I can hardly walk today. I am literally hobbling around and in my own mind am resembling someone who has recently had both hips replaced, both knees replaced and has had an embarrassing accident “downstairs”. I kid you not. I am also giving off strange sound effects as well – little “oohs” and “ahhs” as I attempt to get down or upstairs, get out of my car or stand up after sitting down for a few minutes. Putting my shoes on is a particularly noisy affair today!
You see, yesterday I ran 13.1 miles in the world’s largest half marathon: The Great North Run.
I ran with my brother and our good friend Danny in aid of the Alzheimer’s Society and in honour of my lovely mum. It was awful. I hated every step from about mile 3 and it hurt from mile 2 when I got a stitch that is still aggravating my tummy today. It was hot – strangely hot for the North East of England – and there were people collapsing at the side of the road all the way along due to the heat and the sheer effort of keeping going.
We did it though. Not as fast as I’d have hoped (2hrs 1min) but we got round in one piece and get this – we are on target to raise over £3000 for this wonderful cause. Proud? Damned right I am!
I must admit, I was a tad emotional though. My amazing brother and I struggled to keep our tears at bay yesterday. Particular moments of overwhelming sadness were when the Red Arrows did their first fly past when we had just run over the Tyne Bridge and when a bunch of supporters at the side of the road shouted my name particularly loudly. I don’t know why their specific calls of “You can do it Sarah, keep going!” got to me more than any others, but they did and for a second I almost gave up and sat down for a good old cry. I didn’t though, I gritted my teeth, clenched my fists and kept putting one sore leg in front of the other. It was painful and I was almost sick a few times, but I am now glad, in retrospect that I did it, not least because of the cuppa soup at the end.
Let me explain: At the finish there is a huge area where all the charities set up areas for their runners. These large tents are like Aladdin’s Cave to an exhausted runner! Trestle tables lined the outer edges of the inside, one was packed full of crisps of all different flavours; one was full of chocolate bars and the other had cups on ready for teas, coffees or…..cuppa soups!
Having not had a cuppa soup….for, well…..ever, I stayed away from the unknown and asked the very lovely volunteer lady wearing an Alzheimer’s Society T-shirt for a cup of tea. I then hobbled to the crisp table and stuffed two bags of cheese and onion flavoured crisps down my throat before feeling a little bit shivery and weak. “Have some soup,” the lovely lady suggested after she’d given me a cuddle, told me I had done so well and made me cry. I couldn’t say no, so ordered a cup of minestrone and it was the perfect cup of strange un-food-like crunchy things I have ever eaten and just what I needed at that moment to burn my tongue and take my mind off my mother’s photograph which was still clinging to the back of my running vest.
I have had so many people telling me how proud I should feel and what an amazing thing it is we’ve done, and I do and it is. But looking round that charity village, there were volunteers there from all walks of life and of all ages, providing much needed support, kind words and cups of artificial soup and who also deserve recognition for the effort they put in too. They also deserve a medal.
I have run the Great North Run four times now and this was by far the hardest one, probably for a few reasons: The heat, my age (now officially in another category!) and the personal reasons for doing it whilst trying to raise as much money as possible. I have no doubt all three factors hindered me on the day and I must admit to being slightly disappointed that I didn’t beat my PB set two years earlier, when I was still in my thirties and my mum was still….well, Mum.
My kids had no such concerns though. I called them before and after the race. Archie’s advice as I stood in the starting pen was to try and trip up Mo Farah. Then, when I’d finished they all demanded to know where I’d finished in the race…had I come third? Fourth? Did I trip up Mo? The answer is actually that I came 11,698th out of around 55,000. I haven’t told them that – I told them I did well and gave Mo a run for his money, that the Olympic, record-breaking champion just beat me to the line.
As for my mum, she doesn’t know what the three of us went through yesterday in aid of her and all those who are struggling with Alzheimer’s or dementia. She doesn’t know that we ran with her picture pinned carefully to the backs of our running vests; that she was with us all the way round and that at several times throughout the race when I was ready to collapse in a heap, or stop running and sob my heart out, that it was her voice in my head and the thought of her beautiful face smiling out at the runners behind me that kept me going. She has been told, of course, and I will tell her again tonight how sore my legs are and how I am struggling to walk, but how proud I am and how my brother and Danny were my complete and utter heroes yesterday; how they looked after me from start to finish and helped me be stronger than I really am.
She will not understand. That is so bloody sad isn’t it? She won’t understand that so many people have sponsored me because they remember my lovely mum and what a strong, vivacious and wonderful woman she was. She won’t understand that we did it for her, or even that we did it at all.
She won’t understand any of it.
Perhaps I will tell her I almost caught Mo and instead had to settle for second or third place. Or perhaps I will just ask her about the weather before she hangs up the phone or puts the handset down and wanders away, leaving me at the end of the line calling for her, “Mum? Mother? Are you there?”
Perhaps I will look at her photograph instead, the beautiful one of her at my sister’s wedding just a few years ago and I will talk to that mum and tell her what we have done and how proud we are and how proud she would be if she could be. I will tell her she helped me round and I could hear her cheering me on in my head.
And in my head, she will reply.