The Story of an Unlikely Runner: 4 days post VLM 2015…Moving again, and meeting Mr Bannister

[Extract from my diary 30th April 2015… 4 days after London Marathon]

30th April 2015: Four days post-marathon

Moving again, and meeting Mr Bannister

So it’s now Thursday – 4 days post-London marathon 2015. I took Monday and Tuesday as rest days. These were predominantly taken up with travelling back up North and working, which helped to enforce rest as I was too busy to even think about running or punishing my oh-so weary legs. Knowing my head, it would have still tried to run, given half the chance. Circumstances prevailed.

However, yesterday I’d been stuck in my dingy cupboard of an office for most of the day, and I felt myself going slowly insane. Lack of natural light, too many badly made coffees, staring at endless emails on my computer screen. It got to 2.30pm and I’d had enough. Desperate to get outside and move, I decided to head off home early and run up to Tilly’s pre-school so I could at least stretch my legs and get some fresh air. We could then have a nice walk back down the hill together. I decided on a route with a few steady miles along the canal, then forking off and meandering up through some woods – quite a decent climb on fresh legs, never mind dead ones. I enjoyed the fresh air, although my legs felt somewhat removed from the rest of my body. It was a brave (or stupid?) call for me to attempt the climb, but alas, I had to stop a few times when the leg screams were just more than I could bear. Still, I was grateful to have been able to run at all, whilst juggling it around work and Tilly.

That was yesterday.

Today I’d planned on running home from dropping Tills at school, after a scheduled “parents review” meeting. Sitting at the tiny pre-school table in my running shorts complete with long compression socks and Garmin in full view – poised for action, alongside Tilly’s dad who was fully suited in his tweed jacket and expensive work shoes. Juxtaposition at its best – we must have looked an unlikely coupling (no surprises we didn’t work out then.) Happily, we were told that she was doing well – to be expected given my own geekish tendencies. Not being one to put herself in the limelight, I asked how this aspect of her development was coming on, to which her pre-school supervisor replied “Well actually, she did announce to the whole class that her Mummy was going to be on the television last week – that she was running the London marathon.” I smiled to myself – one day my girl will really understand what that means, my long journey to get there, and the incredible sense of achievement it brings.

I set off running. My plan was to take it very steady – legs still wobbly and grumbling at the mere mention of trainers. The route I had in mind was around 7-8 miles. First half mainly meandering downhill, then flattening out to meet the canal and wind my way back along the wretchedly familiar marathon training route. I felt entirely grateful to be free and able to run on my own terms – not stuck in a life-sapping commuter traffic jam, or slowly letting my soul crumble at a sterile office desk somewhere. If I let myself, my head would spin with the injustice of it all. I would have no answers on how it were possible for me to be running free without a care in the world (I know it’s all relative), whilst others don’t have such luxuries. Best not to even go there and open that can of whoop ass in my overly analytical mind: just be grateful and savour those moments.

Along the canal towpath I happened to cross the path of my old geography teacher – Mr Bannister. Incredibly strict back in the day, he was infamous for insisting that we each draw a 2.5 cm margin down the left hand side of each page of our workbooks. Said margin must not be 1.5cm or 3cm – perish the thought. Only 2.5cm, or face the consequences (OCD you say?)

I was far more interested in stories and history than I was in rock formations and his stern approach to arable farming. He was into his sports, often doubling-up as PE teacher in addition to his geographical and margin-width prowess. Further, he seemed only concerned with those who showed particular talent in the sporting arena – no time to waste on the ‘also-rans’ (or worse) such as myself: those of us who had been written off and thrown on the scrapheap when it came to sport. I had no idea at the time, but I subsequently discovered he was a keen runner himself, having achieved a time of 2:37 at marathon distance (very impressive, but understandable given his personality type and high “OCD” tendencies.)

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As unfit and miserable as I’d ever wish to be…

“Hi Mr Bannister!” He looked slightly taken aback at my greeting him, and we stopped for a brief chat.

