Four years ago, I got up from the couch where I had lazy-dazily dozed all day, put on a pair of old trainers and declared that I was going for a run. I stepped out of my front door and jogged ever so slowly for approximately half a kilometre down the road, before running out of breath and cramping up.
I limped back home, beaten yet invigorated.
I remember that run so very clearly. It is firmly etched in my mind amongst other life-changing events – the kind that roll in like a huge barrel wave, knocking you sideways, sucking you into their terrifying yet enlightening vastness, and then spitting you out the other side, spluttering and bewildered.
Back home, standing in my kitchen, clutching the work-surface as I stretched my screaming calves, I felt something change within me – an almost inexplicable shift in how I identified with myself, like a magnetically organic pull.
A tiny seed had been planted in the very centre of my soul.
A tiny running seed that would quietly cultivate a flourishing new me.
Technically, I’m not a very good runner. I have a somewhat lumbering gait, a general awkwardness and I’m not entirely sure what I’m supposed to do with my arms. At times, my hips lock and I kind of shuffle forwards like a penguin, my mouth fixed in a staunch grimace, my eyes staring at my feet, willing them to work. I am not a particularly fast runner either, nor am I competitive, I procrastinate a lot and am forever finding an excuse to slow down to tie my shoelace or fiddle with my iPod.
Do you know what though? In spite of all this, I am still a runner.
When I run, nothing matters. It’s just me and the sky and the ground beneath my feet. My day can be the shittiest-shitter of a day, my shoulders stooped and burdened with the cumbersome bags of emotion I regularly heave upon them, and yet when I run, I shake them free, my heart races and the furnace in my body burns with a fiery intensity. Running is so much more to me than just exercise. Running provides me with a mental and spiritual strength that I just cannot channel from any other source. Running brings me home and helps me to deepen my relationship with myself. A 20 mile training run can kick-up a multitude of physical challenges; blisters, cramping, chafing, swollen feet and aching, and yet the mental hurdles are often the worst to contend with, specifically the all-encompassing desire to just STOP.
But I never do.
I keep on running. I keep on digging deep. Running unleashes my inner-badass and I stride purposefully, powered by a strength that resonates and rumbles loudly from within. Running challenges everything I think I am. I’ve never been one to stick at anything, I half-heartedly practice playing the guitar, I don’t update this blog near enough as much as I intend to, I make plans and then break them, but I rarely miss a run. I am consistent and disciplined and I. Stick. At. It.
Running is where I find my peace, my thoughts flow through with the clarity of water from the freshest spring, I feel capable and content and peaceful.
I run because I can.
This coming Sunday, I’ll be running the London Marathon.
The athlete, Barry Magee, when asked to describe how it feels to run a marathon, once said: “Anyone can run 20 miles. It’s the next six that count.”
I’ve run 20 miles. And it bloody hurt.
Those 6 additional miles terrify me.
Those 6 additional miles are unknown territory for me.
I am scared that my legs will not be strong enough.
I am scared that I will not have the mental resilience to pull me through to the finish line.
To combat my fears, I’ve created a list to carry with me on the day, which I will look at as I pass each mile marker. On this list, I’ve written the names of the people who have joined me on my 4races4cites marathon journey. Some of these people have literally run beside me, or been there for an encouraging chat, and others have cheered me on from the side lines by sending text messages, emails, commenting on my blog posts, ‘liking’ my Facebook statuses, re-tweeting my tweets and sponsoring my fundraising mission.
These miles are for you.
Mile 1 is for my sister, I haven’t mentioned her much on this blog, as she’s quite a private person. Catherine has been with me from the start, long before the 4races4cities project was even conceptualised. She supported me not only at my very first race, nearly 4 years ago, when I ran 5K in memory of mum, but over the 12 years since we lost her. Her strength inspires me. I love you, big sis.
Mile 2 is for the bloggers, Noa, Lori, Helen and Jess, who helped me spread the word about my 4races4cities project by writing about me on their own blogs, as well as Alexandra, Jerrod, Jen, Laurenne, Victoria, Heidi and Kelly, who have re-tweeted my blog posts and fundraising website to their hundreds and thousands of Twitter followers. Other than Helen, I haven’t met a single one of these people in person, yet they’ve reached out to me through the power of the internet and touched my heart. Thank you.
Mile 3 is for Sue, a wonderful woman who has helped me through some tough times over the last year and a half. Sue has listened to me without judgement as I’ve faced my demons and discussed the darker aspects of my soul. I’m a better person for working with her.
Mile 4 is for Louise, a dear friend who advises me about what I should be eating and sends me links to running and well-being articles, as well as encouraging me to start doing yoga (I will, I promise). Louise, your advice has been invaluable to me, thank you!
Mile 5 is for Brandi Carlile. Her music lifts me on the training runs when my determination waivers. Also, she’s totally hot, and when I found out that she was a fellow gal who likes gals, I added her to my laminate lists of famous people I totally ‘would’.
Mile 6 is for Lisa. I held you at arm’s length when I met you as I didn’t want you to be part of my Dad’s life. Over the years, we’ve grown closer and closer, and I’m thankful that we’ve managed to develop a relationship that overlooks the typical ‘step-mum/step-daughter’ set-up, and defines us as friends instead.
Mile 7 is for Emma, my best friend. I wrote a post about her not so long ago. Emma is coming to London to cheer me on next Sunday, and mile 7 will be where I’ll see her for the first time on the marathon course. Emma and I grew up together; she knew my Mum during happier and healthier times and provides a link to childhood memories that I cherish so very dearly.
Mile 8 is for Jeff, my brother-in-law. When I first met Jeff, over 14 years ago, I was a scrawny teenager with wild hair, a macaroni-cheese habit and a penchant for wearing all-in-one pyjamas. Not much has changed – although I am definitely less scrawny. Thank you for being my big brother (and putting up blinds for me).
Mile 9 is for Abby. I first ‘met’ you when I stumbled upon your blog. I admired you from afar for several months, before working up the confidence to mention you in a post that was inspired by something you’d written on your own blog. From then on, we emailed and shared our stories, and even though I haven’t met you in person, (dammit, Atlantic ocean), I feel like you’re as much a friend to me as the ones I sit with weekly and drink coffee. You are an extremely talented writer, and your work manages to eloquently bridge the gap between ‘funny’ and ‘poignant’. It’s a gift, hold on to it.
Mile 10 is for my nephew, Joseph. You’ve grown from being an inquisitive, blue-eyed boy into an intelligent, thoughtful and caring young man. You display such protectiveness towards your little sister, in the same way that my big sister (your mum) did for me. Your Nanna loved you more than anything, and when you were born, you seemed like the only one who could pull her out of her own darkness. You only knew her for a very short time, but know that your presence brought a glimmering light in her often troubled last years with us.
Mile 11 is for my niece, Hannah. Your arrival in our family came at a time when we were all nursing our wounds and learning to walk again. Your well-timed witty remarks, even as a toddler, never fail to brighten up a room. Your creativity, especially your talent for penning poetry, astounds me. Keep writing, keep dreaming, keep being you.
Mile 12 is for Jenny, Nicola, Sarah, Helen, Becky and Heather. I don’t see any of you as much as I’d like as a consequence of the miles between us. Your support, however, is never far away. I love you all.
Mile 13 is for Richmond Borough Council. Other than the fact that you charge me extortionate amounts of money per month in council tax, I would like to thank the people who are responsible for keeping the parks and riverside paths where I run, in such wonderful condition. There’s nothing quite as breath-taking as an early morning run in Richmond Park or along the river towards Hampton Court Palace, I feel lucky to live in such a beautiful part of the world.
Mile 14 is for Lily, my cat. Thank you for licking my legs when I get in from a run. It’s actually pretty gross that you do that, but I am under the impression that you’re being affectionate, so erm, thanks.
Mile 15 is for Terry in Australia. You found me via my blog, and since then, we’ve become email friends. As a mum who suffers from depression yourself, you’ve helped me to understand and find peace with my mum’s story. I think you’re a remarkable woman with such a robust attitude towards life.
