I like to think of myself as honest and reasonably self-aware – so when I staggered over the finish line of my first half marathon in 2009 and declared to Julie that “I am never going to run a marathon” – I believed it! So it was something of a surprise in April 2014 to find myself at Preston Park ready to start the Brighton Marathon. I was due to run it with Julie (she swears I bullied her into agreeing to do it but I’m not so sure……….) but really sadly this didn’t happen as her health deteriorated during the training – so I found myself – standing there alone and scared!
Protestations around 5 hours later – “I’m never doing that again” – were genuine – I wasn’t even sure how I was going to walk to the bus back to the car. But I think I knew even then that if Julie was fit enough and mad enough to want to run a marathon – I’d be there with her – and so it was that two years later I was back in Preston Park – with Julie – ready to do it all again. A pact in blood this time NEVER! EVER!………
So what happened? Well the love of running never faded. There was 2017 when Gill and I ran a half marathon a month throughout the year – a much more civilised distance although 12 of them was a challenge. And then there were the “fly on the wall” documentaries Mind Over (half) Marathon and Mind Over Marathon – Part 2 – that were certainly moving accounts of running the London Marathon for the benefit of a person’s mental health. Could I do one more? The seed was sown…………….. I entered the ballot for 2018 but no luck. By 2019 I would be 60……………….. now there’s a thought! This time I was so sure that I had no chance of getting a place in the ballot that by the time the magazine dropped through my letter box it almost went straight into the re-cycling – more unsolicited material that I didn’t want – this time from Virgin…………………. Oh! hang on!!
And so here I go again – training for the London Marathon – with Julie who has a Charity place – and many of the Heathfield Road runners – training for London and Brighton. One of the things that I love about these long training runs is the place that your thoughts travel to as you grind your way slowly through the miles. Yesterday I ran with Gill and the miles fly by as we chat about this and that. But last week I was running solo and this run saw me reflecting on age – and reminiscing on a lifetime of running. Marathon training has spurred me on to return to track sessions and at the last session we ran a (rather icy) timed mile – I was very happy with my age grading (one benefit of being 60) – but it got me thinking – what was I doing when I was younger? I was running back then – with greater ease but less dedication! Back then I could run a half marathon having trained no further than 6 miles. But I certainly wasn’t running the 6 min 30 sec miles that my age grade suggested! Too busy misspending my youth. And of course the music of my youth is playing in my ears (or cheekbones!) as I am running along – bringing back those memories. This time a journey through the 1980s – The Thatcher years – and I see how so many of my values were formed back then – listening to the music of protest. The “Red Wedge” group of musicians founded by Paul Weller are all on my playlist – The Jam (A Town Called Malice), Elvis Costello (Shipbuilding), The Beat (Stand down Margaret) and Billy Bragg (A New England) – as I put one foot in front of the other.
And once again I am joining hands with 30000 other women around the Greenham Common cruise missile base in 1982. And at the rally in Trafalgar Square in 1984 – supporting the striking miners. Billy Elliot (and the music) remains one of my favourite films – ultimately uplifting but capturing the climate and atmosphere of northern England at that time.
Later in the decade there is the Live Aid concert (1985). Nobody at the time was left unmoved by pictures of millions of people starving to death in Ethiopia on the BBC news. The concert itself was uplifting with the brilliant David Bowie renditions of TVC15 and Heroes and the almost unknown band form Dublin playing Sunday Bloody Sunday and Bad. They’re on the playlist too as my feet continue along the cuckoo trail………..
And a step on again to 1988 and the 40th Anniversary of the founding of Amnesty International – and the Human Rights Now! series of concerts to raise awareness about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Sting, Tracey Chapman, Peter Gabriel and of course the Boss. I was 29 years old when I joined the crowd at Wembley Stadium on 2nd September for a day of music and celebration. Bruce Springsteen features prominently on the playlist from Born to Run (of course) to his rendition of Bob Dylan’s Chimes of Freedom.
And so we are almost full circle – back to that first marathon in 2014. This was the year I left the Health Service after 32 years of working to support children’s mental health. I dedicated the next year (and that marathon run) to raising money for Amnesty International as – in the words of Nelson Mandela – “to deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity”. It is not possible to dedicate a working life to mental health without seeing the truth in that statement. The music playing over the address system is Heroes – David Bowie – and the moto on the finisher’s shirt “It always seems impossible until its done” – Nelson Mandela of course.
And so – here I am again – 60 years old starting another journey to run those 26.2 miles – I am going to need a bit more of that self deception (it doesn’t really hurt – that much), friendship, hope and that wonderful music ringing in my ears……… And if you have never heard it before……………………..