HIGH5 Stories: Nicola Curtis


While sport brings us all plenty of #HIGH5Moments, we know that the journey to get there can be challenging, but that’s what makes it great, right?!

Over the next few weeks we’ll be showcasing real people’s stories behind their #HIGH5Moment – the highs, the lows, the little things that make that HIGH5 worth it!

Here’s Nicola Curtis’ story behind her HIGH5 Moment…

Nicola Curtis

Nicola HIGH5 Moment

My HIGH5 Moment:

Finishing the London Marathon with my twin sister last weekend!

The story behind my HIGH5 Moment

I have been running competitively since my twin sister Lindsay and I joined the cross country team at our school when we were 11 years old. We did well and were advised to join the local athletics club Riddings AC. We trained with the club at the local track twice each week and entered competitions over the years. I ran in the English Schools event at Don Valley Stadium when I was 15 years old in the 800m – it was a great experience  running with the best girls in the country for my age. I didn’t place that high but just to be there was a great feeling.  

We were about 16 when we decided to leave the sport for a few years, partially due to wanting to be ‘teenagers’. It wasn’t long before we realised how much we missed running and by age 21, we had both returned to the sport.

Nicola & Lindsay My sister and I entered the Age UK Leeds Abbey Dash, running side by the side the whole way. I then ran the Northern Indoor Track Championships, where I came in second with a 3K qualifying standard of 9.49.9. This enabled me to run at the 2009 European Trials at the EIS Sheffield, a great experience that placed me on the same stage as several elite athletes. I placed around 12th but managed to run a big PB of 9.41 which is yet to be beaten. I was then selected to run for the North of England at the Cardiff 10K in March, which I was delighted about – my very first North vest!

This is when I first started to experience a running injury that would plague me for the next 6 years. I felt confident going into this race, but when I started running, I noticed that I seemed to be dragging my right leg. This got worse throughout the race, and I ended up coming in two minutes slower than my normal time. I was disappointed and put it down to a lack of pre-race stretching or a simple muscle pull. But as I continued to train, I noticed that whenever I tried a fast tempo run, I had to stop and shake my leg as I tried – unsuccessfully – to get rid of a recurring numbness.

I did a few more races and this happened at every one. During some races, I had to drop out because the numbness was so strong that I didn’t feel like I could carry on.

“Out of frustration, I posted a status on Facebook… At last I had found a diagnosis – and I was so happy!”

I saw several professionals as I tried to determine what was wrong: I saw physiotherapists and chiropractors, I tried acupuncture, doctors ran nerve conduction studies and tested my blood for diabetes. Nothing was easily identified as to why my leg was going numb. Everyone seemed as baffled as I was.

This carried on for a few years, I raced and trained on and off and still I had the same symptoms. Eventually, I saw another local physiotherapist who, after some research, thought the problem might be vascular in nature. I got an MRI scan, but the results came back normal. I felt like I was at square one again. Out of frustration, I posted a status on Facebook…

It was then that Physiotherapist emailed me a case study of a marathoner who’d been found to have something called iliac artery endofibrosis, an under recognised condition characterised by intimal thickening of the iliac artery. Luckily, he has been successfully operated on. 

When I read the symptoms, I realised that they were nearly identical to the ones I was having. At last I had found a diagnosis–and I was so happy!

To fix the problem, I had to be referred a consultant at St. George’s Hospital in London who happened to be the only person in the country performing these kinds of operations. After initial tests confirmed my earlier diagnosis, I was booked in for surgery. Two weeks later, I was able to return to gentle training. 

Nicola Curtis

I am now three years post-surgery and have been training well and back competing in races. In September 2017 I ran my half marathon debut and won at the ABP Coastal Half Marathon in 1.28.15 which gave me a championship entry into London marathon for 2018, which was going to be my next challenge – my sister Lindsay also had a qualifying championship time and our plan was to get stuck into marathon training in the new year.

The day for London came and with it came the heat – a blistering hot day… this worried us a bit but Lindsay and I both decided to stick to the plan of 6.45 mile pace. In hindsight we should have started off slower but you never know how much the heat is going to affect you on the day.

We were going okay and on target until around 10 miles when I started to falter, I was having to take water on at every mile, which is very unlike me. The heat was getting to me a lot and there was still a long way to go. From this point I ran and walked the remainder of the race.

Lindsay and I lost each other just after 10 mile but amazingly found each other again at mile 21 and we helped each other through the last 5 miles – Lindsay was in quite a bad way but we made it to the end crossing the line hand in hand which was a fantastic outcome to a very tough day!

“People always talk about the ‘runners high’ and this is so true. There is no better feeling than knowing all your hard work has paid off.”

Running can be a bit of a rollercoaster ride with lots of  ups and downs which I have experienced over the years, it can be a tough and brutal sport when injuries persist and stop you training and competing but it can also be the most exhilarating thing too. People always talk about the ‘runners high’ and this is so true. There is no better feeling than knowing all your hard work has paid off after running a PB at a race.

I hope to bring my time down over the half marathon distance this year and then aim to run another spring marathon next year to give it another bash – the marathon has not beaten me just yet!!

Keep checking in with us on our blog to hear more inspiring HIGH5 Stories. Got your own sporting story to share? Tell us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram