The late arrival to the DREAM BIG! party…

I was a late starter when it came to the whole ‘Dream Big!’ mantra. In fact, I arrived at the party just as they were emptying paper plates with discarded Wotsits into black bin liners and stacking up the fold-away chairs. But, Agadoo was still playing, so I hung around a bit.

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…Push pineapple, shake the tree…

And it’s funny, because even when I DID achieve mini life victories, I explained them away as being a fluke, or a freakish never-to-be-repeated piece of good fortune, or an Act of God (forgive the legal reference.) I never ever took the credit for them. Not ever.

Aged 18:

I passed my driving test, first time. On my 18th birthday – the day itself (oh, the pressure) – and very nearly flunked it. One more ‘minor’ error and it would have been game over. I answered 3 out of 3 of the Road Safety questions incorrectly, one example given below:

Q: What does this sign on a motorway mean?

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My Answer: ‘Erm, three lanes, two lanes, or one lane?’ I stammered, whilst offering up a pathetic little smile.

No, Rachel. It doesn’t. But the slightly aging man in the tweed jacket with a clipboard gave me a ‘Pass’ anyway. It’s because it’s my 18th birthday, today! I reasoned with myself. He couldn’t fail me on my birthday! It couldn’t possibly be because I’d just about managed to negotiate the L-plated Vauxhall Corsa around a corner without wiping out an old lady. I couldn’t give myself the credit for that. It was a fluke.

Aged 22:

I got a 2:1 in my Law Degree – against the odds (seriously, we won’t go there just now.) I’d had a virtual breakdown, taken a year out, changed universities, and returned to find myself Billy No Mates sitting at the back of a Leeds University lecture theatre wishing I’d never started the damn thing in the first place.

When my result came through, I had no Plan B. Pretty blondes floated and skipped around the University Campus telling of their impending next steps to Law School where they would become Daddy’s Little Protégé. I sat with a full fat latte in the canteen and wondered, What the hell do I do now? I wasn’t expecting a half decent result. It must have been an easy paper, this year, I told myself; the dissertation must have been semi-plagiarised. Did I cheat? I couldn’t be sure.

Aged 26:

I qualified as a solicitor – against the odds. (Again, you don’t need a full breakdown as to the disparity between my real, hapless self and the person I portrayed.) How have I even secured a training contract?

I dropped my biscuit in the milk jug during one important client meeting… AND THEN STUCK MY HAND IN TO RETRIEVE IT much to the horror of the Litigation Partner and his very wealthy client (in my defence, it was one of those posh biscuits covered in foil.) How was I not sacked? I qualified, but it was more by accident than by design. An Act of God, perhaps.

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Couldn’t waste it, could I?

(There are many, MANY more such examples, but for the sake of time and convenience we’ll skip the minutiae. And the Virgin London Marathon 2011. That’s in the book.)

***

Aged 36

I ran the Yorkshire Marathon 2014 in 3 hours and 16 minutes, averaging 7:30 min/miles for 26.2 miles. WHAT THE FUCK?! I went into overdrive with the IT’S A FLUKE / HAPPY ACCIDENT / ACT OF GOD apparently logical reasoning. After all, I couldn’t POSSIBLY have simply worked my arse off and achieved that time, could I?

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No sooner had I limped off the York University Campus post-marathon than I was already filled with dread and panic that this was somehow entirely outside of my control – a thing that had (fortunately) happened TO me, and not BECAUSE of me. I feared I would never again run like that, or achieve such a freakish result again.*

Remember, they’ve already binned the plates and stacked chairs at the DREAM BIG! party, and now Black Lace has finished on repeat play, people are slowly ambling outside into the car park. I’m left dancing on my own to The Conga whilst I try and mop up the last remnants of the DREAM BIG! happy vibe – along with a few crusty sandwiches and slightly warm cucumber sticks.

But it WAS my doing. All of it was my doing. I achieved all of those things, despite it appearing as though I am walking, talking anti-proof for the ‘Expectancy Theory’ (i.e. that proposes an individual makes choices based on the belief that there is a positive correlation between effort, performance and outcome.)

Dream big? DREAM BIG, you say? Even when I’ve LIVED the bloody dream, I STILL haven’t believed it!

