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Melissa's mission: Get on your marks for Runher event

With nine weeks to go before the next Belfast Telegraph Runher, our official trainer has devised a brilliant fitness programme everyone can follow. Meet some of the readers who have taken up her challenge.

By Stephanie Bell

Growing up in a family immersed in sailing and golf, Melissa Eccles surprised everyone by developing a passion for running.

Not only does she run for a hobby but has managed to combine her favourite pastime with her job in sports marketing, so that she now rides on the crest of her own wave.

And as the official trainer for the next Belfast Telegraph Runher at Titanic on October 5, Melissa will be using her expertise and experience to help readers to prepare for our next big event with a specially devised nine-week training programme aimed at women of all abilities.

A group of nine women who plan to take part in Runher have signed up to complete the programme alongside Melissa and others will be able to follow it online on the Runher section of the Belfast Telegraph website where Melissa will also be answering any queries you might have.

Runher celebrates women - bringing ladies together, regardless of age or ability, to enjoy a sense of achievement and to create a special event that is all about them.

And if you haven't yet discovered the thrill of crossing the finishing line or the joy of simply being part of this all-women event then Melissa hopes to make it easy for you to sign up and enjoy.

As well as complete beginners, she will also help more experienced runners who want to increase their fitness levels and move from running the 5km up to the full 10km.

The 24-year-old from Holywood runs her own business specialising in sports marketing and is a qualified personal trainer.

She also works with a triathlon coach, running a state-of-the-art underwater treadmill facility - Hydro Run.

This is a world-class piece of equipment which helps top athletes improve their performance, as well as people who cannot run on land because of physical disabilities or other medical conditions.

It was while studying marketing at the Ulster University, that Melissa took up running and since graduating she has worked hard to hone her skills as a runner and trainer and build a business combining all of her talents.

She says: "I have a passion for all things health, fitness and wellness.

"I started my own running journey in 2012, when I joined North Down Athletics Club and six months later ran 10km in 40 minutes - I couldn't believe it.

"I've dealt with quite a few injuries along the way, so I've learnt a lot about how important it is to train smart.

"I'm all about mixing it up and challenging yourself - I'm a member of Invictus Triathlon Club and completed my first triathlon at the start of the summer.

"I am really excited to lend my knowledge and experiences to help the ladies achieve their goals and make sure we have a lot of fun along the way."

Melissa is the middle child of three who grew up in Holywood with parents whose passions include golfing and sailing.

Both her parents play golf - mum Lynda (52), an audiolinguist and her dad David (53), a retired civil servant. Her dad is also a keen sailor. Her younger brother Carl (18) played golf for Ireland and she also has an older sister Karen (28) who runs the multi-award winning Comber restaurant The Old School House with her partner, celebrated local chef Will Brown. The couple recently had a son Harry who is five months old.

Melissa says: "No one in the family ever ran, so they all find it strange that I love it so much.

"Also, I was never into sport growing up.

"My parents are mad into golf and every Sunday it would be golfing talk in our house. My grandpa is also a past captain of Clandeboye Golf Club.

"It was only in my last year at uni that I took up running.

"I did the 10km at the Titanic in April 2012 in 46 minutes and got the bug. By November I was able to do it in 40 minutes.

"When I joined North Down Athletics club I got a real buzz from running with a group. I felt the group sessions really tied you together and helped me with my strides. Running kept me so focused and I was able to bring that over to my university studies."

She also took up cross-country running but an injury in her first year when she suffered a stress fracture on her shin stopped her in her tracks.

However, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it was through therapy for her injury that she met triathlon coach David Graham, who she has worked alongside ever since.

She says: "When I got the injury it was devastating but getting myself back to fitness has been a huge learning curve for me.

"I've learnt a lot from training as part of a group and I've found it's about training smart and not overdoing it - it's about quality not quantity.

"I now want to get back to my running strength and while I will be helping other women with the Runher programme it will also be helping me."

Melissa is self employed and together with David, who works at Active Health Solutions in Holywood, introduced the HydroRun which Melissa manages.

The underwater treadmill which allows people to run without adding an additional stress to their body usually has its first customer of the day at 6.30am. Melissa's day starts around 6am and can go on late into the evening, such is the joy of establishing her own business and working for herself, but she wouldn't have it any other way and feels very fortunate to have been given the chance.

Her afternoons are largely taken up by her role with Runher while her evenings are usually spent running or training. She has also launched her own online fitness fashion website aimed at women called Runway 36.

She is a determined young woman who thrives on a challenge and believes you need to work hard to get what you want out of life. Hers is a go-getting can-do attitude - perfect for the ethos of Runher which encourages everyone to get up and give it a go regardless of their levels of fitness.

She says: "I do feel sometimes that it is scary working for myself and when I am not getting days off and working late and always having to plan ahead. I do wonder sometimes would I have been better doing what my friends did and getting a nine to five job, but there is a great buzz as well.

"I am very lucky as I am getting to do what I love and combine my hobby with my work. My mum is a great support and encourages me to go for it."