“Hello there. I remember that face. How are you?”

“I’m good, thanks. Just out stretching my legs – I ran the London marathon on Sunday”

“Oh – Oh right. How did you get on?”…”3:17! Oh that’s pretty good!” he said with a blatant look of shock on his face. “Did I see you in the Courier the other week too?”

“Erm, yeah possibly. No idea what race it would have been, but the chances are it was me”. He will have caught sight of a local post-race write-up sent in by the running club. We exchanged some banter around races, pacing and times, speeds, distances and goals. He seemed genuinely taken-aback.

“You’ve lost some weight – trimmed down quite a bit haven’t you?” he said.

I replied that if I’d known back then – when I was in my pitiful teens – how much joy, happiness, and confidence it was possible for me to gain by becoming fit and discovering running, I would have done something far sooner.

For me, his acknowledgement of my running achievements was testament to my journey since those days, when – to the likes of Mr Bannister – I was invisible.

I’m not invisible anymore.

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Joy! Just that, really.

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I know what a Hero looks like… Halifax Parkrun 20th Feb 2016 #FlyHighEdie

I KNOW WHAT A HERO LOOKS LIKE – Halifax parkrun 20th Feb 2016

Today, I know what a hero looks like: I ran with one.

As you may (or may not) know, Gav and I ran the Dubai Marathon recently (“Did you? You should have said!”) We raised funds for our friends – Tom & Cheryl – who lost their beautiful daughter Edie back in October. Through their #FlyHighEdie campaign, they’re now raising funds for Edinburgh Sick Kids, who helped them through the worst imaginable pain.

Now, we’ve all got our crosses to bear, and some mornings, the mere fact that Tilly takes ten minutes to decide what shoes she’ll wear is enough to drive me to distraction (in fact, that’s most mornings.) I’m well aware of my own shortcomings – the trivialities and miniscule frustrations of life can sometimes tip me over the edge, to the point where I have a Kevin Spacey American Beauty meltdown if I get asked one more time to enter my Apple ID password, which I’ve already had to reset ten times that week. Or, hollers of “Gav! This bloody Suunto won’t sync again and I’ve been trying for the past friggin half hour. It’s just crap! Aaarrrgghhhh” ring out across our apartment, frequently. It shames me to be able to think of a million other examples of my ‘daily stresses’…

Today, Cheryl Murphy ran the Halifax Parkrun. We met her and Tom (and their beautiful baby Annie) at Shroggs Park. Cheryl has committed to running the Yorkshire Marathon in October this year in memory of her Edie, and for their campaign in support of Edinburgh Sick Kids. The most she has run in years is 3 miles. But, the heroism doesn’t stop there. I offered to run with her today – in fact I PLEADED to run with her – my own pathetic way of trying to avoid the pain of a distance I hate, on a tough Parkrun course, in abysmal weather conditions. She was having none of it. “Nope – thanks all the same but I’m fine. Really! I’ll be OK. You go ahead. No, seriously…” And so, without any good excuse not to, I sloped off and ran my own race.

My legs were (predictably) tired after a decent 9 miler yesterday, and still possibly feeling the effects of last weekend’s Village bakery Half Marathon – which was only 3 weeks after Dubai. I focused on the task in hand, and came away with an unremarkable time of 22:14 (in my head, I have a voice which frequently tells me I ‘should have done better’) but actually, today I couldn’t have done any better. I crossed the finishing line, and immediately set off back around the course to find Cheryl. One marshal looked at me quizzically, and said “Haven’t you already finished?!” I smiled and replied that I had, but was on a mission to find someone and run in with them.

