Running for the Royal Hospital – our top team takes on the Vitality Big Half marathon

3rd March 2020

Last Sunday, six intrepid staff members put on their running shoes to raise money for the Royal Hospital and Chelsea Pensioners at the Vitality Big Half marathon. 

More than 16,000 runners joined London’s community running festival on a day that was thankfully bright and clear. with no sign of Storm Jorge! Starting by Tower Bridge the runners went through the boroughs of Southwark, Tower Hamlets, Lewisham and Greenwich, finishing up by the Cutty Sark. They were joined by friends, family and onlookers, there to support people in the half marathon and two shorter runs – and to enjoy music, food and entertainment at the free Vitality Big Festival in Greenwich Park. 

Team Royal Hospital Chelsea joined Londoners of all ages, backgrounds and running abilities at the world-class running event. They ranged from old hands with plenty of experience to keen amateurs – showing that anyone can take part, provided they’re up for a challenge and ready to have fun! 

We were very proud that all our runners crossed the finish line with more than respectable times, met their fundraising targets – and had an unforgettable experience!

“It’s the best feeling – doing something you didn’t think possible a year ago” – Alex Stewart

Alex Stewart, who organises running events for the Royal Hospital but had never taken part before says the Vitality Big Half was an extraordinary experience, from start to finish.

“Making it to the start line was a mixture of electricity and pure astonishment. I had crossed the first hurdle. Sadly, I was separated from the team, but I bonded with some of the other runners. 

Then, when I started running, adrenaline kicked in and my field of vision narrowed. For a brief moment I lost myself in a competitive fog. I overtook one person, and another, and another! I was on top of the world! 

It wasn’t until about the halfway mark where my feet had begun the slow degradation from chiselled, athletic plinths to pulsating, rather painful stumps that I began to appreciate the community element of it all. Everyone on the side-lines cheered you on and offered you sweets and water, and the other runners became a strange, transient family as you ran together. I recognised many of the people that I had overtaken at the beginning slowly disappear over the horizon and I was happy for them.

“Knowing that you’ve finished has a transformative power”

You cannot overstate the feeling of going over the finish line, regardless of the distance or result. Knowing that you’ve finished has a kind of transformative power, that I hadn’t anticipated. If I could walk, I’d skip down the halls – but right now I’ll settle for smiling every second of the day! 

I was pleasantly surprised by how many people supported me – family and friends through the fundraising campaign, runners offering me advice at the beginning, the person who offered me a jelly baby halfway and the friends and colleagues who greeted us at the end. It epitomised everything good about humanity and I’m happy I did it. 

“If anyone wanted to raise money for the Chelsea Pensioners, you won’t find a more rewarding way”

The best thing, (other than finishing) is knowing that I’ve made a difference in some way. I’ve successfully raised over double what I initially set out to do, and as part of the team we’ve raised almost four thousand pounds. That money will make a real difference to the Chelsea Pensioners, and I can rest happy that I’ve contributed to something bigger than myself. If anyone wanted to raise money for the Chelsea Pensioners, I can say with authority that you won’t find a more rewarding way than running a half marathon!”

Meet our team

We asked our runners to tell us their motivation and inspiration – and how they prepared for the big day. Click on their names below to read their post-race interviews:

Gary Lashko
Alex Stewart
Jo Cochran
Lynsey Thorpe
David Newton
Lukaz Onyszkow

Special thanks to Beth Williams

Beth Williams
In addition to our staff team runners, we also had an additional runner taking part in the race, raising money on behalf of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, Beth Williams. Beth wanted to help raise funds for the Chelsea Pensioners and explained;

"I am not a runner and so I am stepping out of my comfort zone to help raise funds for the Pensioners, so please help me to help them".

Beth was delighted to complete the course in her first ever run, managing a respectable 3 hours and 3 minutes. Beth is attempting to raise £300 and is over half way past her target, you can help her meet her ambition by sponsoring her here.

Training tips from our resident marathon expert  

Chelsea Pensioner and marathon expert Tony Hunt is whipping the team into shape! Having run 42 marathons, with a fastest time of under two hours 59 minutes former running and swimming coach Tony has plenty of expertise:

“I enjoy helping people and passing on my knowledge to the kids”, Tony says.

His extensive experience means he knows a thing or two about how the runners should approach their challenge:

“The main thing is to be positive”, Tony says, “Aim for a stable, steady run and get used to what your body can do. Do your best, but keep something in reserve. If you feel tired, back off – be honest with yourself.”

Tony has been preparing the team with timed trial runs and uses a 1916 World War I officer’s whistle to keep them on their toes. 

Take on a challenge for the Royal Hospital

If reading this article has inspired you, why not take on your own challenge event? From ambitious marathons to leisurely dog walks there are a host of ways in which you can boost your fitness and have fun while you raise money to improve care and quality of life for Chelsea Pensioners.  


If you’re interested in taking part in a running event for the Royal Hospital call Alex Stewart on 020 7881 5219 to find out more.


There's still time to support the runners, to donate to the team visit the team's Sponsorship Page.

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