Outside of running, Melissa enjoys health and wellbeing and spends a lot of her time at the Old School House, which her sister runs with Will.

She laughs: "I love eating healthy food and I am always having conversations about it with Will. I also love pilates and while I am into health I do like the odd glass of Prosecco."

She is single at present and enjoys hanging out with her friends, but detests nightclubs in favour of a quiet meal and a few glasses of her favourite sparkling tipple.

Having had to build up her own fitness again after her injury she feels in the perfect place to launch the Runher training programme and is eager and excited about getting started.

She says: "I think Runher is unmatched as an event. There is such an atmosphere and, while it is great for the women who come first, second and third, in some ways it is even more brilliant for those who cross the finishing line last. That's what is so special about it. It celebrates achievement at every level, it's all athletes, abilities and ages and is about bringing everyone together.

"I'm looking forward to helping the ladies in the training programme achieve their goals. It will be great for them to train with like-minded people while having fun and meeting new people. My aim is to help everyone to get to the finish line and celebrate their success together."

Rebecca Tester (25) is a substitute  primary school teacher from  Carrickfergus. She says:

I've been a supporter of Runher since May 2013 and have run every event since - including the pop-up event last year in Carnfunnock, which I loved.

I run to take away the daily stresses, as well as keeping fit. My last Runher coastal time was 58.28.

I believe taking part in the group programme will give me the motivation and training to push faster and, hopefully, achieve a personal best of maybe 56 minutes for the Titanic Runher."

Sally Anderson (44), a teaching assistant at Bangor Grammar, lives in Groomsport and is a single mum to Thomas (16). Sally only took up running in January at the Bangor Parkrun and has been bitten by the bug. She says:

I took up running when a friend persuaded me to do Bangor Parkrun - wow, what a welcome and what encouragement. I came last but everyone was so pleased. So I went back.

I saw the ad for the coastal Runher and thought 'I can do that', however long it takes.

I absolutely loved it; to be among ladies of all different abilities was fab. There was such a positive atmosphere, even when my legs hurt.

I have also lost two and a half stone and gone from size 14 to size 10, which is an added bonus.

So many people have said to me over the years 'Everyone can run'. I didn't believe this, but I now know it is true."

Beth Allen (28), a solicitor from Belfast, is joining the programme at advanced level. Beth took up running in 2012 inspired by her dad Dave Allen (59) who was diagnosed with prostate cancer. A keen runner, her dad's fitness has played a big part in helping him battle the disease. She says:

My first running event was the 2012 Belfast marathon relay - I ran the last leg. My dad had been diagnosed with cancer not long before that, so my cousin, myself and three friends ran in a relay team and we raised over £1,000 for a cancer charity.

My dad ran the full Belfast marathon in 2013 in under four hours despite being treated for advanced cancer at that time - that was a massive inspiration. I have run in three 10km races, including the Titanic 10km last year, but have never really found the willpower to push myself.

My dad's oncologist told him that he has no doubt that his fitness prior to his diagnosis is what made him tolerate the cancer treatments so well, and that has inspired me to run and train harder for Runher in October.

I've had a look at the programme and it is so different from how I would have done it and I can't wait to get started."

Angela Dunlop (47), from Comber, is a single mum of two grown-up kids. She retired from the civil service and now runs her own small equestrian business. Angela has battled depression after a traumatic divorce four years ago and has taken on the programme hoping it will help combat her illness. She says:

I watch the Parkrun guys training and I always wish that I could join the group, but I'm too embarrassed. I am 5ft 7ins and weight 13 stone.

I'd love to run to keep fit and feel the sense of achievement that my running friends enjoy. The Runher programme will be my first attempt at running and I love the fact that I have the opportunity to be properly trained.

I am looking forward to all the benefits and to having some fun."

All you need to know about the race

You too can follow our 5km and 10km training plans which are set over the nine weeks leading up to the Titanic Runher, starting this Monday.

Simply go to the Runher section of the Belfast Telegraph website and download Melissa's easy to follow programme on www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk.

What you need to know about the Belfast Telegraph Runher Titanic on Sunday, October 4.

How to register:

Thursday, October 1: 10am-8pm at the Pure Running shop in Belfast city centre (opposite Inst school).

Friday, October 2: 9am-6pm at Pure Running.

Saturday, October 3: 9am-5pm at Pure Running.

OR, ON THE DAY:

Sign-on will be from 9am-1pm in Titanic House (next door to the Drawing Office).

The entry fee is £18 until September 20. Late entry from September 21 race day is £20.

BRING THE FAMILY. THERE'S LOTS TO DO

1.15pm - The Dash for Kids (under 10s) is 400 metres around the perimeter of the Titanic Slipways. It's free.

1.45pm - The 5K Warm-Up.

2pm - The Belfast Telegraph Runher 5K.

2.30pm - The 10K Warm-Up

2.45pm - The Belfast Telegraph Runher 10K

A course map and video of the route is available at www.runher.co.uk

Readers can tweet their queries to #BelTelRunherTips or email runher@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

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