We had been training for this all summer. Short runs, long runs, tempo runs, giggling runs, serious runs. All for this day. Me and Shirley together, we would run this ultra – or as much of it as we could. Event-day came – up really early to get to Fulham for 6.30am. Warm up, final preparations, then off we go. 7.30 am. London is very quiet at that time of the morning. We were too, rhythmically getting into our stride – side by side, together. Running shorts and vest, relaxed and confident.
It was all going so well, but by the 10 km mark an old injury flared up in my ankle and I needed to stop and stretch. Shirley, you go ahead. The stretching hurt so much. Starting to jog again was painful and my foot felt like a stiff, inflexible block on the end of my leg. Walk a bit. Walk fast. Lots of pain. Shirley looked back, I gave the thumbs up – you go on. And as she went out of sight I realised that my race would be very different; not what I had hoped for, not what I had trained for. And I was so teary. I knew I could walk the distance – but that was not the point; it was supposed to be a run. In my mind, I was supposed to run it. And I became overwhelmingly anxious – anxious that Shirley would have to wait for me at the end, and that our friends collecting us would have to wait. Also anxious that I wasn’t dressed for a long, long walk, and it was getting cloudy and cold. And then I was anxious because I was stuck with this mind-set in my head, which I couldn’t shift. And all the time, pain.
It’s funny what goes through your head. I knew that enduring would not be a problem. I can endure. Life has taught me that. Being on my own is not a problem – I am at peace with that and crave solitude at times. But I wanted to run this. And I wanted to run it with Shirley. And I had wanted to be there for Shirley if/when she found it tough – we had done that for each other in training. And I didn’t want to let her down. When passers-by called out words of encouragement, I felt unworthy of them, as I had stopped running. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
Not until about half-way through was I able to change my mind-set. I thought about my experiences being a walking guide in a similar event earlier in the year – through the night to Brighton, and how it was an entirely positive, albeit exhausting, experience. Here it was day-time – and beautifully so, with the sun now shining really brightly – and I was walking alongside really lovely stretches of the Thames. Re-imagine this event to be like that one. And I thought of the power of expectations – my own expectations of myself. In earlier months I had been trying to embrace the Taoist advice to let go of expectations, certainly in regards to people – in order to be free to appreciate what is, rather than what is not. But here I was coming up against the power of my expectations about me. I had to let go of that too. And as I did I was able to be so appreciative of so many things – that I’m not passive anymore, but taking part in life; that I am healthy enough to be active and walking miles and miles and miles – even with a hobble and a sway! And that I have life. And when walking over a bridge was painful, I kissed the wristband I was wearing that said ‘WillPower’, in memory of Will, whose illness led to his too-early death, and his short life gave me strength. And I loved the chance of life I have, with, and in, all its changes.
And the end came. I finished. And Shirley was there cheering me on, believing in me and rooting for me. And Julie and Hedy – who made the world of difference along the way; they too were delighted to see me. Change of plans? It’s ok.
In memory of Will Carus, and for Epilepsy Action.