And then I saw Cheryl. With about ¾ of a mile still to go, including two hill climbs (it’s hardly a PB course), she was working hard. Really hard. I ran alongside her and said “Right. We’re going to run in together. Stay with me, and we’ll pace it to the end.” She could have walked – I know she wanted to. She could have let that voice inside her which was screaming “WHAT ARE YOU DOING? YOU CAN’T DO THIS” win. She didn’t. I could hear the effort she was putting in. I could feel her determination to keep going and push through the pain. And in that moment, I realised – I was running with a hero. Nobody there knew her story, her loss, or her pain. Nobody knew how hard it was for her to put those trainers on and walk out of her front door – let alone battle her way through that 5k Parkrun.

When she finished, I wanted to throw my arms around her and scream at the top of my voice “LOOK WHAT YOU’VE JUST DONE! LOOK HOW MUCH YOU’VE JUST ACHIEVED!” I didn’t, because it’s a bit freaky weird, and could have appeared ever so slightly bipolar. But, in that moment, I realised what true strength and courage was. If she had walked in that last mile, she could still have held her head high, but she chose to fight harder than that.

And, ladies and gentleman, if that isn’t what a true hero is, then I don’t know what is.

Cheryl, you are my hero. #FlyHighEdie

The London Marathon 2015 Part 3: The Race

THE VIRGIN LONDON MARATHON 2015

[Extract from my diary 26th April 2015]

Well, now at least I know how the next chapter goes… The Virgin London Marathon 2015 was a tale of two halves for me. Lots of lessons learned, so here goes:

I woke up feeling refreshed after a good night’s sleep. I felt unburdened and not particularly apprehensive or tense – I’d spent so many weeks and months in the build up to this, that the day itself came as a bit of a relief! The weather held off from the reports we’d seen. There was no monsoon, although it was grey, drizzly and cold. Me and Gav headed to the tube station and the walk up to the blue and green start areas seemed to go on forever. With only fifteen minutes to go before the baggage buses left, we headed to our different zones. Gav was subdued and needed to get his head together to deal with his injury concerns – his marathon would end at 10 miles, but I’d be oblivious to that until after my marathon ordeal was over.

At the green start, I quickly sorted out my bag for the luggage buses. With only the gear I would run in plus an old T-shirt to bin on the start line, I was pretty cold. I found a corner to stand and huddle. A kind young lad smiled and offered me his mum’s jacket to wear whilst we were waiting around. His mum and girlfriend were on the other side of the fencing. Grateful for the kind gesture, I hung her jacket around my shoulders. We had a brief chat, obviously both filled with pre-race nerves. It was his first marathon and he was hoping for under 4 hours. “It’s one to tell the grandkids in years to come” he chirped “I don’t plan on making a habit of this! It’s on my list of things to do, and once it’s ticked off, I’ll be happy“. His unpretentious, matter-of-fact goal was refreshing in a world which can otherwise seem to be consumed with times, PBs and outcomes. He just wanted to say that once, in 2015, he had run the London Marathon. I admired him for that. With only 10 mins to the start of the race, I handed his mum her waterproof jacket back over the fence (the same one which had shielded me whilst I had a cheeky wee in the corner of the field a few minutes beforehand – graciously, the family had tried to spare my blushes whilst my pre-race nerves pressed on my bladder for the fifteenth time..)

I headed to the start. Making a bee-line for the 3:15 pacer, I positioned myself in amongst the others where it was warm with body heat. A few other conversations and pleasantries were nervously exchanged. It always intrigues me what others are hoping to do, or what kind of running background they have. One guy clocked my 3:15 pacing band and asked “is that what you’re going for? Crikey. You’ll be way ahead of me“. I said that I’d like to get somewhere around that time, as I’d done 3:16 at Yorkshire Mara in October, and I could only give it a go. What’s the worst that could happen?

So, with my Garmin finally all synced up with the satellites having located my exact position on planet earth, there was nothing left to do other that wait for the gun to go off, and run. Surprisingly, I hadn’t seen any other runners I knew in the green waiting area, although I guess I had been sheltering in a corner, hiding under a kind woman’s mac. I’d decided to go with the 3:15 pacer and see what happened. But, I know myself too well. The first mile was a scrappy, messy bustle as people jiggled to find some space, hopping on and off curbs, quick-stepping around those who would otherwise get trampled, apologising to those whose arms caught the brunt of my elbows.

