Taking it in Their Stride in Memory of a Friend

Brooks Shoe Finder

Here at The Great Run Company, we believe in the power of running – our runners share their inspirational stories for taking part in our AJ Bell Great Run series events, whether it be the 10k, half marathon, or 10mile – and it’s clear to see: everyone has a story and reason for running.

Discover some of the amazing stories behind the tens of thousands of runners who line up across our start lines each year.

In our Power of Running campaign, we are bringing to life inspirational stories that highlight the transformative impact running has on individuals and communities in Great Run locations across the UK. There are many reasons for running, but we’ll be particularly emphasising stories of mental health, community, fundraising, and physical fitness.

As the countdown to this year’s AJ Bell Great Birmingham Run begins, one team of runners is gearing up for a challenge that goes beyond the miles they’ll pound on the pavement.

They’re taking part with a mission close to their hearts – raising funds and awareness for Primrose Hospice in memory of Chris Johnson, who lost his battle with Motor Neurone Disease (MND) in April 2023. A former Assistant Chief Constable, Chris was just 55 years when he died last year. He had served with West Midlands Police for nearly 30 years, starting as a PC in Acocks Green before working his way through the ranks.

His friends’ journey into running began as a collective response to his diagnosis. “Chris was my sergeant back in 1999 when I was very young in service,” explains John Askew, a close friend and now a Detective Chief Inspector. “He was a brilliant officer, and we became friends outside of work.

“When he was diagnosed with MND, a large group of his friends, family and colleagues decided to do a running challenge for the MNDA and Primrose Hospice. We entered the Liverpool Half/Marathon and raised around £60,000.

“A lot of us who completed the Liverpool challenge wanted to participate in The Great Birmingham Run because the city is where Chris worked for the majority of his police service.”

As they gear up for their challenge, their training regimes are in full swing – it’s a tribute to Chris’s resilience and courage, says John. “We have around 60 people who have indicated they wish to run in Chris’s memory. We will be raising funds for Primrose Hospice again, because they looked after him and continue to support his family.”

Sharon started running at 50 and it has helped hugely with her mental health during Chris’s devastating illness and then his death last year.

“I promised him I would continue to raise awareness around MND and also the Primrose Hospice who support us and rely heavily on donations to keep their services free to families like us – you never know if you may need them,” she explains.

“Running Birmingham will be emotional as during his career Chris was the commander for policing the city but we will do him proud. He was an amazing man and has left a huge legacy. He is truly missed by everyone.”

Honouring Chris’s memory remains the driving force for John’s determination to keep motivated. “I was out of shape when I started running, it hurt, and it was hard work. However, I knew the pain that Chris was in, and mine wasn’t anywhere near that. I had a choice to get healthy, which was a choice that had been taken away from Chris. He always wanted people to be the best version of themselves and running helps me do this.

“I joined a local running group – Run Catshill – and participated in a number of group runs; initially helping with the Couch To 5k programmes. My wife is now running too and is also doing The Great Birmingham Run with us.

“Running has improved my fitness and mental wellbeing. I’ve also made some great friends through the running club. The hardest thing is getting on your trainers and getting out the door; however, you never feel worse at the end of a run than you did at the beginning. I now try to run at least three times a week,” adds John.

David Burrell, CEO, Primrose Hospice, added: “This is an inspiring challenge in memory of Chris Johnson which will help us continue our work at Primrose Hospice and Family Support Centre. Chris’s family, friends, and colleagues’ commitment to raising funds and awareness embodies the spirit of care, compassion and community that drives our mission to provide support to those facing life-limiting illnesses and families impacted by bereavement.”

The AJ Bell Great Birmingham Run – on Sunday, 5 May – has grown to become the Midlands’ premier mass-participation event, and this year promises to be a celebration of community, determination and positive change.

Thousands of seasoned runners and first-timers will pound the streets through its scenic route covering many of the city’s most famous landmarks. The 10k and half marathon start-line is at Centenary Square and takes in Broad Street and the Jewellery Quarter as well as Bournville, Cannon Hill Park and Edgbaston Stadium.

For many of those taking part it’s not just about crossing the finish line; it’s about making a difference. With more than £10 million raised for charities since 2017, the AJ Bell Great Birmingham Run encourages participants to support their chosen causes, amplifying the impact of every step and embodying the power of running to effect change, one stride at a time.

What does the Power of Running mean to you?

Sharon Johnson, wife of Chris Johnson, explains how running has helped her.


Submit your Power of Running story
Everyone who sets out for a training run or signs up to a Great Run series event is a runner, regardless of finish time, and everyone has their own reason for running. Tell us about your running story and what the Power of Running means to you, and you could feature in our campaign: https://www.greatrun.org/power-of-running/

Find your Great Run
Take your place on a start line near you. Browse all AJ Bell Great Run Series events here.