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Sunday Edition #74: Polly Morgan

Brendan Murdock talks wellbeing, inspiration, life challenges, and running with artist Polly Morgan as she prepares for the London Marathon.

London-based artist Polly Morgan finds inspiration in the rhythm of her footsteps and the urban landscape surrounding her. 

From her unconventional journey into the world of running to her deep-rooted connection to the countryside, Polly's story is one of resilience, creativity, and the transformative power of movement. Join us as we delve into her passion for running, her artistic process, and the poignant motivation behind her marathon journey in support of St. Peter and St. James Hospice.

B.When did you first discover you liked to run?

P. Around the time I turned 30, I got two dogs. I was living by Hackney Marshes and walked them there daily. One day, I just felt the urge to run. The dogs loved my acceleration in pace, but I soon felt silly running in my wellies. My more athletic sister Emily had recently run the London marathon and advised me on running shoes/distances etc. Soon, I was running 5 miles every morning with the dogs and found it the perfect way to wake up.


B. Describe more about how it feels to you: do you find an emotional switch?

P. I used to listen to Radio 4 while I ran, very rarely music. Then, I stopped listening to anything as I enjoyed the fast-forward sensory examination of an area.

I cover much greater distances than when I walk but go at a slower pace than when I drive and I love to notice the sounds, smells and sights of a place.

Scanning the streets, I feel almost invisible and can go into an almost meditative state. 

B. Tell us about training for a marathon: what does it take to train to run the marathon? Our audience will be reading this when you are going to be at the 11th mile, by the way.

P. My attitude was that I had to fit the schedule around my life and not the other way around. So, I looked at a three-month training plan (which suited me as I was relatively fit to start with) and followed it very loosely.

Most important to me were the weekly long runs to test and strengthen my endurance. Once I had got up to 20 miles, I was less worried about completing the marathon.

I factor in school drops and other appointments across town for the shorter runs. Basically, if I need to be somewhere, I run. London feels much smaller this way; most places are an achievable distance, and you get to know the city so much better.

B. You are an artist, something you discovered unconventionally. How does this connection to the landscape inspire your work or reset your mindset regarding creativity?

P. It could be any landscape, but it allows my brain some fallow time away from screens and work and family life demands. It becomes a receiver, taking in images and sounds. I can never predict how that will come out in my work, but it will. So many of us are conscious about what we consume as food but not the images we feed our minds. Picking new and varied routes brings me into contact with unexpected vistas, which always make a run worthwhile. 

B. What are you working on at the moment? Are you finding it is expanding, or do you find yourself in moments of doubt? Does running and movement health your creative output?

P. I know that my mental wellbeing depends upon sleep, work and exercise. When I feel down even my husband now knows to get me my running shoes, however hard it is to get started it never fails to help my focus. 

B. You spend weekends in Gloucestershire with your husband, kids, and dogs. Do you have an emotional response to the landscape of that region of England? What does it mean to you?

P. We plan to live permanently near Stroud. Aside from having friends and family a little closer there, we love the drama of the landscape. I love the valleys and the frequency with which the landscape falls away ahead of you. It is almost impossible running terrain though as I am hopeless at the near-vertical hills!

B. How do you keep your family healthy and happy? What activities do you all enjoy together—cooking, car journeys, or walking?

P. When we are in Stroud, there is a large food market on Saturday mornings. It's like a huge open-air delicatessen, and I spend too much money there. It's a much more fun way of shopping with kids, as the traders offer them samples of things. Since they can't resist a freebie, they end up trying much more varied foods than they otherwise would. I credit the market with their love of shellfish and kale at such young ages! 

B. You are brave enough to enjoy cold-water swimming (well, more like plunging into a lake). Describe what that weekend plunge means to you.

P. In the countryside, I will do a bit of cross-country running and often end it by stripping naked by a pond and slipping in. I don't spend long in there but always fully submerge. I hate to be another cold water bore, but it is a miraculous way of shocking yourself from one state into the next. I wasn't expecting it to help with grief, but whenever the loss of my sister has felt too much to bear, the pond has somehow helped. 

B. The past year's events have underscored the importance of family and our connections to each other, making this marathon even more significant. Can you explain why this particular day holds of such significance for you?

P. This time last year, my darling sister Emily Morgan received a stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis and died six weeks later.

I had wanted to run my first marathon with her, but it wasn't going to be. St Peter and St James Hospice, who cared for her in her final fortnight, did so much to mitigate the horror of the preceding four weeks I wanted to repay them somehow.

It felt like the right time for me to run; fundraising for them has motivated me to keep going, and the very act of running has helped to process some of the trauma of witnessing what she endured. 

B. You are running to support St. Peter and St. James Hospice. Can you talk about why this charity is so important?

P. We had an unexpected reprieve thanks to St Peter and St James Hospice, who welcomed Emily with just an hour's notice. On the Friday she arrived, no one expected her to outlive the weekend, yet she lived on another fortnight thanks to their patient-centred approach. She was finally pain-free and able to spend her last days surrounded by the people she loved and who loved her. 

To learn that over 75% of those staff are volunteers and 87% of their funding comes from fundraising has been profoundly affecting. I will never be able to thank them enough for selflessly steering us through the roughest of waters.

I hope to raise awareness of the magnificent people behind hospices and funds to help this particular one to continue in its vital work.

B. So what will you be doing to prepare for the day ahead?

P. I am mostly just making sure I sleep and eat as well as can be. I'll stretch the day before but won't run, as I find I'm better after a good break. 

B. You will run past many London monuments, open spaces, and sites. What makes London special to you, and what will you look forward to?

P. I think because this summer I plan to move out of London after 26 years it will feel like a farewell lap of the city. I just want to try to take it all in and focus on the sights rather than the muscle pain.

To support Polly's cause, click on the link below:

Written by:
Brendan Murdock,

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