play based assessments, questionnaires, and DNA samples to name a few.

So, in order to carry out this ground breaking research, infant scientists are needed! The STAARS project is looking for families who are expecting a baby or have a baby up to the age of ten months old, who also have an older sibling who has already been diagnosed with either an Autism Spectrum Disorder or ADHD.  200 families are needed, 100 with a sibling with autism and 100 with a sibling with ADHD. Following my morning at the Babylab, I know that I would absolutely get involved if I had a child young enough to take part. If you meet the criteria, and would like to know more you can visit the STAARS website here or you can email staars@bbk.ac.uk

Knowing how hard our own personal battle was to get an autism diagnosis for my son, any research that may make this process a little easier in the future can only be a positive step. I know that an earlier diagnosis for my son would have meant earlier access to relevant support and services, and a much less traumatic time for not only my son but also our whole family. If you can, I would urge you to find out more, and get involved.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

The Bupa Great North Run - we did it!

A week before the Great North Run, my race pack and number arrived...and had the effect of making me panic! In that week I lurched between excitement and feeling really quite scared. I was following the plan that Simon, the Bupa physio, had advised, so was tapering my training. My usual outlet for releasing stress would be to go for a run, but I couldn't do that!

On Saturday I made the journey up to Newcastle, meeting my sister when I got there, who came to cheer me on. We went for a wander along the river and saw the Tyne Bridge looking like this, which made it seem all the more real.

I saw Jo, and it was good to talk to someone who knew how anxious I was starting to feel! Dinner was carb-heavy, and I kept to advice to avoid alcohol and caffeine. I had a fairly early night and slept better than I thought I might.

After an early breakfast we set off to the start line. Considering our training session the week before had been in glorious sunshine, the weather forecast for the race was pretty awful, mostly consisting of torrential rain and gale force winds. It turned out to be a lot better than predicted, and the rain stayed away the whole time we were at the start, although it was cold and windy, and keeping warm was a priority.

Jo was interviewed on the BBC programme alongside Mel C, and I was really pleased to find out afterwards that they had played a film made at our last training session where I was explaining why I had got in to running in the first place, and why I had chosen to run for Ambitious about Autism.

Before we knew it, it was time for the race to start. We were starting right at the front, not too far away from a certain Mo Farah. Simon had warned us that the start would be really busy, with people jostling for position and trying to push past. There was a lot of that but we all managed to stick together.

Jo was a little speedier than me, so we ran the first three or four miles together, and then I dropped back a little bit. The promised rain came, but not for too long, and there was a tailwind so it helped to push us along. The crowd along the way were everything that I had been told, and more. The atmosphere was incredible and such a help in keeping going. My personal favourite was Elvis in a bus stop - made me smile just when I was starting to feel really tired. I ran faster than I had in training and was over the moon to finish in 2 hours 13 minutes and 2 seconds, just 8 minutes after Jo. Crossing the finish line was such a brilliant feeling, quite emotional and a huge sense of achievement.

My total raised far for Ambitious about Autism was just incredible. I had hoped to raise £500, and ending up raising (including gift aid) just over £1000. A huge thank you to everyone who sponsored me, it really means such a lot.

This has been such an incredible experience. I've absolutely loved every minute of being Jo's running buddy. It's been brilliant to go through the whole experience with someone else every step of the way, to support and encourage me, and help me keep going. I'm also so grateful for all the brilliant expert advice I've received from everyone at Bupa, it has been invaluable. Running with a buddy is definitely much more fun, and I've absolutely got the bug now. Newcastle - I'll see you again, for the Great North Run 2014!


Thursday, 5 September 2013

Countdown to the Great North Run

On Monday I made my way back to London for my second training session with the lovely Jo Whiley, our last session together before the Great North Run next Sunday.

I've been pleased with how my training has been going since we last met up. On the advice of Simon, the Bupa physio, I've been increasing the distance of my long run (which I usually do on a Sunday) by a mile each week. And the weekend before last I ran the full 13.1 miles. It was hard work, and I did it in 2 hours 26 minutes, but I did it! I don't think I've ever been so tired in my life afterwards, and at any given point in the week afterwards I could have happily fallen asleep. I wasn't really ready for that, having felt OK after the 11 and 12 mile runs I did. So I'm prepared to take it easy in the week after the Great North Run now, and expect to feel quite tired!

