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Georgina Chalmers’ festival weekend nearly ended in tragedy when a camping gas canister blew up in front of her, leaving her scarred for life.
She was attempting to attach a pierceable gas canister to her camping stove, but the two devices failed to connect properly and gas began escaping.
The leaking gas connected with the naked flame of a nearby camping stove, sparking an explosion that burned 28% of Georgina’s body.
She was airlifted from the Camp Bestival site in Dorset and spent two weeks in a burns unit “wrapped up like a mummy”, as she puts it.
Now Georgina, 27, from Milton Keynes, wants to use her story to warn people about the risks of using pierceable gas canisters.
“Although I had taken precautions, I didn't fully appreciate the risks of pierceable gas canisters,” she says.
“I don't think they should be on sale. I'm not a reckless person – if I managed to blow myself up, so could anyone.”
Georgina was cooking lunch with friends Felix and Jen at Camp Bestival in July 2013, where they were running a children's craft stall, making art with stickers.
“I was cooking pasta on a camping stove,” she says. “When the gas ran out I reached for a spare canister. It didn't have a safety valve, just a dimpled top that had to be pierced.”
Having read the instructions, Georgina proceeded to slot the blue cartridge into the handheld stove.
“I tried to engage the clips on the stove, but couldn't get it to take,” she says.
The canister had been pierced though and as Georgina grappled with the device, she could hear the hiss of escaping gas.
“I could see the escaping gas changing the colour of the air around it,” she says.
The canister slipped from her hands and fell. Within moments, the gas caught the flame of another cooker about three metres away and ignited into a ball of fire.
“I just had time to leap up, turn and run,” she says. “Witnesses later told me they saw a ball of flame, two metres across, rise into the air. My tent, three metres from the explosion, was in tatters.”
Her screams raised the alarm and assistance was swift. People came running, carrying containers of water.
“They tipped it over my head and soon I was standing in a puddle, which soothed the burnt soles of my feet,” she says.
While Felix suffered minor burns, Georgina was burnt all along her right side and her back, and had to take six weeks off from her job.
“Most of my eyelashes had gone and much of my right eyebrow, along with lots of my hair. My fingers had ballooned to twice their usual size,” she says.
She didn’t need a skin graft, but some burns took up to six weeks to heal and have left her with permanent scars.
"I am always thinking about safety, that's what I do in my job,” says Georgina, a project manager for level crossing safety improvements at Network Rail.
“But this could happen to anyone who uses pierceable canisters without a safety valve," she says.
Iain Geddes of the Camping and Caravanning Club says if you’re not familiar with the appliance, read the instructions fully and, ideally, practise how to use it.
“Pierceable cartridges are a cheap and reliable way of carrying fuel and, like any other gas appliance, can be hazardous if not used correctly,” he says.
Further safety advice can be found on the Camping and Caravanning Club’s website.”
Before starting Couch to 5K (C25K), Loraine Mosley was overweight, out of shape and at times even struggled to lift herself out of the bath.
At risk of developing diabetes, the one-time couch potato seized the opportunity to get fit when a group of workmates challenged each other to do C25K together.
The programme, with its structured runs, got Loraine into the habit of regular exercise, and by the time she graduated, she was feeling a real buzz from running.
Following in the footsteps of many C25K graduates, she tried her local parkrun, initially just to stay active, but she soon became addicted to the weekly 5km runs.
A year and 31 parkruns later, Loraine, from West Sussex, has lost over 20kg (3.1 stones), dropped three dress sizes and rolled back the years – all, she says, thanks to running.
"C25K has helped me enjoy exercise."
I wasn't active at all – I was truly on the couch. Some days, the walk from the front door to the car on the driveway was probably the most activity I got. I went skiing a couple of times a year, but as time went on, I was finding it increasingly difficult. My legs were not strong enough to ski in anything other than perfect conditions, and I was starting to sit out a lot of runs.
I needed to lose weight – I was 95kg (15 stone) – and needed to get fitter. We had a competition in the office, with a few of us starting C25K at the same time. We set a penalty that the first one to drop out had to buy the others a bottle of drink each, but we all made it through the programme. There was no free booze, but I got much healthier, so I think we all won in the end.
I can't say I enjoyed all of the programme. There were times I hated it! After the first run, I had to lie down for half an hour. I couldn't believe how hard it was. Now, I'll go out for an hour's run and feel fine. I am never going to be speedy, but that’s not important to me. C25K has helped me enjoy exercise. Feeling my heart beat faster … I enjoy the feeling. I get a buzz from running that I have never known before.
C25K has changed me enormously. I had impaired glucose tolerance and was on the way to type 2 diabetes. I had grown so large that I had started to struggle getting out of the bath. I couldn't hold a conversation and walk for any distance, and I needed time to get my breath back after walking up stairs. In terms of clothes, I had gone up to a size 20 – and I looked old!