Mile 16 is for Phil Tudor-Wren. You’ve supported the 4races4cities project from day one. You’re always the first to like my updates and Facebook statuses, and you have provided me with bags of invaluable information as I look to progress my career in a direction that will fulfill me, just like you did. Keep doing what you do.
Mile 17 is for Kristin. This is the mile, during my training, that I’ve always struggled with for some reason, so knowing you’ll be stood there, cheering me on, fills me with calm. I cannot thank you enough for your support over the last year. You’ve attended every single race, standing in the cold at the finishing line, screaming my name from the top of your lungs and clapping me to the finish. You’ve put up with my obsessive training plans and shown patience towards me when I moan about my tight hamstrings and calves, or discuss, for the umpteenth time, the ratios between energy gel consumption and distance travelled. Most importantly, thank you for giving me the room to spread my wings. Never change, my hippy girl. I love you.
Mile 18 is for the enigmatic long-distance runner Michael Randall Hickman, known to many as Caballo Blanco. A year ago, I picked up your book and read it in one sitting. To say you inspired me is an understatement. Rest in peace.
Mile 19 is for is for my Nanna. Your life has not been without tragedy and yet you remain the strongest woman I know. The matriarch of the family, you’re so much more than just a Nanna to Catherine and myself, and you’ve provided a home-from-home for us both when we venture back up North. You never fail to amuse me with your extremely un-pc comments and the fact that you only attend church services because the coffee is cheap. I’ll attempt to wave at the television cameras as I cross Tower Bridge on Sunday, I know you’ll be watching and waving. I love you.
Mile 20 is for Priscilla. We ran our first half-marathon together in May 2011, and our second in March this year. Our friendship has surpassed anything I could have imagined, you’ve been a constant pillar of strength for me, not only with my running endeavours, but in my personal life too. I always enjoy our riverside runs which combine marathon training with a therapy session. Thank you for raising money for the 4races4cities project, it means the world to me.
Mile 21 is for Blogilates. Your Pilates videos cause me such pain, but my running has improved no end since I started working on my core. Still no six-pack though, goddamnit.
Mile 22 is for Tim. You ran with me during the winter months when it was cold and icy and helped me to increase my speed by always (annoyingly) running ahead of me (because you’re such a competitive ass). Our friendship has evolved so much, and I feel running has helped us to create the beautiful kinship we possess. I’ve never been best mates with a boy before, but our friendship feels so organic and fluid, especially when we spend our evenings chatting and comparing notes about hot girls. Keep running, Timmy.
Mile 23 is for Mind, the mental health charity. The work you all do is second to none. I am proud to raise money for such a hardworking, dynamic and inspirational charity.
Mile 24 is for my Dad. The most important man in my life. When I am lost, you guide me. You have such a loving heart, and despite it being smashed to pieces in the most traumatic circumstance, you continue to share it with the people around you, especially those less fortunate. I love you, Papa.
Mile 25 is for every single person who has donated to the 4races4cities project. Just when I imagine I can’t feel any more overwhelmed by your generosity, another donation comes in and I’m on my knees once more. I know that a lot of people ask for sponsorship money these days, and it’s all too easy to just ignore my fundraising pleas and rambling emails, so thank you, from the bottom of my heart. By all accounts, mile 25 is one of the worst of all the miles as it’s so near, yet so far. And so I will think of the support I’ve received from all of you, and try my best and run it with a smile in my heart.
Mile 26.2 is for my Mum. The aching void that bore into my chest the day you left us behind has never healed. I miss you every day and often lie at night trying to remember what your voice sounded like, I haven’t heard it in over 12 years. Gosh, 12 years, Mum, you’ve missed out on so very much, but we’re all doing ok and looking out for each other. It’s taken me a while to come to terms with my grief, I hid it for a long time, but I feel like I’ve finally found peace, as I hope you have. Thank you for sending the robins as a sign to show you are still around. I see them all the time when I’m out running, and I always whisper ‘hello’ as they hop from branch to branch. Sunday is for you, Mum, your name will be on my running vest and I’ll wear it with pride in your memory. This last mile and a bit is for you, Mum. Lots of love, from your daughter, Liz.