It's surprisingly nerve-wracking making this announcement but here it is: I will be running the Kent Road Runner full marathon for Speak on 31st May 2014.
I've never run a race before, not even a short one. Gentle trots in the park are about the extent of my running expertise. So I thought you might like to know why an ordinary, relatively sane person would put themselves through such an ordeal.
But first, for a bit of context, I stumbled upon the Greek legend of how marathons first came about. Philippides, an Athenian “courier", who had the unenviable task of running about delivering messages by foot, was sent to bring news of the Greek victory over the Persians at the Battle of Marathon. After running for 26 miles he finally burst through the court yard and addressed the anxious magistrates with the words:
"Joy to you, we've won" he said, and there and then he died, breathing his last breath with the words "Joy to you" (Lucian, “A Slip of the tongue in Greeting” [emphasis added])
Quite an ominous history then. Not boding well for the average human.
Interesting, though, that ‘joy’ was supposedly the last words on the lips of someone clearly in dying agony.
The initial thought of running a marathon instilled a sense of fear in me but also a strong spark of exhilaration; I sincerely thought, “There is no way on earth that I can do that”, but almost instantly, a little voice piped up: “You’d better give it a go then”.
I had been reflecting a lot on the idea that the only real limitations that bind us are the ones we set ourselves; that we always underestimate, rather than overestimate what we are capable of achieving. I was also aware that all faith, including faith in oneself, is like a muscle that must be exercised. The only way to do it is by taking little leaps into the unknown and trusting; by working out what is right for you through testing it in the grubby, hard-hitting, sometimes tedious, sometimes exhilarating practical events of life.
So I got myself a plan. Just a simple Bupa training plan from the internet. And day by day, week by week I was starting to run with a growing passion. By week two I could run for 6 miles, week four, 10 miles and six weeks in I was running for 13 miles. Somehow getting through a half marathon without too much agony or fuss. I began to wonder how many other things I hadn't attempted because it seemed to be a scary big Goliath not even worth flinging a few stones at or because I secretly doubted my ability to persevere and finish what I started; better not to begin than to fail, I'd think. By taking things one day at a time, the goal was manageable and it didn't have the power to overwhelm me with its hugeness.
And then my knee got injured.
It's a solid irony that whenever I get a little glimpse of insight, I get about a week's breathing space to marinate in it, before God decides I’ve had enough and wrenches it out of my hands to be rediscovered on a harder level. Almost like a computer game, a cruel twist of fate, a divine treasure hunt depending on one's perspective.
It was out of the blue and it literally brought me to a standstill. Like most things, I didn’t realise how much I cared about this marathon until the opportunity seemed to be taken away against my will. I hobbled around in a sombre mood. I rested. I bought dubious joint supplements from Holland & Barretts. The pain would rear itself in a big way if I tried to run for even 10 minutes.
The dream seemed to be fading out of reach very rapidly.
I decided to fork out and see a physiotherapist yesterday. After a lots of strange bends, pulling of limbs, and foreign medical terms being muttered, I was expecting the worst.
Trevor the physio said: "You'll be absolutely fine. Just an inflamed tendon where you've overdone it a bit. By the way what's that nasty looking scar on your ankle? Have you broken it before?"
Ah yes, the old ankle, coming back to haunt me again. I broke it on Christmas Eve 2010 wearing foolishly high heeled shoes. I had the mother of all falls which broke both the bones in my leg and led to 6 months of me being on crutches. I watched my good leg grow as muscly as the Hulk's, what with all the added work of being one-legged, whilst the other wasted away into a sparrow-like proportions; in fact, taking account of the bruising, it looked like Gollum's leg after spending a particularly long time out of sunlight.
But everything had supposedly healed since then. "That's the trouble with marathon training", the physio said, "It brings to light any underlying weaknesses which stop your body working in full alignment". What's the cure? Strengthening the weak parts. Re-training that leg to move as it should. To move as if it were completely trauma free.
It made me think that there must be many past events which have happened to us that lie dormant and forgotten, but which actually have a great capacity to limit us and stop us in our tracks. Like tremor lines along a map. They allow us to function just fine on a normal day but when really put under strain they can bring us to a standstill. Ironically, it's only when a bit of a crisis happens that the underlying problem is brought to light and only then can steps be taken to address the root cause of it. Then the whole self begins to work in harmony again.
It's been an interesting journey so far. I am currently strapped up with red physio tape on my leg, the medical benefits of which are a little dubious, but with the go-ahead to continue my training when things are healed and strengthened. I know that stubborn determination alone is unlikely to get me through the race and that every step of pain-free running is a gift that cannot be taken for granted; I know that when you take a little leap of faith into the unknown and challenge the boundaries you've set yourself, you cannot fail to learn something and realise you're capabilities are far bigger than you ever imagined; despite the unexpected obstacles that invariably come up along the way, discouragement never has to be the final word, and can actually be the catalyst for improvement and growth. Of course, only when the initial frustration has worn off does this become a little clearer.
So I'll leave it there. Your support and prayers will be incredibly welcome and a huge source of encouragement to me over the next few weeks as I get hobble-free and back on form.
The link to my fundraising page is below, all donations go towards helping the very worthy cause that is Speak.