Once the first mile or so was out of the way, I found my rhythm – and it was fast. I knew it was fast. I felt fresh-legged, light, ready to run. I wasn’t carrying any tension in my legs, and I was running free. It felt good. A few miles underway, and I was already ahead of the 3:15 pacer. I didn’t overthink it – whilst I felt to be bouncing along, happy with my pace and not pushing too hard, I figured my time would come for struggle but I committed myself to “run in the moment” and enjoy how it felt right here, right now. I saw a runner ahead of me from my club, I knew she would be going for a similar time to myself. Without hesitation, and not even considering steadying my pace, I put my hand on her shoulder as I passed her, and we exchanged a warm smile. She would come back to take me much later on, but for now I was oblivious to what may lie ahead. She looked comfortable, maybe going 20 secs per mile steadier than me. I ran on. No sooner had I gone past her than I saw another girl I know who was also gunning for a time around 3:15. In my ignorant bliss, I continued to crack out 7 min miles, and 2 sub-7s. Up to the halfway point, this felt to be something I could manage to sustain with relative ease.

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Happy days!! All smiles…up to half way, anyway.

And then… At the half marathon point I started to think “crikey there’s still a hell of a long way to go here“. For the first time during the race, the distance scared me. Mine and Gav’s training had consisted of plenty of half-marathon races, and of course a few longer training runs, but arguably I was in better shape for a decent 13.1 mile race than I was prepared for a 26.2 mile one. What I should have learnt from Trimpell 20 a few weeks beforehand was all about the pacing. There too, I’d set off far too fast and had suffered for the rest of the race, clinging on for dear life for most of the latter half. I had certainly felt better for the first half of London, but should have remembered the pacing lesson from Trimpell. So, I was about to start the gradual decline into grim hanging-on territory which I’d have to deal with for the best part of 70 subsequent minutes. I’d passed the 10k point in 44 mins, the half marathon timing mats in 1:34, and 20 miles in 2:24 (faster than my best ever Trimpell 20 time of 2:29). I was on track for a 3:10 marathon, but it wasn’t to be.

Accepting that I’m not superhuman, and these decisions will come and bite me on the backside, it became clear that my fast early pace came at a cost: My legs were tiring. Feeling heavy. I was losing energy. Water and gels helped, but at the same time, my hips and muscles were shot. My pace was down to just under 7:30s, and people were coming past me. “Just keep running your own race, Rach. What they do is of no concern to you” I told myself. “Get your head down, and just keep running.” I needed a few stops over the next 7 miles or so. For a drink, a gel, a breath, a word with myself. Something I could cling on to which would help get me through the miles still ahead. It seemed like a monumental task. How could I face those miles, which seemed to be slipping right through my fingers.

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Crikey… this is starting to hurt now.

All I could do was hang on. Both the girls I knew and the 3:15 pacers had overtaken me by 22 miles, and they looked far more comfortable than I felt. It was damage limitation now. One foot in front of the other, counting the miles down. It lasted forever. I thought about my time from last year’s London 3:22. What if I couldn’t even make that? How would I feel to come in slower than I did last year? Would I be ok with a sub-3:30 as opposed to the possible 3:10 I’d raced for 20 miles, and which had been within my grasp? Pulling out was not an option. I couldn’t even consider stopping, but I was so desperate to pull over and make it all end. A glimpse of a way out, and my weary body would have gladly packed in. One step, another step, another step, and so it went on. The mile markers appeared further and further away. 25 miles. How long would I have to endure the torture of the last 1.2 miles? Would I walk in? Crawl over the line? One step. Just think about one step and then another. I glanced at my watch obsessively, working out best and worst-case scenarios. Then the Mall appeared. 800m to go. That’s only two laps of the track. Painfully slowly, then 600m… Time had slowed to become a cruel reminder of the marathon distance and its impact. It takes no hostages.

