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I celebrated my 30th birthday by doing a half marathon

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Gemma Sardinha and her friends ran a half marathon to celebrate her 30th birthday (Picture: Gemma Sardinha)

When a half marathon fell on the same day as running coach Gemma Sardinha’s 30th birthday, her friends turned the race into a party.

‘To a lot of people, running a half marathon on your 30th sounds awful. But as a professional running coach, I didn’t give much thought to it. I run races often, so when the Hackney Half Marathon fell on my birthday, I planned to finish the course and then celebrate after. 

When I turned up to the start line to meet my running group, The Say Yes Club, I knew the race would be different to what I’d planned. They had decided we were having a birthday party half marathon and turned up with helium balloons that they tied to me for the run.

We all stuck together for the 13.1 miles and every time we heard music we stopped and danced on the road. Loads of other runners came over to say happy birthday too and loads of supporters shouted at me from the sidelines. 

It was the perfect birthday party – the birthday I would have dreamed about as a kid. I got to run around the streets of Hackney with my friends in the sunshine, being covered in confetti and having people cheer at me. 

I have been running since I was 12 years old and I think that race was the first time I’ve not cared about time and just gone out there to really enjoy it. We were on the course for two hours and 45 minutes, which is over an hour longer than my personal best of 1:43, but I didn’t care. I didn’t want to get to the end – to have to leave the course and the celebrations with my friends. 

Gemma Sardinha (top left) and her friends ran a party half marathon (Picture: Gemma Sardinha)



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Videos of us partying in the street have since gone viral, which I’ve found really special. There’s one video in particular that someone captured of us that makes me so happy. It showed my friends and I stationary on the side of the road. We were jumping up and down and singing our hearts out while people ran past us, and the creator had written about how seeing us made her realise that girlhood is so wholesome.

I agree. I’ve known the women I ran with for just under a year, meeting them at The Say Yes Club’s Tuesday evening social runs, and it’s incredible that I have found a group who all share the same ethos as me. We all believe in supporting and celebrating each other to achieve brilliant things.

I also love that people seeing videos of us partying might change their view on running. As a run coach, I am often caught up in thinking about pace and timings for my clients, meaning my joy for the sport comes and goes. But this race reminded me – and hopefully others – that it doesn’t always have to be serious. I can be a competitive runner but also sign up for a race just to enjoy it. 

This felt particularly powerful as I was turning 30. Unfortunately, it’s still an age that comes with a lot of pressure. I’d raced a lot this year, including running a marathon in Sierra Leone, perhaps because I subconsciously felt I had to achieve so much before the milestone birthday. But being out there to have fun was a reminder that there’s so much more to celebrate than personal bests and the age at which you achieve something. 

When we were close to the end, my friend nipped into a corner shop that lined the route. She came out with a bottle of Prosecco and ran with it for the final 5K. When we got to the finish line, she opened it and sprayed it all over me. That is the type of run, birthday and friendship worth celebrating.’

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