Now my glucose levels are normal, I have had to buy a new wardrobe – I've lost over 20kg and my jeans are now a size 14. I have so much more energy, look years younger and am much less stressed. I have completed a couple of 10km runs and have signed up for my first half marathon in September. I can run upstairs while having a conversation and think nothing of it. I don't worry about getting into and out of the bath – I just enjoy life so much more.
'The variety of shapes and sizes means I have never felt embarrassed about running [parkrun].'
There was lots of talk about parkrun on the C25K community on the HealthUnlocked website. It seemed like a natural progression for many C25K graduates. I didn't go to my first parkrun until I had finished C25K. The first one I did was in August 2013. A friend and I had agreed we would try to run one a month to keep up our running after C25K. Somehow that turned into one a week. Parkrun is addictive!
So far, I have done 31 parkruns. All but one of my parkruns have been at Tilgate parkrun in Crawley, West Sussex. The other one was the Bedford parkrun, when I had to be in the area for another reason – I travelled up early so I could fit in a parkrun. All of the runs are held on a Saturday at 9am, so it’s easy to plan around them.
Yes, my times have improved. My first time was 41 minutes and 45 seconds; my personal best is 33:55, but I know I can do better. My target now is to get to the magic 30!
I generally meet friends there, but I tend to run around alone. We’ll have a chat before and after our runs, but we each run at our own pace. I've actually managed to get my husband along once, although he walked part of the route!
I have made new friends through joining the runs. There is definitely a parkrun community. I would have no qualms at all going along to a new parkrun if I were away from home on a Saturday morning.
It's fun! The fact that it's timed gives you something to aim for. At Tilgate, we don't always take it too seriously: we regularly run in fancy dress! There are always people to encourage you. I love the marshals, who are all volunteers. Seeing people much older and much younger giving it a go takes away my excuses about short legs or being old, and the variety of shapes and sizes means I have never felt embarrassed about running.
I love the atmosphere and the positive encouragement (for everyone, not just the front runners); I love the fact I can't kid myself about the time. It also helps that Tilgate is a great venue – it's beautiful. I also love the fact that now I can do it, whereas for years I wouldn't have had a hope of running that far.
The death of a close friend from a heart attack was the life-changing event that led father-of-two Aftab Sarwar to reassess his lifestyle.
Overweight and unfit, the 29-year-old embarked on a structured plan to get fit by going to the gym and watching his calories – losing 20kg (3.1st) in seven months.
Aftab then started the NHS Couch to 5K (C25K) running programme as a way to keep losing weight, and he soon caught the running bug.
He is an active member of his local Barking parkrun, in east London, where he has clocked over 40 runs and is a regular volunteer.
“C25K got me running, and parkrun keeps me running,” says Aftab, who can always be seen proudly sporting his C25K graduate T-shirt while running.
I found out about parkrun on the HealthUnlocked C25K community while doing C25K, but I didn’t feel confident about running 5km at that stage, so I thought I’d wait until I completed the nine-week programme. I did my first parkrun on June 29 2013, about a month after graduating from C25K. I have a C25K graduate T-shirt, which I always wear on my parkruns.
I do parkrun almost every week, and when I can’t – because I’m running in another event the next day, I’m injured or I’m fasting for Ramadan – I volunteer. So far, I have volunteered seven times. My local parkruns are Barking and Valentines; I have run Barking 41 times and Valentines just the once.
"I always hang around after finishing to cheer everyone on as they finish their 5km"
I ran my first parkrun in 25 minutes and 24 seconds, and that was my fastest 5km at the time. I have steadily improved my time, and my personal best is now 21:45. My aim by the end of 2014 is to improve on that, and maybe even run 5km in less than 21 minutes.
I run alone the majority of the time; however, I have encouraged many people to do C25K, including my dad and a friend at work. They have both graduated, and they join me at parkrun on occasions. When they do, I tend to run with them to set the pace, so they can achieve their target time. I helped my dad set a personal best of 31 minutes a few weeks ago.
Barking parkrun has a great community. The parkrun is organised by members of the Barking Road Runners club, and they are very friendly. I always try to arrive a bit early to catch up with everyone, and hang around after finishing to cheer everyone on as they finish their 5km.
"I began C25K to lose weight and improve my health"
I tell everyone that C25K got me running, and parkrun has kept me running! C25K gave me the structure to build up to 5km, while the parkruns give me something to aim for every week. I’m motivated by my desire to improve on my time, achieve 50 parkruns and collect points towards the annual points competition. I was also recently named Barking parkrunner of the month and got a voucher for a free pair of trainers. It was great to get that recognition from the organisers.
Where do I start? The community, people giving up their own time to put on an event for others, the advice that more experienced runners give to help me along, running in a group to help me improve my times and seeing others work hard and keep improving their times. A junior parkrun has been set up near me, and I have been taking my four-year-old daughter along – so parkrun has also allowed me to have some good moments with my daughter.
In October 2012, I weighed 94kg (14.8st) and had been living a sedentary lifestyle for about 10 years. A good friend of mine recently passed away from a heart attack. He was 29. That prompted me to change my lifestyle. I started to calorie-count to lose weight and began going to the gym two to three times a week. Seven months later, I had lost 20kg, and I took up running to keep losing weight.