Before the training started we had a couple more interviews, and more photos taken:

Then we had a really useful session with Bianca, a nutritionist from Bupa. She gave lots of advice about what we should be eating in general whilst training, but also what to eat the night before and the morning before the race. I've recently stopped eating meat so I was also able to get advice from her on what I should be making sure I'm eating instead (top tips were low fat cheese and unsalted almonds).

After that we went back outside with Simon for some warm up stretches, and then we were off around Regents Park for a run in beautiful sunshine.

Whilst we were running Simon talked to us about what to expect on the morning of the race, what to expect at the start line, and the best way find space to run in the crowds once the race has begun. It was a really hot day, but the run went well, and we finished off with a warm down and more stretching. I think we're both definitely feeling nervous, but also excited about the run. I feel a bit more apprehensive now, knowing what hard work the 13.1 miles was and how tired I was and how much I ached afterwards! But I'm confident that we'll do it! It's great to have the support from Jo, and to be able to support her in return, as well as all the brilliant advice that I've had from everyone at Bupa. My extra motivation comes in knowing that I'm raising money while I run for Ambitious about Autism, the national charity for children and young people with autism. I was thrilled this morning to see that I have reached my fundraising target, but I'd like to raise as much as I possibly can for this amazing charity that is very close to my heart. If you haven't sponsored me yet and would like to you can do so via my just giving page which is here: www.justgiving.com/Susan-Spence1
Alternatively you can sponsor me £1 by texting SSAA77 £1 to 70070
or you can sponsor me £5 by texting SSAA77 £5 to 70070.

A huge thank you to everyone who has already sponsored me. You are supporting a brilliant cause and helping me to keep one foot in front of the other! The Bupa Great North Run is next Sunday, the 15th of September - I'll let you know how we get on!

Friday, 2 August 2013

Running the Great North Run as Jo Whiley's running buddy

I've blogged before about how I've fairly recently started running. I started doing it as something just for me, where I can get out, headphones on, forget about things, and run. I've surprised myself with how much I enjoy it, with how much of a buzz it gives me, and how actually I'm not nearly as bad at it as I thought I probably would be! A few weeks ago I did a local 10k race, and that made me think about whether I could stretch myself to do a half marathon, something I would never have even considered a few months ago. At about the same time I saw that Bupa Running were running a competition on their Facebook page, where you could train with the brilliant Jo Whiley as her running buddy, and then start the Great North Run together. This seemed like an amazing opportunity and so I entered.
I explained on my application that, like Jo, I had 4 children and so knew how hard it was sometimes to find both the motivation and the time to get out for a training run. Also in common with Jo this would be my first half marathon. I also mentioned that I have a stubborn streak which enjoys the challenge of pushing myself that bit further, which should make me a good person to be a running buddy, and should stand us in good stead for getting to that finish line. I also explained that I would run to raise money for Ambitious about Autism, a charity that is obviously very close to my heart. Much to my surprise, Jo and Bupa picked me!
So this week I had a brilliant day in London to meet Jo and have our first training session together. It wasn't what you would call a typical day for me! There was a photographer taking lots of photos of the session, as well as a film crew filming and interviewing us. The Bupa physio was on hand to give really useful advice, amongst other things on the best way to warm up and down before and after a run, and on our running style. He filmed us running so that he could explain which parts of our running style were good and where we needed to do some work. Apparently Jo and I both run like gazelles - up until then I was fairly sure that I ran in a style similar to Phoebe in 'Friends' so I'm holding on to the gazelle comparison! A brilliant part of being Jo's buddy is that I have the support of the Bupa team during my training, so I can have access to this type of expert advice. As a completely novice runner this is invaluable.
The buddy system means that we can encourage and support each other, for me it's an extra incentive to keep training and pushing myself, being part of a team means you don't want to let anyone down. I've been a big fan of Jo's for a long time and it was so lovely to meet her, to talk to her about why I started running, and why I want to raise money for Ambitious about Autism.
The physio gave me confidence that I'm on target in terms of my training, and now I know what I need to be doing between now and the race on the 15th September. We have another training session later this month so I shall report back. There will also be updates on the Bupa Facebook page.
In the meantime, if anyone is able to spare a pound or two to sponsor me I would be incredibly grateful. This can be done via my JustGiving page here.
Alternatively you can text SSAA77 £1 to 70070 to sponsor me £1, or text SSAA77 £5 to 70070 to sponsor me £5. 
Thank you! I shall keep you updated, and in the meantime leave you with some photos from this week's training session.