Burning ambition to make a difference

Simon Buckden said he would run 100 marathons.
Simon Buckden said he would run 100 marathons.
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PTSD sufferer Simon Buckden has called time on his epic challenge to run 100 marathons in 100 weeks. But, as Catherine Scott finds out, it is no failure.

It is nearly two years since I first interviewed Simon Buckden. He had just started his epic challenge to run 100 marathons in 100 weeks in a bid to raise awareness of post traumatic stress disorder – something he has suffered from since he was in Bosnia 17 years ago.

Back then he was a little known Leeds man who had a burning ambition to try to make a difference for people who suffer PTSD. The condition affected his sleep, his moods and emotions and his relationships.

Now, he is a well known inspirational speaker, often called upon to speak about PTSD at national level and also with the ear of many of the country’s MPs. He has carried the Olympic torch and won many awards. He is no longer just a Leeds man trying to make a difference – he is actually starting to make a difference.

He still suffers from PTSD and knows he always will, but he is now accompanied in his quest by his fiancée Louisa Rodriguez and together they work out strategies for coping with Simon’s symptoms.

However, it has not been an easy road and this week Simon announced that he was stopping his marathon runs just past the halfway point.

“People do not see it as a failure,” says the 40-year-old. “When I set out it was never about the marathons, it was all about raising awareness of PTSD. I had to do something pretty amazing to get noticed and it worked.”

Simon’s reasons for calling an end to his challenge, which also raised thousands of pounds for Help for Heroes is mainly to do with his health.

Last year he was diagnosed with cancer and although doctors advised him to stop running, he carried on, completing another 11 marathons while undergoing treatment.“Being diagnosed with cancer made me realise that I might die and not leave the legacy from all this that I wanted to.

“I didn’t want people to forget about PTSD and all the work I had done to raise its profile. I never really thought that much about the cancer. It was more of a distraction. It was something I was diagnosed with, there was a treatment which would either work or it wouldn’t. Luckily for me it did. But when you have PTSD and you never know what each day will bring and that there is no treatment, the cancer seems secondary. I didn’t want the cancer to detract from my main purpose. There are lots of people talking about cancer but no one talks about PTSD – only me.”

Although he defied the doctors to bring his total number of runs to 51 he has decided the time is right to stop. “It came to a point where it was right physically and mentally right for me to stop. And it is not just about me now. I have responsibilities. We sat down and looked at the campaign and where we wanted it to go in 2013. And actually what we have planned for this year is bigger than the marathons.”

Next week, at the Royal Armouries in Leeds the couple are launching a national campaign, Positive About PTSD, aimed at raising awareness of PTSD further, especially as it affects those who are not in the military and also their families.

“It isn’t just soldiers who are diagnosed with PTSD,” says Louisa whose background is in mental health having spent three years working at the charity Genesis helping prostitutes.

“There are a lot of victims of abuse, rape victims and domestic violence who suffer PTSD as well as the police and other first responders,” says Simon. “But there is no one place that collates the statistics or is there to help them.” They also want to create a support network for the partners and families of people with PTSD.

“They are the silent victims of PTSD,” says Simon. “PTSD affects everyone and yet there is no support for the families.”

Louisa, who is also a motivational speaker, knows only too well just how the condition affects the loved ones of the sufferers after meeting Simon on Twitter.

“I read a tweet about him running with cancer and I tweeted him to say how inspirational I thought he was. We found out that we were both speakers and both in Leeds and so suggested meeting for a coffee. I told myself I had made this really great contact, but I realised even then he was more than that.” But both are fiercely independent and neither wanted to get into a relationship. However, seven months later and as he completed his leg of the Olympic torch relay Simon popped the question and she said yes.

“When I first met Simon he was being treated for cancer and I thought I might lose him. I wanted to spend as much time with him, but I knew the marathons and raising awareness of PTSD were his passion and I wasn’t going to stand in the way.”

Rather than stand in the way Louisa has joined him in his passion. She has given up her job and the pair now work hand in hand to promote the new campaign and raise awareness of PTSD and as motivational speakers. But it is not easy living with someone with PTSD

Simon made a pledge to himself to show the positive side of PTSD.

But behind the positive façade Simon still struggles with PTSD. He has sleeping problems, flashbacks and mood swings.

“It can be hard,” admits Louisa. “One of Simon’s symptoms is that he can sometimes come across as unemotional and at first I thought it was something I had done. He also likes to have everything ordered and tidy in his life.

“We communicate and that’s the good thing and we work out strategies together. We complement each other very well. But there are days when things are bad and I would really love someone to talk to who knows what I am talking about. I have a very good support network but they can’t really understand what I am going through and that’s why we would really like to set something up for the partners and families of people with PTSD.”