Running for Grenfell

Photo courtesy of Guy Tillotson

Kim interviews one of the firefighters from Paddington Red Watch about their incredible London Marathon charity run.

This year’s London Marathon saw over 40,250 runners take on the famous 26.2 mile course. Amongst the strong turnout of Serpie runners, it was hard to miss the nine incredible firefighters from Paddington Red Watch. The group were among some of the first to respond to the Grenfell Fire and were running to raise money for charity. The race took place in record breaking heat but that didn’t stop the determined firefighters from taking on the challenge in full kit, including breathing apparatus weighing a whopping 30kg.

After a surprise visit to the Seymore Centre for the club’s wine and cheese night, I was lucky enough to catch up with one of the firefighters, Guy Tillotson, about the team’s preparations and how they found it on the day.

How much running experience did you all have beforehand and was this everyone’s first marathon?

We were a mixed bunch of runners – about half of us had run London before and the rest of us were first timers! Most of us had done some form of running before and did so for our general fitness – apart from Harry who found he didn’t really like running!

Did you manage to find the time to train together before the big day?

We trained together when we were on shift – most of us live on the outskirts of London or much further away and so we could only run together in-between our night duties or before our day duties. The training runs together were very useful as we could measure our running abilities and adapt to running together. It was also good to train in the fire gear and breathing apparatus sets so we could get used to it.

Members of Paddington Red Watch visit Serpie cheese and wine. Photo credit: Kim Nicholson

The nature of your job must be quite stressful at times, do you find running helps with your overall wellbeing?

Running definitely has positive outcomes for one’s overall wellbeing – all those endorphins give a feel-good factor!

Was training for the marathon a different challenge to the physical demands of your job, how so?

Running in fire kit and breathing apparatus was a very different challenge to the physical demands of our job. The fire kit is designed to protect us from the heat and is not designed for running in and the breathing apparatus is designed to be worn for about 30 mins at a time in dynamic situations – running with it was not in the designers’ minds! However, we are used to working for long periods at a time in discomfort and this helped us.

Which charities did you run for and how much were you able to raise?

The charities we raised money for were 50% to the Firefighter’s Charity and the other 50% split equally between the Rugby Portobello Trust and the Harrow Club W10, both local charities to the Grenfell community. Our target was £25K at the start but we ended up raising £110k!

You joined us back in March for the club’s wine and cheese night, how did you come to be in touch with Serpentine Running Club?

Sid contacted us to come and visit the Serpentine Club and we were touched by this offer and managed to come along to one of the club nights whilst we were on duty. We enjoyed your hospitality and support and it was good to meet other runners. Indeed we met some club members on the day and even though they were quicker than us it was nice to catch up with people.

How was the lead up to the start line on race day?

Despite all the build-up pre-marathon it was still a rush to get all the kit together with the runners and get to the start. We were lucky enough to be starting from the celebrity tent and although this sort of thing doesn’t sit well with firefighters (we are a modest bunch) it did help with getting all the kit ready and putting anti-chafe cream on. We were only interrupted for the odd photo and TV interview along with North Kensington Red Watch (who were also running for charity). This obviously cements the old Paddington Red Watch Hollywood reputation! It was good to meet up with people who had helped us on our journey and were also running. It was also a great venue to watch the elite runners start. Eventually it came to our turn to start, with the adrenalin flowing we set off at a fast pace that was kept up with all the excitement of the crowds cheering us on. The crowds were amazing all the way round the course and really make the London marathon a unique event.

Photo credit: Guy Tillotson

Temperatures soared to 24°c, how did you cope with the added challenge of heavy kit?

With the hot weather forecast we were careful that we did not overdo it and when one of our team got too hot we took the gear from him so he could cool down. We were also helped by gestures from the crowd such as ice cubes and cold towels, which were greatly received.

Your story had inspired the nation, how was it having the support of strangers all the way along the route?

Everywhere we went we had an amazing reception and I would encourage anyone who is thinking about running the marathon to sign up for the ballot. The support also came from all the helpers on the route and it was great to go through the London Fire Brigade (LFB) water stop manned by the Fire Cadets and LFB staff. We also had amazing support from our station watches and other stations as well as our families and friends. Looking at our running profile afterwards we covered nearly 50km due to all the zig zagging across the course.

What was the highlight of the whole experience?

The best moment was when we all crossed the finish line together – we had said we would stick together and we did. I am very proud of the fact that we started and finished the challenge together-it wasn’t always smooth but we got there and raised an amount of money that we hadn’t even considered we could do at the start! I would encourage anyone to do the marathon as it is a unique sporting event even if you think you can’t do it. The training is long and hard and done in the darkest and coldest months but it all becomes worth it!

Kim Nicholson is an art, food and film fiend. When she’s not out running, she can be found walking around in art galleries or making a mess in the kitchen.