Mini Me and my Mirror: Junior Parkrun

I only went and bloody cried after Tills ran her 20th Huddersfield Junior Parkrun, this morning. Me? A melodramatic mother? A sycophantic, sentimental fool? Yep… but I couldn’t help it. I saw an almost exact replica of myself from over three decades ago. It’s like looking in a mirror at my younger self.

She’s just like me: She’s exactly like I was. She worries about not being ‘good enough’ or ‘fast enough’, or even – just – ‘enough’. She’s only five years old for God’s sake, but she feels the same anxiety and fear of somehow falling short that gripped me, and wouldn’t let me go.

I can tell she’s apprehensive about the run first thing in the morning, when she says to me with a genuine look of concern on her face,

‘But what if I can’t run two laps today, Mummy?’

I think back to my own, insecure childhood self, and I remember how I felt. I say to her,

‘Don’t worry about that, Tills. All that you ever need to do is to try. Just being brave enough to try is more than good enough.’ Her slightly furrowed brow relaxes a little, but she isn’t fully convinced.

She stands on the start line holding my hand, surrounded by the other kids, Lycra Mums and Competitive Dads. She goes quiet.

Then we’re off.

We’re still holding hands and she runs. Her little pink trainers launch her forwards, and her face looks focused on the task in hand: two laps of the park – 2km in total. We approach the first hill, and I can hear her breathing heavily.

‘I’m thirsty, Mummy. My throat is dry,’ she gasps. I glance down to her – I’m trying to read the signs: she looks like she might cry. I pull out a water bottle from my overly-stuffed ruck sack, and she stops for a second to take a sip. I say to her,

‘It’s OK, Tills. Just go again in your own time, and slow it down a bit if you need to.’

She starts running again, her legs like mini pistons firing their way around the park. She’s concentrating hard. She settles down and finds her five-year-old rhythm again. And then she says, partly to me – but mostly to herself,

‘I can do this, Mummy. I can do this.’ And my heart soars with pride.

‘Yes, Tills. You CAN do this, sweetheart, you really CAN do this.’

I’m still holding her hand. Her legs are still pistoning forwards, her face is still focused, and her heavy breathing tells me she is working as hard as her little body will let her.

‘Nearly there, Tills! It’s the last corner now – last time seeing Hi-Five Man. Keep going, you’re almost there!’ 

She gives Hi-Five Man the last generous slap on his palm, and then she lets go of my hand. Both her arms are pumping now as she reaches the finish line.

We cross the line, and I’m overcome with an entire chemistry set of emotions. She doesn’t understand what she’s just demonstrated about herself and her own little character. I know only too well. She’s just proven to herself that she really CAN tackle her fears: she really CAN do two laps; she really IS brave enough to stand on the start line; she really IS fast enough, and she really IS… enough.

She doesn’t know why I’m so emotional.

‘Stop crying, Mum!’ she says, like an embarassed teenager.

‘I’m sorry, Tills. I can’t help it! I’m just so proud of you today.’ 

We get back to the car.  

‘So, did you enjoy Parkrun today then, Tills? You did ACE!’ I try to stop myself from sounding overly sycophantic.

‘Yeah. I loved it!’ she says, pushing windswept hair out of her eyes, her pink cheeks glowing, ‘and I got a PB too!’

I remember when I was her age, and how my own self-absorbed anxiety felt. I thank God she’s already learning how to tackle it.

You see, there’s more to this running lark than would meet the eye…

So thank you, Parkrun, for helping my daughter to see that she is, complete with her own mini human imperfections… enough.

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The Goole Riverbank Challenge and The Race

The Goole Riverbank Challenge and The Race 

Q: WHO ARE YOU RACING, RACH?

A: I’M RACING MYSELF: MY OLD SELF.

We parked up at the sports complex far too early (just for a change) but we weren’t the only ones. An old-ish bloke – fully branded in his yellow and black club kit – stood next to his car door rubbing gel into both knees. He looked like an ageing bumblebee.

