Miles for cures

13th June 2022

We’re incredibly lucky that we are supported by inspiring and generous Curestarters who take on challenges such as marathons to raise much-needed awareness and money. This inspiring spirit is reflected in the innovative pioneers, our researchers, who use this funding to discover new cures. Our Chief Executive, Helen Rippon, shares her thoughts on the connection between the mileage of a marathon and the miles needed to create cures.

Headshot of Helen Rippon

Having run four marathons to date and spent a decade working as a research scientist in a former life, I think I’m equipped to draw some parallels between the two. I’ve got the successes – the medals and the scientific publications - to show for it. I’ve got the battered toenails and the failure-strewn lab books too. Both are journeys of euphoric highs and dispiriting lows. Success rests as much on your ability to slog through the slumps as sprint across the peaks.

The beginning – be it the start line of a race or a new line of research - is always going to be terrific.

You’re tackling a new challenge and you’re going to achieve something remarkable! That enthusiasm and energy make for rapid early progress.

But then comes the difficult middle bit. In a marathon, that’s when your legs start to stiffen, the novelty of the race has worn off and you realise you’ve still got an awfully long way to go. And maybe that moment comes sooner than you expect – as it did for me in London in 2019. In research, at some point reality hits that biology is always more complicated than you imagined. Experiments give weird results that you can’t explain. Or worse – they don’t work at all and you’re stuck troubleshooting. It’s here you must decide to dig in. Focus on the next step. Run the mile you are in, and then the next one.

Because if you are still moving forward, no matter how slowly, then you are still making progress.

And the end? Well, in the last mile, when that all-important medal feels within reach, it’s amazing how easily extra reserves and a new burst of speed are found. Maybe the finish line isn’t so defined in research - and in some ways, there never is one - but there are milestones. Distinct successes. Publishing your hard-earned findings, getting the next grant, presenting at a conference, starting a clinical trial: landmarks that usher you into the next phase of research and to the next great idea.

There might not be any bling to reward a scientific marathon but making progress in the race against cancer is truly as rewarding as it gets.


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