A marathon is beyond me; I can’t even drive that far. I get tired just watching the London marathon.
However, as a compromise, I sign up for a 5k charity run. The ‘Race for Life’ is organised by Cancer Research. I’ve never taken part in anything like this; I’m nervous. Partly because I don’t enjoy being organised. Partly because I’ve done absolutely nothing to prepare.
I arrive at Battersea Park in south west London in time for a 7pm start. It’s highly organised and friendly. I’m in cast-off shorts, old Gap t-shirt and new all-the-gear-no-idea Nikes. As 7pm approaches, after a group warm-up, we’re corralled into runners, joggers and walkers. The field is packed with 3000 chirruping women, many of whom are pretty in pink. The cacophony reminds me of the scene in What Women Want when Mel Gibson discovers he can hear women’s thoughts. As he jogs through Central Park, a group of women jog towards him; the noise is unbearable to him.
I love it; women are fabulously clubbable, I’m proud to be a part of this.
I feel tearful reading the messages pinned to everyone’s t-shirts, where they have written who they are running for…..some say, ‘For anyone who needs me to’, or ‘For my future patients’ and ‘For my mum. I miss you’. Some have several names written down. I’ve written, ‘For my Mum’. The personalisation gives us all an unspoken unity and compassion for each other.
We are staggered and I set off at 2 minutes 57 seconds past 7pm. The atmosphere is uplifting. We are cheered on and encouraged by marshalls and well-wishing observers all the way round. The power of the group means I keep going and don’t slow to a walk as I feared I would. As we approach the final 1k, Dame Kelly Holmes suddenly appears, running the other way. She is gleaming with health and vitality. She looks like she’s running just above the ground, powered by an internal Mercedes. ‘Come on ladies’ she beams. The encouragement really makes a difference. The winner crosses the line in 18 minutes; I’m just under 35 minutes.
We’re all given goody bags, snacks, and more importantly, a medal.
In this Olympic year I’m a medal winner. I’m thrilled. I haven’t been a medal winner since my gold medal for swimming when I was 10. I’m also knackered and have a huge bacon sandwich. Touchingly, no one starts to dismantle the area until the last person has crossed the line.
Of course I spend the next three days unable to straighten my legs. I did it though. I love how straightforward sport is; you know what you know. There’s nothing subjective about results. It’s black and white. I know I ran 5k. I also know that I loved it. And I want to do another.