From RunTok to London Marathon: Wicklow 'slower' runner is building her mileage and community

From Runtok To London Marathon: Wicklow 'Slower' Runner Is Building Her Mileage And Community
Celina Stephenson (centre) decided to challenge herself to take part in the London Marathon, founding an inclusive, social running club for women along the way. Photo: Caio Turbiani (@_goodrunner)
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Muireann Duffy

When talking about physical activity among girls, a variation of one statistic is mentioned time and time again – the number of girls who drop out of sport in their teens.

In an Irish context, data from Sport Ireland backs this up.


A study published last year looking at sport and physical activity among Irish children found an overwhelming majority (94 per cent) of girls at primary level were involved in school sport, but that rate dropped dramatically to 69 per cent among girls in secondary school.

In terms of community sport, 75 per cent of younger girls participated in sport outside of school, compared to 69 per cent of secondary school-aged girls.

The reasons why girls may drop out of sport are well documented and debated, and sporting bodies are now working to address these factors in the hopes of keeping more girls on the pitch or in the pool, or whatever arena they so choose.

But for the girls turned to women who once upon a time may have decided that sport and physical activity wasn’t for them, there’s a new club in town that may help change their mind.


Enter Celina Stephenson, a self-proclaimed ‘slower runner’, and the founder of Runners High (@RunnersHighDublin), a social running club that will make its debut in Dublin this weekend.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Celina Stephenson (@celinastephens0n)


The Wicklow native explains her past experiences with running were plainly arduous.

“I really genuinely thought there was something wrong with me. I was really, really unable to run. I used to do 100 meters and be gasping for air.

“I trained for a 5km with my Mom when I was in Fourth Year, and I did it in like 45 minutes after months and months of training. I really thought I just could not run.”


The change came when, inspired by videos of all runners great and small taking part in last year's London Marathon, Celina decided to apply for a charity spot in the 2024 iteration.

“There was something in me that was like ‘I would love to be able to run’, but I’m not giving myself the chance to do it, so I randomly decided to sign up for the London Marathon.”

Although her longest efforts up to that point had remained in the 5km region, she was now on the hook to do 26.2 miles (42.2km), throwing herself in at the proverbial deep-end.

But why such an extreme goal for a recent non-runner?


'We can do hard things'

“All throughout school I was quite reserved. I was always just kind of scared to step outside the box and do things differently and make these big goals for myself.

“I’m surrounded by people in my family who do the opposite of that, so I think I always has this desire in me to do something really big and challenge myself.”

Running is definitely having a moment, particularly with the rise of running content on social media.

Running videos on TikTok, ‘RunTok’ if you’re in the know, have become hugely popular, covering all the bases of shoes, fuelling, training plans, equipment, and everything in between.

But the world of running can seem like an intimidating place from the outside, filled with athletic-looking people breezing through a sub-20-minute 5km in their bright pink Nike Alphafly’s (that will set you back north of €300 for those of you wondering).

Although Celina says she never set out to become a ‘running influencer’, sharing her journey as a runner who wasn’t aiming to break the minute mile seems to have resonated with many.

She shares when her motivation is low and she doesn’t want train, when she’s mid-run and struggling, and when she sheds the occasional tear after conquering a distance she once thought was impossible.

She always acknowledges when she’s found something hard, but gives the assurance: “We can do hard things.”

“We’re so used to seeing these amazing people doing amazing things, and that is amazing, I love watching that, but it’s not the everyday.

“And because we love watching those amazing things [on social media], that’s what the algorithm gives us.

“If you never see the average person, you start to think that a 25-minute 5km is normal, because that’s all you’re seeing online, when it’s not.”


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Celina Stephenson (@celinastephens0n)

Celina’s honest account of her road to this year’s London Marathon, taking place on Sunday, April 21st, has helped her amass a huge following online, with over 92,500 Instagram and over 39,300 TikTok followers to her credit at the time of writing.