So here we are. I am now aged 38 years old. The book I have written (‘Running for my Life: My 26.2 Mile Journey to Health and Happiness’ – Blink Publishing) is about to be listed for pre-order on Amazon. It won’t be released for another nine months – not until January 2018. But, I am refusing to allow myself to make up excuses for my dream being a fluke / happy chance / stroke of luck. It isn’t. I have lived that story, and I have written that book. It’s my party, and I own the fucking paper plates.

And as I sit browsing through my back catalogue of Dream Big! party invites, I can take myself within a millisecond to each and every one of those experiences, where – despite my putting in every ounce of effort humanly possible – I hadn’t dreamt about some fantastical, out-of-this-world positive outcome. I found that the effort sort of took care of that anyway.

It can happen anyway. It DOES happen, anyway! It is – perhaps – possible to Dream Big! in retrospect, to realise that simply by continuing to turn up / pound the rock / grind the stone / run the miles / write the words, the outcome is already being choreographed somewhere far grander and more exotic than the Black Lace Agadoo-playing dance floor.

That’s the party I want to be invited to. Hell, that’s the party I’m going to!

See you there.

* I ran 3:17 at VLM 2015. It wasn’t a fluke then, either.

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Dream Big, Tills. Dream Big… (or just work your arse off. Either will do.)

 

The Yorkshire Marathon 2016

The Yorkshire Marathon 2016

It’s Wednesday 12th October 2016 – three whole days after this year’s Yorkshire Marathon… and it almost broke me.

I’ve already blogged about the preamble to my second marathon this year (the first being Dubai back in January), and all the mini bird crap splatterings that came along to mucky my windscreen at precisely the wrong time, turning my planned weeks of rest and tapering into weeks of riding the waves of my (very mini) life traumas instead.

I had to manage my anxiety whilst being pelted by the relentless, shit splattering flying rats (pigeons for the bemused.) In truth, I was terrified of even standing on the start line this time around. MY BODY DOESN’T WANT TO DO THIS. HOW AM I GOING TO DO THIS? I AM TIRED. NO – I’M EXHAUSTED. I CAN’T BE ARSED. WITH ANYTHING. I HAVE NO APPETITE FOR A MARATHON. WRONG TIME; WRONG MARATHON. ABORT. ABORT. EJECTOR SEAT EMERGENCY REQUIRED.

But, as I said in my last blog – this one wasn’t about me. It was WAYYYY bigger than my fragile little ego. This one was for Edie. It was for Cheryl, Tom, Annie and Edie. There was no ejector seat – there would be no way out, other than to run the required 26.2 miles from the start right through to the finish line. I couldn’t – and I wouldn’t – let them down. No. Way.

A strange, ethereal calm came over me on the Saturday. All those weeks of anxiety, of overanalysis and pent up, melodramatic “what if’s” had gone. Evaporated into thin air. Maybe they’d run their course. Maybe I’d just run out of steam. Either way, I knew that in one sleep, and with a few hours of seriously hard graft (coupled with a bit of good fortune) it would all be done and I’d be through the enormous brick wall I’d built this marathon up to be in my mind.

Saturday night was race prep, and even then the nerves hadn’t really kicked in. This was about turning up, trying hard, and getting through. Nothing more; nothing less. Cheryl and Tom would turn up and have an infinitely tougher day at the office than me: my flying rat shit-storm was at best mild irritation next to the weight of their grief. I forced more stone-baked pizza down my neck Bruce Bogtrotter style (Mrs Trunchbull’s enormous sticky chocolate cake is only desirable up to a point, from which it turns into an endurance challenge of epic proportions. The same can be said for carb-loading.)

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Eat ALL of it Bruce. Every. Last. Bit.

Sunday morning we were up and off early, and almost robotic with timing and general efficiency. The distinct lack of “buzz” about the challege ahead left me wondering if a complete adrenaline bypass were possible. Would it kick in on the start line? I wasn’t convinced. Jesus! I’ve turned into a Volvo of the running world! No emotion, just efficiency.