I kept going, wiling my feet to cross the mats when I could stop the clock. The time was 3:17:17. Quite unbelievably, I was only 45 seconds outside my PB time, and I had no idea how I’d managed to hang on for so long, after playing Russian roulette with my early fast pace. Tears flowed as the sheer relief washed over me. Finally, it was over, I could stop running. I had done a good time, one which I really shouldn’t have been able to hang on to with my pacing mistakes. Now, like a homing pigeon I headed for the baggage buses. What had happened to my Gav?

How do we treat ‘The Unemployed’?

So, how do we treat people who are out of work? What do we REALLY think of them? Are they lazy? Not trying hard enough? Playing the system? Good-for-nothings? A waste of space?
Well, I work with (mainly) guys who are entrenched in the soulless carousel of the Benefit System. And I have to tell you – I’ve had my eyes opened over the past couple of years.

Mistake number 1: misinterpreting disillusionment for a ‘bad attitude’
How would it feel if you were invisible? What if you were so used to being judged, labelled, often looked down on, and patronised to within an inch of your life? What if it happened day in, day out to the point where you actually believed that’s all you were worth? Do you think it would crush your spirit? It would mine. Is that what may contribute to a feeling of general disillusionment and such low self-worth that a person may even stop making the effort to feed themselves properly, because they think they’re ‘not worth the effort?’ Let me tell you – it does.

Mistake number 2: the whole ‘books’ and ‘covers’ thing
Assuming you’ve lost any semblance of self-esteem which you may (if you’re one of the lucky ones) have once had. Do you then bounce out of bed every morning and scrub up like a shiny pin, put on a crisp white shirt and a smart suit, go out into the world and ‘kick ass’ down at that Job Centre to sign on? No. You don’t. The two are mutually exclusive. More likely is that you feel around for whatever tracky bottoms are at the bottom of your bed, pull a cap on, and in your invisible state, you drag yourself down to the Job Centre where you remain invisible so it doesn’t matter what the hell you wear anyway.

This is a dangerous place for the rest of us (“Phew! We’re US. Thank god we’re not THEM” and please note the hint of irony) because we make judgements – it’s human nature, but The System makes it so EASY for us to make judgments. About everything from intelligence, attitude, background, ability, capability, education, home settings, the list goes on. And we are all too often so sadly very, very wrong. I’ve seen it time and time again. That person who comes in looking like Stig of the Dump. It turns out that he’s painfully analytical. It’s his ceaseless questioning of life and the madness of the carousel on which he finds himself which has contributed to his demise. Nothing to do with laziness, or lack of effort, or willingness to try, or ability. He’s simply put himself out of The Game because he can’t get his head around the ridiculous rules of it. It’s that simple.

Mistake number 3: not seeing somebody. No, I mean not SEEING them.
We all have a story. We all fight silent battles: we just don’t see them, but maybe we simply don’t look hard enough. Often, when you really look and TRY to see someone, the clues are there. The tragedy is that it’s easier sometimes to just to keep our heads down, keep walking, and not even try. We’ve got our own stresses and crosses to bear: I don’t have shoulders broad enough to carry a million other burdens other than my own pitiful melodramas. But, at the very least we can look up and we can TRY to see the real person looking back at us. Isn’t that the very least we can do? Surely to just feel listened to and acknowledged is the absolute bare minimum any of us can do to help each other if – God forbid – we find ourselves being one of ‘THEM’ rather than our usual, comfortable, self-righteous, judgmental ‘US’ selves.

As with the Lottery, “IT COULD BE YOU!”