I began C25K as a way to continue to lose weight and improve my health. I didn’t expect to particularly enjoy running because I had never run before apart from cross country at school, and I hated that! However, I soon got the running bug and began telling everyone I knew about how great C25K is. By the time I graduated, my weight was down to 69kg, and I have maintained that ever since. I have kept active by running three to four times a week, and running has become a hobby. I have also gone on to do 10km runs and half marathons. I make sure to wear my C25K graduate shirt at each event to remind myself of what got me running and to promote this great programme.
When Saturday comes for mother-of-two Julia Dallyn, it can only mean one thing: parkrun.
Since graduating from Couch to 5K (C25K), parkrun’s 5K runs have become a permanent fixture for the Bristolian.
Apart from losing weight and helping her to de-stress after a busy week as a nurse, running has had the unexpected benefit of bringing her closer to her adolescent son Leon, who has also developed a taste for running thanks to C25K.
“When we started running, he would open up as we had no interruptions and he wasn't attached to a computer,” says Julia, who goes by the name Juicyju on the C25K forum.
I first heard about parkrun after joining the C25K community four weeks into the running programme. My big plan after finishing C25K was to do the 5K+ Stepping Stones podcast for C25K graduates and then start parkrun. I found a local one on the internet, signed up and went along with my 11-year-old son Leon. I was full of fears about being last while he was hell bent on coming first! He was immediately hooked.
'Part of my wind down at the weekend is waking up on a Saturday and thinking “hooray, it’s parkrun day”.'
I have done 34 parkruns so far. I’ve loved them all and finished all of them without collapsing. My son and I do parkrun every week in Ashton Court, Bristol. It’s a 2.5km climb and then the same again but downhill. Whenever we go away, the first thing we do is to see if there is a nearby parkrun. We have also done Killerton and Peterborough parkruns. No parkrun is the same.
My very first parkrun time was 34 minutes in April 2013, and I have gradually chipped away at it and after a year, I’ve got it down to 28 minutes. I still use the 5K+ Speed podcast to improve my times. My son started off with the same time as me, and his best time is now 24 minutes. He powers way ahead of me. I’ve also started volunteering at my local parkrun, which is another way to get a running buzz.
I always do parkrun with Leon. I have introduced it to friends and family. I have also become ‘coach Juicyju’. I’ve been coaching four kids – the 'Juicy juniors' – including my daughter – through the C25K plan. They are currently on week 5 run 3, and the grand finale will be a parkrun. I intend to get them graduation medals.
When we started running, Leon was 11 years old and never spoke to me much about stuff going on with him. When we started running together he would open up as we had no interruptions and he wasn't attached to a computer or other electronic device. We enjoy one another’s company and we have discovered a shared love for running. We are so close now, and our conversations at home are mostly about running. We are drawing up our new training plan tonight and choosing new kit, ready for our holiday next week: a 5km run every day and a mile swim later in the day.
There are lots of people I now say hello to. A while ago, someone came up and said: “You and your lad really inspire me to keep going”, which was really nice. There is a girl about my son’s age who he desperately tries to beat every week. He hasn’t yet. I think he’s taken a shine to her as he always goes bright red when he sees her! Everyone meets after the run in the cafe, but we don’t often stay as I tend to swim after. If we do, we are always welcome.
I have quite a stressful job and part of my wind down at the weekend is waking up on a Saturday and thinking “hooray, it’s parkrun day”. My son always has his gear layed out the night before and is up early to get ready. I’m always anxious beforehand but the thought of improving my time, seeing the beauty of the park and being outdoors always wins! I love all the running stats that parkrun provides, it’s really useful. We love looking at the photos of the run (which are published online) and having a laugh at ourselves too.
'When I do a long run it clears my head, stabilises me and helps me see a way forward more clearly.'
I like the fact that parkrun is always held on the same day and at the same time, which helps with planning and also helps you get into a routine, which is so important with exercise. I get a real buzz from taking part and being surrounded by other fellow runners and all the people cheering us on, being outdoors in beautiful and natural surroundings.
I swam fairly regularly but never ran. I had spent most of my life thinking runners were all a bunch of boring weirdos … How we change! I took up running because it was easy to fit it with my work as a community nurse in Devon which involved lots of travel. I felt that if I could walk out of my house and just run, and be back in 30 minutes it wouldn't encroach on my busy life and I could do it anywhere, anytime. I’ve even done a run in Devon, in between work commitments. I also realised I was a slob and needed a focus in life, something that gave me a sense of achievement.
Running has changed me for the better in so many ways. I’ve lost 1.5 stone (9.5kg). My body shape has changed. At 43, I’m fitter, more toned and stronger than I’ve ever been. I have more energy and joie de vivre. Running has helped me find a way to cope in life. When I do a long run it clears my head, stabilises me and helps me see a way forward. The blog has been my support and I really enjoy posting about all my running experiences. Since graduating from C25K I’ve completed two half marathons and a 10k race. My goal now is to become an ultra runner.
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