The kind and lovely people at Plusnet Run Yorkshire had offered Cheryl and Tom VIP access for the day (too bloody right!) and, as part of their entourage (more like cling-ons), me and Gav flashed our gold (yes – gold) paper-chain wristbands to access the VIP area. What would it be like inside? Leather couches? Chris Evans cavorting with Vassos Alexander and some ridiculously hot up-and-coming female artist? Maybe chill out zones with individual massage chairs and oversized headsets playing motivational running mantra? Erm, nope. In reality, we walked past the gate-keeping square-jawed Security Man (who looked like he ate marathon runners for breakfast) and into a… grey university canteen with a few sparsely scattered round tables. To be fair, they also provided child-size bottles of supermarket own-brand water and cheap energy drinks – and I think (although I can’t be sure) there were occasional balloons rising from a small paperweight as centrepiece.

And celebs? Kind of. On my walk out of said VIP area I happened across the maturing blonde one from Calendar News as she was floating past with a Minion. A thought flashed through my mind: “Crikey – the TV make up artists must REALLY know their craft; and perhaps the studio lights are much softer than these ones? Plus, don’t people look much shorter in real life? Does she stand on a box when shooting on location?” I continued on my way (an autograph felt a little unnecessary.)

So, the marathon. Eventually after chilling out at the ‘glamorous’ tables, and swigging our Asda Price bottled water, a PR/Marketing girl came to escort all of us VIPs to the starting area. This consisted of her wearing an offensively bright pink jacket, and walking whilst waving a clipboard high above her head. It was unlikely we’d miss her even without the clipboard, but maybe that’s just part of her job description.

The start line was pure comedy. A generously proportioned young girl was dutifully warming up the marathon crowd, who showed a distinct lack of interest in her semi-squats and high reaches. I jiggled up and down a bit on the spot, more out of embarrassment than anything else.

Following some understated preamble from the Lady with the Mic, we were off. Stick to 7:30s, Rach. Don’t fly off too fast. 7:30s and you might stand a chance. Don’t get caught up in an early race. Just 7:30s. One mile then another. That’s the plan. And that WAS my plan. It had worked perfectly two years earlier when I’d cruised through all 26.2 miles without ever feeling like any effort was required. No, seriously. I FLOATED around the course that day. I remember getting to mile 14 and thinking, “Take it steady, Rach. This is likely to get pretty tough, before long.” But, it didn’t. Mile 20 came and again, my head prepared itself for the worst: “We’ll be hitting a shit storm shortly, so just prepare yourself and batten down the hatches!” But the shit storm never came. I cruised in to the finish in 3:16, and part of me even felt a little sad that it was over. WHAT IS THAT ABOUT?!

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October 2014: My Marathon PB of 3:16. Something I never dreamed possible.

This year, I felt heaviness in my legs right from the first few miles. I kept to my pace up until around mile 14, and then it began to fall apart. The bouncy lightness I’d experienced back in 2014 was replaced by a leaden, deliberate trudge this time around. Fucking hell. This is going to be a long old day. That was the reality: this would be a battle of wills. The only question would be: how far off my target pace and expected marathon time would I fall? Ego, prepare yourself for a crash landing. This one won’t be pretty.

If it were possible for a runner’s legs to dictate a race entirely, then quite simply, mine would have remained in bed on Sunday morning, like a sullen teenager refusing to take his dirty plates down to the kitchen. However, at least they did begrudgingly turn up and made some attempts to join the party when in reality they wanted to bugger off back to bed. I thought of Cheryl and Tom. I wondered how they were. I wondered WHERE they were. How could I grumble knowing how hard this would be for them? That alone spurred me on. Legs (aka little bastard sulky teenagers) you WILL do this. You WILL complete this marathon. If not for me, then do it for them. Do it for Cheryl and Tom and Edie. Do it because you can, and because this matters.

Finally, finally, the end came into sight and I caught sight of the clock: 3:27:00 Disappointment combined with exhaustion and sheer relief. All of the emotions engulfed me in that moment. I saw Gav, and I cried. I found a patch of grass, curled up, and I wept. Because of all that I’ve asked of myself and my body over the past few months; because of the sheer effort it took to even put myself on the start line; and because I’d done it for Cheryl and for Tom, whose strength had pulled me through when I felt to have lost all of my own.

Gav looked knackered. “It’s harder watching a bloody marathon than it is running one!” he jibed. He wasn’t joking – not when I’m his partner.

Back in the VIP room, we were now able to take advantage of some of the other luxuries on offer.

“Gav, you know this soup? Well it’s cold.”

“Yeah, well that’s Christine Talbot over there.”

