From liver transplant patient to marathon runner

Determined runner Gareth Jones refuses to be limited by health conditions

Gareth Jones

by Gareth Jones |

This story begins as I stood in front of my GP who had called me back in the same day I had an ultrasound at a local hospital. I had two lumps in my liver and, although I knew I wasn’t the healthiest person, this came out of nowhere; I was referred, and within a matter of weeks I was being seen by specialists in London.

So, what is the question we all want answered in this situation? ‘What is the worst case scenario?’ I was told it would be a liver transplant. At this point, I became a passenger in a process. Regular scans and blood tests became the norm, I was in freefall, I needed something to occupy my mind. I was losing muscle as the condition took its toll on my body, so I came up with a few physical challenges to help strengthen my body and give my mind something else to focus on.

I set my sights on a local parkrun; it was really tough. I wasn’t a runner by any means, so I walked some sections and managed to muster a sprint finish.

I felt great, a real achievement considering the state of my body, but the euphoria was soon bought down by me returning home and retiring to bed for the afternoon to rest.

Over the following months I deteriorated further and was listed for a transplant, waiting just over a year for a suitable donor. I was ambulanced to hospital and after 15 days was discharged. I was wheelchaired to the main entrance but insisted I wanted to walk down the steps out of the hospital.

Recovery was a bit of a haze. I needed strong painkillers to go out for my daily walk, but over time I was able to walk more and more. I was keen to get back to normal and soon I was back at my office desk. Work filled the time, but I wanted more. I had enjoyed my brief encounter with running, and a local running club had a Couch to 5k group. Perfect, I thought, but something still wasn’t right. I had significant discomfort in my stomach, and after many more tests I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Luckily, because of my transplant status, I was rushed through and I get regular treatment to control it.

After a year’s delay due to the Crohn’s I stood in a car park with a huddle of novice runners. There was a call out for all the different speed groups and each went their separate ways – we walked off to become runners. Slowly, over the following weeks, I got stronger and, at the end, I entered a local five-mile seafront run. It was a glorious day, perfect conditions, and as I finished and was given my medal, running had truly got under my skin.

I joined up with the local club and was amazed at how supportive everyone is. They knew of my transplant but I felt as if I was just another runner.

I wanted to shake the feeling of the transplant defining what I could or couldn’t do. Over time I built up strength and started to take on more races and longer runs with the club, discovering a love for running off-road.

In December 2019, on the day of my 41st birthday, my computer mouse hovered over entry to the 2020 Beachy Head Marathon. ‘Click’ and it was done. Others from the club were also running so we met up and slowly built up our mileage, as well as training on sections of the course. By the day of the event, Covid had changed the way the marathon would be organised, and as someone classed as extremely vulnerable due to the medication I have to take I was glad of the extra measures they had taken.

So much was going through my head as we made our way through the start line. Mainly, ‘Can I actually do this?’ This was 26.2 miles with 3500ft of ascent. I got my head in check and off we went.

A long line of people led the way ahead and soon I passed through the little villages nestling in the South Downs;

I was doing it. I found the latter stages really tough, but with my running club friends we all managed to find that last effort from the top of Beachy Head and were all running again for the final few miles to the finish line. The elation of finishing found me with my arms stretched out as I passed the finish line.

But the story is far from over. I have been given this incredible gift of life, a second chance and my preferred method of travel is now running.

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