Survival

Well, I did it.

I’m rather feeling it now, but I did it.

I got all the way round the Twilight 5k without stopping.

I was as mentally and physically prepared as I could have been, but I can’t begin to emphasise enough what a massive motivating factor the event itself was.

Race for Life events always make me emotional. I lost my aunt Carol to cancer when I was just five. It’s the only really personal experience I have of the disease and, though it saddens me to admit this, I don’t really remember it all that well. I have these disjointed memories of being at my aunt’s house – pushing a car down a hill to jump start it, trying to climb a tree in her garden. Not much else.

But that doesn’t stop my eyes welling up, my throat closing up a little to see hundreds of women dressed in pink, brightly lit with fairy lights and the free flashing rings being handed out by Mecca Bingo, and their supporters gathering together. Everyone has a person or sometimes people that they are running for. All those lives affected, all those fabulous people lost, fighting or victorious after a draining slog against a vicious disease.

So when the event kicked off, I optimistically stayed with the ‘runners’ group. My previous experience of this sort of event let me know that most ‘runners’ would rather over estimate their ability, so if I did have to stop and walk, I would at least not be the first, or the only.

We got going. The track (though unfortunately shaped rather like a penis when looked down upon using Garmin’s GPS tracker) had the benefit of slaloming back and forth upon itself a number of times, which meant that we were never too far away from the announcer or the music or the general ambiance of the night. Looking over our shoulders, we could see the crowds of glittering lights bobbing along behind us.

The race track was beautifully lit with flashing colourful lights, coloured spotlights, and the occasional floodlight where the track was precarious. Still, it was definitely an exercise in trusting your feet – something I’ve never been especially good at – as the track plunged into darkness, uneven surface, stones and muddy puddles beneath your feet.

I kept moving though. By 3k my knee was starting to hurt a little. By 3k on my previous run, I felt like I was standing on broken glass every time I put my left foot down. So this was good. I hurt, but comparatively it wasn’t much more than I hurt anywhere else. The 4th kilometre was something of a killer, though. Until this point, I’d been keeping up with my mother pretty steadily. When she started getting away from me, I’d speed up, darting between the people around me, who cheered and told me to ‘Do it for Carol.’ As Mum started to open up a little on the long slightly uphill incline that was the 4th kilometre, I couldn’t keep up. I didn’t stop, but I couldn’t maintain the same speed. I started pep talking myself.

All around me were women who clearly weren’t as fit as I was. They were stopping, then running, then stopping, leapfrogging past me. I had the physical stamina, the knowledge that I’d run this distance before. They had a sort of mental grit that I find difficult to summon. This display of determination all around me was inspiration enough to keep me pushing through the steadily increasing pain in my leg. If they could do it, so could I. We’d all do it together.

It really felt in the spirit of the event, and as the final kilometre began – a nice steady downhill, I went for it, trying to push myself enough to catch up with Mum. I flew down the final hill, feeling strong and confident, the announcer even giving me a special mention. I crossed the line mere seconds behind my mother. We collected our medals (and jelly babies and Aqua Pura) together.

I knew even then that I would go home to take ibuprofen, soak in a hot bath and treat my knee with a hot water bottle. I knew I would be stiff and achy in my bad leg today. But for that moment I felt glorious. It was a perfect event to get back into, a perfect opportunity to do something charitable that also made me feel an inner strength that I worried I didn’t really have.

I really hope I get the chance to run many more.

Mum and I in our pink

Mum and I in our pink

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