Therme Manchester Marathon winner opens up about being hospitalised during her childhood

It’s been quite the journey for Becky Briggs.

At the Therme Manchester Marathon on April 3, she took five minutes off her marathon personal best and won in a time of 2:29:06. It saw the 22-year-old exercise and nutrition student selected for this summer’s European Championships – the first major outdoor championships where she will wear the Great Britain vest – and you sense this is just the beginning.

Briggs has already donned the British vest at the 2019 World Cross Country Championships and at the 2020 World Athletics Half Marathon Championships but this is a step above in her career.

It’s incredible to think that her victory in Manchester was just Briggs’ third ever marathon after the British Olympic trials at Kew Gardens and last year’s London Marathon.

Such a meteoric rise through a distance which she has only prioritised since 2020 is testament to a mindset that is built on the perspective that things were once much worse.

When Briggs was 12, she was hospitalised with an eating disorder and experienced treatment at a NHS impatient unit that the 22-year-old described as “frankly appalling”.

“The marathon at Manchester meant so much because if I could go back and tell a 12-year-old me sat in hospital, when I wasn’t even allowed to walk or leave the seat let alone being able to run, then I would say that getting back into a healthy mindset is so worth it,” Briggs said.

“Just because something has gone wrong in your life or if you’ve had a few bad years it doesn’t mean that life is over and there’s so much ahead for you.

“I suffered from an eating disorder that was so based on running and not my self image. It was all to do with not feeling good enough and to have that at such a young age – at year eight at secondary school – and being plagued from that for the next 5/6 years, taught me a lot about myself as a person.

“When you are at complete rock bottom and to be able to bring yourself back up gives you a lot of mental strength. Honestly, it’s one of the biggest factors to where I am now, especially in the marathon where you can do all the training you want but it’s so much more about mindset.”

Becky Briggs (centre) with Naomi Mitchell (right) and Georgina Schwiening

Briggs now runs 26.2 miles for a living and the experience of not being able to control her life at moments during her childhood has seen her view the everyday things in life in a different perspective.

“People [at the NHS impatient unit] thought it [eating disorder] was to do solely with your mental health and not just your physical health,” Briggs recalled. “That’s why I struggled for so many years afterwards. I managed to get myself out of hospital but nothing had changed in my mind. 

“I had absolutely everything taken away from me including no contact with friends or family. I had no control over what I did during the day so to even be able to go for a walk outside or eat whatever now and make that decision is such a difference. When you’ve had everything taken away from you, there’s an appreciation for the things you get back so much more.

“The amount of messages [after the Therme Manchester Marathon] that I had from people, some who I wasn’t really in contact with anymore, was amazing. Some saw me really struggling and disappearing from school for a few months so to come back looking like a different person meant the most. They now see that I’ve actually done quite well and I could’ve given up at a younger age but I’m really glad I stuck at it and do what I love.”

Experiencing such trauma a decade ago and the subsequent support has now put the sport in a different light for Briggs. She trains at St Mary’s University in London and at City of Hull – her home town growing up – and she dedicates a lot of her current progression to coach Geoff Watkin.

He was one of the first people to hug an emotional Briggs at the finish line in Manchester, a race which saw her beat Naomi Mitchell by one minute and 48 seconds.

What’s remarkable is that due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Briggs only met Watkin a day before her first ever marathon – the Olympic trials at Kew Gardens.

He understands me and although we fall out often he believes in me so much more than I did in myself. I never thought I’d run like I did in Manchester but he did,” Briggs said.

“Me and Geoff have phone calls pretty much every single day so in a way I think we probably have more communication and in a way it feels like he has more of a presence than a coach who is with me physically for my sessions as I have constant feedback.

“During the Manchester Marathon, I just kept telling myself I was fine. I didn’t have any specific mantras and it was just positive and consistent pep talk. Looking back at the footage, I just looked so focused and I just wanted to get to the finish line in the fastest possible time.”

Briggs is now tied with  former 50km world record holder and 2016 Olympian Aly Dixon on the UK all-time marathon list. At 22, she has all the time ahead of her and could climb through the rankings quite quickly.

Competing against the likes of the more experienced Charlotte Purdue and Jess Piasecki in the short-term may be challenging but Briggs is one of those special athletes with a remarkable story of defiance that could propel her to heights that once seemed impossible.

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