An ultra-runner from Lulworth is to run to five military bases, covering 630km between Somerset and Lincolnshire, to raise much-needed funds for Armed Forces charity Help for Heroes – despite having undergone two heart operations.
Charlotte Clarke, 32, will begin where her partner is based and then on to where her father was based with the RAF.
Charlotte spends her days creating fitness and dance classes for a virtual reality company and her spare time undertaking ultra-running challenges – anything longer than the traditional length of a marathon: 26 miles, 385 yards.
Her partner, Mark Duffett, is in the Navy, and her father, Simon Clarke, spent 30 years in the RAF, moving from base to base in the UK, with a stint in Germany.
Over the space of 11 days – from 15-25 April – she will visit five military establishments, starting in Somerset at RNAS Yeovilton, before calling at each of the bases her dad served while she was growing up with him: RAF Odiham, in Hampshire, RAF Marham, in Norfolk, the former RAF Cottesmore – now Kendrew Barracks – in Rutland, and finishing at RAF Coningsby, in Lincolnshire.
“I’ve left the German base out of the challenge as it is quite far to run! I’m doing it in April because that was when my dad came out of the RAF in 2015.
“It’s to celebrate him, the time he served, and to raise money for a charity that looks after those who have served. Originally it looked around 500km, but Google Maps had me running down busy A roads. I didn’t fancy that, so it added an extra 130km.”
In her early teens, Charlotte developed supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), a heart condition, featuring episodes of up to three hours, where she experienced an abnormally fast heart rate. But it wasn’t diagnosed until seven years later when she was at university studying for a dance degree.
“My heart would go up to 180 beats per minute while I was sat still. It was physically exhausting; I would go hot and cold. On rare occasions, I would pass out when the heart surged back into its normal rhythm because it was like a really big punch in the chest.
“At 21, I didn’t want to be on medication for the rest of my life, so surgery was my chosen option as I knew I could be active for life, for as long as I could be. I had it in 2012. Three months after the surgery, if you’re palpitation free, you can pretty much guarantee it’s worked. I made it to four months before it started happening again and I had the second surgery to rework on the scar tissue, at the end of 2013 after I’d graduated.
“I’ve not had any problems since and have been told I have a normal working heart. I’m now super grateful for everything my body can do, and it seems I want to try to find out what the limit is. That’s what brought me to ultra-running.”
And her talent for fitness and ultra-running has also seen her become a social media influencer, with her Instagram account boasting nearly 30,000 followers. But, despite her success and increasing profile online, she’s not forgotten why she started running.
“I got into ultramarathon running to fundraise for heart charities after the surgeries. I caught the bug and here I am, three years later, still ultra-running … and further than ever.
“But I wanted to get back to my initial reason for taking it up which was to raise money for great causes. There are some existing ultra-marathons in the country, where you select your charity and off you pop. But since I now apparently run ultras for fun, to get traction for fundraising I knew had to go a little bit beyond and I wanted the event to be connected to the cause.
“With both my dad and Mark serving, Help for Heroes was an obvious choice. I read that the charity’s income has halved since 2014, to £18.5 million last year. And it has a lot of veterans to support.”
Help for Heroes’ Area Fundraising Manager, Dean Williams, who is often seen fundraising himself, while riding his penny-farthing bicycle or unicycle, said:
“We’re very grateful to Charlotte for her commitment to this immense challenge. It’s good to know her surgery was successful, as she clearly has a very big heart. Thank you, Charlotte.”
Help for Heroes champions the Armed Forces community and helps them live well after service. The charity helps them, and their families, to recover and get on with their lives. It has already supported more than 27,000 people and won’t stop until every veteran gets the support they deserve.
The Charity supports veterans from any branch of the UK military – regulars or reserves – irrespective of length or place of service, and locally embedded civilians (and their families) who worked alongside our Armed Forces.