Running and Ego: The Wrexham Village Bakery Half Marathon 14th February 2016

The Dubai marathon is all over now. A whole three weeks and two days since, in fact. I’ve written all I can write about the race: the training ups and downs, the worries, the build-up, race prep, the race itself, the emotional aftermath, blah blah blah. I’ve posted a couple of blogs complete with action shots (I’ve even got a few likes!) More importantly, we’ve managed to get a bit of local media coverage for our fundraising efforts. “Fly High Edie” was set up by two of our friends who lost their young daughter after a sudden illness in October 2015, and who want to turn their tragedy into supporting others. It was the least we could do to help raise the profile of their more than worthwhile cause, and a few quid at the same time.

So what next? I’m following my instincts here. I want to write about running and ego. The two are so interwoven, and are often utterly counter-productive. How much of our running and racing is about us: ourselves, and our own achievements – as grand or gloriously humble as they may be. How much of it is us saying “Hey! Look at me! Look what I can do!” Like a small child proudly delivering their first scrawl of unidentifiable artistry to its parents in search of recognition, approval – even love. Is that what much of this running lark is about? I find myself asking these questions, and recoiling when I have to admit that there does exist at least some aspect of egotistical narcissism in all of us. Why else would we be so desperate to upload our races to strava? Why else can’t we wait to tell our nearest and dearest how well we’ve done – proudly shouting from the rooftops when we’ve smashed our PB?

Of course our ego is involved.

Take today, for example. We’d entered into the Wrexham Village Bakery Half Marathon within days of completing the Dubai Marathon, and with the pain still screaming in our legs (Happy Valentine’s Day to us!) Arguably – some would say – a stupid idea so soon after the recent beasting of Dubai. We knew our legs weren’t recovered. We knew we weren’t on for PBs – or anywhere near for that matter. But we reasoned that it could be a good way to get some decent tempo training in, and avoid falling into limping around local, steady plodding miles. Earlier in the week I sent Gav a text which said unequivocally “I’m pulling out of the half Mara on Sunday. Legs not up to it.” But, like a mosquito attracted to the light, when it came down to it I couldn’t NOT race. Why? Because it would have been my ego stopping me.

What would I have to lose, other than knowing I couldn’t possibly match or better my time from last year’s race which, following a bobby dazzling effort, resulted in a quite unexpected HM PB of 1:31 (*my current HM PB stands from Edinburgh Half in May ’15 in a time of 1:30) So, without adequate excuse not to, I had a word with my ego and we negotiated a settlement: it would be ‘OK’ with a less-than-exceptional performance today on the understanding that I was gaining some kind of training benefit from my efforts. Would I have run 13.1 miles from home in an average pace of 7:24min/mile other than in a race scenario? Nope. Do I need to maintain my speed and endurance with ten weeks to go until the Virgin London Marathon? Yes. Would it mean I can eat bag loads of Village Bakery Welsh Cakes afterwards and walk no further than absolutely necessary for the next 24 hours whilst my legs recover? Yes. Deal done.

So, we turned up and we ran. And it was tough. Our legs weren’t fresh. The first 3 miles were fast (faster than last week’s Parkrun 5k effort in fact) but then they understandably died a bit, and then a bit more. I dragged my good-for-nothing limbs over the finishing line in 1:37 and Gav two minutes behind me. On fresh legs, we knew we were both easily capable of faster, but not today. Our egos had to understand, accept, and be alright with that – something I struggle with far more than Gav does, with his irrepressible ability to rationalise and contextualise such matters.

And then, before I became too downhearted at the realisation that I may in fact be some fragile, egotistical running narcissist in desperate need of approval, I considered the positives. Firstly, we can use our ego to motivate us. Why shouldn’t we strive to improve, run better, faster, easier, further – whatever the goal may be. Without ego there would arguably be no competition – either with ourselves or others. Where would that leave us? A throng of mediocre, aimless souls all trudging around the London marathon well within our physical comfort zones? We want to be the best that we can be. And that’s healthy for us, our own motivation and our own sense of competition – whatever level that might be.