With such a following, some trolls inevitably rear their heads now and then – it is the internet after all – but Celina insists they’re in the absolute minority and even better, they and their unsolicited commentary on her pace have now become a point of humour for her and her fellow running content creator friends.

Because anything those naysayers may comment are washed away in the tidal wave of support she receives from her online community.

“I’m really lucky that genuinely 99.9 per cent of people are so kind. It’s just amazing,” she says.

With something so good, it’s natural that you’d want to take it from the internet and bring it into the 3D.

After toying with the idea of setting up a run club, Celina didn’t exactly decide to go all in from the get-go. Instead, she admits she did the modern-day version of dipping your toe in – she made an Instagram page.

“I made a group chat for girls who were doing the London Marathon and people were saying we should run together, and I just had in the back of my head ‘I need to start a run club’, but I kept pushing it back because I was like ‘that’s not me, I don’t do those scary things’, I thought I can’t do that.”

After a little push from a friend, Celina says she made the Instagram page, “and it kind of lay dormant for a while – there was no profile picture, no description or anything – until I kind of just picked up the courage to fill it out”.

And with that, Runners High came into being.


By some circumstance of the almighty social media algorithm, a large number of Celina’s followers are based in London, and as it’s somewhere she regularly visits to see her boyfriend, holding the inaugural Runners High event there made sense.

Celina says the club offers attendees a space in the running scene, going at a comfortable and inclusive pace, and the support and encouragement that comes with community.

However, describing herself as a naturally shier, reserved type, becoming the hostess-with-the-mostess was yet another trip beyond the confines of her comfort zone.

Of the first event at London’s Battersea Park, Celina admits: “It was absolutely terrifying.

“I walked into the park for the first run crying. No one saw me crying, but I was crying. I was a bag of nerves.”

Runners High events in London have drawn huge crowds. Photo: Caio Turbiani (@_goodrunner)

But nerves or not, the event was a triumph, and the London outings have continued to go from strength to strength.

While she admits Sunday’s run in Dublin will likely bring on some of those nerves again, she knows the feeling at the end of the run is worth the transient jitters.

Sunday’s run, for which the 250 free tickets have all already been snapped up, is being supported by Lululemon, with the brand’s Grafton Street store serving as the location for the club’s customary post-run treat and mingle.

“Because a lot of people come to these events alone, it’s so easy to make friends,” Celina says.

“Especially with so many people emigrating – I know my friend group after this summer will only have two or three of us left in the group –  it’s just nice in your 20s to have that space to meet people like you.”

And for anyone who may be heading to Sunday’s run, or any run club for that matter, with a bit of trepidation, Celina adds: “We all feel like we’re going to go to something like this and we’re going to stick out like a sore thumb, but you’re not.

“The majority of people showing up to a group are going to feel all the types of feelings. They probably woke up that morning thinking ‘oh my god should I just cancel’.

I feel like I came from absolutely nothing, all the way up to a marathon, and sharing it with so many people and growing this community has been such a personal growth journey

“But they’re the situations where you grow, and to know that I’m nervous, and I’m hosting it, everyone gets nervous, and to get through those nerves is where you come out of your comfort zone and actually meet people.

“Once you get through the actual event and come out the other end, you’re going to be so happy that you did it.
“It’s always worth it, it’s always going to be a net positive. Just give it a try.”

Even before its Dublin debut, Runners High has been a resounding success, making a community for young women, many of whom may have felt closed out of the world of sport and physical activity.

But the original goal, the one that started it all, is still yet to come for Celina, but she recounts a saying popular among runners: Training for a marathon is the marathon, the race is the victory lap.

“I’ve never been so proud of myself,” she says.

“I feel like I came from absolutely nothing, all the way up to a marathon, and sharing it with so many people and growing this community has been such a personal growth journey, not only in my running ability, but also my confidence.

“It’s been amazing. I thank my past self for pressing that sign-up button.

“It’s been scary since the day I signed up for it, but I’m so glad I did.

“Because I continue to push myself, I realise that I can do these big scary things.”

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