Another chap paced around next to his open car boot. Inside, he had a full-on shoe rack with his carefully laid out selection of trainers: roadies, off-roadies, and… an emergency pair of clown shoes?

“Which trainers are you wearing, Gav?” I genuinely didn’t know what to put on: I’ve done this race for the last two years, and I know the route. It’s mainly along narrow grass banking which is elevated next to the river. However, there are some road sections. The last mile and a half is balls-out flat on road: no time to be struggling with unforgiving footwear.

The rain has pretty much pelted it down over the past few days. Is the grass banking saturated? We went for a short warm-up jog to find out. It was wet, and the grass longer than expected, but nothing to convince me to substitute my roadies for the alternatives – it wasn’t worth the gamble.

I thought back to last year when I was first lady back. I’d won my first EVER race. ME! First female home! On what planet was that even possible?! My mind started racing (excuse the bad pun): What if I have a shocker and crash & burn this year? Shit. I felt the apprehension rising. How do I feel today? What have I got in my armoury this time around?

I still felt uncomfortably full from breakfast and a heavy, milky coffee. It was hours ago, but felt like it still hadn’t been digested. I can’t stand running when my body is trying to digest food. It’s the worst feeling: a heavy stitch/cramp combo I could well do without.

With twenty minutes to go, I felt nervous. Gav was with me today, which was lovely, but I’ve only ever done this race by myself before. I wasn’t exactly up for engaging conversation.

We set off and quickly funnelled into the narrow riverbank tracks. At points, the grass was overgrown and far from an ideal running surface. I knew I was in second place: I was second lady right from the gun. There was no chance of catching the girl in first place, but at least that option was taken from me in the first few hundred metres. I set off well, and felt happy with my pace. My 7 min/miles felt pretty good as we headed out towards the 3-mile turning point…

And then, she passed me. “Ahh shit.” I knew I was in for a battle for the next six miles. I stuck with her, wondering if she’d taken me too early on. She was running well, and strong, but she wasn’t out-pacing me. So, I tucked in behind her. About mile 6, I had an extra ounce of energy and so I nudged past her on the narrow grassy track. “Great job.” She said. “Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll be seeing you again!” was my reply. I tempted fate, and within 400m she’d gone past me again. “…Like now!” I said as she pulled in front of me. She laughed.

I tucked in behind her again, still confident that I could keep with her.

And then I started thinking “Who are you racing, Rach?” Clearly, me and the girl (Helen, she’s called) were in our own mini-race. However, the honest answer came to me. “You’re racing the old version of yourself, Rach! Helen may well be here in person, and we are in some kind of mini-battle, but she is not the real opponent here.”

In that moment, it was perfectly clear to me that I was in fact battling with every single limiting belief I ever had. I was running against self-doubt; battling with an old version of myself who couldn’t have believed I was capable of this. She was far happier melting mars-bars: she felt safe there.

“Are we in 2nd and 3rd place?” she asked me, as we were still stuck side-by-side on the narrow path. “I’d be happy with either, as long as I beat my husband!”

“Me too!” I laughed, thinking what a lovely nemesis I’d happened across.

Right, Rach. Tuck in behind her. Don’t go too soon. When you reach the road, see what you’ve got left. That was my plan. I stuck to it.

On the road, I increased my pace and went ahead of her, but – guess what – she came back and tucked in front again. Bloody hell, she’s not going anywhere without a fight! I hung on, and looked down at my watch. I wasn’t having the best final mile, and began to feel my tummy STILL trying to work out what to do with that fucking milky coffee I’d had earlier on. It stopped me from shifting gears as I’d have liked, and I was stuck in 3rd place.

But, I would be gracious in defeat: she deserved 2nd place. But I was still right on her heels.

And I thought back to the REAL battle I was in. At the last corner, I found that extra 5% and I kicked. I flew past her, and I ran like merry hell. You see, I wasn’t just racing Helen. I was going to defeat Old Me: the one who would have told me confidently, “You can’t do this.”