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The Trauma of Marathon Taper…

The Trauma of Marathon Taper…

What a few weeks it’s been. I’m not altogether sure whether NOT running has been a blessing (in that my body literally couldn’t be bothered to shuffle itself from the sofa to the loo when required) or a curse – in that minimal running for me is like a crack addict going Cold Turkey: my mind doesn’t know which way is up, or what to do. And so it runs around in circles making animal noises instead.

Either way, since the GNR on Sunday 11th September, I haven’t run much at all. Life has in fact swooped down on me like a peckish, circling vulture on a sleep-deprived injured vole. So, over the past 5 weeks I have:

  • Run (and won) a 20 mile race (Golden Balls, Lancaster race series results here);
  • Run (and not won) the Great North Run (I ran in place of my injured counterpart’Dodd’;
  • Moved house – it’s really nice, but still a complete ball ache;
  • Navigated my way through my daughter’s 6th birthday, complete with highly risky Junior Parkrun birthday party (see previous blog), and survived an exhausting 250 mile round trip to Cadbury World in Birmingham, where we FINALLY made good on our promise that the Golden Wonka Ticket she’d received for her 5th birthday wasn’t in fact a fake (although she was made aware that following the unfortunate passing of Mr Wonka (RIP), the factory has been handed down to Charlie and has undergone a major refurb together with re-branding and name change. She bought it… Just.
  • Been ill. Just bleugh. Run down, poorly, stay-in-bed-and-eat-white-buttered-toast in silence kind of ill. Missing work ill, which isn’t like me.
  • Work stuff (I know – bore off.) Nuff said.
  • Had a rather major issue crop up with a rental property, and a challenging tenant. It will be costly in time, mental resource, patience and – of course – cold, hard cash (again – where’s the duvet and white toast?)

So, I haven’t run. I haven’t WANTED to run. In fact, I’ve wanted to do nothing even vaguely resembling running. It’s like rolling over in bed and seeing a wart on the nose of your life partner that’s never been apparent before, and being repulsed by it. I can ONLY see the wart.

And this leaves me in a tricky position, because my mind is trying to convince me ‘You really don’t want to run this marathon on Sunday, Rach. You’re spent. Totally knackered. It hurts your pitiful, aching limbs to walk up the stairs. You’ve been (mildly) battered by life these past few weeks, and you’re just not up to this. Don’t do it.’

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But I’m not having it.

On Sunday morning, we will be meeting up with our friends Cheryl and Tom. They will also be running the Yorkshire Marathon. Cheryl has become my very own, Wonder Woman-caped Superhero. I admire her in a way that makes me question whether we are even derived from the same species.

She’s known about my eating-white-buttered-toast-whilst-hiding-under-the-duvet couple of weeks. On Wednesday morning, I woke up to a Twitter ‘ping.’ It was from Cheryl. She said:

7:15am “Hello lovely. Just checking in. Hope you’re OK and not stressing about Sunday…”

Cheryl woke up on that morning and thought about me. She wondered how I was getting on, whilst wading through the mire of small fry, irritating shite that had come along, plopped on the windscreen of my newly washed 4×4, and will – undoubtedly – fly off again. I looked over at my bedside table, and the empty plate with a few remnants of white toast crumbs on it.

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Cheryl wakes up every morning and has to face the day without her daughter, Edie. The mess that has been dropped from a great height won’t wash off her 4×4. Not ever.

And the Yorkshire Marathon? It’s not about me anymore. I can’t bring myself to wallow in the self-indulgent white-buttered-toast eating place where my time matters. It doesn’t. My selfish, pathetic, results-based, insecure ego tries to TELL me it does, but the reality is that it doesn’t matter. Not a fucking jot. Not when my 4×4 has the prospect of being clear of shite again, and Cheryl’s doesn’t.

And I wonder. Just how many rounds of white, buttered, toast would I need to get me through the days? How many hours would I spend underneath the duvet? How many metres could I run, let alone miles?

So Cheryl, although mildly splattered in bird crap, I will be there at the start line on Sunday. I will run the marathon for you and with you, and it will remind me that my ‘hard’ isn’t really that hard at all.

Now, get your Wonder Woman cape on and fly. *and don’t make me carry you over the finish line on Sunday, because if I have to, I bloody well will.

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