Marathon run important to show trans and non-binary people can join in – teacher

Marathon run important to show trans and non-binary people can join in – teacher
Cel Smith, who is trans, non-binary and autistic, said running has become a ‘celebration of being myself’ as they prepare for their first TCS London Marathon on April 21 (Handout/PA)

A teacher running the TCS London Marathon said it is important to be “visible” as a transgender, non-binary person “to show that we are out there, we are able to join in”.

Cel Smith said running has become a “celebration of being myself” as they prepare for their first marathon on April 21.

“It’s a huge challenge. It’s something that felt completely impossible to me, running a marathon,” the 40-year-old told the PA news agency.

Cel Smith with their medal from the Royal Parks Half Marathon in 2023 (Handout/PA)

The reception teacher at Larkhall Primary Campus in Clapham, south London, got a marathon place through the Team TCS Teachers scheme which celebrates the way teachers can inspire the next generation.

“I feel very privileged to be able to take part in this way,” Cel said.

“Signing up to the marathon definitely falls into that category of impossible things that I would never, ever have dreamt that I would be doing.

“It’s already one of the most challenging things that I’ve ever done in terms of the training.”

Cel Smith, pictured with their medal for the 2023 Pride Run 10k, said they feel it is important to be ‘visible’ as an LGBT+ person (Handout/PA)

Cel said they are not “a typical runner”.

“At my school it was always about who was the fastest, who was winning the match, or who was the fittest. I was the opposite of that growing up. It wasn’t really anything I had enjoyed or been good at before.

“In a lot of other ways I felt excluded and very different because I was dealing with body issues.

“I was trans and I didn’t know it at the time, which fed into low body confidence, which really affected the way that I related to sport and physical activity and to exercise.

Parkrun is an important part of life for Cel Smith, pictured at the 2023 South Norwood Christmas Day event in south London (Handout/PA)

“I was also autistic and also didn’t know it.

“All that added up to me feeling very different to the other children and quite isolated.”

Cel started running regularly with Couch to 5k during the Covid-19 lockdown four years ago.

“I wanted to do something productive with it and work on something which was important to me.

Cel Smith, pictured after the 2022 Hackney Half, said they are not a ‘typical runner’ but can take part at their own pace (Handout/PA)

“Since then there have been very few weeks that I haven’t run. I’ve really made it into a proper habit and I get so much out of it in terms of my physical and mental health.

“Now I really feel it’s a celebration of being myself, of being able to do something at my level.

“I’m still not any different to how I was as a child. I’m still in a larger body, I’m still trans but I can run slowly and that’s what I do.

“Soon after I finished Couch to 5k, I ran my first 10k, and when I finished that I was really blown away by having done something that for my first 35 years of life I never thought possible or something that I would ever do.

“I remember feeling like if I can do that, what other ‘impossible’ things might I be capable of?”

Cel Smith said they had low body confidence at school which affected the way they related to sport and exercise (Handout/PA)

Cel said they have found they “can take part in physical activity in a way that works for me”.

“It’s a way of celebrating my body and being trans and being a lot more secure and confident in myself.

“With my autism, which I was diagnosed with quite recently, I found that running and taking part in races and Parkrun and other events has really helped me in quite specific ways to manage some of the challenges that come with being autistic.

“With running there’s a lot of sensory experiences which I benefit from. It also really helps me to process my thoughts, which helps me to reduce stress and anxiety.

“I have a lot of social anxiety and I go to the same Parkrun most weeks in Clapham Common and I see the same people every week. It’s quite a low pressure way of connecting with people and connecting with the community.”

Cel Smith is a regular at Clapham Common Parkrun (Handout/PA)

From 2023, the London Marathon introduced non-binary as a gender option for applicants and Cel said: “It feels especially important to be there representing the non-binary community and to highlight the fact that a lot of events and organisations still exclude us.

“With my running I really like to try and be visible as a trans person and as an LGBT+ person.

“I think it’s really important because there are so many barriers faced for our community, for trans people especially. A lot of us have complicated relationships with exercise and with our bodies.

“Doing physical activity is something that brings us closer to our bodies or could make us feel more exposed, and a lot of times organisations and clubs and things are not always understanding or inclusive of trans and non-binary people.

Cel Smith said a lot of trans people have complicated relationships with exercise and with their bodies but running has helped their self-esteem (Handout/PA)

“I would like my presence at the marathon, my presence out there running slowly to help young people and other people to show that we are out there, we are able to join in. That’s really important to me.”

Team TCS Teachers involve their school community in the marathon through the TCS Mini London Marathon events in central London or at their own school.

Cel said this is not only a way to get children to be more active but also to teach them to be kind and to celebrate everyone’s achievements.

Larkhall Primary students raised money for sports equipment when they each tackled the 2.6 miles last year by taking it in turns to do laps of the playground while others cheered them on.

“It was a really nice atmosphere,” said Cel.

“There was definitely that sense of fellowship and supporting each other.

“For a lot of children, they realised that it could be something really fun. It could be something that doesn’t have to be competitive, that doesn’t have to be about comparing yourself to other people, and that could include everyone.”

The school will take part again this year and Cel said it is a way of making children realise they they can “achieve things that you think are too hard or impossible” while “celebrating that it’s for everybody, no matter what your gender is, or your physical abilities, or your body shape and size, or your background.”

– Schools can still sign up to the TCS Mini London Marathon in schools by visiting:

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