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'I blew myself up at festival campsite'

'I blew myself up at festival campsite'

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.”

'My family's deaths were a wake-up call'

'My family's deaths were a wake-up call'

After both her father and brother lost their lives to heart disease at a young age, Helen Cleary knew she had to get her act together.

Approaching middle age, the mother of three was overweight and unfit and couldn't go up a flight of stairs without losing her breath.

Sport or exercise had never been her thing – school-age memories of punishing cross-country runs and being picked last for team games have a lot to answer for.

But since taking up running with Couch to 5K and parkrun, Helen is a person reborn. She's lost 22kg (3.5st), dropped three dress sizes, and feels healthier, younger and more confident at 50 than she did in her 30s.

The south Londoner is proud to call herself a runner and, whether she's running or volunteering, she explains how parkrun has given her a new sense of belonging.

'Now that I've graduated from Couch to 5K, I need a focus to make me run during the week, and parkrun is perfect for that'

Helen Cleary

Why did you start Couch to 5K?

I was overweight and unfit. I couldn't go upstairs without having to catch my breath and I was embarrassed to go for a walk with my sisters, as I was wheezing after a very short distance while they were striding along. All of that, plus the fact my father and brother both died young with heart problems, made me realise I had to get my act together.

What impact did their deaths have on you?

Dad had a heart attack at the age of 55. He had his first one when he was my age. My older brother died at 37 from  dilated cardiomyopathy. He was overweight and unfit at the time. I always worried about it. I think that now I'm only five years away from my father's age when he died, it has really hit home that I won't live forever and if I carried on the way I was, it would be sooner rather than later. 

How has Couch to 5K changed you?

I have lost three and a half stone and gone down three dress sizes by running and changing my eating habits completely. Now I go running two evenings a week with my husband and do parkrun when I can on Saturdays. I recently turned 50, and I think I am healthier and much more confident now than I was in my 30s. I feel younger now, too. Running upstairs is no longer a problem.

How active were you before starting Couch to 5K?

Apart from walking the dogs, I wasn't at all active. Even the dog walking wasn't very strenuous, as I tended to stroll around the park. I never did anything else apart from that, and would just collapse on the couch in the evenings.

How did you hear about parkrun?

I walk the dogs in Nonsuch Park [Sutton, south London] and happened to be there one Saturday when it was on. I signed up but didn't do anything about it for a year, as I didn't think I could run. My husband started doing parkrun and I didn't go with him to start with as I didn't want to make a fool of myself, but I went to cheer him on. I got talking to a couple of volunteers one Saturday and they persuaded me to give it a go, even if I didn't finish the course. So far I've done 20 parkruns.

Did you start parkrun after completing Couch to 5K?

No, I started parkrun probably two or three weeks into Couch to 5K. I sort of followed the podcast as I ran round the course, then, when it was finished, I just walked and ran the rest of the way.

Have your running times improved since starting parkrun?

Definitely! The first parkrun I did soon after starting Couch to 5K gave me a time of 44 minutes and 35 seconds. I was over the moon when I first got a time of under 40 minutes, and my best time has been 35:22, which was in May [2014]. I have had a month of not running due to illness and birthday celebrations, but I got back into it a couple of weeks ago, and today I did a fun 5km run in Seaford and my time was around 37 minutes, which was better than I had been expecting.

Do you run with friends or family?

My husband goes regularly – his 50th run was on July 12 [2014]. As he is much faster than me, he will often find me when he has finished and do the last bit of the course with me.

Have you made new friends doing parkrun?

Nonsuch parkrun is incredibly friendly. There are several people I chat to there who I consider friends. I've also started volunteering regularly, and the main volunteers and race directors all know me now. Next weekend we are having a "goldenrod party", where a group of runners and volunteers are going to help clear the park of this invasive weed.

'I have lost 3.5 stone and gone down three dress sizes by running and changing my eating habits completely'

Helen Cleary

Why do you volunteer?

The event organisers told us they would like everyone to try to volunteer three times over a year. The first time I volunteered, I had shin splints and was resting for a couple of weeks, and my husband was going to run so it was a way of still being involved. Now I volunteer because I enjoy it. I like being part of the parkrun family. The regular volunteers are a good crowd. Also, I'd love to be that person who convinces someone to take their first steps in parkrun, just like I was.

How does parkrun keep you motivated?

Now that I've graduated from Couch to 5K, I need a focus to make me run during the week, and parkrun is perfect for that. I know I'm not the best I can be yet, and trying to improve my time is a fabulous way to keep me pushing myself.

What do you like about parkrun?

Apart from the completely new social life I have now, I like the atmosphere, the feeling of belonging, the thrill of getting a new personal best, and the feeling of being part of something big. I like the challenge it gives me, and of course I like seeing all my friends there.

What does it mean to you to be able to call yourself a runner?

I am actually in awe of being able to say that. I think back to the kid I was at school, who was always picked last in games, hated cross country and road running, and would have said even then that I can't run. I like calling myself a runner, even though I am not at all fast and still have a lot of improvements to make. It also gives my husband and myself a shared interest and time together when we go out running. The fact that at 50 I can say I am a runner is really a rather fantastic feeling.

Mother and son bond over love for running

Mother and son bond over love for running

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.


How did you hear about parkrun?

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”.'


How often do you do parkrun?

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.


Have your running times improved?

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.


Who do you run with?

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.


Has running brought you and Leon closer?

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.


Is parkrun also a social event?

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.


How does parkrun keep you motivated?

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.'


What do you like about parkrun?

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.


How active were you before starting C25K?

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.


Has running improved your health?

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.

'Running gives me a sense of achievement'

'Running gives me a sense of achievement'

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.


How did you hear about parkrun and when did you start?

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.


How often do you do parkrun and where?

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"


Have your running times improved since starting parkrun?

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.


Have you made new friends doing parkrun?

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!


How does parkrun keep you motivated?

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"




What do you like about parkrun?

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.


How active were you before you took up running?

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.


How has Couch to 5K changed you?

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.

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