Triumphing over adversity

Johan Byran is forging a successful career as a GP – and achieving remarkable feats in marathon-running as he battles his rheumatoid arthritis.

Johan (1997–2004) studied Medicine at University College London and now practices as a GP in Enfield. He also works in palliative medicine at St Francis Hospice near Romford in Essex.

His JustGiving page explains the connection between his rheumatoid arthritis – an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in the joints – and long-distance running: “I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 18, just weeks before I was due to go to Medical School. At 18 years old, most people probably thought they were invincible and, sure enough, so did I. However, in a matter of weeks, I was dependent on my brother to care for me in university halls. It was hardly the life of Med School I had imagined. I was destroyed physically and felt powerless to change my circumstances.

"My turning point was running my first marathon in 2008 – the Flora London Marathon. The significance of completing the race was that at one point I would struggle to walk 200 yards down the street to get to my lectures – so the idea of running 26.2 miles was my challenge to not allow this disease to dominate my life. What I took away from that day was that I was able to overcome my physical adversity through a great support network and determination."

In the following years, he has completed multiple marathons as well as an Ironman triathlon and the London2Brighton 100km run. In 2015, he ran 12 marathons in 12 months to raise money for Arthritis Research UK.

Johan continues to run – he has his sights set on the famous Marathon des Sables in the Sahara desert, which is billed as the ‘toughest footrace on earth’. Run over six days, it is more than 150 miles long and the event’s website spells out to potential competitors what they can expect: “Conditions: Stating the obvious – it will be hot. Very hot. Midday temperatures in the Sahara can get up to 120 Fahrenheit. So you will need something on your head. But your feet are just as important, if not more so. You will be running or walking on uneven, rocky or stony ground, with up to 20 per cent of the distance in sand dunes.”

In preparation, Johan has been training in a special laboratory-type environment which emulates the desert’s heat. His friend and QE contemporary, Jonathan Ho, who is a filmmaker, is shooting a documentary about him, interviewing him in various locations – in a classroom at QE, where the photo above was taken, and also at University College London, his old university, and in Morocco.