Words and Photography by Leanne Magill

There is humble and then there is Laura… those that know Kilkeel based Laura Graham and her humility towards her achievements will know what I mean. However; lets assume you have never heard of Laura Graham for now and hopefully being her friend I can add a bit more of a personal touch than those ‘big tabloids’ she’s been gracing lately.

Laura (mum of four young children) decided in 2009 after her father Drew, took a heart attack to raise money by running the Belfast marathon for Chest, Heart and Stroke as her father (who recovered) was well cared for by the charity and wanted to give back.

Now, I have to tell you… I was surprised even though I knew Laura was fit. We’d been taking our babies to a local gym during their nap time and going for a run on the treadmill while they dozed. But Payten (Laura’s first child) wasn’t long born, infact she wouldn’t have been five months old when Laura took off like rocket and that was it… Laura caught the bug for running events.

Three more babies later Laura decided to give the Belfast Marathon another go in May 2015 and came in tenth overall lady with a time of 3.19. As Laura’s confidence grew, she decided to try more running events smashing personal bests and coming in first. The game changer was Dublin in 2015 when Laura came in with a time of 2.56 which then opened up a qualifying time for London.
Joining a local running club, Mourne Runners and now with a coach Ryan Maxwell, for guidance Laura was on a roll, she says ‘London 2016 I got my time down to 2.48 then the following week I got 2.48 38 secs in Belfast coming in second which I totally didn’t expect but now I think I put too much pressure on myself in London as I didn’t exactly love it. So from that then trained, raced and ended up getting National Half Marathon in Dublin July 2016 and Dublin Marathon Oct 2016 got first national which opened a few more doors.’

This next bit of Laura’s journey is where we can all really learn from…

In April of this year Laura was lined up with the worlds greatest elite runners in London which was intimating, however comfort was found when she ran alongside another girl who was trying for the same time. But then at mile 16 the girl dropped out.
‘This was like a slap in the face. ┬áIt was a lonely road home and unfortunately at mile 23 I took a head wobble started thinking I’m useless. I shouldn’t be here, I’m not going to do well here today it was then I stopped looking at my watch and my 2.37 time that I was running at quickly disappeared. Unfortunately I ended up coming in ten secs slower than my previous marathon time which still to this day annoys me but a massive learning curve to not go out as quick. I am to mentally keep focus and keep the belief.’

The way our minds are designed is to protect us, to stop us at all costs from anything that might scare or hurt us. Laura’s mind was working against her will, despite the fact she was actually keeping her time in the race. The girl dropping out pushed her mind into panic mode and the doubts were crept in.
What you think is more important than what you do, when you understand your actions are powered by what you think and that you can control your thoughts you will succeed. Take ownership.

Not to be dismayed, Laura really focused herself once again, regaining discipline in her mind and eight days after the London Marathon was standing at the starting point ready to run Belfast Marathon with a sore foot.
Mind set on beating her own time and not competing against anyone else.
She glided through it, I haven’t saw a photo of her yet during the race with her feet touching the ground and breaking through the ribbon as first lady in with a personal best of 2.41 straight into the arms of her husband Thomas (tear jerker moment), Laura Graham became the first Northern Ireland Athlete to win the Belfast Marathon since 1999.
With a classic Laura comment ‘I could of ran on, it was the most comfy marathon I’ve ever ran’.

Most people don’t reach their dream not because of failure but because they stop at failure. Winners make their failures lessons which will make them stronger and wiser. Failure is nothing but motivation to winners.
In fact you can only call it a failure if you quit, if you get back up and keep going then its merely a hurdle. Learn the lesson and find a new path, there is always a way.

Laura would like to encourage anyone who would be thinking of giving running ago whether road or hill running, ‘not every race you’re going to get a personal best but you’ve got to do your best each day, you won’t regret it the feel good factor that comes with it is second to none. Believe and you will achieve.’