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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.”
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 café, 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.
Since completing Couch to 5K, Lorraine Beavis has joined the legions of runners who have signed up to parkrun’s increasingly popular 5km runs.
From being a sporadic exerciser, Lorraine from Leeds says taking up running has helped her lose weight, boosted her confidence and given her a sense of achievement.
A veteran of 52 parkruns and counting, she talks about parkrun’s unique appeal, making new friends and the kick she gets out of striving to improve her personal best.
I did my first parkrun in on December 1 2012 after completing the NHS Couch to 5K running plan in October. I became aware of parkrun as I live very close to our local one and friends told me what was going on. I then found out more through the Couch to 5K community on the HealthUnlocked website.
I do parkrun most weeks, mostly in Woodhouse Moor, Leeds – which is my "local" – but I have also run in Ipswich (my home town), St Albans with my stepson, and Telford, where my stepdaughter lives. I have done a total of 52 parkruns, plus five freedom runs, where you run the route on your own and record your time on the website. I have also volunteered – only on one occasion so far but I want to do more because it was great fun and parkrun is only what it is because of its volunteers.
"The fact that [parkrun] is free [and] anyone can do it – all ages, shapes and sizes, with dogs and pushchairs – makes it so much fun and so unintimidating"
Yes, definitely. My time for my first parkrun was 37 minutes and 35 seconds. My best time at Leeds, which is slightly hilly, is 33:06 and my best time ever is 30:50. My aim is to run under 30 minutes.
Seeing the same faces each week, you inevitably get chatting, and volunteering is also a great way to make friends. Many of the runners meet up for coffee after their run, although I tend to head home for a bacon butty and the newspapers – all part of the Saturday morning routine now!
Running with other people and being timed, you are more likely to push yourself that little bit more than when running alone. Waiting for the text each week that gives your run time is exciting. On the rare Saturdays that I don’t do a parkrun, I feel quite flat. And of course, there is the constant striving for a new personal best. If you don’t make it one week there’s always next week!
"In addition to the parkruns, I’ve run several 10km runs and two half marathons – none of which I would have thought possible before I started NHS Couch to 5K"
I think it’s a brilliant concept. The fact that it’s free, that you can do it virtually anywhere in the country as well as abroad now, that anyone can do it – all ages, shapes and sizes, with dogs and pushchairs – makes it so much fun and so unintimidating. I would encourage anyone to do it.
I was a sporadic exerciser. It didn’t come naturally to me, but I knew I ought to do something so I would go through phases of doing different things but never kept anything up for more than a few months. Running is the only thing that I’ve stuck to – I’ve been running for nearly two years now and would be devastated if I had to give up for any reason. I just wish I had discovered running sooner.
I wasn’t very overweight but have lost nearly a stone and feel so much better – lighter, fitter, definitely more toned – and I feel more confident and proud of what I’ve achieved. In addition to the parkruns, I’ve run several 10km runs and two half marathons – none of which I would have thought possible before I started NHS Couch to 5K.
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.
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