Today I ran my seventh race. The Durham 5k Race for Life. Like so many of the people I ran with today, my life and that of my family have been touched by cancer. I have seen first hand how, in an incredibly short space of time, this disease can destroy a life. When I started My 2016 running Challenges, I always intended to complete at least one Race for Life. For many, A Race for Life might be the first experience of exercise again since the humiliation of Physical Education at school. Therefore, the opportunity to return to my school fields, where I used to dread running, over twenty years ago (eek), was too coincidental to miss.
Sports bras weren’t invented back then
I didn’t enjoy secondary education. Coming from an old mining town in the North East of England, my primary education was in a small school with only a small number of peers. I loved it. I was popular and confident. I did Irish dancing, swam and took gymnastics. Once the front door was open in the morning you were outside with friends. It was brilliant. I was kind of quirky as a kid. Huge Timmy Mallet glasses, cartoon tshirts (always Garfield), boys haircut and a love of boys shoes. Until the age of eleven, back then, your friends just didn’t care.
From my first day in secondary education everything changed. My quirkiness stood out for all the wrong reasons. I was bullied and felt humiliated most days. Physical Education at school was possibly the lowest point in my miserable teenage years. Especially cross country running. An asthmatic with enormous boobs, what was there to love? I mean sports bras weren’t invented back then, and if they were, no one told me about them. Cross country running was a cold and wet humiliation, orchestrated by my own awkward body. In desperation, I learned how to forge my mother’s signature, to write myself notes to get out of the sessions. It was amazing how many asthma attacks would take place the day before PE.
Today I returned a runner
The humiliation and scars I gained during my secondary school years plagued me into my twenties. However, determined not to be victim to them forever, I chose to do something about it. A coincidental job offer, an apprenticeship with low pay, lead me to start riding my bike daily. A journey that took 45 minutes there and back. Suddenly the benefits became addictive. I changed. Gained back some confidence. The ugly duckling became a swan. Or just a better looking, quirky sort of duck. By age 27, I was ready to face my demons and return to running.
Today, as I stood once again on the school playing fields, I returned a runner. Confident, proud, with a sturdy sports bra, pink wig, leg warmers and fairy wings (on top of my running clothes, not on their own). Images of Mr Mason, the stern, moustachioed PE teacher, in his job lot 1990s polyester tracksuit, shouting instruction, running through my mind. I’m not scared anymore and my inhaler is in the front pocket of my running belt.
An army in pink, taking on a common enemy
The Race For Life, at any venue, is usually well organised and this was no exception. A dynamic warm up, followed by orderly instruction to the start line. A two minutes silence, immediately before the start, brought home the reason why we were all there. Looking around at the messages pinned to the backs of all the runners. Too many children with the words “my mum” in neatly written print.
As the race started, the swell of emotion pushed us all forward. An army in pink, taking on a common enemy. That is why the Race for Life is so important. After someone is taken by cancer you are left powerless, helpless in the face of a monster. The need to do something. To fight back. Anything to feel less vulnerable.
The course itself was, at times, unforgivingly hilly. Running uphill, in a thick pink wig and leg warmers was also a little unforgiving at times. However, the scenery and the atmosphere offered adequate compensation. Also, unlike many other runs, there was no competitive edge. If you feel conscious of your body, a race for life is the place to start. Looking around today, every female body shape, type and age was adequately represented.
A day to be proud of
If I could recommend one thing on the back of today’s race, I would say, complete a Race for Life. It is not threatening or intimidating. If at any point you find yourself struggling, you will be surrounded by others of the same ability. It is about fun and fancy dress and grit and determination all at once. It is a day to fight back. A day to take control. A day to face the demons from the school cross country field. A day to be proud of.
So where next…
With the summer race season taking place mostly on a weekday evening, my August race has been difficult to pin down. Anyone following will know that I love Parkrun and one of my fellow mummies running has been badgering for me to come and run a Park run, with her running group, the Fairfield Harriers. Therefore, I have agreed a date and intend to run my next run on 6th August at the Albert Park ParkRun in Middlesbrough. Top monkey will be pleased as he only likes to attend my races if it includes a park or a stadium. I am really looking forward to running with an inspirational group of people I have been following on social media. They seem like my kind of runners. Steady, determined and always up for a giggle.
I am continuing to raise money and awareness for Raindrops to Rainbows. My fight back to the devestation left after the death of my friend (Coffee Cake and Cuddles). If you want to donate please visit their Gofundme page and leave a little message of support.