And secondly, we all know this is about so much more than ourselves. I know it is for me anyway. We are all part of a community – the running community. We inspire, encourage and motivate each other. We share the highs and the lows – we ‘like’ each other’s shameless sweaty-faced race selfies; we console each other when race results don’t reflect the effort, or things just don’t work out on the day. We understand the million other reasons why running is something we need – something we ‘just do’: it requires no other explanation.

Even bigger than that, we can be the example to those who don’t ‘just get it’. We were all there once. I hated running for such a long time, and I treated those other-worldly running health-freak weirdos with the scorn I (ignorantly) believed they deserved. I didn’t know any better. If my experience of having lived in both worlds can welcome newbies in, then I think I can excuse my ego when it occasionally gets a bit too big for its boots (or Boosts.)

So, on balance, the ego can stay. It must remain in check, but it’s not going anywhere on the condition that it remains a minority shareholder in my running interests.

The London Marathon 2015 Part 2: The Day Before

…continued from Part 1: The Journey Down.

The day before VLM 2015

It’s the day before my 6th marathon – my 4th London Marathon. I’m in the bath in our hotel. We’ve done a few sight-seeing touristy things (to the extent that we could cope with the busyness of Borough Market, as vibrant and awe-inspiring as it is). These are the kind of comments I’m now receiving: “Oh you’ve done it before, you’ll be fine!“What have you got to worry about? You could do it in your sleep!” I’ve received a number of lovely, heart-felt good wishes by text and tweets. One guy I met randomly at the Cross Bay Half marathon 4 years ago tracked me down on Twitter just to say ‘Hi’ and wish me luck. My old PT client and podiatrist sent me her annual pre-London virtual hug text message, complete with gormless thumbs up selfie. All of them make me smile. They know what running means to me, and they know it’s part of who I am. I am grateful for every kind thought that I receive – they will all help to propel me along the 26.2 miles I face along with 40,000 others in the morning.

Me and Gav have just watched a BBC 1 programme about Paula Radcliffe who is running tomorrow. We were in bed, transfixed like two automatons processing her every word, admiring her work ethic, courage and philosophy. So what – she just happens to be the fastest female marathon runner the world has ever seen. Genetically, she was blessed. It was her gift which she worked hard for, and which she shared with the world. But more than that, she simply loves running. It feeds her soul in the same way that it feeds mine. That I can only run at a fraction of her speed bears no real significance – we had very different paths in life. However, on our love of movement, the rhythm and the peace, the challenge and the beauty – even the adversity which running brings – we are the same. That she feels like her soul is filled, happier, more able to deal with life’s good and its not so good by putting on a pair of trainers and clocking up some miles – we could bond over that alone.

Her bravery in facing such a cruel, judgmental world stage over her career makes my worries about PBs and getting a “good time” tomorrow seem somewhat silly – futile even. But they’re not. They are equally valid – just on my own, far smaller, less impressive stage. They symbolise progression, achievement, development, dedication, effort, hours invested, miles run, demons battled, medals (and even some prizes) taken home. And these have been hard fought – against the odds.

From a non-runner to someone who people now “assume” will find running a marathon somehow more comfortable than the next person. It’s simply not true – what is true is that I’ve put myself on the starting line a few more times. More times than I could ever have dreamed of, never mind achieving results I wouldn’t have believed I was genetically programmed to realise (remember the 16 year old who repeatedly came last at Cross Country? I see her most mornings looking back at me in the mirror.)

I’m about to get out of the bath. Maybe we will go to the cinema and watch a film, to take our minds off what’s in store tomorrow. It will be a miracle if I can sit still for the duration of a film, so good luck with that one, Gav.

But, at the very least, I feel more relaxed and at peace knowing that I am brave enough to stand on the starting line once again, and give it my best shot.

I wonder how the next chapter will go….

