First apologies to the people who follow my blog, this one isn’t about dyslexia… Last weekend I ran a Marathon and as I have talked to friends and family about it they have asked me to write about the experience to tell my story and to maybe inspire others.
Sometimes in our lives things happen to us that change the direction of our lives. Sometimes we are in control of this change and other times it’s forced upon us and we have to deal with the consequences. I love the quote ‘You can’t always control what happens to you, but you do have a choice about what you do next…’
This time last year I was an overweight 36 year old, living life how society expected, but my life took an unexpected turn, things out of my control happened one thing after another, like a domino effect, knocking me to the ground and as I picked myself back up and dusted myself off another blow seemed to come down harder. I felt invisible. I felt like the people I spent every day with didn’t really notice me. I had made myself invisible and found a place to hide. The only thing that kept me standing during this time was Tom, the kids, my amazing family and close friends. As I hit rock bottom I realised I didn’t want to hide any more and I realised what really mattered in life and it wasn’t work and it wasn’t money. It was my family and friends surrounding me with love and encouragement to be brave enough to keep going that slowly pulled me back into reality and helped me find a new and true purpose in life.
All of this was going through my head as I kissed goodbye to Tom and Bill in Preston Park at 8.55am on Sunday 17th April, surrounded by proper runners. This and an overwhelming sense of fear and terror. Can I really do it? Can I really run an actual marathon. It’s 26.2 miles, it’s no jog around the block. I think back to Good Friday and how I had run 22 miles, how I had only run 7 of these on my own because my sister in law had made a baton and I had arranged for people to run with me from mile 7, each new person would pass the baton to the next to get me to the end. How my dad had followed me round on his motor bike cheering at almost every mile, and how everyone was at the end with a banner cheering me on.
16 weeks of training was culminating to what would happen in the next 6 hours. Runs 4 times a week, in the rain, in Gail force winds, in sleet and in snow, in icy conditions and sunshine totalling 243 miles. The trials and tribulations of sorting chaffing issues, finding equipment, creams and clothing that minimised this! I had the scars to prove it, my body was changed forever because of this experience! In 6 hours time I would hopefully be a Brighton Hero and that would be a huge achievement and that would make it all worth it. Largely because I had raised a huge amount of money for a charity which is very close to my families hearts.
I made my way to my Corral, 5 hours plus… I walked towards the front brushing past waiting people of all shapes and sizes, all colours and cultures. I took a quick selfie and posted to social media, but that would be it until the end… I wanted to live this in the moment and it was at this point it hit me. I was completely overwhelmed by emotion and on the verge of tears as I looked around I could see a sea of coloured vests with charities and messages and quotes, running for mum, running for dad, running for Sam, running for cancer, running for still born babies, running for make a wish, running for every reason you could imagine. Suddenly I felt part of something important, something serious and something way more than a 26.2 mile run! It wasn’t exciting, it wasn’t terrifying, it was simple. I just needed to finish the race, not for my pride, but because of all the people who had sponsored me and believed I could do it. I could not let them down. I could not let my charity down. Every single one of those people surrounding me was on the same mission, we were united, strangers but with a common goal… To make it to the finish line and I just knew we would get each other there. As I was thinking this the music started pumping and each corral in turn was asked to cheer… As my corral was introduced we were introduced as the real Brighton Heros, the ones who would be running all day for reasons only they knew. That was it, I had tears streaming down my face, my heart was pounding and there was NO turning back.
One by one the corrals walked to the start line and the big screen showed people running under it, smiling, the people were smiling as they ran! It was going to be okay.
My corral was called and silently we walked to the start line, with a real sense of everyone getting in the zone. Zoe Ball waved the flag and we were off. My feet started moving, one foot in front of the other, this was really all I could do, one foot in front of the other for the next 6 hours, this was it, head down and dig deep. Until I left the park and entered the road… People lined the street and people I had never met or seen were shouting my name, high fiving me and telling me I was brilliant… I was no longer invisible and I could be seen, the most bizarre and exhilarating feeling in the world but also hugely emotional and tear jerking!
At one and a half miles I saw him, my little boys face, in the distance, then I heard him, ‘go mum you can do this’ he screamed, ‘dad is finding auntie clo’ and then I saw him, tom and clo running frantically along the road. Screaming at me ‘go Jo’ the pride on their faces, the love in their eyes and I just kept running, and running and running and running some more, seeing them at mile 3 and then again at mile 5… Then I knew that was it, till mile 13… It was just me and my mindset and me and determination, just me and my motivation to keep me going. Well me and the strangers shouting my name and me and the other runners who constantly gave each other encouragement to keep going.
