20th March 2019


Next month, Charlotte Ellis will make the journey down from the north east coast in Redcar to the capital to take part in the World Para Athletics Marathon Championships at the London Marathon.

Visually impaired all her life, as a child, she was discouraged from taking part in sport at school, much to her disappointment, but this did not stop her. She found alternative routes into sporting activity, including the less-travelled pursuits of circus performing and self-defence, unlikely exercise classes for a secondary school student, but the beginning of a journey into the sporting world.

Trampolining followed at university, before she was encouraged to take up running for the first time, admitting she initially greeted it with scepticism.

“One of my house mates was a runner – I’d always wanted to run. I didn’t really think I was good enough, so I didn’t really think it was a good idea. I started but I wasn’t improving much, and it was difficult to find a guide at the time.”

Nevertheless, as soon as she had dipped her toe in the running world, another opportunity came up in triathlon, and it was one that the north east athlete did not want to miss.

“There was a project for visually impaired athletes to take part in the London Triathlon. It was on my list of things to do, alongside running the Great North Run and the London Marathon. So, I was asked to join this disability triathlon group after doing London, these were early days for para triathlon. I joined in 2009 and won world and European titles within a year, so it was all a bit mad really.”

However, her enthusiasm waned in the following years despite further medal success, with the focus on improving the swim meaning she wasn’t running as much as she’d like. It was at this point that she decided to move onto the next thing on her list, and that was to target her running goals over the 13.1 and 26.2 mile distances.

After injuries and illnesses impacted upon her first couple of attempts over the longer distances, a combination of starting within the masses, and finding the right guide runner were all challenges she encountered in the early days. However, she views it as all part of the process which has led to her qualifying for her maiden British Athletics team for next month’s event.

“You learn from your mistakes; you learn what worked and what didn’t, and I suppose another point is I learned types of cross training I could do around my running.”

Now for most people, when you think of cross training for an athlete, you maybe think aqua-jogging, turbo bike, yoga etc. Not Charlotte Ellis. The 34-year-old has her own method of training away from the relentless tallying of the daily miles.

“I do trapeze, Yin Yoga and Pilates on my day off. As I’ve said, I did circus performing when I was younger because I wasn’t allowed to do gymnastics at school. About 18 months ago, a new girl at work said she did trapeze and it turned out the instructor she was going to see was the same person who taught me years ago. There’s no better way to stretch your back out than hanging upside down basically!”

Well, quite. And it is a pursuit the endurance runner adds into her schedule every week, and one which she believes benefits her running, even if it may have terrified her mother when she was younger.

“Trapeze is very much its own class now, not just one part of a wider circus performing class, much to my mother’s relief. I did a thing at school called ‘web rope’ – I don’t think you want to see your 12-year-old daughter about ten foot in the air been swung around on the end of a rope! I think I may have added some grey hairs to her that night,” she says mischievously, “she came to one of the showcase’s and I think she thought, ‘oh my goodness, I thought you were doing something safe, you are clearly not!’”

It is less hair-raising these days, but her outside of running activities are the perfect supplement to the coastal runs she goes on in her beloved North Yorkshire Moors, a part of the world she speaks about with such warmth.

Living along her ‘safe-running’ route – “one mile one way, one mile the other” – she has the perfect environment to continue her preparations for the London Marathon, and many family and friends nearby, supporting her along the way.

“I have so much support from my family, friends, New Marske Harriers, who have encouraged me to compete in more or less anything, although I think one of the coaches once said something like ‘maybe not pole vault’ and Redcar Parkrun.”

She earned her place in the team following two significantly improved performances at the Manchester and Frankfurt marathons in 2018, the former completed in 3:25.55, and after a 10-mile PB at last weekend’s Thirsk 10, she is really excited at the prospect of taking on the marathon distance once again.

“It’s what I have wanted for a long long time, to run for Great Britain. I just keep saying to everyone that I just need to keep ticking the sessions off.

“I didn’t really know what to expect at Thirsk, but I was happy with it. I hope it will lead to a significant PB in London.”

We’ll next see her on the start-line in London with her guide Lucy Niemz, looking to tick another significant milestone off her ‘list’.

See the full British line-up for the World Para Athletics Marathon championships, here.