The mother of two is among the fast runners at Rock ‘n’ Roll Liverpool this weekend.
Tony Clarke coaches the Liverpool Harriers Athletic Club and occasionally hears runners moan about the struggles of trying to squeeze in workouts amidst their hectic lives.
Short on sympathy, Clarke often responds thusly: “Look at Rachael Burns.”
Burns is a 36-year-old mother of two—an 8-year-old son, Oscar, and 6-year-old daughter, Polly. She works part-time as a pre-school assistant. In between schlepping the kids to and from school, helping with homework, cooking meals and trying to remain sane while supervising 2- to 4-year-old preschoolers, Burns trains.
Recently selected to represent England Athletics, Burns will toe the line Saturday morning at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Liverpool 5K, where her personal best is 16 minutes, 34 seconds. The 3.1-miler serves as a buildup for Sunday’s main event, when thousands of runners and walkers will tour the Beatles’ birthplace in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Liverpool Marathon & 1/2.
Of the thousands of hard-core runners who’ll be hoofing it about the streets, chasing the clock, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more compelling story than Burns’.
The Cliffs’ Notes version: Burns ran a little cross country in high school, then served in the Royal Navy for seven years, exited the Navy to start a family, began running some road races, dabbled in the marathon, switched to shorter distances barely three years ago and in 2016 has been popping personal bests like some do breath mints.
There also was a little incident in late 2012 when Burns collapsed near her home while on a workout, went to the doctor the next day and discovered her brain had hemorrhaged.
Of Burns’ tale, Clarke says, “Amazing, completely amazing. Fantastic.”
Burns first joined a running club in 2011, knocking off two marathons that year, clocking a 3:44 and 3:37. Noticing runners from Clarke’s club tended to regularly have medals draped around their necks, she switched clubs.
Clarke trained Burns for the 2012 New York City Marathon.
“She was in sub-3 (hour) shape,” said Clarke. “No doubt about it.”
Burns flew to New York, picked up her bib at the expo, was ready to uncork a PR, only to have the race canceled less than 48 hours before the start because of Hurricane Sandy.
Upon Burns’ return to England, Clarke unveiled a new vision.
“How about we put the marathon to bed a little bit and see how you like shorter distances?” he proposed.
The transition to the shorter stuff, though, had to be put on hold. Days after returning from New York, about 200 yards from home, Burns dropped to the ground, a piercing pain racking her head.
“I thought I’d been shot in the head,” she recalled. “I put my hands up there but there was no blood. It was horrific. My whole head felt like it popped. It was instant. I was in agony.”
After walking home, she picked up the kids from school, went to a hospital the next day and discovered a blood vessel had burst in her brain. She was hospitalized nine days and couldn’t exercise for three months.
Fast forward to 2016.
Owed in large part to consistent training and racing the past three years, Burns has set PRs in the 1,500, mile, 3,000, 5K on the road and 10K on the road. Some of the jumps have been phenomenal.
She dropped her best in the 5K from 17:11 to 16:34 and in the 10K from 35:52 to 34:46.
“Those are big chunks,” said Clarke.
England Athletics, a grass roots organization that develops athletes, noticed. Earlier this month Burns received a voice mail from an England Athletics official, saying she had been selected to represent the country.
“I thought it was a prank,” said Burns.
It wasn’t. Wearing a white singlet with ENGLAND printed across the chest, Burns represented her country for the first time on May 22 at the Loughborough International, a meet featuring some of Great Britain’s best amateur athletes.
Burns finished second in the 3,000 meters in 9 minutes, 27.08 seconds, clocking another personal best, this one by more than 16 seconds.
Burns and Clarke both feel that the frightening health scare she suffered more than 3½ years ago contributed to her success as a runner.
“It made running less painful,” said Burns. “It was like my running turned a corner after that. I think I was more determine to succeed, I suppose.”
During Burns’ hospitalization, Clarke said a doctor told him the staff had no idea how she would recover.
“It was touch and go,” Clarke said.
He remembers something else, something he told Burns while she was confined to a hospital bed.
“You’ll get out of this bed one day,” he said. “We’ll be running again.”
The 2016 Rock ‘n’ Roll Liverpool Marathon & ½ Marathon returns this weekend with the marathon and half marathon on Sunday, a One Mile Fun Run in the afternoon and a 5K on Saturday. More than 16,000 runners are set to take over the streets of Liverpool over the weekend from 54 different countries. Live bands will be playing along the course to entertain and encourage runners as they make their way to the Finish Line Festival in front of Echo Arena with a headliner concert by Cast.
The marathon and half marathon will start and finish by the Albert Dock, one of the most visited attractions in the UK and a World Heritage Site. The races feature scenic views of Liverpool’s stunning docks, rich architecture, spectacular museums and historic commercial districts.
“We are so excited to put on another great event in one of the UK’s most iconic cities,” said Rob Griffiths, race director. “We’ve seen a lot of growth since our inaugural event in 2014: in just three years, the event has more than doubled in participation. Our international representation has increased, and now more than 53 percent of the runners are female. We are also receiving such amazing support from the local community.”