Mile 11… Still running and no stopping but I’m starting to hurt, it’s hard. I’m following a elderly man, he’s been trying to get an energy gel since mile 10, he keeps dropping them but he keeps running. One of his legs turns inwards with every step he takes, but still he keeps running and still he keeps moving forward. I follow him. I watch as time after time he tries to grab a gel and drops it. I have spare in my sleeve. I open my gel and I run to him and offer it… He takes it gratefully asking if I have another, I reassure him I do up my other sleeve, he calls me a treasure and tells me to keep running, I do, fighting back tears as I reach mile 12. The evil mile where you run past the finish line hearing the elite runners finishing knowing you are not even half way! There are people everywhere screaming my name, 4 and 5 people deep behind barriers, I’m frantically looking for someone I know becoming increasingly panicked and people scream my name and it’s not my family or anyone I recognise. Still I keep running but I feel sick, I feel scared I feel lonely. How ironic, surrounded by people, people who can see me but I don’t like it, I feel like I’m on show, I want to disappear. The people I want to see most are not here… It’s then I clock someone in a vest ‘running for mum, I’ll never forget you.’ Overwhelmed with emotion I pull myself together, my mum is here I’m going to see her in a mile or two I’m sure, I just have to keep going.
Mile 13 and I need to wee… There are toilets, only 4 people waiting. I stop… I need an energy gel but I gave my spare one to the man, I don’t want to use my emergency one. I take deep breaths… I can do this, I know I can. I step into the cubical and it is there, an unused and sealed energy gel on the side. After a few deep breaths a wee and a top up of energy gel I am on my way again… Running, yes I’m still running and actually it’s not that bad. I turn the corner and I can see them, a committee of people screaming my name and I know them, all of them, my family, smiling, cheering ‘you are doing it, you are on it keep going’… I do, I run and I run…
I run through the streets of Brighton high fiving small children and smiling every time I hear my name called. Then I see him, uncle Mick, in the distance, one of my reasons for running, the walking miracle… My auntie snaps pictures and I don’t feel sad, I’m doing it I am actually running a marathon, I’ve done over half of it, I grab his hand as I run past, ‘keep going he yells’… I do… It’s getting harder to keep putting one foot in front of the other but somehow my legs still keep moving…. I see them again at mile 17 I tell them it’s hard but I still keep going…
At this point all the miles blur into one, I have no idea how far I have gone, how far I have left to go. I feel every pound of my feet on the pavement in my back, my legs feel tight and pretty much everywhere hurts, every drink stop I take water, energy gels, high energy drink, I feel full up with high energy but little of the high energy seems to be reaching my feet! I see my family several more times before I reach the power station and at this point I know I am alone once again…
These miles were soul destroying, if you let them, these miles see even accomplished runners walking, hobbling and limping, these miles truly test a persons mental strength and bloody mindedness, these miles call for nothing but drive, determination and grit. I begin to question myself as ‘defying gravity’ blares in my ears… I’m defying gravity now… Who would have thought I could do it, could run a marathon, I begin to doubt why others believed in me and I begin to think how I would love to be able to just stop, to just sit, but I know I can’t. I see people limping, people with blisters, people with injuries and I think, actually I’m ok, no blisters, no chaffing, no injuries and I will not be beaten. I continue to run away from the finish line towards the power station, it’s got to end soon. I pass a drink station with high energy drink where teenagers are handing out drinks… The girl who must be no older than 18 simply says ‘you totally got this Jo, just around the corner and you are on the home straight.’ ‘You totally got this…’ That is what Kim text me, it’s like she is with me… Yes I have totally got this, 5 miles to go… Just over an hour…I also realise I have gone past mile 20… I promised my friend Mags I would run the last 6 miles for her, pretending I had new legs! I consonantly repeat to myself I am alive, my legs still work, it will be over soon, I have no injures, no blisters, I’m tired and I ache but life really isn’t that bad! It could be so much worse.
I run and I run and I run, back down past the factories and warehouses, the pier now in the far distance. As I begin to enter the seawall a man yells, ‘go Jo you rock’ I turn, it’s Norman Cook and Zoe Ball… They have come to cheer on the runners, high fiving and yelling their names… I keep running but my back hurts… It hurts so much, my legs ache and I’m tired, so tired it’s only 3 miles left to go but I’m just not sure I can get there… I’m running on empty, literally, I’m just not sure what is keeping me going and as I slow to a walk, literally as I am about to crumple in a sobbing heap my sisters arm appears under mine, ‘I’m going to run with you, you just have to keep going, you are nearly there come on mum and dad are down there and then the others are further down and Tom and the kids are near the finish.’