Why I love my work, and I don’t have ‘a job’

I don’t have a job. I work – and I work hard – but I don’t have ‘a job’. And I love my work. Not every single ball-aching aspect of it, but on the whole, and in the ways that matter – I honestly love it.

Why do I love it? I could be earning a lot more. I could have a wardrobe full of power suits. I could be clawing my way up the scratching post of ‘career progression’. I could be preparing to sell my granny in order to climb one notch higher on the hierarchy of corporate self-importance.

But I’m not.

It’s not that I lack ambition, or confidence, or ability, or vision, or any of the other buzz words which make someone sound like they’re really (ahem) “going places”. In fact, the opposite is true. I’m extremely ambitious. I’ve put absolute faith in my ability to seek out my own opportunities. I’ve taken risks and rolled the dice so many times – perhaps a career as a professional gambler is one which I’ve overlooked. Hmmm…

But I honestly love what I do. It sounds so doused in saccharine that you’d be forgiven for asking to be excused from the table. I’ve contemplated what I love about what I do, and I’ve come up with the following: it matters. It matters to me. A great deal, in fact.

I work in the Third Sector. Half of my week is spent running and managing a project for those who are out of work up at The Centre at Threeways in North Halifax. We exist on fresh air. I had a glamorous office for months which was a box room opposite the gents toilets. I was then moved to one which had a permanent leak – a lonely old mug sat in the corner of the room pathetically trying to collect drips. It failed miserably as I squelched my way daily across the floor.

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Anyone got any teabags?“…”Yeah but we’re out of milk“… ahh bollocks.

We scrat around for paper to refill the printer. Some days (many days) we don’t have any tea bags to make a brew. When we do, more often than not, we’re then missing the milk. The washing up gets done by whoever is standing closest to the sink when we’ve no options left as we’ve run out of cups. I love the fact that we can survive like this: it’s because we’ve learned how to. We can all develop skills that way – how not to be wasteful; how to eek out the skeletal resources we do have; and how to be grateful for even those.

Of course, there are the guys themselves (I use the term ‘guys’ generically, but as it happens 95% of those on our programme are males anyway). They turn up on Day 1 and they expect to hate it, and to hate us – being so used to the endless merry-go-round of ‘training programmes’ and ‘support services’ they’re shoehorned into by The System, regardless of their own individual needs, circumstances or requirements.

And then they see us – and they realise that they are actually no different from us; we are no different from them. They have skills, they have talent (often ridiculous amounts) – they have worth. Yes! Eureka moment! They actually realise they are worth something. That is why I love my work. To see people discover that IN SPITE of everything, they are WORTH something. That is what we have in common. They don’t know it, but I had to discover that for myself too.

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The programme we run. The programme I love.

And so, my work isn’t ‘a job’ to me. It’s something which challenges me, which makes me face any number of emotions from one day to the next, and which fulfills me.

Some particular highlights from the magical guys who walk through our doors are:

The Gift of Pizza: a group of our lads were asked if they would join in with a cooking course on site to help make up the numbers. They had their reservations (they’re more familiar with the School of Hard Knocks than Catering College) but to help us out, they mucked in. They made pizzas – really bloody good ones in fact – and just before I left the office, one of them came up to me and said “Rachel. Take this home for your tea.” I did, and it didn’t last the journey home.

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Pizza has never tasted as good. Not ever.

The Christmas Card ‘With Enclosure’: a Christmas card was left for me on the desk in the main admin office. I recognised the writing (it was from one of the guys on the Volunteer Plus course.) Anyone could see there was something in it. It looked strangely – and embarrassingly – like a packet of condoms. I did have some reservations on opening the card (and I received a suitable amount of ribbing  – excuse the pun – from the likes of Mr Walsh.) However, I breathed a sigh of relief when 3 Maoam sweets fell out of the card. Phew!

I’m a Cadbury girl myself, but I’ll take a Maoam if one is on offer (any day over a condom packet, in fact.)