I beat her, and I beat Helen. I gave her a massive hug just past the finish line. The local paper’s photographer accosted us, and a white envelope was placed in my hand. Written on it was ‘Second Lady – £30’

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Helen was lovely and gracious. We really enjoyed racing each other today. However, to me, my battle was actually with my old self and not with Helen from Hull Harriers. That’s the victory for me, today.

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And to think it was this or melting Mars Bars…

I REMEMBER WHEN…the Halifax Half Marathon

Today made me remember.

We ran the Halifax Half Marathon route this morning, with its incessant, ridiculous climbs (1,346ft) over the hills of the town where I grew up: 13 miles of hills, valleys, beauty… and memories.

We ran from Dean Clough to Wheatley, and up Brakenbed – the Killer Hill. I remember my Mum driving me down there on our daily school run in her British Racing Green Mini Metro. It seemed insanely steep back then. I never even imagined I’d run up it.

We ran up through Pellon to Wainstalls, to the junction with the old Post Office, which has long since been converted into a house. I remember visiting one of my school friends who lived there, and her mum making us hot dogs for tea. I remember sitting on the bunk bed she shared with one of her sisters, hearing her mum playing Paul Young loudly downstairs. Distance had no meaning to me back then: I was simply delivered from A to B. So far, we’d done three miles of solid climbing.

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Hills, anyone?

From there, we took a right turn and dropped down into Mixenden. As I ran through the main street, I remember babysitting with my best friend Jo on an estate I didn’t like. I remember their huge Alsatian dog which took up far too much space, and lolloped all over the antiquated dark velvety sofa, leaving hairs and salivary DNA wherever it went. I remember the faint stench of warm dog turds that yet again hadn’t been removed from the garden. I’ve never been a massive fan of Alsatians ever since.

We climbed out of Mixenden and up towards Ogden, turning at Lane Head Lane. Again, memories came flooding of another school friend who lived there in the Big House On The Corner. She had the most amazing attic bedroom, rather like a granny flat, where we shared many evenings of alcopop-fuelled teenage laughter and tears in equal measure.

Coming out on the main Keighley Road by the Golf Club, we took a left and headed up towards the turn off to Ogden Water. I remember driving up there not knowing where to go, fearing I’d be late for Ness’s funeral. I didn’t know the church. Why didn’t I know where the bloody church was? I remember feeling sick to my stomach at the thought of being even a millisecond late.

We had to climb again. This time it hurt too much, and I had to pull over to give my hammies some brief respite. I berated myself for being overcome with lactic, and simply wanting to stop. Was it the lactic though, or was it the flood of memories? I can’t be sure. I stopped anyway, and admired the view. Such a stunning view.

Once at the top, I could see the Raggalds ahead. “We turn right here, don’t we, Gav?” Gav didn’t know me back then. He didn’t know my life, or any of my memories that were running with us. Eventually, we reached the Ski Slope in Queensbury. The fake, lumpy slope used to look impressive. I went to a birthday party there once when I was ten. I remember thinking “Wow! This is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! As if somebody has created this!” Today, it looked old and tired, as if the slope couldn’t even be bothered to pretend it was a slope anymore.

We ran on, and I could see the town ahead in the distance: MY town. Halifax. I could pick out the landmarks, and tell stories of how they intermingled with my past.

Almost home as we dropped back down Mill Lane, towards the back of Dean Clough. I felt tired: I WAS tired. We passed a couple of other runners, and Gav did his usual exchange of pleasantries – he really is far nicer than me – whilst I motored on to the finish.

We got to the end, and I lay down, flat on my back next to our car in the blazing sunshine. I remembered last year, when I came 3rd lady in the race, and felt overjoyed having put my heart and soul into every single step.

 

Still breathing heavily, I remembered: “There was a time when you couldn’t have done this. There were many years, in fact, when you could not have run along this route of memories. Remember now, and be grateful – after all these years – that you can.”

This year’s race is on Sunday 3rd July. I may – or may not – see you then…