Somehow I run past mum and dad, with them yelling ‘you are nearly there,’ my sister keeps running. I get to my cousins, uncles and aunt and they are screaming ‘we love you, keep going, you are amazing…’ My sister hugs me and I keep running and somehow from somewhere I actually do start speeding up, as the crown shouts my name and I see the pier growing ever closer and then I see my kids and my husband… Pride, admiration and love radiates from them as I run past and then I see it, the finish line, it’s so close, I forget the pain, I forget the hurt and I pelt as fast as I can towards it and as I reach it, I throw my arms in the air and I yell… ‘I did it, I only bloody did it…’
Embarrassingly I am actually like Forrest Gump and have to be told to stop running but keep walking, but I collect my medal take a quick selfie and post to social media then make my way to find the family… I truly thought I would cry. I have no emotion left, I’m wrung out but I just feel ecstatic, I can feel the messages coming through on my phone but I don’t look, I soak up the moment, my moment, my moment of being a hero of achieving something extraordinary.
However I feel like a fraud I feel humbled and ashamed. I could not have completed it if people had not believed in me. If my family had not been there literally every step of the way, if my friends hadn’t sent messages and given me things to think of on the way round… I didn’t run it alone I ran it with them, without them I would not be anything, it would not mean anything.
I find my Tom and the kids who embrace me and hug me and tell me I’m amazing. Tom repeatedly tells me how proud he is and how it’s been the most amazing day. We make our way to find mum and dad and my sister and walk past people who can barely walk, people embracing each other, people smiling, crying, laughing and still cheering people in… When we find them, they reiterate how proud they are and all I can say is ‘I did it…I actually did it!’ To which they say ‘Was there really ever any doubt…’
As we make our way home I read my messages, 100s of them. I discovered people downloaded the app and tracked me, they messaged literally as I crossed the line. People telling me I am inspirational and amazing and I just don’t get it. I still feel like me and I feel like a fraud. I’m humbled by their admiration but I can’t understand how people can view me this way. I am just me. I am no one special. I’m just someone who does their best, which often is just about good enough to get by.
As the week has gone on and people have truly greeted my as a hero I looked the definition up in the dictionary.
Hero: a person who is admired for great or brave acts
I guess I was brave to run 26.2 miles. But the true brave Hero’s are my father in law and great uncle who died from pancreatic cancer and the reason I ran… My dad in law, who doesn’t know he’s my dad in law who died 20 years ago, who never got to see his grandchildren smile and who fought cancer bravely till he took his last breath. My husband is brave for living his life every day without his dad.
My great uncle who died in November of the same illness was brave, fighting with dignity and accepting his fate graciously. My great aunt is brave for trying to build a new life without him.
My uncle ‘mick’ is brave. He has lived with cancer for 12 years. He has had so many operations and takes medication everyday to keep him alive, he lives under a shadow yet he smiles and keeps moving forward and will not let it beat him… A walking miracle and a true hero and inspiration
All I did was put my life on hold for a few weeks to do some training and run for 26.2 miles… To raise awareness and money for charity. This week my life has gone back to normal. I’m not sure that makes me brave or a hero. It does however mean I made a difference because the money I raised will be used for research to help find a cure and to buy medication to keep people alive.
That’s what life is about… Making a positive difference to the world. That is what I have learnt this last year, that, and to live everyday doing what makes you happy. No one ever knows when it’s going to end, but we do know that it will end eventually, make every minute count.
I think that was what my emotion was about at the beginning of the race, knowing that I have spent this last year doing what makes me happy, surrounded by people who love me and would do anything for me in return. It took me a while to realise who and what mattered but now I have found it I am not going to let it go. I spent too long chasing my dreams and actually they are waiting for me to go and get them. In my reach all the time. I have never felt more alive than I have this last year. I am no longer invisible and people see me, for who I am.
I’ll never forget 17th April 2016, not because I finished a marathon but because I finally knew what I wanted and who I was and I have never felt more loved, appreciated and valued than I did on that day. That is what will stay with me forever and that is what I will NEVER forget.
There is still time to sponsor me http://www.justgiving.com/Jo-Rees4