Kirsty Hayden-Smith, an East London-based Illustrator and Designer participated in the 2021 Cancer Research UK Virtual Winter Run during the Covid-19 lockdown. Kirsty produced these fantastic, hand-drawn illustrations which have since inspired our merchandise designs for our 2022 fundraising rewards for Cancer Research UK. Here’s her story…

“The Cancer Research UK Virtual Winter Run was suggested by friends who had recently moved abroad as a way for a group of us to stay motivated together and connected from afar during such a bizarre and difficult time, and I’m so glad we signed up!

I am new to the running game, I started with local parkruns when I moved to London in 2019, and then my enjoyment grew from there. Lockdown definitely accelerated my relationship with running, signing up to a number of virtual challenges/races to keep me motivated and moving. It was the perfect way to keep feeling healthy and free.

I originally drew the polar bear illustrations for my own channels to help boost my fundraising efforts during last year’s virtual run. They were inspired by the Winter Run series logo itself, using the polar bear as a visual mascot to capture the different phases of running, whether that be that on the move, in a bit of a slump with your body feeling all over the place, or simply getting out there for the joy of fresh air.

As I think for a lot of us out there, cancer has been a part of mine and my family’s life; my mom beat breast cancer, but we sadly lost my gran. I was keen to engage with the fundraising during last year’s event, and it was a pleasure to raise over £150 for Cancer Research UK.

I am overwhelmingly honoured that my designs for the merchandise are inspiring thousands of runners to fundraise for Cancer Research UK. It’s such a monumental and sincere organisation and it feels surreal to be able to contribute, in any small way, to the amazing work it supports. Cancer is, unfortunately, such a universally understood hurt, but it's so brilliant that organisations like Cancer Research UK allow us to heal and stand together as a collective.

I am really excited for the 2022 Cancer Research UK London Winter Run in February, especially for the route itself, the location is epic, you couldn’t get more of an iconic city if you tried. The pre-race communication is incomparable to other races as well, I really feel like a part of a community as we all build-up to the day together with different benchmarks and milestones to work towards, both in the training and the fundraising for the event.

Everyone at the race will be contributing to an amazing cause which is unlike most other races, there is not a trace of pressure or expectation, just sincere camaraderie. I’m really excited and keeping fingers crossed I am able to return and take part this February after some warm-weather training at home in South Africa over the festive season.”