Sporting spotlight: Michelle Berry

Published: 25 January 2024 at 11:09

Michelle Berry posing in hi-viz running gear in front of a sign pointing to Peddars Way

Exactly seven months after her husband’s heart stopped beating, Michelle took on an ultramarathon to raise money for the charity that saved his life.

Name: Michelle Berry

Staff, student, or alumni: Staff

Job title: Graphic Designer

Faculty/Service: Corporate Marketing

In your own words, tell us about your sporting achievement or upcoming challenge.

When I woke to find Ali in cardiac arrest last June, it was very traumatic. The event came without any prior warning and at that point he was undoubtedly the fittest he’d ever been in his life.

We both took up running in 2018, enjoying the headspace it provides, and Ali had gone on to compete in many ultramarathons since. I’ve always been happy to be in the car, supporting him en route with snacks and moral support. I never imagined I’d ever have a reason to be participating in an event myself.

But I knew I wanted to say thank you to the amazing people who came to help us last June. Without their quick intervention he wouldn’t be here today. Only 1 in 10 people survive an out of hospital cardiac arrest.

I knew I had to do something that was hugely challenging and completely out of my comfort zone in order to successfully fundraise for Magpas Air Ambulance. Running a long way seemed an obvious choice as I’d never done it before.

The furthest I’d run up to signing up for this ultra was 18 miles, so it was a huge step for me to attempt the legendary Peddars Way Ultra at 48 miles.

It was a bit of a crazy late decision, and I had limited time to train between entering in late November and the race day on 20 January, and also managed to pick up covid over Christmas, which took well over a week out of my schedule.

How did the race go?

The race was an absolutely amazing experience. I’ll never forget it.

I’m still pinching myself that I actually managed to finish. The race started at 8am and we had to reach Castle Acre (30-mile point) by 2.40pm in order to continue with the full race. The organisers had to reroute us a few extra miles soon after the start in order to avoid some flooding which meant the target was now ‘a tad over 50 miles’.

It was pretty cold, and a fair wind helped push runners towards the coast. I managed to get to the checkpoint before the cut-off, which spurred me on to get to the finish. I knew I had some blisters forming on both feet, and I had various niggles which were dulled with a couple of paracetamol.

After the third and final checkpoint I knew I only had 13 miles to go. Runners had to get there by the 9pm cut-off, which seemed achievable even though I was walking more than running by that point. I knew I could do it and as darkness fell, I lit my head torch and dug deep to get to the end.

At 8pm, after 12 long hours, I arrived at the finish line at Holme-next-the-Sea. So many of our friends had come to support me, I was very emotional and very happy to see them.

When I set my fundraising target at £500 I wasn’t sure if I’d manage it. At the time of writing, the total stands at over £3,000, which I’m totally blown away by.

The generosity and support we’ve received has been wonderful I am so very grateful to everyone who has helped me achieve this for Magpas.

What would you say to someone to inspire them to follow in your sporty footsteps?

I knew that the greatest thing to conquer was believing I could do it, which I absolutely did.

I had to get to the 30-mile cut-off by a certain time in order to continue with the full race, which meant putting a huge effort in for the first six hours. Once I'd got there, I worked out there was enough time to do the last 20 miles by the next cut-off time even if I had to power-walk chunks of it (which I did!).

I also had a huge number of sponsorship pledges to spur me on when the going got tough, I wasn't going to let them down.

When the aches, blisters and the soreness came, I was expecting them. But I knew they wouldn't stop me getting to the finish, I had too many reasons for getting over that finish line. And however bad it got, it wouldn't come anywhere near that bad day last June.